TV courts the youth vote

Voters under 30 came out in record numbers to vote in the primary season this past spring. Despite this reality, media organizations barely covered the story. But with the Democratic and Republican National Conventions just around the corner and the November elections less than three months away, TV networks are making moves to court young voters.

About 6.5 million people under 30 participated in the primaries and caucuses this year. That figure is more than double the number that turned out in 2000. The surge is prompting TV networks like CNN, Fox, NBC and ABC to convert the newly energized voters into viewers.

Fox News started covering the youth vote in February, a month after exit polls showed significant spikes in turnout rates. In July Fox aired an hour long special report, “The Y Factor,” proclaiming Millennials as the decisive factor in the presidential election.

Other networks are following Fox’s lead. Believing that viewers respond to peer-to-peer reporting, last month NBC News hired fresh-out-of-college Luke Russert as “correspondent at large” for NBC and MSNBC’s election coverage. Luke, 22, is the son of Tim Russert, the “Meet the Press” moderator who died in June.

Aware that Millennials are internet junkies, networks are also working to reach news consumers online. CBS News is posting content from UWire, a college newspaper wire service, on its Web site. And ABC News is starting programs at five journalism schools to train and mentor students. Chosen student will produce stories for ABC’s Internet and TV outlets.

In addition, networks are increasing their presence on social networking sites that are popular with youth. Fox News, for instance, is bolstering its presence on Facebook.

CNN’s approach is multi-faceted and youth-centric. The network has established the “League of First Time Voters” which features young people covering stories about newly naturalized citizens and other Americans who will be casting their first ballots for president in November. The league includes an online set of voter resources and a series of special reports on television. On August 18th, CNN will premiere the theme song for the initiative: Daughtry’s rendition of “Feel like the First Time” (first recorded by Foreigner in 1977).

It looks like the once cynical attitude about the youth vote is shifting to a more positive one. It’s about time considering Millennials are the largest generation in U.S. history as well as the most politically engaged.

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