It is a pleasure to share this report summarizing conversations that took place at a retreat in September 2013 convened by the Youth Media Reporter’s editorial team. The retreat, gathering together fourteen stakeholders from diverse youth media organizations and regions, occurred at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The report, issued on the eve of a youth media pre-conference at the ACM & NAMAC State and Main Conference in Philadelphia, is long overdue but provides nonetheless a record of critical conversations on issues that continue to shape the landscape of the youth media field.
The idea for a small convening of longtime advisors and critical friends of YMR first emerged in Spring 2010, when Steve Goodman, Educational Video Center director, spent three days in residence at Muhlenberg College. Conversations during Steve’s residency shaped our belief that significant shifts in the field demanded collaborative, informed political and cultural analysis, and that Muhlenberg College would be an ideal setting for a retreat to occur.
We did not know at the time that Muhlenberg would become the future institutional home of YMR. But over the next two years, former YMR editor Ingrid Hu Dahl and I worked through a slow transition to move the journal from FHI 360 to Muhlenberg College. Ingrid noted at the time, “That YMR will be led by a team of students at Muhlenberg College ensures that the journal’s evolution will be in the best of hands—inquisitive minds, investigative hopes, determined best practices, and the finger on the pulse of change.”
Situating YMR at Muhlenberg leverages the talents and learning of undergraduate students. A small but dedicated group of students connect their learning and growth to the HYPE youth media program and are transformed through their work with HYPE teens. The journal will benefit from their interest in contributing to the field of youth media as they take up roles as article editors, researchers, book reviewers, and help increase YMR’s ability to leverage social media to broaden awareness of and connectivity throughout the field.
Early in 2013, Muhlenberg College provided a welcoming site for a youth media retreat bringing together a small group of leaders representing a diverse range of youth media and media arts organizations for two days of intensive discussions. The group was intentionally small, gathering not with the purpose of setting an agenda for the field, but to think about YMR’s role in the field. The participants were longtime practitioners, organizers, scholars and supporters of youth media, interested in various and allied efforts to build the field and its visibility with and through YMR. Our face-to-face gathering provided a much desired and needed opportunity for sustained conversation, collective inquiry, and planning around key issues facing youth media. A premise of the retreat’s organization was that youth media scholarship and youth media practice will benefit from greater mutual exposure. Some participants were returning to a conversation started in 2009, others were new to the table—and some are part of the youth media pre-conference occurring at the ACM & NAMAC National Conference in Philadelphia, August 6-8, 2014.
Mapping the Field
When we gathered together nearly a year ago, we were especially interested to map some of the major and still evolving transformations within the landscape of youth media since YMR’s previous 2009 retreat and since its last publication in 2010. The nature and scope of change has yet to be fully defined, but some broad significant shifts are notable:
- New types of media—digital, social, networked—and new media practices are increasingly central to many youth media experiences.
- New regional networks of youth media programs have emerged, providing new models of strategic partnership and alliance and new pathways for youth leadership in the field.
- An emergent national youth media network gaining membership and momentum and defining its role within the field and in relation to other field building resources.
- While many innovative new programs focused on digital technologies are multiplying, a number of flagship youth media programs have closed or are struggling to keep their doors open.
- Key intermediary organizations—NAMAC, NAMLE, ACM—have become more central to efforts to ally with, build and sustain the youth media field, and a National Youth Media Network has emerged to help create stronger connections within the field.
Much of our retreat dialogue explored these critical developments, trying to understand their roots and implications, and sharing effective strategies for responding to them. The following questions framed our discussions, as part of a broad exploration of how – if at all – to define the field and how our various definitions might serve our collective progress.
- What is the current state of the youth media field? Where do we see it going and how do we continue to evolve as a field while maintaining the principles and values in which youth media is anchored? Are there shifts in the principles and values informing youth media education and practice and what do these shifts mean?
- How are definitions and practices of youth media changing and what economic, political and cultural forces are shaping these changes?
- How are the changing state of the fields of education and afterschool (or out-of-school time) impacting the state of youth media, and impacting youth?
- Where are there intersections and creative tensions between youth media and “digital media learning” and “connected learning” approaches highlighted and promoted by major current funding initiatives? Are there meaningful distinctions between these concepts and practices?
- How can youth media leaders and allies have a stronger, more unified voice at the broad funding level? How can youth media leaders craft effective strategies to help shape alternative futures for the field?
Our goals for our short time together were ambitious and, in retrospect, beyond the scope of what was possible to address in just two short days. But these goals will continue to inform YMR in its role as a field building journal and resource:
- To gather diverse perspectives on the state of youth media today and on its possible futures.
- To create an agenda for YMR that identifies key questions and themes that will shape and organize upcoming issues.
- To sketch out a concept paper for working with allies to imagine and build youth media alternatives that place the value of youth voices and civic participation at the center.
- To map recent research in or related to the field that has inspired or helped us to think about our work in new ways.
- To identify core competencies of the national intermediaries (NAMAC, NAMLE, ACM) and discuss how these can be called upon to support the youth media sector.
- To explore new potential allies in intersecting fields who might help youth media leaders advance and deepen our work.
- To consider models and strategies for organizing a larger, youth inclusive youth media conference.
Participants were asked to reflect on developments within the field that are engaging their time, capturing their focus, and currently driving their work. The responses were wide-ranging but some broad themes rose to the surface of our robust discussions and at times animated debates:
- Connecting youth voices to community organizing issues and supporting youth as they become more actively engaged in their communities.
- Field-building dialogues and partnerships with schools, libraries, the tech sector, community colleges, and other media arts and education institutions.
- Shifts in landscape for funding and support.
- New media frameworks, including video games and app development, intersecting with longstanding youth media engagement with radio, video, and print media.
Among the topics that retreat attendees identified as priorities for collective inquiry and attention, nothing resonated as strongly as the need and desire for strengthening the national youth media field. A strong, connected field will help youth media organizations collectively:
- Increase the visibility of youth media expertise in broad narratives about digital media and learning currently trending and driven by MacArthur’s DML initiative.
- Share information and innovation to promote the collective interests of youth media organizations.
- Find allies and collaborating partners – in formal and informal education sectors — who are resisting the trends in their fields and institutions that deny youth voice and agency.
- Navigate youth media’s identity and location in emerging new/transmedia spaces and keeping youth voice and critical social engagement at the center of what we do.
Defining Youth Media
Throughout our two days, participants frequently returned to questions about the definition of youth media. How do we define our organizations, practices, and purposes in a 21st century landscape requiring us to wear multiple hats? While our goal was not to arrive at or impose a singular definition to capture (or control) the array of innovation and activity that identifies itself with youth media, we did challenge ourselves and each other to clarify what we think we are talking about when we talk about youth media.
Youth media work is interdisciplinary and practice oriented, combining pedagogies and scholarship with efforts to improve the lives (and life chances) of youth and the communities in which they live. We might usefully think of our work as varied currents, flowing in similar directions, rather than converging together into a single stream. But it was clear from our retreat discussions that there is significant and meaningful overlap and confluence apparent in our missions, values, and practices.
The retreat emphasized that youth media’s strengths are amplified by drawing on the combined resources of multiple lenses, and its power in practice is enhanced by partnerships with diverse coalitions, goals, and visions. The retreat also highlighted that at times we bring different motivations to the work, which are no doubt shaped by the particular histories and contexts in which we work: intellectual conviction, civic responsibility, community media, youth advocacy, human rights, arts advocacy, etc. But we did come to some agreement—perhaps tentative and fragile—that our work embraces a common value orientation rooted in care for the lives, learning, expressions, voices, and opportunities of young people. Surfacing in our discussions was a collective belief in the importance of free and fair access to communicative and expressive opportunities for youth and a commitment to advancing the field. Some of our conversation intentionally pushed back against the kinds of ideological line drawing around what constitutes “real” youth media, and chose instead to keep clearly in sight some loosely agreed upon goals and principles, especially the following:
Youth media is critical to the broader media democracy movement
Youth media is youth activism
Youth media provides space for a kind of learning that typically doesn’t occur during school in an era of high stakes testing and assessment
Youth media is dynamic and differentiated in practice and form but builds on some common ground
Topics for Further Discussion
Our time was short and we were acutely aware of the need for more opportunities for sustained conversation. In particular, participants desired more time for thinking and planning collectively around the following issues and priorities:
- Organizing a youth-inclusive retreat
- Assessment (in particular a longitudinal study of youth media participants and educators to measure impact)
- Professional development for the next generation of youth media educators
- Engaging youth media alumni to help tell the story of youth media’s impact
- Sustainable funding models in an era of grant scarcity
- Developing a long-term vision and strategy for youth media
- Bring the experience and voice of the field more powerfully to bear on national discussions of digital media learning and literacy
- Strategizing youth media’s presence online—a clearinghouse or hub both for youth produced work and also ongoing dialogue among educators, leaders, practitioners, scholars
Responses to a post-retreat survey provide helpful information for thinking about and shaping future gatherings. The issues and topics participants identified as “most important” include:
- Developing multiple models for sustainability without sacrificing mission
- Strategizing to make youth media more visible
- Mentoring emerging leaders in the field
Participants considered the retreat successful in providing “space for conversation and collective thinking” but missed greater opportunity for more focused “planning around key issues.” Identifying and mapping key issues in advance of the retreat using online collaboration tools would create more face to face time during the retreat to focus on planning. These responses suggest that youth media retreats that aim to engage participants in planning provide both pre-retreat resources and activities, and facilitation during the retreat that is tightly focused on planning and defining action steps. Overall, the value participants found in this retreat included:
- Community building with limited distractions
- Relationship building and thought sharing
- Encounter with a diversity of voices around the table
- Seeing youth media work (youth-produced videos) in conversation with each other
YMR and Field Building
The two-day retreat generated a range of vital suggestions and questions for rebuilding YMR. Participants shared their particular interest in seeing YMR evolve to provide the following kinds of resources and connections of value to the field:
Use YMR to establish deeper connections with education schools to help in teacher professional development.
Share best practices and experiences to learn from colleagues in diverse communities and organizations.
Retreat attendees universally conveyed their interest in supporting YMR in a variety of capacities—advisory board members, reviewers, editors, writers, and interviewers. Future issues of YMR will certainly feature programs and models innovated by the leaders around the table and their colleagues. All were interested in and dedicated to finding ways to more dynamically include youth media artifacts on the YMR website and perhaps as well a regular column produced by a young person from within a youth media program.
The YMR 2013 retreat was premised on the belief that youth media practice and scholarship benefits from greater mutual exposure. Rather than a synthesis of the youth media field, the retreat provided a panoramic view of an arena of practice drawing from different traditions: media activism, social justice, education, and arts. Our objective was modest: to provide a space, a starting-point, or a point of return if you were around the table in 2009, to long hoped for and long overdue conversations among youth media leaders.
Several developments gave impetus to our gathering, and have since then continued to animate conversations in the field: crises in education, politics, funding, and depending on your perspective, crisis in the field itself. But there are also compelling and positive forces driving the conversation: the emergence of more regional networks; a growing national network; and burgeoning dialogue about the role of key intermediaries supporting the field.
As youth media practitioners and leaders continue to build and sustain those networks and coalitions, it is vital to bear in mind that media reform coalitions—and youth media is the only space where young people contribute to wider media democracy movements—have historically been split apart by internal ideological differences and divisions. One of the many strengths of the youth media field is the multiplicity of views, practices, models, and pedagogies that give shape to the work. While retreats, conferences, face-to-face and virtual gatherings need to continue to provide space for sharing our diverse work, the difficult effort to surface and map our shared strategic goals is also critical to our ongoing field building efforts.
List of Participants
The retreat was purposefully small, bringing together a gathering of longtime supporters and advisors of YMR as well as leaders in the field who are active in national field building efforts. We did not intend to represent the entire range of youth media, nor did we aim to set an agenda for the field. Our hope was to hone our understanding of the efforts required to continue to build the field’s momentum, visibility, and connectivity, and to consider in particular the role of YMR in this ongoing effort. Attendees included:
Co-Director, Healthy Youth Peer Education (HYPE) youth media and leadership program, Allentown, PA. Manager, Senior Year Experience Manager and Learning Assistant, Muhlenberg College. Jenna has lead HYPE since 2007 and launched several service-learning partnerships between HYPE youth and undergraduates at Muhlenberg. She is part of the YMR leadership team. Jenna is currently completing her Masters in Educational Leadership at Lehigh University.
Aggie Ebrahimi Bazaz
Program and Member Services Manager, National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture. Aggie is active in several youth media field building endeavors including providing vital support for launching the National Youth Media Network and its bi-monthly Webinar Connector Sessions. Her documentary film, “Inheritance,” is the 2013 selection for the Loni Ding Award for Social Issue Documentary.
David Cooper Moore
David Cooper Moore is a filmmaker and media literacy educator based in Philadelphia, PA. Currently the Program Director of Powerful Voices for Kids, a university-school partnership model from the Media Education Lab at the University of Rhode Island, and various K-12 partnerships through the Center for Media and Information Literacy at Temple University. David is on the board of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, serving as chair of the Professional Development committee.
Coordinator of the Philly Youth Media Collaborative (http://pymc.org) and Creative Director of Messages in Motion http://messagesinmotion.com. Laura teaches classes at University of the Arts, and various media arts organizations throughout Philadelphia. She serves on the board of Termite TV Collective.
Founder and Executive Director of the Educational Video Center. Steve is the author of Teaching Youth Media: A Critical Guide to Literacy, Video Production & Social Change (Teachers College Press 2003) and a longtime advisor and contributor to YMR. Steve teaches a course in youth media at New York University.
Director of Membership and Outreach at PhillyCAM, Philadelphia’s public access television station. Antoine is a longtime member of the Youth Media Reporter advisory board and has served on the board of the Alliance for Community Media, Radio Free Georgia.
Ingrid Hu Dahl
Director, Next Generation (youth) programs at Bay Area Area Video Coalition. Ingrid is the past editor-in-chief of Youth Media Reporter and youth media program officer at the Academy for Educational Development. Ingrid lead a National Youth Media Summit in 2009. Prior to BAVC, Ingrid launched a middle grade “Youth Create Media Project” throughout the boroughs in New York City and Newark, NJ and helped found the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls (Brooklyn, NY).
Knowledge Manager, Intel Computer Clubhouse Network. Danielle is in charge of the knowledge-sharing strategy among all Computer Clubhouses, in collaboration with colleagues at the MIT Media Lab, including the content, community-building and outreach for the Clubhouse Village intranet social network.
Lecturer in History and Media and Communication at Muhlenberg College. Roberta is the founding co-director of HYPE, member of the Pennsylvania Diversity Network Board and long time activist and organizer for civil rights work, youth outreach, and peace efforts in the Lehigh Valley. She teaches courses in media and social movements, African American history, music and the civil rights, and race and representation. Roberta will step into the role of facilitator for the YMR retreat, helping to shape a context for critical, inclusive conversation and goal-directed dialogue.
Working at the intersection of media arts and philanthropy, Alyce served as Media Arts Director, National Endowment for the Arts from 2011-2013, managing NEA grantmaking in film, video, audio, web-based, and other electronic media. Alyce continues to provide a leading voice for the media arts field as a consultant.
Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Media and Communication, Muhlenberg College. Lora is the new managing editor of the Youth Media Reporter. She co-directs HYPE and teaches a course in youth media with Jenna Azar. She is the co-editor of Media and Social Justice (Palgrave, 2011).
Kathleen Tyner, Associate Professor in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at The University of Texas at Austin, participated via Skype to share preliminary findings from the NAMAC Youth Media Survey 2013, “Mapping the Field of Youth Media.”
Associate Professor of Technology & Education, Teachers College, Columbia University. Lalitha is the editor of two books exploring youth media: Arts, Media, and Justice: Multimodal Explorations with Youth (with Tiffany DeJaynes; Peter Lang, 2013) and Media, Learning, and Sites of Possibility (with Mark Lamont Hill; Peter Lang, 2007). She helped launch the Youth, Media, and Educational Justice Project, a consortium for re-imagining justice for court-involved youth through media making, mentoring, education, and research.
Executive Director, Spy Hop Productions, Salt Lake City. Kasandra is deeply involved in building the field of youth media and is a leading coordinator of the burgeoning National Youth Media Network, which currently organizes online Connector Sessions on issues of importance to the field.