2008 Youth Media Blog-o-Thon: Interview

The 2008 Youth Media Blog-o-Thon, created by YO! Youth Outlook/New American Media and Wire Tap Magazine in San Francisco, CA has had two episodes focused on the Election. Early October, YMR interviewed Jamilah King of WireTap Magazine and Eming Piansay of YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia/New American Media to gain key insights in their vision for the Blog-o-Thon, partnership, and next steps.
About the Interviewees:
Jamilah King, 23, is the associate editor for Wiretap Magazine. Born and raised in San Francisco, her writing focuses mainly on race, arts and issues that affecting young communities of color. She’s working as a labor organizer in California and New York. Her writing has also appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, TheNation.com and Pop and Politics.
Eming Piansay, 22, is a student at San Francisco State University Journalism Department. She is a multimedia producer and blog editor for YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia and contributes to Asian Week/Beyond Borders.

YMR: What initiated the partnership between Wire Tap Magazine and Youth Outlook to start the Youth Media Blog-o-Thon?
Jamilah King: As two San Francisco-based Youth Media outlets, we felt like it was sensible and necessary partnership to make. The blog-a-thon was originally Neela Banerjee’s idea. As Managing Editor for YO!, her work focuses mostly on Bay Area youth issues. Both of our organizations put considerable effort into developing young bloggers, writers and journalists. Since WireTap has a national audience that tends to be a few years older, we felt that together we could gather a diverse collection of young writers whose issues were both local and national in scope.
[We chose] blogs [because they] have the potential to be democratic spaces. They are usually free [and] a little less intimidating than professional publications [such as] online and print. That’s not to say that problems don’t arise—bloggers of color routinely have their opinions attacked, and the internet is plagued by the same systemic barriers that exist in society. [Overall, blogs] are tremendously empowering to publish your words and stories, and have readers relate and comment on them.
YMR: You wanted to bridge youth media orgs across the field to dialogue around specific issues. Was this youth-driven? Was it successful in inserting youth voice in the national agenda?
King: The organizers of the blog-a-thon are all relatively young. Kristina Rizga and Neela Banerjee are both in the early thirties; Eming Pinsay, who was also instrumental is getting the blog-a-thon off the ground, and I are around 22-years-old. Initially, both Eming and I did a lot of outreach to our personal networks. For our first blog-a-thon, young bloggers like 24-year-old Atlanta-based organizer Kori Chen (http://thecheddarbox.wordpress.com/) participated, as well as Colin Ehara, a 25-year-old grad student, activist and musician (http://colinresponse.wordpress.com/).
We’re still measuring the results. With each blog-a-thon, the number of participants grows. Most of our topics—elections, sex, money, violence—are closely aligned with the national youth agenda, which was crafted by members of GenVote (http://genvote.org/), of which WireTap is a member. The Youth Agenda asks for explicit action to issues that directly effect young people like access to healthcare and comprehensive sex education? [These] examples show that the issues we’re concerned with don’t exist in a vacuum; they are national issues that should be made national priorities.
YMR: In February 2008, you launched the Election 2008 topic. What drove the conversation and what were youth contributors saying?
King: Our first blog-a-thon began with a discussion about the presidential elections. Among the issues we discussed were the viability of candidates and the primacy of race and gender in our country. Are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton examples of how far we’ve come in addressing racial and gender barriers, or are they merely exceptions to the rule? Both Eming and I contributed, as well as 25-year-old spoken word artist Adriel Luis, who wrote an Open Letter to Hillary Clinton and Eugene from Boston Progress Radio who tackled the silence surrounding issues of immigration and detention.
For a more comprehensive look at what we discussed, please check out the following links:
Calling All Youth Media Bloggers (YO!)
Elections Blog-a-thon update (WireTap)
YMR: One YO! blogger states: “I’m standing at the peak of an election process that has been propelled forward by the young generation of voters.” It seems that the youth media field is also standing at this peak—can this blog effectively propel the opinions and youth generated media onto the radar of policy and decision makers?
King: Definitely. Youth media is part of a broader youth movement that recognizes the potential and responsibility that young folks have to shape their futures.
On a more basic level, the media landscape is changing. The internet in general, and blogs, in particular, yield a tremendous amount of power to affect people’s perspectives. They make our access to information quicker and more opinionated. Since young folks have grown up in a digital age, we tend to be more intuitive when it comes to the internet. Thanks to grassroots-led movements in hip-hop and student organizing, we’re learning how to use our internet savvy with practical political methods that effect change.
An example of this would be in San Francisco, where students at June Jordan School for Equity staged a walk-out and peace rally to protest gun violence (see more: http://www.homeysf.org/). They were able to mobilize their teachers, parents, community members and classmates and hold a tremendous rally that got lots of media attention and will hopefully have a tremendous effect on the upcoming November elections where Prop 6 (the Runner Initiative), a dangerous anti-youth ballot initiative.
YMR: Oct 22-Oct 29 you are launching another Election 2008 blog-o-thon for youth producers in and out of the field to amplify their words nationally. But this time, you specifically want to reach decision makers. How are you going about this?
Eming Piansay: With the current state of the economy, health care, the war in Iraq these issues, though they were brought to light in our February [blog-o-thon], are still very much relevant now. The youth population is about to head into four years of a new administration and these issues are the ones that are going to make or break their relationship with the incoming administration. [It] is important that young people have the opportunity to have a discussion about these issues because at some point, [young people] will [have] to deal with them.
King: Our first blog-a-thon on elections was focused more on the presidential primaries. Of course, presidential politics is a theme we’ll continue to explore this time around, but we’re also trying to focus on more local issues that have a direct and immediate impact on youth.
We have timed this blog-a-thon to happen a couple weeks before elections to infuse a youth perspective into what has become a very divisive media discussion of the candidates. We’re trying to focus more on issues—healthcare, immigration, education—as a way of putting pressure on the next president to not only use our willpower to win office, but to address our community’s needs.
It’s a process. Really, we’re building off of the momentum created by the excitement of this election. We targeted youth media makers primarily because we’re all doing very important work in our communities. WireTap is part of GenVote, which is pushing the Youth Agenda and Vote Hip Hop (www.votehiphop.com). GenVote (www.genvote.org) is a national alliance of 18 national organizations that do work around issues that effect young people, so the agenda points came from our collective experiences and common interests. We’re pushing for the next president to see our potential, see how many folks are behind us, and realize that it’s in the nation’s interests to tackle youth issues.
YMR: What role does youth media organizations & specifically, youth generated media, play on having voting and electoral power?
Eming: YO! and youth media organizations aim to educate young people on important voter issues that are not major issues discussed by the main stream media. By doing so, it is our hope to impart knowledge and enlighten young voters on issues they may not have been aware of before.
King: We can play a tremendous role. First off, if we’re old enough to vote, we can take our beliefs into the polls in November. We also have the power to influence our parents and communities. It’s also incredibly important to infuse a youth perspective before elections in order to show that we have opinions and are organized. [We] are the future, and whether it’s now or ten years from now, our experiences will shape the destiny of our country.
YMR: What role does youth media organizations & specifically, youth generated media, play in weighing in the vote/having electoral power—and to stay on the radar of decision makers so that the youth vote momentum continues post Nov 5?
Eming: Reaching out to the youth vote is a very important tool for all persons in government. By reaching out to young people/youth media decision makers would be able to get a perspective that they wouldn’t normally get. By going to schools and actually talking to young people face to face they would essentially help themselves but also give young people a better sense of who is running their government.
King: Recently, GenVote released the Youth Agenda. We’re working together, as well as with other coalitions, to map out practical plans for impacting the next administration. Obviously, a lot depends on who’s elected, but either way, we want to make sure that we have a set agenda. Young people have played a tremendous role in this election, from The League of Young Voters registering thousands of new voters, or the University of California Student Association registering over 40,000 new voters, to the 24-year-old founder of Facebook leading the Obama campaign’s online strategy. We have the technological saavy and political insight to earn the ear of the next president.
Concretely, there are several participants in this edition of the blog-a-thon who are involved in direct voter outreach. This month, we’ve included participants from Trick or Vote (http://www.trickorvote.org/), a national non-partisan costume canvass. They’ve been working to register new voters through the Bus Project (http://busproject.org/). Khmer Girls in Action (http://www.kgalb.org/), a community organization based in Long Beach, CA is also a participant in this month’s blog-a-thon. The organization is made up mainly of young Asian Pacific Islander women, and they’ve banded together to make PSA’s in opposition to California’s proposition 8, which would require parental notification for underage abortions.
These are just our initial steps toward bridging youth media, grassroots organizing and electoral politics. You can’t have one without the other, and I think the youth movement—which includes media and organizing—has done a great job recently of coming together and forming a common vision. Whether it’s rallying around Green Collar Jobs, Tuition Relief, or more grassroots efforts, [we have] become organized enough to win concrete changes no matter who gets elected to the White House in November.
YMR: Would you say that blogging is paramount for the youth media field (both young people and practitioners) to dialogue with one another across the U.S. and around the globe?
King: I would say that blogging is one step in the fight for social change, but it can only go so far. Ideally, it has to be supplemented by on-the-ground organizing on all levels— grassroots, student and electoral-based. Your message will only travel as far as you promote it, and then it’s up to individuals and communities to take action, and fight against issues that affect them. With the recent student walk out in San Francisco, online tools—such as YouTube and Web 2.0 media—played a huge role. But at the end of the day, it was folks getting out into the streets and making their voices heard that made their actions so powerful.
Of course, technology allows us to communicate with people around the globe at the click of a button. So we can share our victories, strategies and experiences with people around the globe and build stronger movements. The battles we’re waging are situated in a global economic system, so this type of worldwide access is crucial.
[It is] crucial for youth producers and adult practitioners to help more young people gain access [and] develop the skills to [produce] media that can accompany grassroots movements. [Blogging is] a great alternative for producing news that affects us. Often in the mainstream media, young people, particularly young folks of color, are criminalized. So this kind of do-it-yourself media allows young folks to create positive images and tell stories that matter.
Of course, there are challenges. Blogging takes time and resources that very busy young folks, organizers and staff don’t have. We’re currently working to develop a new layout for the blog-a-thon’s that centralizes it in one place so it will be easier to navigate.
YMR: How might other youth media orgs learn from your partnership between YO! and Wiretap? What are the outcomes? Successes? Challenges?
Eming: Collaborations between youth media is a gold mine of information. By sharing resources, we have doubled our efforts in something that on our own might have been harder to achieve. With the success of our prior blog-a-thons we have generated a lot of healthy, interesting discussions that can be expanded into our topics for blog-a-thons. By gathering together different youth writers we have created a web of communication that we personally haven’t seen in cross/web/blogging communication.
King: We’re really grateful to have a great partnership with Youth Outlook. First, we have very open dialogue and similar missions. It also helps that we’re located blocks away from each other. There aren’t any egos and we’re very clear about our mission: YO! works primarily with Bay Area-based high school-aged youth. WireTap works primarily with folks across the country who tend to be college age and older. We both bring tremendous resources to the table—YO! brings their strong local networks, they awesome reporters and editors and their connections to local schools and community groups. I think we at WireTap bring in regional diversity and our own political networks.
The challenges: both of our organizations have limited capacity and resources. We do a great job at making the best of what we have, but it’s often challenging to do practical things, like build a stronger infrastructure for the blog-a-thon, recruit younger writers in schools and spend the time to manage the blog-a-thon on top of our daily work routine.
As for what others can learn—it’s easy! There’s no reason other youth media organizations shouldn’t be reaching out and working with one another more often. I think the first bit hurdle is to do it. We’re often busy working with our content, trying to develop our content and our writers, that we often overlook partnerships as an essential tool in strengthening our staff, membership base, content and the broader movement toward social justice. As youth organizations, we can always use more resources, and I think the partnership between WireTap and YO! is an example of how easy and useful such partnerships can be.
Last Wednesday, we kicked off the fifth youth media blog-a-thon. This months topic is elections—both on the national and local levels. So far we’ve gotten a good number of responses, ranging from Khmer Girls in Action speaking out against California’s latest attempt to make it harder for young women to get abortions, to why political geeks are back in style and how the Obama campaign has reinvigorated community organizers.
For a full list of what’s been said so far, check out the stories below. Read, comment, respond and feel free to pass them along:
Khmer Girls in Action (Video): No on Prop 4
Becoming a Man (Steven Liang, WireTap): Grappling with manhood, homophobia, and gay marriage in my parents home country.
From Cynicism to Hope (Lynne Nguyen, Washington Community Action Network): This election demonstrates the potential for grassroots community organizing.
Our Next Prez on Latin America (April Aguirre, Chi Remezcla)
Why I’m Voting for Obama (El Guante): He’s not perfect, but he’s a step in the right direction.
Political Geeks Rule (Alex Berke, The Bus Project): From doorknocking to voter registration, political nerdery is the new chic.
Obama: Not Enough to End Racism in America (April Joy Damian, Young People For)
Best of the Worst (Silvano Pontoniere, Youth Outlook)
Senate Candidate Launches Campus Tour (Sarah Burris, WireTap): Kansas Senate candidate hosts week long youth tour on college tax credit.
Politically Unplugged (Eming Piansay, Youth Outlook)