Investing in Futures: The Need for Youth Media Funding

In 1996, I began a job as station manager for the City of Oakland’s government access channel. When interviewing for the job, I discovered that the entire staff had learned production through the Oakland Unified School District’s educational cable access channel. As student teens they learned how to script, light, shoot, direct, and edit after school. Equipped with analog and digital video production skills, they easily moved into government access channel positions, which required increased responsibility. Many remained in their communities and were looked up to as television professionals.
I recount this memory because it points out many underlying facts that are often overlooked when describing youth media programs. First, all of these students graduated high school; in fact, it was a requirement that they maintained passing grades and attended classes to work at the station. Most of them came from poor, single-parent households. Many of them had to contend with gang violence; at the time, Oakland had one of the highest gang-related murder rates in the country.
Despite these challenges, they, and many others who worked at that high school educational access channel, went on to skilled jobs or college. The program instilled life-skills needed for the workforce—stressing attendance, attire, and commitment—and more importantly, it allowed a group of students to conceptualize, create, and evaluate their own work. It imparted skills not measured in current “standards testing” (pushed by federal legislation like No Child Left Behind), yet it prepared them for 21st century digital age jobs.
According to a recent study from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the United States ranks 15th in reading literacy, 24th in math, and 21st in science, trailing most other industrialized nations). As a nation, we are losing the knowledge base required to function in the global economy. As we already know, most digital work is transnational and dependent upon telecommunications devices, from computers to mobile devices (cell phones, iPads, etc.).
Lacking basic reading, math, and science skills, American youth will find it increasingly difficult to compete in a global economy where critical thinking will become central to the ability to earn income. As the writer and filmmaker Douglas Rushkoff simply states, “If you are not a programmer [one in control of the means of production] then you are one of the programmed [one of the consumers]” (1). We must ensure that youth are actively engaging in media production. Both formal and informal programs need to be resourced to help this next generation become engaged citizens, creators, and employees.
Twenty-five years ago, media literacy took root nationally through formal and informal educational institutions. Today, although young people have technology at their fingertips and are able to create and share media with ease, often their works re-produce archetypes, mimicking commercial media and incorporating—without question—assumptions about gender, race, class and sexuality (e.g. yet another music video glorifying consumerism and objectifying women).

Young creators need to challenge themselves to create new visual and social constructs.

Funders often ignore the importance of investing in youth media and visual literacy. They might have children who are already digital natives. They have seen what their children can do—possibly, these children set up their parents’ email, Facebook or Twitter accounts. But this does not mean that these youth are media or visual literate, which youth media programs and curricula provide. Making the case that simply knowing how to operate technology is completely different from being aware how technology works and influences. That is one of the challenges in our digital world.
Unfortunately, media education—which is so central to the current generation’s knowledge and adequate navigation in a media and consumer-driven landscape—is not a core curriculum in K-12 education. The U.S. Department of Education and private foundations are overwhelmingly reluctant to take up the charge.
As a filmmaker, arts administrator, and observer of our culture, I find myself asking: Why would anyone with knowledge of the 21st century workforce and its need for critical thinking not put media education at the forefront of educational strategy?
Having devoted the majority of my life in the service of creative production that challenged the status quo—be it in form or content (a 60’s debate)—I believe we have the responsibility as adult practitioners to carry forward alternative, independent media arts legacies so that subsequent generations gain the ability to develop their own voices, perspectives, and issues in order to engage the larger culture through media.
Here are a few ways I believe that youth media education should be expanded and supported:
Youth media must be part of core curriculum in grades K-12. This requires teaching how to make media as well as linking production with the important component of “reading” media: How do you understand the biases and assumptions of the media that you watch? This literacy is no different from the literacy of learning how to write (to become active, a producer) and learning how to read (to develop comprehension/critical thinking/evaluation skills). National standards need to be developed, adequate technology must be provided, and teacher certification requirements in the media arts need to be created at the university level.
Existing informal youth media programs, in media arts organizations, community centers, after-school programs, need to be fully funded to provide programs and services to more young people and to provide livable wages and professional development training for youth media practitioners. This latter must include reflection time for practitioners about their work. Additionally, evaluation tools based on best practices need to be developed so that practitioners working in youth media can measure student learning and outcomes. Evaluation must strive for program improvement and advance the field, not simply “track impact” for the sake of reporting to a funder.
Web-based clearing houses of information are needed to track curricula, evaluation toolkits, best practices, and social media exchanges so that practitioners, worldwide, can learn from each other. Such professional peer networks become value-research platforms for developing the needs outlined two suggestions above. This could be as simple as the Evaluation Toolkit currently available on NAMAC’s Youth Media Archive that provides information on youth media evaluators, methodologies, instruments, and final reports.
Link youth media to new models, new technology and new approaches. For example, in teacher or practitioner training, why not model the best practices of software developers, who use team approaches with short-term goals and horizons, along with continual evaluation during development? Because more complex learning modules need to be developed to respond quickly to new technologies, we must experiment—and be prepared, at times, to fail. When media literacy was the talk at the 1985 NAMAC Conference, precious few organizations had computers. Now more apps for mobile devices currently exist than could be used in a lifetime, and they continue to be created at breakneck speed. The next innovation is around the corner.

Perhaps one of the greatest services youth media programs provide is to help students/clients become content-creators, no matter what new platform emerges to carry their messages.

Let’s face it, this is not going to be cheap. It will require large sums of money for proper capitalization—long-term, cross-sector commitments from government, foundations, and corporations. It will also require innovative approaches. We need a major singular goal, similar to the Kennedy administration’s vision to go to the moon that required not just capital investment, like this one will be, but also a national rallying point with vision. It is time to think big, to be mindful, and to be driven.
Jack Walsh is executive director of the National Alliance for Media Arts + Culture (NAMAC) and a filmmaker. NAMAC’s work with youth media included a three-year initiative that developed toolkits for practitioners, invested in youth media leadership development, and created a longitudinal mapping study of the youth media landscape that surveyed youth media providers in 2003, 2005 and 2008 and is available at
(1) Douglas Rushkoff’s presentation “Program or Be Programmed: 10 Commands for a Digital Age” at SXSX Interactive Conference, March 12, 2010.

The Twin Cities Youth Media Network

The Twin Cities Youth Media Network (TCYMN), which began in 2000, is the longest running network of youth media organizations in the country. TCYMN began meeting without funding, in 2007 gained funding, and has recently lost funding. Nevertheless, it will survive. TCYMN provides a case study for organizations and regions grappling with transitions in their funding models.
The History of TCYMN
Founding members of TCYMN are media practitioners from a variety of media genres, including experimental, documentary, music, narrative and installation. The original members were Dan Bergin from Twin Cities Public Television, Kristine Sorensen from In Progress, Nancy Norwood from Perpich Arts High School, Witt Siasoco from the Walker Art Teen Program, Mike Hazard from The Center for International Education, Nicola Pine from St. Paul Neighborhood Network, John Gwinn from Phillips Community Television, and Teresa Sweetland from Intermedia Arts. Dan Bergin explains, “The more formal connecting began after the 2000 NAMAC conference in the Twin Cities. We noted how connected the youth media groups from New York, Chicago, and Seattle were and thought we should be able to organize.”
As a result, TCYMN youth media practitioners met informally, eventually pulling together a screening of youth work from across their organizations. The screening developed into the annual All City Youth Film Showcase that premieres at The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis every fall.
The members were diverse in their approaches and communities served, but they all shared the passion for youth media. Additionally, members began to see their individual work improve because they were sharing best practices and experiences among other youth media practitioners.
Staying up-to-date on the other organizations provided the information and encouragement to tell youth about other programs and expand the youth’s experiences. Slowly, the Network developed ideas to expand their work into a Public Television production, a website, marketing and networking for educators and practitioners, as well as to hire a part-time coordinator.
In 2007 TCYMN received funding for a two-year initiative to actualize these ideas and begin expanding the network beyond the founding members. The network saw an explosion in productivity. Membership increased from seven to eighteen youth media organizations. Attendance at the All City Film Showcase began to reach capacity, and TCYMN began to establish a clear presence with a website, monthly newsletter, one-hour Public Television Broadcast production airing throughout the state with DVD duplication, and attendance at “Straight Shot Youth Media Summit” in May 2009.
With this work came formalized meetings, an executive committee, clear policy on membership, agendas and benefits. The increased structure also created transparency and a central location for housing knowledge so it was less likely to become lost with transitions among organizations. It was now clear how others could be members and what they could expect with that membership. Furthermore, the structure created easy entry points for diverse staff from member organizations to become involved. For example, Americorps members or other new practitioners could join the monthly meetings and help with TCYMN projects. Nicola Pine reflects, “I felt like we [were on] a freight train full speed ahead—[we were] extremely productive and focused on our goals.”
At the same time, there were challenges. For example, TCYMN struggled to find the balance between the coordinator’s responsibilities and an appropriate level of work among the members to ensure members’ investment and evidence of need for their participation. However, with funding, the Network increased transparency and access to this community of knowledge, collaboration and shared opportunities for youth.
A Shift in Funding
TCYMN’s two-year funding came to a dry end in June 2009 because of a shift in focus areas for our funder. Temporarily, while TCYMN pursues new funding, members will move back to an all-volunteer run group and scale back Network-wide activities. However, TCYMN sits poised to continue with or without funding because of its strong roots and spirit of collaboration that began without funding in 2000. These roots, which connected youth media organizations and practitioners in the Twin Cities, nurtured relationships across genres, communities and organizational size.
The root of TCYMN’s existence is, first, the shared belief in the power of teaching media to and with youth. We know this is done better when we connect as a field, regardless of funding. Founding TCYMN member Nicola Pine explains, “The network really is an affinity group [of] committed artists and educators who share a belief in the power of media to change young lives.”
Funding exploded the productivity and reach of TCYMN, created structure, transparency, and a central location for knowledge in the field for the region—but not without the strains on informal relationships that come with more defined structures. For the broader field of youth media, TCYMN represents a successful, decade-strong model of community, cross-organizational support and maximizing opportunities for youth and practitioners within a local, regional network.
Twin Cities Youth Media Network
Joanna Kohler is the coordinator of TCYMN. She runs her own production company Kohler Productions and has been telling powerful stories through documentary video and audio projects since 1999.

Marketing and Advertising Youth Media: A Shift in Thinking

The youth media field needs a shift in thinking when it comes to funding, partnerships, and skill development. Rather than scramble for shrinking dollars and failing partnerships, we need to build partnerships that generate more dollars and have a bigger effect on both young people and our field.
Few youth media organizations have tapped into advertising and marketing firms as a way to leverage our collective expertise in the field. We know that the youth market is worth about $175 billion a year. But we forget that we work intimately with this market and can serve as mediators for young people to take the lead in mass marketing, learning business skills along the way.
About True Star
As a growing youth media organization that provides a creative outlet in the form of literary and professional development programs, the True Star Foundation has learned how to create partnerships that open doors to funding opportunities, increase visibility for youth media, and improves opportunities for young people to learn about the business of media.
The True Star Foundation’s core programming model is True Star Magazine, a teen- produced publication that began in the fall of 2004 as a four-page newsletter with one journalism program and 17 students. Currently, the magazine offers eight programs with 150 stipend paid student apprentices and seven adult instructors, who, collectively, create a 44-page quarterly publication.
Sales and marketing is an important component to our program that helps youth journalists develop business and leadership skills. The concept of having to market one’s media encourages students to think broadly of how a non-profit functions and how to get their work distributed, advertised, and widely disseminated.
At True Star (TS) we position ourselves as the experts on the youth market, stressing to marketers that we can reach youth in a way that no other media property can. We are marketers’ consultants as to how to reach youth with programs that are inviting, honoring, respectful, and culturally relevant and that connect with the urban youth market emotionally and intellectually.
Marketing: A Shift in Thinking
We acknowledge that fundraising and selling are two very different skills for youth media non-profits. Many organizations do not have the skill set or competency; however, we believe a huge piece of solidifying the youth media sector will come from the ability to integrate marketers into the field in a socially responsible way. Organizations might think about hiring someone with a media business background or add someone with that competency on their board.
Of course, marketers’ main goal is to increase sales and tap into the $175 billion youth market. However, if they can also be socially responsible and create goodwill, then your organization becomes a “sweetheart” buy for a marketer.
Typically, TS helps marketers reach their goals through focus groups, email blast, advertising pages, youth contests and our students acting as brand ambassadors. We become consultants to our partners, using our expertise to advise them on their marketing strategies. By building other youth media partners into the fold, we make the package of expertise even more attractive. United, youth media can guide marketers to create goodwill for themselves and their associates.
Case Study: Chicago Public Schools
While meeting with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Office for Extended Learning, it was brought to our attention that the enrollment numbers for a federally funded tutoring program were significantly low. The main goal of this office was to increase its enrollment numbers for this tutoring program. After hearing this, we could have stayed the course with the TS agenda, i.e., getting this department to give us funding/resources for our after school programs. However, we shifted gears and asked them to discuss the enrollment issues more.
After a thorough understanding of their issues, we suggested that TS could increase the enrollment for the tutoring program by doing the following:
• teen-to-teen marketing using the TS street team
• creative services, including “teen friendly” marketing materials
• marketing via advertising pages in TS magazine
• executing a focus group with teens to assess how to effectively market the tutoring program
• booking a nationally recognized celebrity to endorse the program.
As a result, TS received a contract to provide the aforementioned services. With our expertise and ability to reach the market, student participation in the tutoring program increased by 85%. Creating value creates a buzz, and many other departments in CPS began to look to us to provide various services based on our success.
Case Study: Walgreens
True Star Foundation has partnered with Walgreens for the last two years on its HIV/AIDS initiative. Again, prior to meeting with Walgreen’s public relations agency, TS had an idea of what a partnership would look like. After hearing that Walgreen’s passion point with the urban community was HIV/AIDS, TS pitched an “Expression Against HIV/AIDS Art & Literacy Contest.” This contest asked youth to put an artistic spin on how they would combat HIV/AIDS in the urban community.
TS would conduct all marketing, implementation and execution for this program with Walgreens—the sole sponsor. This contest has been very successful and Walgreens is looking to grow the partnership into other areas.
When meeting with marketers such as Walgreens it is very important to understand their passion point for the youth market. Passion points can vary. For example, banking partners value financial literacy; consumer goods companies value nutrition; and telecommunications value entrepreneurship. However, marketers often shift platforms they are interested in supporting as rapid as every quarter of each year. In order to package youth media, we must combine our collective skills and expertise.
Methods and Models for Approaching Potential Partnerships
The following are suggestions from TS that might encourage the field to develop relationships with advertising and marketing platforms.
Contribute to your client. In our personal lives we would call this friendship; in the professional world we call it “relationship building,” and the same rules apply.
• Learn about the organization’s politics, culture, and passion points
• Listen to the partner’s needs and goals with interest and concern
• Volunteer for some of their initiatives
• Use your media outlet to cover things that are important to the partner
• Does your organization have a newsletter to send? Are you hosting an event? Use every opportunity with potential partners to communicate what you do and who you serve
Example: Once we realized that Walgreen’s passion was HIV/AIDS, TS became a member of the HIV/AIDS coalition that Walgreens supported, and we volunteered at events unrelated to TS. By being an active member of the coalition, TS created additional relationships with the Department of Health, Chicago Public Schools, and the local radio station, all while building a stronger relationship with the Walgreens corporation.
Be strategic. Look for opportunities to add value. Go in with a clear message about what return the partner is going to get. How can you assist the organization to reach its goals, and vice versa?
• If you’re working with a school, build your program model into the curriculum
• Look for areas where the organization has poor performance and position your organization to provide a needed service
• Use your expertise to customize a media property for the partner
• Understand your competitive advantage and point of difference
Example: TS has recognized that the Chicago Public School (CPS) system has out-of-date marketing and educational materials that do not resonate with the youth of today. TS has positioned itself as an expert in custom designing materials for CPS. In turn, TS received a contract to custom design a student workbook for the CPS department Graduation Pathways.
Empower youth. No one can sell the value of your organization and media product better than the youth you serve.
• Partners, especially marketers and advertisers, need to be educated on what youth media is and what it can do. Young people have an uncanny ability to persuade and influence a potential partner.
• Train young people to pitch advertising and partnerships.
• Pitching and articulating the value of your organization can be a great opportunity for young people to learn about the business of media.
Example: TS youth have pitched advertising to Walgreens, Black Entertainment Television (BET), Nike, Boost Mobile, Burrell, Starcom, General Mills, McDonald’s, and others. Our youth have also presented to funders Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois and the Polk Bros. Foundation, to name a few. Having youth pitch advertising has been one of the most successful strategies TS has implemented. By empowering young people to articulate the value of the organization, the media you produce and its impact on society, you will touch a chord with most potential partners. You don’t just tell them the value—you let them witness the value first hand.
Adopt a collaborative spirit. Youth media organizations often find themselves in a competitive mindset, grappling with other organizations for students or resources. But by using the model of a joint venture, youth media organizations can work together to partner with a greater variety of organizations and create a bigger effect.
• Youth media organizations working with youth media organizations
• YMO working with CBO
• Using another’s specialty to meet the needs of each organization
Example: TS recently partnered with Free Spirit Media to produce a Hoops High page in the publication. Hoops High is a program of Free Spirit media in which students announce, direct, and operate cameras to make their own sports show. TS was having a challenge developing sports related content for the magazine. By partnering with Hoops High we receive sports content and they have another vehicle to market their TV show and programs. TS in return will receive advertising via their on air programming.
Example: TS recently partnered with the Economic Awareness Council (EAC) to produce financial and business content for TS Magazine. EAC is a non profit organization whose mission is to prepare students and families for the economic and financial decisions they will make both today and tomorrow. EAC was able to bring their sponsor HSBC – North America into the partnership to sponsor TS’s Teen Biz section, ultimately helping to underwrite our cost of printing. EAC students produce financial and business related content for TS magazine.
Next Steps
Partnerships with the advertising and marketing sectors are essential to grow the viability of the youth media field. To be sure, most small organizations have large shoes to fill, making it very likely that you do not have every skill or competencies needed at a moment’s notice. But by creating on-going partnerships you can have a good network of experts available to you.
Furthermore, if more youth media organizations worked to build expertise with marketers, it is possible that the field could create a youth media advertising agency in the near future. This agency could aggregate the audiences of multiple youth organizations to create more value for a potential marketer and for the field as a whole. It is in our best interest to invest in new partnerships and advertising revenue to sustain the field and bring forth our collective skills and knowledge to our important work.
DeAnna McLeary is the co-executive director & co-founder of True Star Foundation and True Star Magazine. She has an extensive background in marketing and advertising sales as a former account executive for Essence Communication Partners. McLeary cultivates relationships with ad agencies and consults clients on their marketing needs to creatively design solution packages. McLeary graduated magna cum laude from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), earning a bachelor’s of science and a master’s in business administration with a concentration in both marketing and finance.
Na-Tae’ Thompson is the co-executive director & co-founder of True Star Foundation and True Star Magazine. She has previously worked for Vibe Magazine, House of Blues Chicago, GMR Marketing, Chancellor Marketing Group and Universal MazJac Enterprises. Her diverse client list ranges from Miller Lite to Roc-a-Fella Records,from from Chicago’s Power 92 radio station to Luster Hair Products—a result from developing sponsorship proposals, conducting research and analysis, and organizing events. Thompson holds a master’s degree in arts and youth community development and a bachelor’s in marketing from Columbia College Chicago.

Corporate Social Responsibility: A New Funding Opportunity for Youth Media

In my fifteen years as an audio engineer for a major media organization and as a volunteer educator for youth media programs, I have seen both sides of the relationship between corporations and community based organizations (CBOs). In a down-turned economy, equitable partnering can be a tall order; however, with some basic knowledge of the landscape, good strategic planning, and a clear assessment of what both sides have to gain, CBOs can end up with much more by partnering with corporations than they might achieve from a grant application.
Moreover, community-based youth media programs have a major advantage when it comes to corporate partnerships: documentation. Not only is documentation a natural outcome of every project we do, but having a documentarian or documentation team filming a project, interviewing participants, and editing the package is great training in itself.
Corporate Social Responsibility: A Win-Win for Corporations and Youth Media
Youth media organizations seeking partnerships with corporations can take advantage of the movement in business toward Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Practiced by many larger corporations, CSR was designed to “meet or exceed the ethical, legal, commercial and public expectations that society has of business” (Wikipedia’s definition). CSR became better known throughout the 80’s and 90’s with the concept of the “Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet, Profit.” In terms of money, socially responsible investment has risen over 324% from $639 Billion in 1995 to over $2.71 Trillion in 2007 (1).
For youth media organizations, this investment represents corporations as an untapped source of funding. For corporations, demonstrating a commitment to youth media can be a creative new way to achieve their goals: gain customer loyalty, enhance their brand value, differentiate their reputation, and better attract and retain employees.
Moreover, since young people specifically are a target for most CSR initiatives, youth media can introduce corporations to the work force’s next generation, while giving young people a chance to be part of a professional experience. The company will not necessarily recruit employees directly from the program, but it is an easy way for young people to become aware of potential career paths and have some exposure to the necessary skills they will need to acquire.
Once youth media establishes a relationship with a corporation, it is often easy to arrange job shadowing, speakers, and mentoring—great ways to build relationships from the ground up and opportunities that carry great value on both ends.
Here are a few questions that CSR departments look for when selecting new partners:
• How efficient is the organization?
• Are they quick responders when communicating?
• How does the staff present themselves?
• Is there a prior relationship with the company?
• What relationships exist with other companies? (proven successes)
• What personal relationships exist?
• Does this fit a current corporate cause?
• What can the organization do for the company, in terms of finances, volunteerism, and recognition (for instance, if Company X funds a radio show, do they get a ‘sponsored by’ message on every broadcast?)
• Are any groups of employees already volunteering? Is a higher level employee active on their board?
Corporate Volunteering: Creating a Link between Youth Media Organizations and Corporations
In general, CSR departments are highly selective as they partner with an organization. Instead of immediately pursuing a grant request, youth media organizations may find it worthwhile to start small and explore Corporate Volunteerism.
Teambuilding. Companies are much more likely to offer financial contributions to organizations that can show a history of employee involvement, especially in terms of teams. For instance, a youth media organization may engage a team to enhance a company’s website, make a promotional video, or interview company founders. All of these examples provide a solid benefit to the company and can easily be reflected in its performance reviews and/or year-end goals.
Youth media organizations may find that a great question to dig into with the company’s CSR office is what volunteer teambuilding opportunities have been successful in the past, and what projects may be good targets that fit both the organization’s and the company’s needs. Youth media organizations in particular provide great models of team work through their peer-to-peer support and peer-to-adult mentorships. These models can be applied to employee-involvement events.
Micro-volunteering. Youth media organizations might also make use of micro-volunteering: volunteering done in very small, manageable pieces.
For instance, one great micro-volunteering opportunity for a youth media organization might be to create a web application that empowers people to identify and collectively micro-fund small community projects (similar to (2)).
Users can describe community cleanup or citizen reporting efforts, obtain microgrants to fund them, perform the services, and post the results. On the end-user side, donors can sort through project proposals, pick one they like, and with a few clicks collaboratively micro-fund the project.
Tied to a blog, the application could also afford users, funders, and the entire community to see the results in pictures, words, and even video.
In general, corporate volunteer projects should include at least some of the following criteria:
• Is youth media related
• Creates jobs and/or community service hours for participants
• Builds funds and resources for the youth media organization
• Gains publicity for both the youth media organization and the corporation
• Helps to train package producers (people who prepare the finished media piece)
It is my experience that when community-based organizations re-engage the corporation for another project or for funding, they can point out that the initial project was well-organized with clear objectives, provided a fun way for employees to bond, and required minimal time and preparation.
Be Open to New, Equitable Relationships
Achieving equitable relationships between community-based youth media organizations and corporations requires both sides to make sure they get the resources they need, achieve the desired results, and provide a major benefit to the organizations’ dynamics, especially in terms of skill development and teambuilding. Hopefully these approaches can open up some new relationships that will benefit the youth media field for many years to come.
Selah Abrams is a broadcast production engineer at Turner Studios in Atlanta, GA and a leader of NextGen Business Resource Group, that evolves the businesses in new and diverse directions. Selah is very active in the new media and social media fields, including entertainment, journalism, and community-based organizing, and recently won the inaugural CNN MyHero award for A Guiding Hand, a male mentoring program with participants from the Fulton County, GA juvenile court. In the mid-90’s, Selah co-founded Uprising!, a CBO based in the West End of Atlanta that trained homeless men to rehab and occupy abandoned houses, and ran a network of community gardens that provided food to the community.
(1) Social Investment Forum’s 2007 Report on Socially Responsible Investing Trends
in the United States
(2) Kiva Microfunds is an organization that allows people to lend money via the Internet to microfinance institutions in developing countries which in turn lend the money to small businesses. Modeling after this site is recommended due to the clean, intuitive, appealing design and quick transactional process.

Funding the Nascent Field of Youth Media

From Wide Angle in Baltimore to DCTV’s Youth Training Institute, the Washington, DC metropolitan area is peppered with groups engaged in youth media training and distribution. The services provided by these organizations are as varied as the organizations themselves. What is consistent is the unavoidable, annual struggle to acquire funding for youth media programming.
As DCTV has discovered, one of the main issues in the current funding paradigm is that organizations and programs often are forced to put themselves in boxes that do not suit their work. Approaches to creating youth media programs can range from stand-alone arts programs to civic engagement-focused efforts that use media as part of education and outreach [1]. While many nonprofits, regardless of focus, are facing shrinking funding opportunities, the impact on the field of youth media is complicated by the fluid nature of many of the programs [2].
There needs to be greater dialogue between funders and the field of youth media to enhance mutual understanding of this developing field of practice. Funders must help co-create and better serve the nascent field of youth media, providing practitioners opportunities to define the need of their communities, work collaboratively to establish best practices and more strategically work within their communities. As the field moves forward, we must unify our collective goals, giving youth opportunities to have voice that accurately and deliberately establishes their role as future leaders. We need opportunities for dialogue, outside of the funding model, between foundations and youth media practitioners.
DCTV & Funding
DCTV, for which I am Director of Community Affairs, is a membership-based, nonprofit, public access television station dedicated to strengthening communities through telecommunications. Over the years, DCTV developed a variety of youth training programs in partnership with community based organizations, charter schools and public schools. DCTV regularly runs a summer Kids Camp for youth ages 7-18, providing basic video and media literacy training that helps young people use video as an art form. The program partners for the Kids Camp are the Smithsonian Institution, which allows the youth to video parts of the American Art Museum collection, and the DC Film Alliance. The Kids Camp is paid for by DCTV and our partner organizations make their contributions for free. Last year DCTV was able to obtain a grant from DC government to launch the Youth Training Institute (TYI)—a program for youth to utilize media as a civic engagement tool. The partner for the year-long program was the Cesar Chavez Public Policy Charter Schools.
As a quasi-government agency, most of DCTV’s funding comes from the DC government. The government funding covers the basic operating costs to fulfill the mission of the organization. The youth programs require additional funding so, like most youth media nonprofits, DCTV applies for grants. DCTV obtained a grant last year to pilot the YTI, but due to budget cuts the grant was not renewed for 2009. In fact, DCTV often struggles to obtain the additional funding necessary to maintain youth programs. This year DCTV is faced with obtaining funding to continue YTI and will again pay the costs for training youth enrolled in the Kids Camp.
Despite the funding challenges, over the years DCTV has trained hundreds of youth and successfully developed and implemented curricula tailored to different populations from first-time offenders, teen mothers, and at-risk youth. DCTV has a history and a track record for success in the area of youth media training. Still, DCTV struggles to obtain funding for youth programs because in part of a lack of clarity among funders about what public access is and how we serve and are a part of the youth media field.
Building Dialogue–A Case Study
On May 1, 2008, The Benton Foundation and DCTV convened a meeting entitled Got Media? that brought together funders from across the Washington Metropolitan area to identify ways to better use media and advance their programmatic goals. Specifically, the meeting sought to help program officers identify ways to support their grantees’ use of media as they work with public, education and government channels; and, to determine what tools were required to better assist and support their efforts. The event provided an opportunity for funders to meet and discuss the goals and objectives of their programs.
Over ten foundations joined the meeting. The outcomes included the development of a media toolkit and follow-on actions to continue to define local priorities with respect to funding media. One of the main ideas behind Got Media? was to create a meeting template that could be replicated in other cities by local funders.
The agenda for the Got Media? meeting included presentations by three nonprofits detailing how media was used to advance their mission. Each “Best Practice” model group represented different ways to utilize media in advocacy, education, training and capacity building programs. The dialogue that followed the presentations was informative in what funders needed to be better equipped to measure outcomes in the media field. The funders discussed possible tools that would help Program Officers advise grantees in their use and better evaluation of the effectiveness of their media.
This convening is an example of what the entire youth media field requires—a convening that could help change the dynamic between funder and grantees. Ideally, such a convening would be a series of facilitated conversations between funders and members of the youth media field to identify opportunities for collaboration and ways to establish measurable results and best practices [3].
A useful replication of the Got Media? meeting for the youth media field would start with a funder willing to convene the meeting. This funder should be a leader in the community and fund youth media consistently; their portfolio should include innovative projects. Without Benton as a partner for Got Media? , DCTV would have likely been unable to convene the meeting.
Another key aspect to replicating the Got Media? meeting would be to provide an opportunity for a select group of participants, both funders and groups from the field, to collaboratively set the agenda. This process allows for greater buy-in and sets a tone for teamwork for the meeting.
Finally, it has to be clear that the purpose of the meeting is not for organizations to pitch projects, but to foster dialogue. The field of youth media could move leaps and bounds with a series of these sorts of meetings held across the country with reports on outcomes shared among funders and those in the field.
Forming an Idea Bank for the Field
At the moment, funders are setting the agenda. They determine at the start of the year what their priorities are. Their grant guidelines often determine the goals, length, and sustainability of programs. This leaves youth media organizations, and programs that offer youth media, to compete for the few dollars available. In order to turn this dynamic on its head, youth media organizations might consider starting a Community Idea Bank to better inform the needs of the community.
The Idea Bank could be an online tool that would allow for organizations to vote on a set of community priorities that values youth media and the use of media as a tool. Participating organizations could establish criteria for projects to be included in the Bank. For example, the project might include collaboration between at least two participating groups, building solidarity and a strong understanding of program resources. The Bank would be available to funders; during regular grant cycles, funders could choose what projects would be funded. Because the Bank is a collaborative process, the collection of priorities would better reflect the needs of the community and would allow for greater creativity among the organizations for addressing those priorities.
A mapping function could be an aspect of the Bank, requiring each organization to identify recent partners, the projects they collaborated on, and the results. This would allow for a better understanding of how groups work together and to what end. Such a visual display would also serve to enhance our understanding of the field as practitioners, demonstrating how our work impacts our communities and identify best practices.
With an Idea Bank, grantees have a space for pitching ideas outside of a funder’s pre-defined expectations, funders would choose among ideas from the bank, and as a result, the field would see more collaboration among providers.
Next Steps
Funding youth media requires a new paradigm, starting with the premise that youth media is not an end, but rather one of several means to an end [4]. Funders need to show greater leadership in helping grow the nascent field of youth media and improve opportunities for dialogue and collaboration.
Youth media professionals also have to show leadership in developing best practices and establishing a different conversation with funders that makes sense to their work and that will advance the field. There is also a need to establish national networks to push the field of practice out of isolation and better define unifying goals that lead to a consensus about best practices. The solutions suggested here will move us closer towards addressing these needs, but also require that we work together rather than see one another as competitors for funding.
Tonya Gonzalez is the director of community affairs at DCTV where she develops community partnerships that help individuals and organizations better utilize DCTV’s resources. Tonya received BA & BS degrees from the University of Maryland, University College and a law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore, MD in 2000. Throughout law school, Gonzalez held various leadership roles, serving as President of the Latino Law Students Association; Community Chair of the Black Law Students Association; and co-founder of MARGINS: Maryland’s Interdisciplinary Publication on Race, Religion, Gender & Class. Tonya served on the Alliance for Community Media Board of Directors for four years and was a founding member of DC’s Local First Steering Committee (part of BALLE, the national Business Alliance for Local Living Economies).
[1] From the STICKING WITH MY DREAMS: DEFINING AND REFINING YOUTH MEDIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY, In spite of all the diversity within Youth Media programs, the programs themselves and their goals seem to fall into two broad categories. In one, Youth Media is a tool to be used by those involved in youth development, media literacy, career development or other areas to reach program goals. In this instance, youth development programs can, and sometimes do, use Youth Media, organized sports, arts and crafts and/or hands-on science activities as tools to help them meet their goals for youth. Similarly, career development programs can use Youth Media, job shadowing and/or internships as tools to help them meet their goals. Media literacy programs could use Youth Media, textual analysis of ads and/or the study of propaganda to help them reach their goals. In these examples, Youth Media is not an end, but rather one of several means to an end.
[2] There are also similarities in the youth media field with that of the youth development field. See .e.g. PEPNet, ND; Brunner & Tally, 1999 and school-to-career (e.g.. Grobe, Nahas & Steinbrueck, 1996).
[3] According to What Works in Youth Media: Case Studies from around the World, evaluation of measurable outcomes is key to sustaining funding however, “evaluating the impact of (a program) remains a challenge.” A funder for one of the projects profiled in the Report admitted that “while evaluations would be extremely valuable, they often cost more than the amount now being invested in the project itself.”

Meaningful Distribution: Involving Youth Media Makers Beyond Production

As educators, we hope to instill the idea that the media young people create can have a positive impact on others, but in reality that cannot happen unless youth media is distributed widely—with the conscious efforts of producers and mentors to go beyond the final production phase.
Youth media usually focuses on the three phases of production, which unfortunately cuts youth out of the distribution portion of the equation. Yet, a successful distribution project can provide youth media makers with valuable experience interacting with a critical audience, and witnessing the impact of their work—which is powerful.
Such an effort must be a conscious extension of the original product, and involve youth—ideally the original producers—every step of the way. An example of such a project is Reel Grrls’ 2004 film Coming Out… and its accompanying distribution campaign.
Reel Grrls & Coming Out
Founded in 2001, Reel Grrls is a Seattle-based, after-school media and technology training program that empowers girls to critique media images and to gain media technology skills in a safe, open environment, mentored by a network of multi-cultural women media professionals.
In 2005, three young producers created Coming Out…a short mockumentary about a straight girl who faces the challenges of coming out in a queer world. The film’s youth-infused humor and unique format flipped the often-painful coming out story as an aid to spark dialogue about homophobia and heterosexism. Although only one of the youth involved in the project was queer-identified, the three producers were extremely open during the production process, exploring the challenging issues within the film, placing them in the perfect position to contribute to next steps.

Executive Director Malory Graham suggested to the youth producers and mentors involved with the project that Coming Out… had the potential to live on outside of its initial screening and create an impact through distribution. Once prompted, the producers were excited to remain involved and were an integral part of generating the outreach and distribution model that would eventually be put into action. Our youth hadn’t yet thought about what would happen to their film after the final screening. By planting this seed, we invited them to utilize their creativity to envision the next steps in the filmmaking process.
As educators and mentors we faced many questions and challenges in extending the project beyond its production. The Reel Grrls spring program in which the film was created had ended. Did that mean the film itself was the product, or could we push the process to a further end? How could we keep the youth producers involved, and who would ultimately define this involvement? We recognized that carrying out this campaign would require long-term commitment, continued engagement, and the willingness to explore non-traditional modes of getting the film’s message out.
Our approach to shaping a distribution campaign around Coming Out… was not a typical one, although Reel Grrls has used a similar model two other times. The first took place the previous year and was led by an adult facilitator, which was not as successful.
We realize it is unrealistic to pursue an extended distribution campaign for every film created. These opportunities require a unique cocktail of content displayed, invested youth, funding, time and energy, and the ability to frame a film for extension into youth-led distribution.
Outreach and Additional Funding
We could not have started those conversations without the humor component.
—Malory Graham, Reel Grrls’ Executive Director.
The three student creators of Coming Out… emphasized their desire for their film to speak to both straight and queer audiences. We began by brainstorming what an extended distribution campaign around the film would look like, and came up with a list of organizations and festivals that could be allies in continuing the project. Although LGBT festivals and organizations would be ideal distribution partners, everyone agreed that for the film to reach its full potential as an outreach tool we had to look beyond these niches.
We all felt that Coming Out… made the challenges of being a queer young person appear to be a more universal experience, and that it was one that could resonate with many people who don’t share that experience. For this reason, the young filmmakers decided that leading discussions in schools and community groups would provide a greater and more far-reaching impact, using the film as a centerpiece to a set of guiding questions. With this input from the youth, the project mentors wrote a grant for the Coming Out… distribution project, naming two of the original producers as facilitators.
A year and a half later, funding was secured. In the interim, Reel Grrls championed Coming Out… on the film festival circuit. It won audience choice awards and festival curators began to specifically request it for submission. The project mentors remained involved with Reel Grrls, revising and submitting our initial grant to several different organizations.
In 2005, our persistence paid off. The Pride Foundation, a Northwest organization awarding grants and scholarships to leaders of the LGBT community, presented Reel Grrls with a $5,000 grant. The project allocated funds to hire Reel Grrls graduates to: create a discussion guide for the film; facilitate peer-led screenings and discussions for school and community groups in Washington State; and distribute the DVD and discussion guide at no cost to organizations across the U.S. interested in mediated dialogues about homophobia and heterosexism. The Pride Foundation was hugely supportive of this model, especially emphasizing the need for youth to occupy central roles and receive financial compensation for their work.
Re-Engaging Youth to Take the Lead
After securing funding, the next challenge was re-engaging our youth. For this project to work it had to be youth led and adult supported. Of the film’s three initial creators, we were only able to track down one who was still interested in taking part in the distribution campaign. We offered the role of the second youth facilitator to a graduate of the most recent Reel Grrls program, who was now an accomplished youth media maker committed to social change and questioning her own sexuality. We hired a Reel Grrls graduate from 2003, now studying graphic design, to design the discussion guide, which needed to be professional and eye-catching to young people and reflective of the aesthetic of the film.
Ultimately we, the mentors, followed the lead of these young people in exploring how to affect a young audience’s understanding of queerness and heterosexism. As a group, we researched and created content for the Discussion Guide that would accompany Coming Out…, which included sections on terminology, setting ground rules, and follow-up activities and resources. Some adult members of the group pushed to use the term “gay” in the guide, but the girls insisted that they preferred to identify as “queer,” and that this term was more inclusive and would bring more young people to contribute.
The youth producers also led the charge to make the discussion guide more accessible to middle school aged students, since young people are now more likely to come out (and experience harassment) at that age. For this reason the guide contains separate comprehensive question sets for pre and post-video discussion questions specific to both middle and high school age (and older) audiences. The section for pre-high school age students includes more general questions like “Have you ever had to tell people something you didn’t want to about yourself? What kinds of anxieties did you feel? How did you feel afterwards?”
Audience outreach goals for our project were also set by youth and mentors together, and included partnering with a variety of organizations, reaching a wide range of ages, races, genders, and sexual orientations (including straight-identified audiences unfamiliar with queer issues), and communities outside the Seattle area less acquainted with or having less access to queer support networks. Our youth facilitators took their roles seriously, and requested specific trainings to aid them in facilitating discussions, which were donated by the National Coalition Building Institute It was great to partner and work with an outside community organization to offer this support that went beyond the skill set of the mentors for the project. As the adult project leader, I was always ready to step in if needed but, thanks to the training the facilitators received, the producers held their own.
Between August and November of 2006, the Coming Out… Discussion Project presented nine screenings and discussions, meeting or exceeding all of our outreach goals. Over the next two years, Reel Grrls partnered with national LGBT and youth organizations to send out targeted press releases and mailings, ultimately distributing the film and accompanying discussion guide free of charge to over 50 schools, non-profits, and community groups throughout the country.
Response and Impact
“I had never before experienced a discussion that was directed towards youth and led by youth as well. At times it’s easier for students to open up and say what is on their minds when they feel like they are just having a talk with their peers.”
-Monica Olsson, youth facilitator
The biggest lesson of the Coming Out… project was also our biggest success. Providing youth media makers the opportunity to take ownership of an extended distribution project makes their work accessible to other young people, allowing the film to have a greater impact. The Coming Out… discussion and outreach campaign was hugely successful—not just in audience response but the positive effects it had on the youth facilitators, who became more confident in their abilities as the project progressed. These girls were forced into challenging situations, like speaking to a roomful of 6th grade boys, and leading discussion among a group of college students.
One of the youth leaders noted that, for her, the project “was a learning experience. By virtue of leading this discussion I was able to question myself internally. Due to this experience, I feel more comfortable speaking in front of groups and my peers.” Meredith Stone, whose organization hosted one of our discussions, echoed the power of this peer discussion model. She explains, “It meant a lot to see what youth are doing out in the community, and [it] opened doors [for] youth to think about exploring their own ideas in different ways that didn’t previously seem possible.”
Get the Message Out
Youth media educators have the potential to amplify the impact of youth produced media by extending projects beyond production. For such a campaign to work, projects must be chosen carefully, and youth must be involved throughout the process. Adult support should come in the form of mentors that the youth know and trust, and who are as committed to the process and the film as they are. The Coming Out… project took what most of us already know—the importance of treating young people with respect and valuing their time and ideas—and extended it into the fourth realm of film production—distribution.
Cutting short the life of a film that has the potential to make an impact does not have to be a missed opportunity. By focusing more on youth-led distribution, young people can develop the skill of engaging viewers—in this case, inventively using humor—to get their message out. It is up to educators to identify a group of committed youth raising strong content-specific films, and plant the seed, hand them the reins, and be ready to support them all the way.
Lila Kitaeff is a media activist, freelance writer, videographer, radio DJ, and Technical Director for the Reel Grrls program. She has been active with Independent Media Centers throughout the United States and Mexico. Along with PepperSpray Productions, a Seattle-based video collective, she coordinates a weekly television show that airs on over a dozen stations nationwide, and submits documentary work to the national Free Speech TV Network. She also produces socially progressive video work via her own business, Longshot Productions. She believes in using media as a tool for social change and passing on the tools of media production to as many people as possible.
Learn more about Reel Grrls at See the film profiled here and others created in this program at

Radio Stands Out

Imagine going back to high school, where stereotypes, rumors, and cliques run rampant like the spread of flu in the workplace. Maybe you remember what it felt like as a young person to manage the categorization that consumed your daily attendance at school, which perhaps was at times, embarrassing and hurtful, but more often silencing. What would it have been like if, during our youth, there were safe and accessible ways to communicate our self-expression, perspective, identity and voice?
Youth-made radio is unique because it provides youth producers a sense of anonymity and freedom to express oneself outside of the everyday routine of social politics. With only the use of voice and sound, radio allows young people a space to openly ask questions and discuss issues regarding their communities, social and political issues, and personal identity.
A sense of anonymity
Radio is a place for young people to explore expression, imagination and voice, no matter who they are or what their background may be. For example, Erin Yanke from KBOO Youth Collective in Portland, OR explains, “radio is a unique tool for all people because you are not judged by your appearance and it is one of the few mediums where the more you talk the more powerful you are.” Radio is the exact modality for young people to amplify their deepest concerns and explore their personal development offering fertile ground to construct and express their own identity.
In addition, radio is cheap, accessible, entertaining, and transmitted across radio waves locally, nationally and internationally. With advances in digital radio and podcasts, youth produced stories are accessible world-wide.
Because anyone can speak on radio without immediately disclosing their identity, young people have a better chance to be heard by adults in this medium than on television, in public, or even in print. These other mediums present images alongside opinions. Images sometimes cause people to discount the ideas presented because the person is too young, too poor, or too ethnic. While radio by no means tries to hide the value of these critical perspectives, because of the limited cues that identify people as a certain demographic, radio is able to captivate listeners to hear the messages of young producers. This aspect of radio helps adults hear the ideas of young people before judging them. For their opinions and ideas to have an impact on the larger community, young people need to be heard not just by other youth, but adults in the community.
In addition, the location of where broadcasts are recorded is not often identifiable, which again strips associations and pre-conceived notions based on one’s background, class or race. This is extremely important for marginalized youth; those who have been voiceless as a result of socially constructed ideologies. These young people have some of the most important and valuable perspectives on issues of injustice. Through radio, these young people can enhance their ability to analyze, critique, and speak out on issues and create solutions to the issues they uncover. In some cases, radio provides young people who cannot have a voice in the public—such as incarcerated youth—a platform to speak beyond the walls of detention centers. For example, in Portland, ME incarcerated youth at Long Creek Detention Center have the opportunity to travel to WMPG, Greater Portland Community Radio every six to eight weeks to broadcast their features and interviews live. Having the chance to broadcast beyond the walls of a detention center is powerful for young people because they can finally have their voices heard without the visual stigma attached to prison life. Radio broadcast for many of these young people is the only way to get their voices heard and their perspectives represented, to an engaged and widespread listener base.
The voices of marginalized youth are important because they bring to the table perspectives that are not often heard or considered in the mainstream media and public debate. Without youth radio, adults would miss relatable stories and experiences told by their fellow engaged and concerned citizens—youth producers. For example, Kaari Pitkin, Executive Director of Radio Rookies states, “[We] get an overwhelming response from adults affected by or relating to the story of a fifteen year old that they never would have expected to connect with.” Youth voice has a powerful effect on all people. Having a place to express their perspectives from the margins, and how they are a part of the struggle for equality in the U.S., is valuable for these young people. Since mainstream media is often full of voices who cannot relate to the struggle of injustice and representation, this opportunity for young people is critical for community members to hear a perspective that challenges pre-conceived assumptions regarding privilege, race, sex and class. Youth input can engage the public to involve their ideas, their action, and their perspective—an important step to valuing young people as informed citizens.
The flexibility of radio
Radio is a flexible medium that offers outlets needed by young people to express their ideas and opinions, depending on both the community and geographical/cultural context. There are over three dozen youth radio groups in the U.S. each of which provides spaces for young people to ask questions about their communities and personal development—starting with picking up a microphone in a sound room. From Portland, ME—where voices of incarcerated youth can be heard—to Portland, OR—where young people equally join a collective of marginalized communities on air, youth radio is the place to speak out outside of school walls.
In the U.S., outside the domains of school, youth radio programs provide a space for young people to facilitate creative approaches to ideas and shared knowledge. Claire Holman explains, “Schools really have limited 1st amendment rights. We [at Blunt Radio] are not encumbered by the kinds of limitations a school would have.” At youth radio programs, young people can freely express their ideas independently or with peers to design, produce, and execute stories on air, without the formal censorship of schools and other institutions.
Sam Chaltain, Executive Director of Five Freedoms Project explains, “In the U.S., rights for students in schools are not coextensive with the rights of adults however; the first amendment does not preclude anyone from starting a youth radio program.” U.S. based youth radio programs, capitalize on citizens’ freedom of speech as granted to them by the 1st Amendment. These programs, which are mainly offered after-school, provide a space for young people to process and question knowledge in a public forum. Learning how to put one’s thoughts on air teaches young people how to represent themselves, their beliefs, and their perspectives—no matter who is listening.
Around the globe, radio is used flexibly for the needs of young people, often used as a means to engage young people—who either attend or cannot attend school—with their communities. For example, at Voices of Youth (VOY) in Sierra Leone, radio is encouraged for young people—many who are illiterate—to make sense of and create grassroots change after a decade of war. These young people use radio to share their valuable perspectives in a country where 50% of the population are between the ages of 18-35. At VOY, radio is a major source of communication for young people who cannot read or write to be heard by peers and adults in the community. Using radio in this way provides marginalized youth both access and a platform to share their thoughts as they engage with communities in Sierra Leone that tune-in to Citizen Radio.
In Switzerland, Radiobus needs to use radio as a supplemental element integrated into school curriculum in order to teach young people how to fuse technology with processed information. Because Switzerland does not have many after school opportunities for youth voice nor the same school-based limitations as the U.S., young people can access radio in schools as a way to process knowledge and enhance classroom learning. Denis Badman from Radiobus explains, “Few possibilities are offered to youth to try and practice media. [Schools] owe it to themselves to give students a solid and pragmatic education in media.” From the perspective of Radiobus, youth radio is a flexible tool to enhance education while engaging young people in the effective use and practice of media. Because radio can be used innovatively for the amplification of youth voice, it can be tailored to marginalized youth and the different contexts of their communities around the globe.
Radio is the lynch pin of the youth media field. Because of its ability to provide anonymity for youth in an image-based society, amplify young people’s perspectives to large adult audiences, and use flexibility to engage youth around the globe in and outside schools, youth radio must be supported. Youth radio gives young people a head start on learning how to amplify their voices to a large, unknown audience—which prepares them to present ideas in the public eye, regardless of age, race, sex, class, and other forms of discrimination. Kaari Pitkin, Executive Director of Radio Rookies in NYC explains, “The process of reporting a documentary on something you care about, or that is important in your life, is a process of claiming your own story, often of self-discovery, intellect, and curiosity.” As a result of the important and innovative space radio provides young people, it is important to invest in this arena of youth-led media. Funders that value the voices of marginalized youth and their perspectives ought to support youth radio and not let the power of radio be cast aside, regardless of new and emerging technologies that attract the majority of media funding opportunities.
With radio, one has the freedom to construct content, an opinion, or a message—no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you are from.

Beyond Luck: Youth Media Careers for Alumni

Kellon Innocent is a youth media educator at Educational Video Center (EVC) who learned first hand the impact youth media organizations can have on young people. Kellon came to work for EVC by what he views as ‘chance’—when his skills as a teen participating in EVC’s documentary workshop were identified by a media practitioner.
Kellon knew he wanted to have a career in film, video, and technology. When introduced to EVC, his vision shifted to becoming a youth media educator. His experiences showed him the ways video affects community, one’s peers, and confronts social issues head on.
Growing up in the Bronx, Kellon noticed crack cocaine getting sold openly in the streets and that many people kept within the confines of their comfort zones within each neighborhood. He explains, “[There were issues that] always bothered me [growing up] but I didn’t know how to express that. And video was a way for me to express it.”
At the age of 19, Kellon took a three credit internship at EVC to participate in EVC’s Documentary Workshop. Having been interested in film and the technical end of filmmaking, it made sense to him and his school counselor to connect his interest with video by interning at EVC.
He explains, “I interned without the intention of returning—and then I fell in love with it. Having a finished product was an accomplishment. This was very different from what I experienced in school. Maybe I am still awe-struck.”
However, At EVC, Kellon learned much beyond the technical side of video. He learned to encourage his peers to become civically engaged as they explored questions such as: What are the issues that affect young people’s daily lives? How can young people become involved in their community? What are some of the many different ways youth are expressing their socio-political beliefs and making change?
That year, Kellon was one among sixty NYC students that learned to shoot and edit documentaries on issues that impacted their lives as urban teens. And he is the only one among those sixty who soon after, landed a paid position at EVC.
First, EVC offered Kellon the same number of school credits as the documentary workshop if he returned to assist instructors the following semester. Since he had skills in technology, he also helped out as an equipment technician. And then, one day the equipment manager position opened and Kellon was in a perfect place to fill it. Shortly thereafter, Kellon became a teaching assistant, educating youth the way he once was.
He explains, “Opportunities were given to me and I kept saying yes. I was riding the opportunities. I was lucky; things just fell into place for me.”
Kellon explains that when he became a staff person at EVC as a teaching assistant, “I [realized I wanted] this career but I [just] didn’t know [that it was a possibility]. And all of the sudden, it became what I wanted to do. I can’t see myself doing anything else now. I like going to work. Despite the long hours—at the end of the day, I still want to return. And it’s not just about the video [or teaching young people to] become professionals in the medium—it’s a lot more. Before, I was making student filmmakers. But, I realized that wasn’t the thing to do. It [is] about making concerned and aware citizens [that can] express and analyze [the issues they see].”
One of Kellon’s goals is to start his own youth media organization. Like Steven Goodman—the Founder and Executive Director of EVC—Kellon hopes to take his insights and skills and use them to improve the communities that do not have the tools to produce media that can “speak” on behalf of their experiences, issues, and perspectives. He explains, “I want to go back into the community and offer tools like cameras, editing, and start a production bus that goes into different neighborhoods in NYC. I owe it to people to go back and show how to do this—[through] the vehicle I know—which is video.”
Kellon was drawn to each opportunity to be more involved with EVC as a result of the people and environment at the organization. However, he cautions, “It shouldn’t have just been chance that I got into this position in the field. There needs to be more of these opportunities [for young people and alumni].”
Kellon suggests the youth media field might encourage and create careers in youth media. To professionals and other youth media educators, Kellon states, “keep alumni close and involved after programs complete. Create opportunities after programs end to keep alums within the profession and involved in the program. [In addition, youth want to] learn about fund development. As students, we don’t know that end of youth media organizations—it’s assumed that the organization just has a lot of money. I myself don’t know how much money it takes to run a program.”
To young people involved in youth media organizations, Kellon suggests, “get in, start from the bottom, and jump at opportunities. Stay in touch with the organization and get involved. People recommend you. Once you are in the field, everyone knows you. Do your work.”
Kellon Innocent is one of few youth media alumni that find career paths at the same organizations that inspired them as teens. In his case, both sides relied on individual pro-activity. Had it not been for a practitioner at EVC to recommend a position to Kellon and for Kellon to be open to the opportunity, such a career path may not have existed. Similar opportunities have occurred for other youth to become youth media educators like Kellon. However, young people are often unaware of careers in youth media—even when they work closely with educators, mentors, instructors, professionals, and staff.
Structurally integrating career development and youth media vocation within organizations would be an asset to sustaining, expanding, and growing the field. Some youth media programs have developed career pathways, such as Global Action Project, DCTV, and Ghetto Film School. But why hasn’t the entire field developed concrete career pathways for the young people they serve?
Meghan McDermott, the Executive Director of Global Action Project explains, “The trick is the mission and approach of the organization. Is it structured to be a pipeline to industry or is the focus on creative exploration? Or both? For many, it’s hard to add a career development component because it can require specialized capacity on the part of staff, but some organizations have taken manageable steps such as allocating general operating funds to youth scholarships or seeking grants to stipend intern and fellowship positions. At G.A.P., we hire program alum as staff. This next step within the organization reflects their leadership as well as offers a concrete way to reach future goals.”
Not all organizations can build extensive, holistic career development programs. “The nice thing is people are doing many different things—hiring young people as interns, creating scholarships and fellowships, partnering with college prep organizations, and linking to outside resources,” explains McDermott.
Some organizations might not have any career development opportunities. For some, the capacity is not there. Others do not have significant funding. Still others, would be moving away from the mission and vision of their organization if they did this programming. Youth media professionals are focused on making good youth media programs—spending funding on training young people, providing media technology, and maintaining the capacity to keep excellent instructors and staff on board. It takes additional resources, funding, and organizational capacity to launch major career development programs in youth media.
However, figuring out how to support those organizations which want to and should incorporate career planning and development programming is critical to the success of the field. Organizations and allies can start by opening dialogue about the issue and by making the case to funders and partners. It is clearly a valuable, and often life changing experience, when a young person experiences their first step in building a youth media career, but these experiences should not just be reserved for the few.
It makes sense that opportunities (such as Kellon’s) come off as chance partly because young people and positions in the field are transient. Teens are in programs for a short duration of time, such as a semester long workshop, and upon completion, disperse. During these programs, work is rigorous amongst peers working to get the final product done. As a result, the chances for pro-active exchanges between teens and practitioners that lead to career opportunities are rare and easy to let pass. Organizations must find creative ways to make such opportunities sustainable for young people and the field—taking luck out of the equation.

Continue reading Beyond Luck: Youth Media Careers for Alumni

Non-profit does not mean Non-revenue

If only those compelling youth-produced documentaries and essays paid for themselves.
But, they do not—and are not likely to—unless youth media organizations articulate and execute a well-planned earned income strategy. Earned income is defined generally as receiving money in exchange for a product or service that an organization provides. That includes any money a group generates from ticket sales, subscriptions, program service fees, advertising or contracts.
The focus on earned income within the nonprofit community continues to rise, fueled by boards, funders and stakeholders enamored with the idea of social entrepreneurship and diversified funding streams. The good news is that youth media groups are in an excellent position to capitalize on the trend, as they often produce a tangible product like videos, web sites and magazines, said Tony Ramsden, an earned income expert with the Stanford Business School’s Alumni Consulting Team. Plus, youth media groups have access to a coveted young audience prized by many in the advertising and corporate worlds.
With proper planning, these powerful products can generate significant revenue for a nonprofit organization. One immediate bottom line benefit for youth media groups is generating flexible dollars for spur-of-the-moment needs or simply general operating costs.
“My philosophy is always: The more income you can make, the less strings that are attached,” said Matthew Johnson, executive director of Strive Media Institute in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a group that generates 55 percent of its budget from its media products and services. “You’re a lot freer to make quick decisions and, being in communications, you have to make those decisions.”
Market Research is Youth Media’s Friend
Before a nonprofit launches a dazzling new product or allots increased attention to boosting its earned income, the group should ask a few fundamental questions and create a comprehensive business plan so that the income strategy is organized, sustainable and relevant.
The first step is to conduct preliminary market research exploring who will pay (and how much they will pay) for the intended product or service that the organization could provide. For example, if a group is considering expanding its ad revenue, it could interview 10 businesses that might be willing to place ads and explore why they would or would not advertise, what barriers to advertising exist and what rates they would pay, Ramsden said.
The market research will also help an organization discover whether the earned income opportunity has the potential to create a profit. According to Cynthia Massarsky, a social enterprise consultant and president of SocialReturns, a nonprofit dedicated to growing social entrepreneurship, “You have to keep your eye on demand and continuously ensure that demand exists. Not say, ‘If we make it, they will buy it,’ but find out a way in advance to determine if there is a willingness to pay, not just a need.”
Do Not Ignore the Business Plan
This market research should feed into a comprehensive business plan created by the group and its board that articulates an income-producing strategy. The plan should address market demand, management, human resources, operations and capitalization in a written document that describes the business, Massarsky advises.
While planning, non profit organizations should consider whether the organization has the right people and entrepreneurial culture in place to be successful at earned income. In practical terms, that means that the nonprofit organization’s leadership and selected board members have applicable business expertise to complement programmatic expertise.
“Anyone in business will tell you management is key,” Massarsky said. “If you don’t have the right people in there who know how to do the job and do it well, it’s kind of a recipe for failure.”
Youth Radio in Oakland, Calif. has found board members with experience in the business of media who have been instrumental in asking the right questions and designing the most beneficial deals and professional media partnerships,” said Lissa Soep, senior producer and education director.
The vital entrepreneurial spirit that experts cite existed from the start at Youth Radio. The organization has examined the possibilities for earned income since its founding in 1992. Today, Youth Radio earns income from fees for its radio products, such as stories aired on NPR, and studio rentals.
“It was kind of an entrepreneurial starting point, to say, ‘There’s a need for youth perspectives in every major story in the news, not here and there, but to really hear from young people,” Soep said of Youth Radio’s founding.
Don’t Forget the Mission
Like all things related to fundraising, earned income can drain staff time in the endless pursuit of increasing revenue. It is important for organizations to continually examine whether or not the earned income strategy enriches an organization’s mission.
The effort and planning it takes to earn revenue often drains mission-driven work in organizations that don’t plan well, Ramsden said. “Once you start to earn a little revenue and it looks like it’s going well, sometimes the tail can start to wag the dog,” he said. “The message here is that you need to be prepared to spend more time on this than you wish you had to, both in the planning and execution phase.”
For former film and broadcast producer Jeff McCarter, founder and executive director of Free Spirit Media(FSM) in Chicago, Illinois, that has meant starting to formalize the organizational structure to support the contract production work that the video education and production organization conducts. FSM earns 40-45 percent of its revenue from contracts with schools and businesses to provide media education and video production, such as filming the concert festival Lollapalooza for the past two years.
“When I left doing professional production work, I had to say no to these kinds of projects a lot to get Free Spirit’s core educational mission off the ground,” he said. “I realized that this is an opportunity we have in a limited fashion to bring these on.”
That’s not to say that earned income cannot add to the youth development experience for youth media. In fact, young people at Youth Radio have embraced digital media culture and the creation and distribution of media online along with an increasingly entrepreneurial culture.
“Our young people have a sense of passion and urgency to be in the game, and they really see Youth Radio as a way to do that and to see and think of themselves as media makers who are business-minded,” Soep said.
Tips from the Field
As a youth media group starts planning and refining its earned income strategy, here are a few selected tips from the field:
Make products and rates available to clients: When Puja Telikicherla joined Young DC newspaper as managing director this past summer, the organization didn’t have an organized rate card and advertising information available to potential advertisers. She immediately created an ad kit for the 10,000 circulation youth-written monthly newspaper, posted it online and started receiving ad requests.
Provide free “samples”: After she got the rates and kit established, Telikicherla began offering free and discounted sample ads to her friends and potential clients to illustrate sample work. It also helped increase the aesthetic look and variety for the newspaper. “Since I came on, I thought the only way to get ads, is to print ads.” She checked with professional newspapers that advised her that this was standard practice. Young DC has had paid ads every issue since and has a contracted commission advertising person who receives 15 percent commission from every ad he sells.
Make your business case to clients: Johnson of Strive Media Institute said it’s important to “put together a deal that allows the sponsor to see the value in the business and get value in what they’re spending.” Whether that’s emphasizing the reach of a TV show or publication or emphasizing the public relations angle or tax write-off, non profits need to demonstrate how this will benefit a corporate donor or client. “If you can do that, the money is released easily.” For example, Manpower Inc., a global employment services firm, has sponsored Strive Media’s Gumbo Teen Job Directory, a comprehensive guide to teen jobs in Milwaukee, a natural sponsorship connection.
Do not underbid the product/service: Make sure that the product or service that the organizations deliver makes money, Johnson said. Don’t underbid the services or product and watch out for expense overruns. That goes back to knowing the business and doing research beforehand.
Explore new media and professional partnerships: Youth Radio is currently working with iTunes to distribute media content and is exploring other online revenue streams for digital content, Soep said. The Internet has made earned income more accessible. For example, Youth Radio is exploring premium subscriber content for its Teach Youth Radio Project, a free online curriculum for teachers that explains how to integrate youth-produced content into classrooms and other settings. This might mean having subscriptions for updated monthly lesson plans and new stories, Soep suggests.
Learn to say no: Don’t get drawn astray from the mission by promises of large sums. At Strive Media, Johnson was forced to turn down a contract of more than $180,000 from the city of Milwaukee for his participants to conduct undercover compliance checks to purchase cigarettes. Though the money was tempting, it did not enrich the students’ media education or communication skills. At Youth Radio, the leadership ensures its youth participants have a voice in which projects the organization undertakes and that its youth editorial advisory board has full control. This has meant turning down a number of offers to conduct youth focus groups, as that doesn’t contribute to the groups’ mission, Soep noted.
Find the right partners: For Free Spirit Media, a sizable portion of its budget comes from working with schools that donate space, equipment and dollars for the organization’s services. It was not always that way though. “Not every school sees value and some schools either have budgets that are not flexible or have administrations that are not imaginative enough to pull off this kind of relationship,” McCarter said. For him, that means finding schools willing to provide financial support to FSM and schools that appreciate its work. McCarter suggests youth media groups working in schools explore the school’s arts or youth development budget categories, as school discretionary funding is also spoken for.
Encourage an entrepreneurial culture: Strive Media uses different techniques to encourage an entrepreneurial culture, one of which is assigning business titles to youth working on Gumbo products. The participants also receive business cards so when they are meeting with clients and potential funders, they feel more confident about making a pitch.
These are only a few helpful tips for youth organizations wishing to begin or refine earned income opportunities. Experts suggest tapping into the numerous articles and books that tackle social entrepreneurship and earned income which are available online. Organizations should also work with board and staff members to begin examining an organization’s potential for earned income and to draft a comprehensive business plan. The process usually takes about six months to 1 year.
For more tips, articles and resource libraries on earned income, check out:
Social Enterprise Alliance: The membership organization for stakeholders interested in building sustainable nonprofits through earned income strategies. A nonprofit organization dedicated to growing social entrepreneurship.
Community Wealth Ventures: A social enterprise consulting firm with a great resource list.
The Stanford Social Innovation Review: A magazine dedicated to providing research and practice-based knowledge for social innovation projects.
Aspen Institute’s Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy Program (NSPP):
Ashoka: Dedicated to recognizing and supporting global social entrepreneurship.
Sara Melillo is a journalism program officer for the McCormick Tribune Foundation in Chicago, Illinois. The Foundation’s journalism program invests in organizations working in News Leadership, Free Speech, Journalism Education and Youth Media. Note: Free Spirit Media and Strive Media Institute are current grantees in McCormick Tribune Foundation’s youth media portfolio.

Funding Available for Innovative Community-Based Research Projects/Courses

Corporation for National & Community Service has just announced that funds are available on a competitive basis for innovative community-based research (CBR) courses and projects. Awards will be between $2,500 – $7,500 per year for one to three years. These grants will be awarded to higher education institutions in the United States doing innovative CBR work that can serve as models for best practices.
Examples of innovative work could include, but are not limited to:
• Linking CBR to ongoing direct service partnerships, especially in programs that serve disadvantaged youth (e.g., evaluating the effectiveness of an after-school tutoring program involving students in an America Reads Program);
• Connecting community-based research to the policy and information needs of nonprofit organizations and citizens;
• Developing campus partnerships with youth civic engagement groups that involve youth as researchers supported by college students;
• Establishing summer CBR internships that enable students to provide full-time CBR assistance to a community partner;
• Creating stipended CBR internships during the school year that leverage Federal Work-Study and part-time AmeriCorps student funding;
• Organizing multi-site CBR projects that link campus and community partners in different geographical locations (e.g., a study of college prep programs for low-income youth in three rural communities).
For more information on the National Community-Based Research Networking Initiative, see the project web page. For all program-related inquiries, please write to Lauren Davis.
All grant recipients must agree to abide by the regulations of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which can be found at
Proposals must be submitted by February 1, 2007. If you are uncertain that your project fits the criteria, send a letter or e-mail outlining your project for feedback.