Last week, I was invited to participate in an editorial meeting at a metropolitan newspaper.
I followed all of the reporters to a conference room and took a seat. The executive editor sat in a chair near the front.
“Listen up, everyone,” he said, holding up his hands. The chatter in the room slowly subsided. “We need a new angle this week to demonstrate why Millennials are pieces of shit. Does anyone have any ideas?”
A woman in front of me raised her hand. “Can we do a feature about how most Millennials are living at home and mooching off mom and dad?”
Approving murmurs swept through the crowd.
The executive editor shook his head. “No, no. The whole living-at-home bit has been played out. Besides, recent studies show that Millennials are now buying homes they can’t afford, just like the generations before them. What else?”
A man standing against the wall waved his pen. “I know! How about a piece that talks about the entitlement attitude Millennials have in the workplace?”
“Yeah!” someone called out.
“No.” The executive editor shook his head. “It’s good, but we’ve been there before. We need something fresh — something that really plays to the hearts of the few older people who still read newspapers. These folks are our last surviving customers, and if we don’t give them stories they want to read, then we’re out of business. So c’mon, people — think! What’s an unexpected way that we can bash Millennials?”
The room went quiet for a moment.
Someone in the back blurted out without raising her hand: “Millennials are terrible tippers.”
“That was done not too long ago,” someone else said. “I read something similar on the wire.”
“Millennials are killing retail by shopping online,” someone else called out.
Everyone looked at the executive editor to get his reaction. He shook his head.
“All Millennials care about is social media,” somebody said.
“How do you create a story out of that?” someone else said. “It’s much too broad.”
Suddenly, without warning, the executive editor pointed at me. “You. I don’t recognize your face. Do you work here?”
Everyone in the room turned to glare at me. My face grew warm.
“No,” I said. “I’m a –”
“Speak up!” someone yelled.
I raised my voice. “I’m a humor blogger. I’m just visiting.”
“You look young,” the editor said. “Are you a Millennial?”
“Actually, I’m not sure,” I said. “No one’s ever told me. I’m either a really young Gen-Xer or a really old Millennial, like Iliza Shlesinger. I remember things like turntables and typewriters, and I didn’t grow up with the Internet. In fact, I might be what they call an Xennial. I have things in common with both generations.”
“Whatever the hell you are, we need a fresh perspective,” the editor said. “You got any ideas?”
Everyone in the room continued to look at me.
“Well,” I said, shrugging, “I’m always frustrated when I see a story about a person who’s retired in their 30s. It’s almost as if they’re profiling them to remind us readers that we’re not good enough. Like, ‘Here’s someone who’s retired, and meanwhile you never bought a house, gotten married or had children.'”
I swallowed, looking at the crowd. “Actually, since I’ve told you all that, you might as well know that I don’t even have a girlfriend at the moment.”
Horrified murmurs swept across the room. People turned away to avoid my gaze.
“I think you touched on something,” the executive editor said, sipping from his Starbucks coffee cup. “I really like it, actually. We find a rare Millennial who’s achieved major success at a young age, and we do a profile to show other Millennials why they’re human scum. When they see someone their own age who’s accomplished so much, it’ll make them re-examine their own pathetic lives living at home with their parents.”
“Well,” I said, “I wasn’t suggesting –”
“I think it’s great!” someone called out.
“Me, too!” said someone else.
Enthusiastic chatter erupted.
“We should profile a tech entrepreneur,” someone said. “They’re always successful at a young age.”
“We could play up the fact that very few Millennials achieve any sort of success in their life — let alone retire in their 30s,” someone else said.
“We should interview some unemployed Millennials with overpriced English degrees to get their reaction,” I heard another person say.
I held up my hands. “Excuse me? Mr. Editor, sir? Excuse me?”
A group of reporters swarmed to a whiteboard and started story-mapping the idea. In the middle of the board, they drew a gigantic circle that said, “Millennials suck.” From there, they drew interlinking threads to connect other disparate ideas such as “underemployed,” “reluctant to get married or buy houses,” “worthless degrees from crappy colleges” and “totally dependent on mom and dad.”
The executive editor sidled up to me and slipped his arm around my shoulder.
“That was a terrific idea,” he said. “Can we hire you as a freelancer to tackle it?”
“Actually,” I said, “I’m a humor blogger, not a newspaper–”
He recoiled, taking a step back. “What are you telling me? That you’re a lazy, entitled Millennial who thinks he’s too good to work for a living? What, did you get rich selling Bitcoin, or something?”
“Whoa!” I said. “I didn’t say that. You put those words in my mouth.”
“So working here doesn’t meet your stringent expectations?” the editor said, yelling. “What, are we not hip enough? We’re too stodgy, old-fashioned? We don’t have a strong enough social-media presence?”
“I feel like I’m missing something here,” I said. “I’m not sure where all this wrath is coming from.”
“Well, excuse me,” the editor said. “I’m sorry that this antique, out-of-date newspaper isn’t good enough. I guess we can’t all have graduate degrees in environmental literature!”
I winced. “I don’t think I ever claimed to have a graduate degree in–”
Before I could finish, a couple of burly security guards grabbed me and hauled me to the lobby. They picked me up, slammed my head into the front door to open it, and heaved me onto the sidewalk. I landed hard on the concrete and lay sprawled on my stomach, my face in the gutter.
“And stay out!” the executive editor yelled. “Go run home to mom and dad, Mr. Environmental Literature!”