The Youth Media Nonprofit as Classroom

Six years ago, Denise Gaberman took a graduate class at New York University on education and media. Associate professor of media ecology JoEllen Fisherkeller wanted her students not just to study the theory behind media education, but also to observe it. She sent them to community centers, schools, and nonprofits to see youth media making in action.
Under Fisherkeller’s tutelage, Gaberman began circulating among the numerous organizations in New York City that worked with teens on video projects. She interviewed the founder of Global Action Project, Diana Coryat, and spent 10 months interning as a teacher’s aid at Educational Video Center (EVC). She “journaled” about what she observed in the field, for school credit.
Gaberman enrolled in “Literacy Through Photography,” a weeklong seminar for teachers held through Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. There, Gaberman learned “to teach visual media in the classroom, specifically in a school—not an afterschool program,” she says. And how to create curricula “in an interesting way where all the lessons build on each other.”
After she left NYU, Gaberman brought what she’d learned to New York City schools. Working for a Board of Education program, she helped coordinate eighth graders at Middle School 80 in making a video about the cleanup of the nearby Bronx River. The project was ambitious. In science class, students tested the river’s water. In social studies, they learned its history. For their 90-minute “literacy block,” they interviewed and filmed local figures prominent in the river’s history. Gaberman met weekly with teachers to keep everyone on track. It finished a success.
Having access to all the youth media groups she’d gotten to know while studying with Fisherkeller, says Gaberman, “really helped me to understand how to do it.” And having spent a number of years reflecting on her experiences in a university classroom taught Gaberman how to adapt lessons used at youth media nonprofits for schools. “Researching how to work between schools and nonprofits really helped me out there,” says Gaberman.

Youth Media as a Subject of Study

Educators staffing youth media nonprofits have long understood their programs as potential “laboratories for schools”—sites that discover practices schools can use to get students making videos, pod casts, web pages, and other forms of multimedia. But figuring out how best to get their practices into schools, where they can reach more young people, has never been easy. School administrators are often wary of working with outside groups. Many require extensive convincing that media-making actually helps kids learn, or that it fits with the requisite “standards” that schools are scrambling to meet. Curricula used in afterschool programs—which often work with a handful of young people at a time and have the luxury of focusing nearly exclusively on media production—do not directly translate into a 50-minute classroom of 30-40 students, where media production is not the main subject. And extracurricular youth media programs don’t have the layers of bureaucracy and censorship that limit student expression the way schools do.
But over the past few years, as media-making technology has become cheaper and more ubiquitous, educators nationwide are becoming increasingly aware of the need for all young people to know how to make and analyze media. JoEllen Fisherkeller, part of a pioneering movement in higher education that organizes curricula around the theory and practice of youth media for media and education degree programs, is one of a small but growing number of professors who train current and future educators in media making. Schools across the country are turning to university programs like Fisherkeller’s to train teachers to bring media programs into the classroom.
“There’s a growing movement on the university level that youth media is a subject of study for people going into teaching,” explains Steven Goodman, executive director of EVC. EVC, the youth media nonprofit where Gaberman interned, now co-teaches an NYU class with Fisherkeller. EVC staff demonstrate how to get teens creating documentary video, while Fisherkeller provides the theory behind EVC’s methods.

Training Future and Currrent Teachers

Some of the university programs on youth media primarily train future teachers. Others, like the Duke University program Gaberman attended or Houston-based Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP), largely help current teachers and school administrators bring media making and analysis into the classroom. Many do a combination of “in-service and pre-service” teacher training, says Kathleen Tyner, assistant professor in the University of Texas Department of Radio, Television, and Film. The Texas university, says Tyner, has the distinction of being the first school in the country to require all prospective teachers (except those in math and science) to take a media education course. Many expect other education schools to soon follow suit.
Because education-program professors confer regularly with schools, future teachers, and youth media organizations, they can smooth the barriers that typically exist between nonprofits and classroom teachers. For instance, schools are often wary of partnering with outside groups, fearing they will “parachute” into the school for a short time and then disappear.
But universities already have relationships with schools as well as with instructors who need “professional development credits” to continue teaching. “The partnership with a university program enables the youth media organization to share what it learned with the faculty and students at a university, who has those interests,” and who can ultimately get their methods in classrooms, explains Renee Hobbs, associate professor at Temple University Department of Broadcasting Telecommunications and Mass Media.

Speaking the Language of Schools

David Considine, a professor at Appalachian State University Department of Media Studies and Instructional Technology, which offers a master’s degree in media literacy, agrees. “If you’re going to get to schools you need to speak the language of schools. You need to be aware how the state and national standards are already compatible with media production, and a lot of administrators aren’t even aware of that,” he says, noting that universities already speak the language of schools. Considine recommends that youth media groups wanting to partner with education schools present their curricula at education conferences where professors like himself can observe it.
But education professors warn that that it’s unrealistic for youth media groups to expect their curricula to be adopted as is. In her class at the University of Texas, Tyner chooses among various lessons and media from programs including EVC, the Portland Museum, Appalshop, and the Student Press Law Center, then fits them into curricula for “a 50-minute classroom with minimal equipment” and many students vying for attention, says Tyner. “I show [students] all the canned curriculum, but I want them to customize their curriculum to the needs of their students,” says Tyner.
At Temple University in Philadelphia, Renee Hobbs teaches a class similar to Fisherkeller’s that sends students into the community where they can intern at the local schools and programs involved with teaching young people media production. In class they explore the historical context of media education, race and class in media production, and how to evaluate youth media programs. Hobbs’ students have brought the lessons learned in her class and through their internships to other afterschool centers, community programs, as well as public and private schools.
Yes! (Youth Empowerment Services) has had several interns from Hobbs’ class. Education director Michael Sacks acknowledges these interns will most likely go on to spread Yes! methods in other education settings, but he does not consider working with them to be a form of teacher development for Yes! Rather, he views them as a much-needed resource to keep his program running smoothly, which is exactly what makes sending students into youth media organizations like his a “win-win” situation says Hobbs. These internships, says Hobbs, provide “a kind of cross-fertilization.”
Denise Gaberman herself recently left the Board of Education to train teachers in technology through the New York Institute of Technology. She says she’s convinced that educators who research the youth media field through university programs, like those where she studied and the one where she now works, may well be the answer for youth media groups wanting to spread their practices. “Ideas at educational schools are filtered into public schools” through graduating students, says Gaberman. “Those are the new leaders. Those are the new teachers.”
This article was originally launched in May 31, 2006 and can be found in YMR’s archives here.

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The Ultimate Bookshelf for a Youth Media Educator

Over the past two years educators and administrators working in all mediums of youth media have shared with YMR the books, videos, and reports that have most informed and deepened their work. The following list is a compilation of these recommendations placed into six categories: media reform, youth work, understanding youth media in its academic and socio-political context, media education curricula, media organization, and marketing youth media. Included are links to relevant articles that have appeared on YMR. These recommended resources provide a comprehensive look at youth media, highlights of YMR, and key discussions in the field.
Get Started with Media Reform
• “Speaking for Ourselves: A Youth Assessment of Local News Coverage,” the Youth Media Council
Researched and written by teens, this report explores how the Bay Area media represents (or, really, misrepresents) young people. The report resonates far beyond California, said Christopher Schuepp, who runs Young People’s Media Network. The issue of young people receiving an inordinate amount of negative press, said Schuepp, is an international problem. The report provides tips for encouraging reporters to write positive stories about teens.
Framing Youth: 10 Myths About the Next Generation, by Mike A. Males
This is another probing look at how the media represents youth. It “challenges the media to look beyond what the policy wonks are offering,” said Donna Myrow of L.A. Youth and “to ask where these statistics and trends are coming from, and why is the discussion almost always focused on teen violence when teens actually commit fewer crimes than adults.”
Fugitive Culture: Race, Violence, and Youth, by Henry A. Giroux
Not for the faint of heart, this “very academic, very theoretical text takes an unflinching look at how society denies young people their voices,” said Mindy Faber of Faultline Media, “and how that, in turn, affects the policies determining youth’s lives.” Exploring how the media, in particular, casts, and often criminalizes, young people—especially youth of color—the book indirectly makes a case for why young people must make their own media. Youth media practitioners will finish the book motivated to center their work on helping young people see how they are represented in the media, says Faber, “and how they can to reposition themselves and take control of their own images.”
It’s Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture’s Influence on Children, by Karen Sternheimer
“Like most great books, it defies conventional wisdom,” said Mark Goodman of the Student Press Law Center. Presenting a compelling explanation of why media bashing is both unjustified and dangerous, It’s Not the Media, ultimately, defends free expressions for youth journalists and all Americans.
Also see the following YMR articles exploring the youth perspective in the media:
“Do You Really Want to Be the Talk of the Town?”
What happened when a cable-access youth channel had the lens turned on it by a reporter from the New Yorker.
“Life During Wartime”
Award-winning radio, video, and articles about the war in Iraq created by young people provided the rarely-heard youth perspective on the war.
“Conventions Made Unconventional”
Nishat Kurwa, Youth Radio’s news director and international desk editor, talks about how she pitched stories to national outlets and what a youth perspective added to mainstream election coverage.
“Can Teens Save the Newspaper Business?”
Radio and online journalism have embraced youth media. Print publications need to get with the program.
“Courting the ‘Other’ Media”
From infatuation to going steady, partnering with professional news outlets can be tricky. Here are examples of successful relationships between youth- and adult-made media.
On Working with Young People
Lives on the Boundary: A Moving Account of the Struggles and Achievements of America’s Educationally Underprepared, by Mike Rose
This is the story of how “one intense teacher’s” attention turned the author from a disaffected, uninterested teenager into a curious college student, and ultimately a passionate teacher,” said Youth Communication editor Nora McCarthy. Most of Lives on the Boundary examines how Rose learned to reach out to other young people unaware of their ability to learn. “It validated my belief that to be successful at this work you need to treat every student as a puzzle that if you work hard enough you can understand,” said McCarthy.
For more help, inspiration, and food-for-thought on working with young people, also see YMR articles:
“Forget Hip-Hop—Get YCC”
Young people connect to adults who respect youth culture. Just make sure to take out the commercial.
“The Slightly Sentimental Diary of a Rookie Media Teacher and His Trial-by-Fire Training”
Cameras with teens behind them are dangerous weapons.
“Flipping the Script”
Should youth-made media involve adult meddling? An editor considers challenging young people’s stories integral to her job.
“The ‘Rescue’ Dilemma”
The winner of this year’s Best Documentary Oscar raises ethical questions for those in the youth media field.
“Social Work 101”
How to guide young people through painful, personal narratives.
Putting Youth Media in Context
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, by Jeff Chang
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, recommended by Ken Ikeda of Youth Sounds, explores the racial and economic divide that fuels hip-hop and, not coincidentally, much of American-made youth media. Though Chang does not speak directly about it, many of his observations on hip-hop (arguably a form of youth media in itself) also hold true for the field’s recent developments—like the melding of art with activism. Readers can ruminate on just how influential hip-hop has been to youth media’s current boom.
Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, by Jonathan Kozol
Kozol lays bare the disparity between money spent on kids and their teachers in suburban schools, versus those in inner cities. He argues that segregation is thriving in American urban public schools, and not by accident.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire
Known for coining “reading the word is reading the world,” the Brazilian author Freire is a forefather of the youth and grassroots media movements. Committed to giving the typically voiceless a voice to transform society, Freire is also one of the most influential thinkers about late-20th century education. He believed learning occurred best through the give and take of dialogue, as well as through action with the intent to build community.
Literacy in a Digital World: Teaching and Learning in the Age of Education, by Kathleen Tyner
Literacy in a Digital World, takes the pulse of media literacy in the context of new and emerging communication technologies and assesses the multiple literacies in evidence in the 1990s: print, computer, informational, critical and media literacy. The book contextualizes arguments regarding the educational applications of computers and multimedia.
Teaching Youth Media: A Critical Guide to Literacy, Video Production, & Social Change, by Steve Goodman
Both Tyner’s and Goodman’s works “illustrate the importance of a multi-literate society and the need to have a strong media education movement in this country,” said Denise Gaberman, who helps New York City schools bring media education into classrooms.
Shaping Media Education Curricula
The Teaching for Understanding Guide, by Tina Blythe and Associates
The Bay Area-based Streetside Stories uses this guide to teach teachers how to develop media education curricula that meets the educational standards required in California. This guide shows educators in any state how to “define what is important for them to teach, and then to teach it so students can understand it,” said Linda Johnson, of Streetside Stories.
• “Flipping the Script,” by Just Think
Flipping the Script is packed with detailed lesson plans and activities that can be incorporated into most youth media programs. This curriculum and its 30-page guidebook help educators use hip-hop to engage young people in thinking critically about the media.
Center for Digital Storytelling’s website
This site is rich in resources to develop short media projects in classrooms. Denise Gaberman, who helps New York City schools bring media education to the classroom, finds it especially useful for teaching media to students and teachers who are “strapped for resources and time, have limited media making expertise, and don’t have the professional video or digital equipment at their fingertips,” she wrote in an email.
Merchants of Cool: A Report on the Creators & Marketers of Popular Culture for Teenagers, by Frontline
This video looks carefully at how creators and sellers of popular culture have made teenagers the “hottest consumer demographic in America,” according to Frontline. Dave Yanofsky of UthTV uses this video to fuel group discussions about youth culture, advertising, and media literacy. “Teens can use it to gain insight into how they often end up walking around with a huge bulls eye on their backs when it comes to advertising and the creation of ‘cool,’” said Yanofsky.
For more reading on media education, see YMR articles:
“Too Cool for School”
How youth media can keep struggling teens engaged.
“The Youth Media Nonprofit as Classroom”
A pioneering movement in higher education organizes curricula around the theory and practice of youth media.
Building a Strong Youth Media Organization
• Educational Development Center’s YouthLearn website
The Educational Development Center helped Time Warner grantees in build capacity to conduct effective program evaluations. This site details that work with easy-to-follow strategies, evaluation models, and tools for youth media programs looking to measure impact. EDC’s research on self-assessment methods common to the field is also available.
Urban Sanctuaries: Neighborhood Organizations in the Lives and Futures of Inner-City Youth, by Milbrey McLaughlin, Merita Irby, and Juliet Langman.
Drawing from a five-year study of six unidentified inner-city youth programs in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the Southeast, the authors of this book examine strategies that visionaries at urban youth organizations use to make their programs thrive, despite significant challenges. “It’s over 10 years old now but still a good read,” wrote John Gwinn of Phillips Community Television in an email.
For more information on strengthening youth media groups, including professional development, see YMR articles:
“A Growth Opportunity”
A Phillips Community Television staff member shares what they’ve learned about how youth media benefits teens, and how to magnify its impact.
“Lifting the Burden of Proof”
Finding effective means of evaluation—and, preferably, ones that appeal to funders—is still a trial-and-error process for most youth programs.
“Getting Evaluated—and Noticed”
How to build evidence of impact on a tight budget.
“Cultivating a Field”
Youth media practitioners teach better when they have regular opportunities to learn from each other. Steven Goodman explains that can happen.
“Coffee, Colleagues, and Collaborative Learning”
Youth media organizations can revolutionize their craft by running their own study groups.
“On the Couch”
A growing number of youth media and arts groups consult regularly with mental health professionals. A youth publication’s shrink-on-call explains how he has helped the editors trust their instincts.
“Time to Reflect”
Youth media has become a bona fide field with its own practices, philosophies, and goals.
How to Get Youth Media Seen and Heard
SPIN Works!: A Media Guidebook for Communicating Values and Shaping Opinion.
Filled with clear directives on how to write a compelling press release, pick a spokesperson, pitch a story to reporters, and create a media plan, SPIN Works! is “the soup to nuts of basic media do’s and don’ts,” said Open Society Institute media officer Amy Weil, “it’s a very easy read, easy to understand.”
Also see YMR articles:
“Prime Time”
Leveraging the Press to Help Youth Media Make a Difference
“Getting Discovered”
Mindy Faber looks at what works and what doesn’t in youth media distribution, and how the Internet can change everything.
“Strength in Numbers”
How curating youth media around themes amplifies its impact—for both audience and media makers.

Teaming Up

time_150.jpgNot long ago, many of us working in youth media did not consider ourselves part of a field. And, really, why would we? Opportunities to share practices and collaborate with others working on teen-produced media were few and far between. Conferences tended to lump us together based on our means of communication—print, radio, film, the web—not on how or with whom we worked.
Foundations did not earmark funding specifically for youth media, isolating organizations further. Competing for grants, many groups felt pressured to package themselves in the categories funders sought—as either activist-oriented or artistic, focused on product or process, or preoccupied with distribution or education reform.
But as foundations like the Open Society Institute and that of Time Warner have recognized and funded youth media as a field, grantees at resulting conferences have begun to see far more similarities in our philosophies, missions, and approaches to our work than previously imagined.
Since then, youth media as a topic in and of itself began making the agenda at related conferences. These opportunities have led to a new phase of reflection. Educators have begun thinking and planning on a macro level, placing a premium on not just continuing the work of helping teens make media, but reflecting on that work—on codifying practices and evaluating impacts, on determining where youth media fits and diverges from the many fields and movements it borrows from and builds upon—such as alternative education, narrative therapy, and independent media.
“There’s an obvious thirst for dialogue, for tools, for sharing best practices among people working to support youth media,” said Rachel Alterman Wallack, executive director of the Atlanta-based youth publication VOX.
The new premium on reflection is apparent in the many conferences and collaborations that have emerged over the last several years, in new and unprecedented opportunities for practitioners to develop professionally, and in the increase in research and writing about the field. Conferences, collaborations, and venues for professional development include:
A collaboration between the Educational Video Center and the Education Development Center’s YouthLearn Initiative to create new resources for the field, including a peer network linking youth media educators to each other.
The National Alliance for Media Art’s and Culture’s Youth Media Leadership Institute, where 20 educators from around the country received fellowships to convene in Oregon where they set goals for leading and advancing the field.

The formation of the New York City Learning Network, a group of film educators who meet monthly to discuss their work and topics such as critical literacy.
Research and writing about youth media include:
The Education Development Center’s YouthLearn Initiative’s ongoing research into how youth media programs evaluate their impact.
The much talked about film Born into Brothels, about a youth media project in India, won the Oscar for best documentary in 2005. The film reflects a growing trend in media produced by youth media educators that explores their line of work, often placing it in an academic context.
The intensified push by a number of individual organizations to better understand, evaluate, research, and codify their work. Berkeley-based Youth Radio has an in-house researcher who helps staff and youth develop, document, and evaluate learning at the program. L.A. Youth, Youth Radio, and Youth Communication have mental health professionals on-call for managing and understanding the emotional issues of the job. At Youth Communication, where I work, staff has recently undertaken an effort to define our practice through documenting our work—practices, strategies, philosophies and lessons—in an ever-growing manual.
Most of a youth media professional’s day is spent not in reflection, but raising funds, working with teens, and putting out a product. But it’s the moments when we do get glimpses of the bigger picture—the conferences, collaborations, time to view the work of colleagues—which can sometimes be unexpectedly exhilarating, leading to new ways of thinking and planning for how this line of work can continue to grow and evolve. (In this sense, feeling part of something larger than one’s own organization can help prevent burnout and quick turnover at nonprofits.)
The relaunched Youth Media Reporter is itself part of this new phase of introspection, and the comment page of some articles—like Ken Ikeda’s review of Born into Brothels—make apparent how ready youth media educators are to engage in dialogue about their work. My hope is that all youth media educators can help make it the most useful tool possible for reflecting on their practice and sharing ideas and tools by sending feedback and ideas.
Above left: Youth media educators discuss ways to evaluate their organizations at a 2005 conference hosted by the Time Warner Foundation.
“Teaming Up: Youth media builds its own practices, philosophies, and mission.” was updated from an earlier YMR article entitled, “Time to Reflect“.

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About Youth Media Reporter

Youth Media Reporter (YMR) is the professional multi-media journal that serves practitioners, educators and academics in the youth media field. YMR’s purpose is to build the field by documenting, from multiple perspectives, the insights and leading lessons in engaging young people in video, film, television, radio, music, web, art, and print. YMR offers insight to the degree that young people and their adult allies use media to make a difference, address a point, enhance creative imagination, and match leadership with voice. YMR engages a variety of stakeholders to define issues, pedagogies, and challenges to the youth media field.
Incubated at Open Society Institute and managed by the Academy for Educational Development, YMR is a multi-media web journal that publishes 6-8 high quality articles every other month. In an aim to serve the field, YMR provides professional development for each contributor as they document and investigate their work, and those of their peers, through a rigorous editorial review process. YMR serves as a model to increase and share knowledge production, building a community of learners. Our articles increasingly uncover tensions within the field and spotlight youth media across the U.S. and abroad. YMR is currently funded by Open Society Institute, the McCormick Foundation, and paid subscribers.
YMR receives an average of 20,000 visits per month—a number that has been increasing by 1,500 additional visitors each month—and has over 2,000 subscribers to its monthly newsletter. The annual print journal is contracted with EBSCO, and in the near future JSTOR, databases (a resource to university libraries and public schools), broadening our audience and readership.
YMR releases on the 15th of every other month, publishing an average of 45 articles on-line divided into 6 issues per year.
Not Just a Web Journal | We do Print
Annually, the journal is bound in print form, which showcases 8-10 special feature articles unavailable online. The first volume of the print journal is available to download as a PDF online. All other volumes available via paid suscription.

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The annual print journal combines all web released issues with “special features” articles. These articles dig deep and broad within the youth media field. In 2008, 700 copies of YMR’s first annual print journal were sent at no cost—in order to introduce the publication—to approximately 60% academics and 40% youth media practitioners. We believe that YMR’s presence in academic environments will create career pipelines into the youth media field for college students interested in journalism, film, media studies, and related departments.
YMR’s Audience
Youth media professionals, leaders, and practitioners are YMR’s audience, which is expanding into new and intersecting fields nationally and around the globe. The publication offers media professionals a forum to share information, reflect on work done in the field, develop practice, ascertain new approaches and pedagogy, and celebrate youth led social change. Recognizing that many youth media practitioners come from a variety of fields, YMR includes all perspectives, viewpoints, and topics.
If you are interested in the lives and views of young people, this publication is a window into a dynamic field that reflects and reinforces the values of the media, arts, advocacy, activism, social justice, education, and youth development communities.
Through YMR, professionals in these fields can explore youth media as a way to strengthen their work, collaborate with youth and colleagues, and gain inspiration to use new strategies and perspectives.

In addition to housing the YMR publication, the website features:

  • Comment features for individuals to respond to, and discuss issues raised by, articles in each issue;
  • Ideas for building capacity and sustainability for organizations with youth, media, arts, social activism, leadership, and civic engagement;
  • Best practices, reflection, information, and research that can be used to bridge difference, begin dialogue, network between media professionals and youth media artists/activists, and to train staff and educate funders about the field;
  • Organization links, upcoming conferences, and documents related to, or reporting from, the youth media field.

    YMR’s Peer Review Board 2010
    YMR is guided by 12 peer review board members who divide into YMR’s Media, Marketing, Editorial and Executive “Crews.” These members are:
    • Sanjay Asthana, Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro, TN)
    • Tom Bailey, Community Television Network (Chicago, IL)
    • Joe Douilette, Institute for Contemporary Art (Boston, MA)
    • Joellen Fisherkeller, New York University (New York, NY)
    • Judy Goldberg, Youth Media Project (Santa Fe, NM)
    • Antoine Haywood, People TV Atlanta (Atlanta, GA)
    • Jamilah King, Colorlines (San Francisco, CA)
    • Janet Liao, McCormick Foundation (Chicago, IL)
    • Jen Maccerelli, Global Action Project (New York, NY)
    • Anna Tauzin, J-Lab (Washington, D.C.)
    • Elisabeth Soep, Youth Radio (Oakland, CA)
    • Lynn Sygiel, Y-Press (Indianapolis, IN)

    Many thanks to previous Peer Review Board members
    • Tim Dorsey, Youth Media Learning Network (New York, NY)
    • Tonya Gonzalez, DCTV (Washington, DC)
    • Lynda McDonnell, Three-Sixty Journalism (Minneapolis/St.Paul, MN)
    • Sara Melillo, McCormick Foundation (Chicago, IL)
    • Padmini Narumanchi, Reel Works Teen Filmmaking (Brooklyn, NY)
    • Minh Nguyen, VALA-NO (New Orleans, LA)
    • Rebecca O’Doherty, Appalshop, Inc (Whitesburg, KY)
    • Rashid Shabazz, Open Society Institute (New York, NY)
    • Katina Paron, Children’s Press Line (New York, NY)
    • Irene Tostado, Radio Arte (Chicago, IL)
    • Meghan McDermott, Global Action Project (New York, NY)
    • Lisa Tripp, School of Media and Youth Services, Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)
    • Kirthi Nath, BAVC (San Franscisco, CA)
    • Anindita Dutta Roy, iEarn/Pearl World Youth News (New York, NY)
    • Anna Kelly, VOX Teen Communications (Atlanta, GA)
    • Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, Movement Strategy Center (Oakland, CA)
    • Sam Chaltain, Five Freedoms Project (Washington, D.C.)
    • Twa-le Abrahamson, Native Youth Media/Shawl Society (Spokane, WA)
    • Renee Hobbs, Broadcasting and Mass Media at Temple University (Philadelphia, PA)

    Youth Media Reporter
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    Youth Media Reporter is funded by Open Society Institute and the McCormick Foundation

    Youth Media Reporter is managed by the Academy for Educational Development

  • Winning Control

    “Temple University researchers have developed a new Web site for teenage and ‘tween’ girls who spend much of their time surfing the Internet, watching MTV, looking at teen and celebrity magazines and listening to music CDs,” Pioneer Press reports. On the site, girls learn about media literacy by playing online games.
    “Creators of the Web site hope it will give girls ‘an understanding that ‘stuff’ doesn’t just appear on the TV screen. There has been conscious, calculated construction of the media messages that are constantly delivered to them,’ said Renee Hobbs, director of the Media Education Lab and an associate professor of communication. The point is to raise a generation of media-savvy kids who control their media worlds, and not the other way around, she says.”


    “Children are affected by most of the top stories covered by journalists today—from HIV/AIDS to environmental disasters,” the International Journalists’ Network (IJN) reports. But too often their perspective is missingn “unless young people have the opportunity to actively practice journalism. Moreover, when youth gain experience reporting, news organizations are able to recruit skilled local talent.
    Join IJN’s discussion board about what opportunities young people around the world have to report on the issues important to them, and how to encourage young people to get involved.

    Strength in Numbers

    numbers_150.jpgWhen I started working in youth media, it took me several months to discover a powerful but rarely discussed practice in the field. My first week editing Represent, a magazine written by and for teens in foster care, I received a large stack of articles, all edited for publication. My task was to decide which stories should appear in which upcoming issues of the magazine.
    They were mostly personal stories detailing young writers’ struggles growing up in New York City and in foster care: surviving sexual abuse, getting caught up in gang life, the stigma of being labeled a “foster child.” There were also some happy ones—the joy of basketball, finding family in a group home, a first love. In several, teens used their personal experiences to make arguments for change—how the foster care system should be reformed, for instance, or why special education doesn’t work. But as I started talking with the adults working in child welfare who read the magazine, it was apparent that they considered a writer’s recommendations for change as merely representative of one teen’s point of view, not to be taken very seriously. They read the magazine for its emotional truths, not for its policy recommendations.
    After a few months of “curating” issues of the magazine I began instinctively organizing the stories around themes. Journalistically, themes did a more responsible job of providing the magazine’s teen readers with balanced information. A story about one teen’s decision to have an abortion provided readers only a small window into the options for pregnant young women. But a half-issue on teen pregnancy with diverse personal stories by teens who had become pregnant and made different decisions they thought were right for them, gave our readers a far more thorough perspective on the topic.
    I soon noticed an unexpected perk to publishing thematically: Grouping stories by themes prompted adults to take the writers’ suggestions for change far more seriously.
    A child welfare expert requested 200 copies of our issue on homelessness to distribute at a conference on runaway prevention. A law school used our issue on family court to train lawyers on how to work with young people. An education advocacy group used our issue on getting an education in foster care when preparing a report. This would not have happened had the stories in these issues run separately. They had far more power collectively than they did apart.
    I have since learned of youth media groups in all genres—print, online, radio, film, photography—that organize their media around themes. Sometimes they consciously do it to amplify the impact of their young people’s work. Other times they’re cornered into producing themes by funders, who sometimes fund media about specific topics of their choosing, like drug use prevention, or teen activism. Either way, when used sensitively the technique is extremely effective.
    The Bay Area-based Youth Radio won the prestigious Murrow Award from the Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) for its thematic radio series that aired on National Public Radio, “Reflections on Return,” featuring voices of young soldiers returning from Iraq. Part of the series’ power is that it provided a youth perspective on the war, said RTNDA chairman Dan Shelley. But it was the sheer range of voices included in the series—a young Iraq veteran who suffered a devastating throat injury in the war; a soldier reunited with his girlfriend after returning from Iraq; a young man with PTSD—that made audiences pay attention.

    ’s compilation of videos produced by young people from around the world, including a former child soldier in Sierra Leone, aired on the Independent Film Channel nearly 20 times the first month of its release. “It never would have been shown on the Independent Film Channel if it was just one piece, if it was just one group of kids in one country,” said Mindy Faber, who has curated numerous compilations of youth media and now runs Faultline Media Services. “It was the way it was packaged thematically around this idea of struggle and overcoming challenge from a global youth perspective that allowed it to have an audience beyond small local audiences.”
    And numerous film festivals featuring youth-produced media have found that adults who may not show up to a screening simply to support teens will show up if they’re interested in the theme the media explores. This applies even when the theme itself is “youth voice”—the importance of providing opportunities for teens to be listened to.
    “Smart, curatorial work,” says Faber, is a powerful tool for building not only audience, but also democracy. “Different perspectives help people negotiate an issue, and that’s something we need to do in any society—to listen to people who have different ideas and experiences and different forms of knowledge and take that information in. The whole democratic process is about this,” says Faber. “Thematically-based, contextualized discussions through media is a great way to do it.”

    Smart, curatorial work is a powerful tool for building not only audience, but also democracy.

    But what is it like for young people to see their personal narratives—the ones they deliberated over for months—suddenly packaged as part of a larger issue? Might it feel like their personal struggles have been co-opted? Has too much control been taken away from the media maker, allowing adults, not youth, to set the agenda?
    It depends how it’s done, said Natasha Santos, 18, a Represent writer. When she first started writing for the magazine nearly four years ago, Santos liked to know ahead of time which themes her stories would be part of. Though she has since come to trust her editor to curate sensitively, even now she sometimes worries that a thematic packaging might prompt readers to interpret her stories in ways she did not intend: If published in an issue on drug use, for instance, will her article exploring her curiosity about drugs make her appear on the verge of addiction? But Santos also says that in all her time writing for Represent, she has not felt misrepresented by the way her stories were packaged. One of her recent stories published as part of an issue exploring anger. “It was interesting. It made me feel good to be like, ‘Hmmm…I’m not the only one who feels that way,’” says Santos, “but also not so special, because my story really was so like everyone else’s.”
    Linda Rodriguez still remembers the recognition she felt in 2000 when her editor and I published her first story for Represent, “How to Get to La La Land: Reflections on getting high and the rough ride back to earth,” as part of a thematic issue on drugs. Linda had intended her story, which walked the reader through the steps of getting high, to be funny, edgy, and entertaining, “like a sit-com,” remembers Rodriguez. Nothing more. But published alongside a reported story about drugs in group homes, a narrative by a teen struggling through rehab, and a story by a parent who lost her child to foster care after becoming addicted to crack, Rodriguez saw her own article anew.
    “It was like a light that switched on,” she remembers. “It gave my story more meaning than I actually gave it credit for when I was writing it. What I picked up from all the stories in the issue was mine was really about that feeling of despair, and not knowing where to look, this sadness, like you’re sitting in dirty bath water. Next to the other stories it gave me the feeling of, ‘Man, there’s something going on here, and we’ve got to do something about this.’”
    She’s been writing ever since.

    Continue reading Strength in Numbers

    On Their Bookshelves


    Shaping Media Education for Schools

    Linda Johnson spoke with YMR about how the Bay Area-based Streetside Stories brings youth media to schools. For help creating media arts curricula that work in the classroom, Johnson turns to The Teaching for Understanding Guide by Tina Blythe and Associates. It shows educators how to “define what is important for them to teach, and then to teach it so students can understand it,” said Johnson.
    Streetside Stories uses the guide to teach teachers how to develop their own media education curricula that meets the educational standards required in California, where Streetside Stories operates.

    Making Youth Programs Work

    When Phillips Community Television (PCTV) in Minneapolis completed a two-year study of its program impact, executive director John Gwinn documented what his staff discovered for YMR. For further reading on how youth programs work, Gwinn recommends Urban Sanctuaries: Neighborhood Organizations in the Lives and Futures of Inner-City Youth, by Milbrey McLaughlin, Merita Irby, and Juliet Langman. Drawing from a five-year study of six unidentified inner-city youth programs in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the Southeast, the authors examine strategies that visionaries at urban youth organizations use to make their programs thrive, despite significant challenges. “It’s over 10 years old now but still a good read,” wrote Gwinn in an email.

    The Case for Youth Media

    Youth media practitioners wanting to deepen their work will find inspiration in Fugitive Culture: Race, Violence, and Youth, by Henry A. Giroux, says Mindy Faber, who wrote about media distribution. Not for the faint of heart, this “very academic, very theoretical text takes an unflinching look at how society denies young people their voices,” says Faber, “and how that, in turn, affects the policies determining youth’s lives.” Exploring how the media, in particular, casts, and often criminalizes, young people—especially youth of color—the book indirectly makes a case for why young people must make their own media. Youth media practitioners will finish the book motivated to center their work on helping young people see how they are represented in the media, says Faber, “and how they can to reposition themselves and take control of their own images.”
    Ultimately, says Faber, this can change the way the world views, values, and protects generations to come.

    Continue reading On Their Bookshelves