Youth, Professionals, and the Blog-o-sphere
A few years ago I realized that girls were making headlines in the news that were predominantly negative—such as rises in girls’ violence and teen pregnancy, or the continued Mean Girl phenomena—as if girls are only important when they are bullying each other or in some kind of trouble. From Newsweek to the New York Times, the headlines kept focusing on what’s wrong with girls instead of the positive, newsworthy accounts of young women’s action. As a program director for a girls’ program, I heard girls’ ideas and thoughts for projects and social change regularly, yet I rarely saw their stories reflected in the media. Where were the headlines of girls who are breaking barriers and leading projects in the world? Where were the sassy, smart, and creative girls with something to say?
Entering the Blog-o-sphere
It occurred to me that a blog would be the perfect place to highlight girls’ achievements that weren’t making it into the headlines of mainstream media. A blog could give me a place to write about the trends that I witnessed in girls’ programs—where funding comes from, what types of programs are offered, and how to identify young girls’ needs.
Ultimately, my vision was to create a medium that would inspire professionals to learn best practices on girls programming, to create dialogue, to promote positive work done by young girls, and serve as a place to share information and dialogue. Much of what I have learned as a professional that runs a blog can be useful to professionals and practitioners in the youth media field.
I entered the blog-o-sphere—a space for alternative news, dialogue, and forums—and started What’s Good for Girls in September 2006. Whats Good for Girls (WGFG) is a blog that serves as a place where people who work with, and care about, girls’ development can get information and read commentary regarding issues facing girls’ organizations.
As a blog, WGFG provides a forum for smaller organizations, without PR firms and fancy advertising campaigns, to be highlighted for their approaches to working with girls every day. Similarly, blogs can be used by professionals in the youth media field to share approaches and get information on youth media programs and highlight their work amongst local and global audiences. For example, WGFG is a blog that centers on small NYC based organizations, but has global readership that includes Australia, India, and various readers throughout Europe.
Blogs, in the tradition of zines and personal websites, are portals to a world where individuals are the authors of their own experience; offering their own analysis and providing a glimpse into how big ideas translate into everyday lives. Where ypulse.com provides me with daily updates on youth culture, feministing.com gives me information and insights into current events with a feminist viewpoint.
The blog-o-sphere put me in touch with what other people are thinking and doing across the world in youth programming, in non-profits and in the feminist world. And blogs function in the same way for individuals in the youth media and neighboring fields that want to connect with others in regards to youth programming. For example, WGFG has a built in bulletin board feature with daily updates on where to go to see girls in media, social change, or arts-based action, with provisionary links for readers to traverse. For the youth media field, this type of professional-led forum and information hub can be extremely useful to others in the field.
Blogs can be a powerful way for youth media professionals to share information and experiences by building an on-line community that can sustain our work. Blogs are a space to explore questions and receive answers from professionals and individuals across the globe. For the youth media field, blogs in particular can act as a forum to share best practices and dialogue on current topics right from our desktops (without waiting for a conference to attend in order to reach similar outcomes). The possibility and far reaching scope of blogs makes future partnerships, collaborations, and activism much more surmountable.
Role of a professional blogger
My role as a blogger is to be discerning, to actively choose which programs to highlight and to make sure they fit criteria I value. In the case for WGFG, my specific role is to focus on girls as powerful and capable people in the world who need to be valued. If a professional chooses to blog, one must be clear about their goals and criteria. WGFG strives to be a place where people who care about young people to get fresh information on progressive girls’ programming. Thus, the programs I highlight place girls in the center of their work and support their development into successful, independent adults that use skills—like blogs and alternative media—to come to voice, build community, and exchange resources.
As a blogger, I translate my reality and observations to other professional and media practitioners on the web. I provide a space for people to see into the world of the small girls-serving community based organization. For example, while everyone knows about the Girl Scouts, only a few people know about Girls Write Now or the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls—two small organizations that make a huge impact on young women by helping them develop new skills while creatively expressing themselves. I’d love for one person reading the blog who currently works with girls, whether as a staff person or as a volunteer, to pick up an idea from a program I highlight in WGFG and implement it with girls they know.
Blogs are a tool for professionals who want an alternative media source to positively represent young people and dialogue with other media professionals and practitioners on the best ways to accomplish this. Blogs are immediate; therefore, professionals receive up-to-date and current issues, trends and challenges in their field—which I have found extends into readership from other neighboring and related fields. The opportunity to read up on the work of various organizations and the visions of professionals is powerful—something professionals in the youth media field ought to foster in order to build on a sense of community and ownership in the field. Used in this way, blogs offer an opportunity to engage with professionals and share best practices in real time. As a professional that blogs, I document and share practices through WGFG, sharing ways adult allies can support girls in all fields related to youth.
Advice to future bloggers
As a successful youth worker or media professional, you can’t just tell young people to try new things or take a risk without doing so yourself. By engaging with your own media voice and technology, working with and for young people is that much more fruitful. Blogs create community and alternative views in the media. WGFG is my adventure in taking an alternative, media-based, public and internet action on what I believe, living the advice I give young people daily and providing a forum for adult allies. As a professional working with youth, I have become a media savvy girl—a role model for both professionals and the youth I represent.
I got tired of seeing “bad girls” in the news—when the girls I worked with were doing such positive, world-changing activism. What are you tired of? Think about it. Make a blog. Make your voice heard. Share dialogue with other professionals in the field. As a result, you can make change daily, like tipping negative perceptions by highlighting positive insights of youth in mainstream media, and engaging with youth media professionals across the globe that support your cause.
Patti Binder works to promote girls, young women’s leadership, and gender equity through her blog, What’s Good For Girls. When she isn’t blogging, she fights against commercial sexual exploitation as the Senior Director of Planning and Operations at GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, and volunteers (and fundraises) for NYC girls serving non profits including Girls Write Now and the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. http://whatsgoodforgirls.blogspot.com