Youth Media: A Professional Development Strategy

In Boston, where there is a long history of racial segregation, social realities are exponentially exaggerated by the persistently negative and stereotypical mainstream media. Young people in Boston are apt to perpetuate these negative stereotypes because media plays a pivotal role in shaping their identities and attitudes.
What young people need is a lens through which they can see all the positive representations and untold stories in their communities, and tools to tell these stories. Press Pass TV aims to provide young people with the tools to critically process the information they see on television, to rise above the influence and to shape a healthy image of self and others.
We have found that when professional development is integrated with a curriculum designed to train young people to produce powerful stories, we counteract the effects of mainstream media’s stereotypes on youth and the local community.
About Press Pass TV

At Press Pass TV we envision a world of engaged and informed individuals, where youth are leaders and our communities are inspired by media that supports a healthy democracy based on truth, benefiting the greater good.
Press Pass TV is a non-profit that trains youth to produce socially responsible video journalism, which promotes a more diverse media, empowers communities, and increases civic engagement. We partner with local non-profits and offer innovative courses which engage youth in becoming “change agents” and provide professional skills, raising young people’s chances to have a happy and successful life. Here is an example of a story that Press Pass TV youth reporters “broke” and was subsequently picked up by NBC and other major channels:

With issues such a domestic violence, incarceration, educational disparities and transportation rights, our news stories have become tools for community mobilization and organizing. Even with these difficult topics, Press Pass TV remains solution-oriented and dedicated to giving a voice to those most affected. In particular, Press Pass highlights the positive, hopeful, and untold stories of Boston.

In our program, youth are not bombarded with the negative statistics recapitulated by mainstream media, but instead are given the “so what” and the “now what.” In other words, we use media to build a bridge of understanding from how these issues affect them to the tools they can use to take action and change their plight. Press Pass TV offers programs that start with media literacy (using games created by the youth such as Media Jeopardy) and end in hands-on media production.
At Press Pass TV we have found a way to support both creativity and professionalism in a model where these skills complement each other. We provide professional development and time management workshops at the beginning of each program. As a result, our program runs more efficiently, gives our students valuable transferable skills and results in higher quality content. Ultimately, this approach improves the reach of distribution of the content our young people produce, while equipping them to be active participants in their community.
Our professional development workshop takes youth through a curriculum covering topics such as email and work place etiquette, resume development, and professional interpersonal skills (including how to leave a voicemail, shake hands, say no, etc.). It is important to note that this success has been achieved despite the fact that Press Pass TV only recently started paying youth for their work (the majority of our work has been done on a volunteer basis).
Suggestions to the Field
Set high expectations for youth while providing specific tools and pathways to meet them. At Press Pass TV, we have found that the low expectations our community sets for the young people we serve is one of the greatest barriers they face when striving to reach their full potential. In fact, low expectations often further victimize “at-risk” youth rather than empower them. We have watched our young people meet and exceed the high expectations we lay out for them, and this gives them a sense of pride and empowerment.
Add a broader relevancy to the work the youth are producing, by connecting youth to major decision makers and striving to distribute their media broadly. Young people are more engaged in their work when they know they have a strong voice in their field. At Press Pass TV, we encourage youth to interview politicians, businessmen and artists alike, to produce content that contributes to public dialogue and fosters healthy communities.
Incorporate the ways youth adapt to your city when designing your professional development workshops. The key to a professional development workshop is meeting youth where they are. We found that our youth had a hard time showing up on time for reasons as simple as being unable to read a map or know how to use Google maps. Therefore, we go over how to navigate the MBTA (public transportation) and discuss how weather impacts travel time in Boston.
Design professional development workshops with the help of youth or with your program alumni, to eliminate the “top-down” approach that often does not resonate with young people. Work together to identify barriers that prevent your participants from achieving their full professional potential and then create and provide the tools that will support that growth.
Avoid assuming common knowledge—just because you know the difference between “cc” and “bcc” doesn’t mean they do. You can get a sense of what they do and do not already know by observing them at work. For instance, at Press Pass TV the main reason production would slow down was around “follow-up” on leads. We observed that the majority of youth would not leave voice-mails and when they did, crucial contact information was left out. A simple remedy was to create a “phone script.”
Call to the Field
Since the implementation of our “professional development” workshops, Press Pass TV no longer struggles with program attendance and work effectiveness. By setting clear and accessible standards of production, our youth produced content now has distribution through all Public Access channels in Massachusetts as well as nationally through Free Speech TV. We have quickly built a reputation in the city for our fair reporting and our deep ties to the community.
We see professional development as a crucial cornerstone in building the skills necessary for a successful and happy life. Regardless of whether or not the youth you work with will go into media production careers, teaching them how to manage their time, skills and resources will ensure success in their higher education and will level the playing field when it comes to employment opportunities. In short, by joining a strong professional development component with media production we can achieve much needed systemic change.
“Having your voice respected and a say in your destiny is an unalienable human right. I do this work because I believe in the value of our communities, the richness of diversity, and the power of our stories to transform. I dedicate my work to giving the silenced people, issues, and communities a voice.” Joanna Marinova, is the co-director of Program and Operations at Press Pass TV. With a B.S. in International Relations and Economics from the University of Toronto, Joanna has solid corporate experience having worked for Citizens Bank and Wellington Financial Management. She was the founder and president of Women in Life Learning, a Toronto based nonprofit. Joanna has over 7 years of experience and a proven track record in management, operations and development work in nonprofits.