The Struggle, it’s real: MFJ students spearhead new talk show
For Amber Schultz, one of the driving forces behind The Struggle, a student-produced talk show, millennials have been copping a little too much flak.
“One exaggeration of the millennial stereotype is that we’re lazy and entitled and I don’t think that’s generally the case,” said Ms Schultz, who is currently completing a double Masters in Journalism and International Relations.
“What millennials tend to get is either blame or pity. It’s either you aren’t working hard enough and that’s why you’re in this situation or pity, of you poor thing the world is on you. This is the situation that we’re in and we're using this to our advantage. This is how we’re coping, these are our strategies to deal with it all.”
A long-time admirer of late night talk shows like John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight which scrutinises current affairs through a comedic lens, Ms Schultz always had the idea to write a script and send it to him to see if there were internships available. Instead Ms Schultz decided upon sourcing local and readily available talent from her very own journalism course at Monash, so she ventured to ask students taking TV production units and those involved with Mojo if they’d be interested.
Overwhelmed with the responses of those wanting to be involved, she took her idea to Media, Film and Journalism (MFJ) staff who readily agreed to assist.
From there, Ms Schultz embarked to write the first episode – the pilot – which was much less millennial focussed, nevertheless after its initial release online it was viewed by 5,700 people, reaching 15,600 people. The show quickly gained traction within the school and now The Struggle boasts a team of about 8 researchers, as well as camera operators, autocue operators, video editors, reporters and more – all ready to dispel any general misperceptions of millennials and deliver relevant news in an engaging way to a new and powerful generation.
“There’s so much news that isn’t particularly relevant to us. So [The Struggle] focuses on things that are really pertinent to us. When everyone comes to the meeting and pitches an idea or two, if we like it, the researchers go on to develop it and the scriptwriters start writing jokes and think how to twist it in a funny angle,” Ms Schultz said.
“We ask everyone in the team to think of 1-2 millennial focussed interesting newsworthy and local ideas with an emphasis on memes, student or youth issues.”
Associate Professor Margaret Simons, executive editor of Mojo, and lecturer Alicia McMillan, executive producer of The Struggle both say the show is providing a fresh take on youth-focused news, pushing away the idea that the current generation lacks humour and robustness.
Ms McMillan said she hopes the show will become a vehicle for millennials to weigh into the political debate, given it has a unique voice, while giving the audience some belly-laughs along the way.
With Ms McMillan’s assistance, after the show gained traction online, the team approached Channel 31 who agreed to broadcast The Struggle weekly. Two episodes are now being broadcast back-to-back from 10pm Monday nights.
“The Struggle offers students who are keen to learn more about television production and broadcast a chance to build on those skills weekly,” Ms McMillan said.
“The roles students are gaining experience in include news reading, reporting, news gathering, researching, filming, studio camera operation, editing, field producing, vision switching, autocue rolling, floor managing, segment producing and more.”
But how do millennials write a show that is targeted at millennials? Ms Schultz says there are a few things to consider, but largely the writing is more conversational and heavily layered with humour.
A lot of news nowadays, she says, doesn’t necessarily connect with younger audiences because it’s not all delivered through a method that meets millennials’ expectations and their current media consumption habits. A lot of news also doesn’t exist within a millennial context, that is, it doesn’t always focus on issues that affect millennials directly.
There’s so much information coming from absolutely every different angle, but you’ve got to make it relevant and interesting to them and that’s through humour.
The other issue is treating short attention spans.
“Another thing we’re trying to do and work on more is appeal to the short attention span by chopping and changing with lots of correspondence, lots of clips and lots of graphics which can help people stay interested,” she said.
While most of the feedback they’ve received has been relatively positive – which is encouraging – she is hoping to reach out and annoy some people and get some criticism.
“It means we’re doing our job,” she said.
“If we’re reaching a large enough audience and the people that don’t like us are watching it’s probably a good thing and it means that we know what angles we can work with to get a reaction out of people. Touch on controversial issues that people wouldn’t ordinarily listen to.”
Today on set is third year Bachelor of Journalism student Shivé Prema, the comedic talent for the final episode of the season. Floor managers hurriedly look through the Monash media lab to find extra audience members. Mr Prema’s set is exuberantly millennial, spotlighting topical millennial issues from Tinder to avocados and all to a backing track of genuine audience laughter.
“The quality of The Struggle is professional,” Mr Prema said after his set. “Even [when] I leave university, I’m not above this.”
Mr Prema said what students are learning at Monash is “very empowering” because if you look at the level the students are “creating off their own back”, it’s professional level.
“What Mojo and what journalism [at Monash] does is give you these skills and allow you to realise ‘ok I can do this’ off my own back, go out with a phone, go out with a camera and create a news story without anyone else.”
In the media lab’s professional level control room, Shiamak Unwalla, a final year Master of Journalism student, and a producer on the show, says while there is always room for improvement, the quality of the show is a student force to be reckoned with.
“Considering this is the team’s first season and considering most aren’t seasoned professionals, I am still very proud of what has been done,” he said.
“There exists a show that can go places over the next few seasons.”
In many ways the show exists to remedy the negative views that some people have about millennials including via a commentary segment involving an intern exemplifying many students today are expected to do years of unpaid work in order to get a job – on top of studying.
Said Ms Schultz: “That’s a social commentary that we run where we get the intern who gets the [low-level] jobs that he’s totally unqualified for but he’s expected to do it and for no pay,” she said.
One of these skits happens on today’s set, a poor overworked student sits in the corner just outside the TV studio on the phone to his ‘mother’ explaining to her he was promised payment this week. All is needed is about three takes with Ms Schultz at the helm working with the team around her.
This semester was the first time that Ms Schultz entered a studio and stepped in-front of a camera but the support from the MFJ staff has been invaluable.
The Monash staff have been so incredibly helpful, with so much advice and so many tips and being so accommodating.
Studio production, a unit focussing on TV and radio, has taught Ms Schultz a lot about presenting on camera including often overlooked yet critical things like make-up and wardrobe and how to speak. Her news sense, she says, comes directly from what she learned at Monash and completing a successful internship at The Age.
‘And we’re live in 5,4,3…’ back in the TV studio, the camera operator points to Ms Schultz: “That’s our show and the final episode for the season … goodbye from everyone here at The Struggle. It’s real,” Ms Schultz says as the camera pans to the special guest to close the end of the season, although not the end of The Struggle.
“We want to go all the way to season three and beyond,” says Ms Schultz, who is considering a career as a foreign correspondent after her graduation.
“Once I leave, I would love for someone else to come in and be presenter. I want this to be ongoing because it’s a really good chance for people to learn how a studio runs, what’s involved in making an episode, not to mention all the little tools like editing, writing, researchers, autocue so I want it to keep going forever.”
Internships are now being offered at The Struggle. Anyone with an interest in being involved can join in by attending Mojo meetings where The Struggle's main production meeting also takes place.