The Youth Video Exchange Network: A One-Stop-Shop for Youth Media
The youth media field needs a concentrated web-based hub: a “one stop shop” to store and distribute media. Right now, youth media organizations are using YouTube, Blip, Vimeo, Archive and other alternative web hosts to store and share their media online. But by storing media in different places, often for different purposes, the youth media field is duplicating efforts, failing to make connections with each other, reaching fewer viewers, and letting valuable resources pass us by. Such a diminished impact is especially problematic when non-profits and Cable Access Centers are already unstable.
To help the field collaborate and cooperate on distributing media, I offer as an example the Youth Video Exchange Network (YVXN), an effort started by the National Youth Media Exchange Project (NYMAP). It has had its successes, challenges, and changes, but ultimately can help the field assess, revise, revamp and rethink youth media distribution as we know it.
History of NYMAP/YVXN
In 2001, five Cable Access Centers with active youth media programs came together to start NYMAP. The goal was to build a strong and diverse youth media presence in the Access Community. The most tangible application was to begin regularly sharing youth media with each other to air on Cable Access channels in our communities (as Cable Access centers we provide commercial free channels to the community on the cable network, and as NYMAP members we commit to setting aside a block of time where youth media is aired).
As told in more detail by Andrew Lynn in an article written for YMR in 2007, NYMAP members began collaborating by regularly sending videotapes to each other in what was called a “bicycle exchange.” Then, in 2007, we received funding to launch the Youth Video Exchange Network (YVXN), a web-based initiative to share media using digital file sharing methods. A website was built, which is currently under construction as we revamp the site www.nymapexchange.net, and a variety of open source tools were utilized to share broadcast quality media with each other.
Over the past two years we have had some successes and experienced some bumps along the road. Though digital file-sharing worked, it was more complex than we wanted it to be, and did not promote use of the NYMAP website as an integral and interactive tool in the process. Media was exchanged between Access Centers but it was not the explosion that we were hoping for. At the same time, the landscape of Cable Access changed as state franchising, the downturn in the economy, and shifting priorities prevented us from being able to devote time to the project or invite new NYMAP members.
Enter YVXN 2.0
Despite these challenges, the road ahead for YVXN is exciting and hopeful. The current NYMAP members—Manhattan Neighborhood Network (Manhattan, NY), Grand Rapids Community Media Center (Grand Rapids, MI), People TV (Atlanta, GA), and Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (Saint Paul, MN)—have embarked on a new method of digital distribution that is more efficient and opens up new collaborative distribution possibilities for the entire youth media field. While the original focus of YVXN was broadcast quality media by and for Cable Access centers, the new incarnation has expanded to include web distribution of youth media, and invites youth media organizations to be part of the network.
As before, members can upload and download broadcast quality youth media, unlike most video hosting websites, which require a compressed version. But the similarity to the previous site end there. Web 2.0 functionality has been integrated into the YVXN site making it useful and relevant for all youth media organizations. Videos can be streamed live from the website, be embedded in other websites, posted to social networking sites, commented on at the site and remixed into theme-based reels. Media can be archived on the site indefinitely, creating potential for a readily accessible youth media archive. In addition, the new website has a searchable library, enabling videos to be searched by topic, genre, and organization. This feature provides many possibilities for community organizations and educators interested in using youth media to address issues.
We have already started broadening the scope of our network to include youth media organizations through a partnership with the Twin Cities Youth Media Network (TCYMN). TCYMN was interested in expanding their website to include a searchable database of youth media; we realized that by joining forces, we could develop something even better that was mutually beneficial. As a result, the TCYMN website now includes a searchable youth media database that includes all of the other features present on the YVXN site (streaming, embedding, posting, and more), and NYMAP members can automatically view and download TCYMN members’ videos.
Contributions to the Field
To be sure, the newest version of YVXN is still in the beta stages. The website will re-launch next month. We are excited that the field will be able to greatly benefit from YVXN in the following ways:
First, YVXN has a “boutique” nature, which means all youth media organizations can house their work on a single site. This creates the opportunity for like-minded organizations to review each other’s work, create dialogue among youth producers, and collaborate with each other easily.
Second, YVXN creates the opportunity for more effective distribution of youth media. Educators, community organizers, artists, and activists can be directed to the site to find and view media, and find other content exploring similar issues. Cable Access stations benefit from membership, as they can download a greater selection of accessible and high-quality youth media pieces to air. Currently, youth media produced at youth media organizations has limited visibility on Cable Access—usually just in the city the organization is based, if at all. But with YVXN, youth media pieces only need to be uploaded once to be seen all over the country—whether through multiple local Access channels (often hungry for content) or beyond the field’s current reach. Youth media organizations benefit as well from this wider distribution of their media without the increased effort.
Third, YVXN provides one upload for a variety of functions: archiving, streaming, embedding, posting, inclusion in a database, and more. This is both an important time saver and an effective resource for youth media organizations that are strapped for time and resources but wanted to document, archive and share their work.
We are at a critical point with digital distribution of youth media: the possibilities are endless and the ability to harness the technology is within our reach. A central locale for online distribution would create opportunities for increased collaboration, visibility, and connectivity. For youth media stakeholders interested in joining YVXN, we welcome the field to help shape this important youth media tool. As we prepare to re-launch the NYMAP site, if your organization is interested in becoming a “beta” member, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If the aim of youth media is to have youth voice heard and recognized by an audience, YVXN is the pipeline for the field to increase our efforts and those of the young people we serve.
Nicola Pine is the youth programs director at Saint Paul Neighborhood Network. Since 1996 she has been mentoring youth in video production and working to increase access and build visibility of youth media locally and nationally. She is a founding member of the Twin Cities Youth Media Network and is actively involved in the National Youth Media Access Project. In her spare time she blogs, bikes, and bakes cookies with her son.