Counterpoint: On Media Partnerships

counterpoint_150.jpgDiana Coryat has worked as a documentary filmmaker, media educator, television producer, and youth development consultant. Fourteen years ago she co-founded the Global Action Project (GAP), which teaches video production to New York City teens. Coryat is currently completing a master’s thesis exploring the contributions of youth media to critical pedagogy. (“Just as youth media is ghettoized in the media world,” she says, “it is often ghettoized in cultural media studies.”)

Youth Media Reporter has been running a series of articles exploring partnerships between youth media and professional outlets. In this interview, Coryat warns of the drawbacks to these arrangements.

What are GAP’s main goals?

One is for young people to use media for creative expression and as an exploration of their identities and their communities and the world. That includes using their media as a social action tool to bring change in the world. The other piece is to bring young people’s voices and perspectives into the public sphere and the media, which are areas where they’re sorely lacking.

How important is it for GAP to work with professional media outlets?

Although one of GAP’s visions is for young people’s media and stories and perspectives to be in the mainstream media, it’s definitely not our top priority. We’re more looking for the young people to be empowered by the process, such as working with peers and investigating an issue. And what we value most in the process is face-to-face contact. We want the media to be a springboard for dialogue, so our priority is to screen work in venues where there is a possibility for dialogue, like at community centers or schools.

We regularly have our work on Free Speech TV and Manhattan Neighborhood Network and I think it’s great, but you often get less feedback about the work when it airs on TV than when the teens meet with an audience. People watching television usually don’t talk about what they are viewing. We’re trying to get young people standing up in front of an audience and talking about the issues they’re working on and their work as artists. We find that the impact is greater for them personally when they meet their audience, and the impact for the audience is also greater.

When young people work with mainstream outlets, it can limit their creativity.

Also, when young people work with mainstream outlets, it can limit their own creativity. Usually there’s a format the mainstream outlet wants a young person’s media to conform to. They might say, “We can take a two-minute video and it has to look this particular way.” I’ve heard of work where a mainstream outlet has commissioned a piece to be produced by a youth, but ultimately the adult producers are the ones with the vision. When it’s completed they might say, “Oh, wow, this is youth produced,” even though they’ve manipulated every part of it.

We think there are times when a young person can learn from working with an outlet’s requirements and vision. At an advanced stage working with professionals can be really important. We have internships for our more advanced students at different production companies, and they definitely benefit from this. But our main goal is to train the young people we work with as artists and activists, to cultivate their own creative expression and voice. That is really important in terms of their growth.

How do you decide when to work with a professional outlet?

Mainstream outlets have contacted GAP, but what they often want from us is something that fits how they envision young people. For example, they often want material that “sells,” like stories about gangs or violence, or stories in which young people reveal their struggles with food or drug addictions. They’ve actually called us and said, “Do you have a young person we can highlight who was homeless and is now making videos?” They’re really trying to fit young people into their own stereotypes of teens. Our young people’s work often doesn’t fit with these programming interests, and we won’t work with people who see young people that way.

What’s the advantage of working with professional outlets?

The best thing is the recognition and visibility it gives us, and exposing audiences to young people’s perspective.

Any advice to other organizations considering working with media outlets?

It’s important to understand how the media is going to be used and to know that with a lot of outlets you do not have the final say over how it turns out. So find out ahead of time how much editorial control you will have, if any. And remember, it takes a lot of time to work with media outlets and you still have an obligation to the young people you’re working with to help develop their skills and talents, as well as their confidence in themselves.

Above left: Diana Coryat (right) with GAP co-founder Susan Siegel.

Diana Coryat, president of the Global Action Project, discusses the downside of working with professional media outlets.