The Power of Peer Pressure

youthsounds_150.jpgMaurice Williams, a young African-American man, races down a city street as a voice from behind shouts, “There he goes!” Feet pound the pavement as a group of five other young men and women chase after him. Williams jumps a fence, but the others, some dressed in suits and carrying a camera and large microphone, catch up.

“What?” asks Williams, arms stretched out in surrender. For a split-second, silence hangs. Then a young woman tentatively ventures, “Excuse me sir, did you just? Did you just vote?”

“Yeah,” says Williams.

“We don’t vote,” asserts another African-American teen from behind his camera. Then, sounding less confident, “Do we?”

“I do man, it’s my right,” shrugs Williams.

The young reporters look incredulous. “I don’t believe this,” says Williams, disgusted and walking away.

The words “If You Can, You Should,” appear onscreen.

For another moment, all is quiet. Then a young woman shouts, “Look! A Latino voter!” The group takes off running.

The thirty-second video, “Chase the Vote,” was conceived, written, acted, shot, and produced entirely by teenagers from the Oakland-based Youth Sounds, a nonprofit that teaches young people how to tell stories through film. The public service announcement was one small but significant part of last year’s enormous and well-publicized effort to get teens to the polls.

By November 2, nearly every newspaper in the country had run a story about that effort, usually mentioning MTV’s Rock the Vote and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’s quest to make voting “sexy.” But few explored how vital it was to the movement’s success that teens, like the ones who produced “Chase the Vote,” got involved in the effort, and that many of the organizations that make media by and for youth, like Youth Sounds, did just that.

To many of us who work at the growing number of nonprofits that produce teen-created publications, films, web content, or radio programming, it’s intuitive that teens respond better to other teens’ pleadings that they go to the polls than to an adult’s or even a celebrity’s urgings. After all, teens are at a stage when they’re forging identities separate from adults. They want to be engaged in the world, but they don’t want to get involved because their civics teacher tells them to. That’s why many of us in youth media have heard from teachers, social workers, and parents about the kids who almost never read anything but are riveted by the story written by their peers.

Studies on voting efforts support the notion that when it comes to mobilizing teens, peer pressure works best. A substantial body of research indicates that old-fashioned (and relatively inexpensive) peer-to-peer contact is the most effective way to convince young people to vote. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) found that even over the telephone, young people responded far more favorably to peer canvassers than to adults.

Many young people affirm that’s a no-brainer. “People aren’t necessarily going to vote just because P. Diddy or Andre 3000 are saying it’s cool,” wrote Spellman College student Moya Bailey in Pop + Politics, a youth-produced publication that connects politics to media and pop culture for its college-age audience. “At the MTV Video Music Awards, for example, it was clear the audience was tired of adults constantly reminding them to vote.”

That’s why Wiretap editor Twilight Greenaway devoted Wiretap’s site almost exclusively to political coverage for close to a year prior to the election.

Wiretap, written by and for progressively minded teens, has always kept one foot firmly anchored in the activist community. In the fall of 2003, when groups like the League of Pissed off Voters and PunkVote began mobilizing, Greenaway decided to ask Wiretap writers—many whom were getting involved in the youth voting movement themselves—to help mobilize Wiretap’s readers to vote.

The challenge of that, remembers Greenaway, was not one of overcoming the teen apathy that many newspapers were blaming for the steady decline of the youth vote over the last 30 years. (Though the youth vote rose in 1992, the year Bill Clinton informed the public that he, like many young people, preferred boxers to briefs.)

In fact, research indicates that young people today volunteer in record numbers
and are often more concerned about the state of the world than their elders.
The Civic and Political Health of the Nation: A Generational Portrait found
that in 2002 about 40 percent of 15 to 25 year olds said they had volunteered
in the last year compared with the significantly lower national volunteering
rate of 31.7 percent. Monitoring the Future found that volunteer rates among
high school seniors rose nearly ten percent from 1976 to 2001, and The Higher
Education Research Institute’s annual survey of first-year college students found
a rising volunteer rate of nearly twenty percent from 1990 to 2003. For many
of these teens, explained youth voting expert Jane Eisner in the Washington
, “service has become the new politics.”

But mobilized youth often don’t vote. Greenaway knew that Wiretap needed to convince the teens already involved in their communities to get involved in electoral politics. That meant “enlightening them as to how voting is something that people have fought for years to make possible…that ideally it is a way to have a voice and be part of this big picture of being involved in the world around you.”

So Wiretap published the book Storming the Polls: How to Vote Your Views and Change the Rules, which featured youth-written stories about topics ranging from young people in office to the article “Not Playin’: A Call to Black Youth.” They sent three thousand copies of the book to teens, organizers, voting advocates, and teachers.

While Wiretap was out in front in covering the elections, Youth
, an interactive website with a readership considerably younger
and more politically diverse than Wiretap, did not begin covering elections
until a couple of months before voting day, when their summer interns became
interested in the candidates and began posting commentary about them for
Youth Noise’s
members to discuss. Only about a third of Youth Noise members can vote, and
they identify with the religious right as well as the far left. Once the
election articles posted, Youth Noise discussion boards about the elections
and its issues exploded. Executive director Ginger Thompson was impressed
by how forcefully a peer’s passion for a topic—the elections, in this case—could
mobilize the site’s some 400,00–500,000 visitors each month.

Youth Sounds, which produced the “Chase the Vote” public service announcement, was also slow to enter the political fray. Executive director Ken Ikeda considers the organization to be about teaching storytelling, and its films are often cinematic. Youth Sounds’ films, which have appeared in several film festivals, often involve comparatively whimsical situations, like an uptight high school teacher who breaks out dancing, or a group of tough-looking kids stumbling upon a magic box in an abandoned building that transforms them all into clowns.

Ikeda did not intend for the organization to make a public service announcement urging minority teens to vote. That is, not until the politically minded 19-year-old Maurice Williams convinced the other teens in the program’s summer workshop that they should get involved. “Chase the Vote”—Williams’s brainchild—took only two weeks to produce and won second place in MTV’s “Choose or Lose” contest for public service announcements urging young people to vote. The irony, says Ikeda, is that prior to the video MTV did not seem interested in just how powerful youth made media can be: MTV did not accept contest entries from youth under 18. Luckily, Williams, the oldest in the group, was exactly 18.

Despite their work, just after the elections many youth media professionals were surprised and disappointed to read that “get out the vote” (GOTV) efforts had apparently failed to motivate young people. Newspapers across the country reported that the nation’s young people had not responded to efforts to get teens voting. The 2004 youth vote as a percentage of the electorate was the same as that in 2000.

Editorials across the country admonished teens for their apathy. Even the
late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thomson quipped, “Yeah, we rocked the vote
all right. Those little bastards betrayed us again.”

This simply was not true.

Greenaway of Wiretap was one of the first journalists to correct this misconception. In an article she wrote for, which hosts Wiretap, she explained that the confusion about whether or not more youth voted was caused by percentages.

The 2004 youth vote as a percentage of the electorate was the same as that in 2000, simply because more people in every demographic voted in 2004. But the actual number of youth who voted rose significantly. Almost 5 million more young people voted in 2004 than in 2000, and the percentage of young people ages 18–29 who voted in the last election increased by 9.3 percent. MTV’s Rock the Vote had hoped to find 20 million young people at the polls November 2—in fact, 21 million turned out.

Though no one knows precisely what effect the “get out the vote” efforts had in the surge of youth who voted last November, statistics do suggest that its impact was significant. After all, in the swing states most heavily targeted by GOTV efforts, the youth vote was especially high, sometimes as much as 12 percent higher than in other states. Youth media, says Kathryn Montgomery, a professor in the School of Communication at the American University, definitely contributed to it. "They should take some of the credit.”

Experts like Montgomery now wonder what the lasting effects of last year’s efforts to mobilize teens to the polls will be. Did the 2004 election mark a reversal in the trend in voting apathy amongst teens, or was it a momentary response to an election that many youth believed was the most important one of their lives?

It remains to be seen whether the teens mobilized to civic engagement during the last election stay involved, but experts say that the ages between 15 and 22 make up the critical time when young people are developing the “civic identities” they will take with them into adult life. If voting becomes part of their identity as young adults, chances are they’ll maintain that.

For those of us who produce media for young people, said Ian Rowe of MTV’s Rock the Vote at an American University panel discussion, our “job is to continue to tell stories that are relevant to the lives of [our] audience,” which will help channel teens’ newfound energy and enthusiasm for electoral politics into activities that keep them involved during off-election years.

Montgomery agrees, adding that youth media is particularly well-positioned to do that. “You have to really engage the electorate to make rational decisions, to be thoughtful,” she explained. “Voting is just part of it. Youth media has a very important role to play there. It’s not that they just engage in efforts to get young people to vote. They’re engaging them in the issues. They’re finding ways to get hooks that will resonate with teenagers. That’s a long-term process.”

Continue reading The Power of Peer Pressure

Do You Really Want to Be the Talk of the Town?

talk_150.jpgThe first day of the Republican National Convention, just twenty blocks north of a Madison Square Garden swarming with delegates, protesters, and reporters, the cable-access Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) Youth Channel prepared for its own production. Its studio teemed with the kind of adolescents who only rarely make the news: young people doing good.

A cross-section of the city’s most politically engaged teens, the young filmmakers, journalists, and activists prepared to take their places on a panel discussion called Youth Voice 2004. Momentarily, the hour-long show of teens’ perspectives on the election, months in the making, would broadcast live on national TV. Adding to the excitement was news that Dana Goodyear from the New Yorker had spent the morning shadowing the young MNN cameraman Andrew Leon, notebook in her hand.

While it seemed odd to some of the Youth Channel staff that Goodyear had picked their youngest participant to follow—Andrew was only 12, about four years younger than most of the teen staff—they were still thrilled she was there. After all, Youth Voice 2004 was exactly the kind of event the mainstream media almost never cover.

Indeed, the media too often cast teens in a negative light. One recent study done by Young People Now, a London-based magazine for youth workers, found that nearly seventy-one percent of stories about teens in English papers are negative, and one in three focuses on crime. Young people were quoted in only eight percent of the stories about youth. “Youth have opinions that are often drastically misrepresented in the media,” said MNN education facilitator Andrew Lynne.

Not long after Goodyear took her seat in the front row of the studio, the credits opened to a pre-recorded rap written and performed by MNN’s 20-year-old peer trainer “Promise” Vargas about the Republicans coming to town and “walking around.” Then flashed an image of George W. Bush gravely clutching a yellow-covered “Presidency for Dummies.”

Two MNN staff introduced the show: “What’s good, everyone?” said one, grinning widely while a DJ named Impact scratched just behind him. Eventually the camera settled on the panel of teen experts shifting in their folded chairs in front of a bright, makeshift banner.

Panelists, who came from radical organizations like the League of Pissed Off Voters, the Prison Moratorium Project, and the Young Communist Club, included young activists like the primly-dressed Jennie Polone, who, in her spare time, teaches other teens about HIV infection, and Lucas Shapiro of the Young Democratic Socialists. At 24, Shapiro was the oldest panelist and had recently organized “Books Not Bombs,” a youth demonstration demanding, Shapiro’s colleague explained, “a complete reordering of priorities in this country.”

Seventeen-year-old Vanessa Salazar, from Columbia, wearing a navy shirt speckled with politically-minded pins, had the unenviable task of being the lone Republican on camera. When Salazar later suggested that immigrants denied scholarships should return to their countries to get student visas, the audience booed and Promise Vargas, a former Latin King, leaned forward in his seat to sternly reprimand, “You sound very ignorant young lady, seriously.”

Two teen moderators—Habibah Ahmad, in a bright blue shirt and matching headscarf,
and Naomi, who goes by one name and has cropped hair—struggled to maintain
order. They introduced each issue debated with a list of relevant facts, and
sometimes even showed a teen-produced video about the issue. (“So we can have
visual accompaniments to this discussion,” Naomi explained.) Even so, the audience
was not spared the periodic confusion of listening to panelists argue over
what was or wasn’t true. One particularly tempestuous debate over who in New
York was eligible for health care lasted four agonizing minutes.

But for the most part, the moderators as well as the panelists came across
as impressively knowledgeable and opinionated teens who were above all passionate.
In one particularly moving moment, Shoshi Doza, with sleek black hair, leaned
forward in her seat to make clear why she was an activist: “I do what I do because
after 9-11 I saw how Bush’s agenda targeted our immigrant communities, the Arabs
and Muslims, how they’re put into jail…just because their name is Mohammed,” said
Doza, hands outstretched in outrage. “Thirteen-thousand people already have been
deported, millions of people are in detention centers….I see young children crying
every day for their father, ’cause they can’t see their father.”

Clearly, these are kids who not only care but who are fighting for change, making Youth Voice 2004 the type of video that a hip social studies teacher might show, using the panelists’ heated debates to launch a class discussion. After all, these panelists make being a politically involved and civic-minded teen seem not just important, but incredibly cool.

“We thought it was a complete success,” said Vargas, summing up how all the MNN Youth Channel teens and staff felt after the closing credits rolled. Which made it confusing when, two weeks later, the New Yorker piece came out.

Though Lynne did not recall Goodyear ever identifying herself as a reporter for the “Talk of the Town” section, famous for its loftily amused, detached “above the fray” tone, that’s where the piece on Youth Voice 2004 appeared. It was no exception to the section’s usual tone. Centered around the 12-year-old cameraman, the article has Leon muttering a stream of cute but pointless kid-blather: “I like math a little, but I really like recess. It’s like lunch—you just chill.”

Shoshi Doza, the young woman who works with undocumented immigrants, is reduced to a mere teen stereotype the one time Goodyear quotes her: “I mean, like we, like have a constitutional right, like, to protest.”

One young African-American teen’s calm explanation of military recruitment—“A lot of recruiters are based in the minority communities. And you have underfunded afterschool programs, and you have schools with bad books, and then you have young people who want to escape to the army to get away from the community”—is reduced in the piece to four words: “It’s a war on minority youth.”

Lucas Shapiro had delivered some of the panel’s most well-articulated views. He contended that helping prevent the spread of AIDS abroad was not only a question of education, but “of foreign policy that’s driven by the interests of pharmaceutical companies. Countries need cheap, generic drugs.” And he described the detention of undocumented immigrants following 9-11 as “a whole series of policies that are really an affront to the very freedoms that we claim to be protecting in the wars we’re launching abroad.”

But in the “Talk of the Town” piece, Shapiro makes only a cameo, as former “weird kid” (Shapiro’s words) who picked up trash at his school and became an activist at age “ten or eleven.”
The “prevailing sentiment” of Youth Voice 2004, Goodyear asserts, was 12-year-old Leon’s feeling about the Republican Convention: “I’m not Republican. I don’t like Republicans, because basically Republicans are not what I like.” “That’s the type of thing Andrew would say to be funny and then say something serious, but he wouldn’t answer a question like that. I think she took that joke and made it into a statement,” said Promise, who during the show credited his Bronx public high school where he graduated as the valedictorian, for showing him that he was actually smart. “She made all of us sound unintelligent.”

Vargas and the rest of the Youth Channel staff knew that moments of the hour-long show had lacked coherence, but it upset them that those were the instances Goodyear had quoted almost exclusively. Her account of the show, they felt, was a trivializing portrait of kids with a lot of bravado but nothing substantial to say. “They could have talked about public access, about empowerment through media, about youth representation in media, instead they took the human interest hook of, ‘Look at those kids, they are so cute with their big cameras,’” said education facilitator Lynne. “Was this person even in the audience?”

So the Youth Channel staff did what came most naturally to them: they used the story as a teaching tool. They called a meeting with the teens and passed around Goodyear’s story. The teens were outraged. “It hurt to see we worked so hard and put so much effort into it to be degraded in the mainstream media,” remembers Vargas.

But gradually, anger and hurt gave way to a discussion of how the media worked and what constituted responsible journalism. The teens considered how just about any event—be it a presidential campaign or a birthday party—could be written in as many different ways and from as many different angles as people who viewed it. Depending on what quotes a reporter chose to include or omit in a story, the same subject could appear hopelessly befuddled or fantastically decisive.

When it came to Youth Voice 2004, Lynne said he believed, “The idea was that this woman knew what she wanted to write when she walked in the door, and just needed our quotes to write it.”

That, said Vargas with visible disgust, went something along the lines of, “‘Oh, look at those cute kids trying to do what grown ups do.’”

Youth Media Reporter called Goodyear to discuss these claims, but she would not go on the record about the article. New Yorker spokesperson Perri Dorsat, however, said, “We’re sorry that they’re unhappy with the coverage and we’re very happy with the piece.”

Meanwhile Lynne, Vargas, and the rest of the Youth Channel staff and teens vowed to be very careful about talking to the press in the future. They would have a publicity kit, they decided, and insist on having a sharper idea ahead of time about what, exactly, was a reporter’s interest and intent in covering their work. They would decide what message they themselves wanted conveyed and “not necessarily answer the reporters’ questions,” but keep repeating that message, Lynne said.

One of the teens suggested that they should write a letter to The New Yorker or, better yet, in their next show, have the magazine featured subtly in the background, either ripped up on the floor or sticking out of a trashcan.

In the end, the teens decided there were more important things to do. Especially with Bush’s inauguration quickly approaching, there were more pressing events vying for their attention. But even after they’d moved on to new plans and projects, the feeling of being misrepresented and misunderstood—something so many city teens feel already, something that, ironically, Youth Voice 2004 had aimed to alleviate—still lingered.

“The kids felt their show was misinterpreted,” shrugged Cynthia Carrion, MNN Youth Channel outreach coordinator. “It made them question the mainstream media.” Which in the end, she added, isn’t such a bad thing.

Continue reading Do You Really Want to Be the Talk of the Town?

Conventions Made Unconventional

Last fall, as newspapers across the country reported the same stories about
Kerry’s war record and Bush’s tough stance on terrorists, election dispatches from young reporters provided a respite from the usual campaign rhetoric. Berkeley-based Youth Radio sent its reporters to Boston and New York to cover the Democratic and Republican conventions. Spots aired on National Public Radio’s
Morning Edition, All Things Considered, the Tavis Smiley Show, and Latino USA.

Kurwa, Youth Radio’s news director and editor of the international desk,
talked with Youth Media Reporter about how she pitched her stories to national
outlets, and what a youth perspective added to mainstream election coverage.

Q: Why did Youth Radio choose to cover the conventions, and why cover them for outlets with largely adult audiences?

By going to the conventions, we were trying to do there what we do here on
a daily basis, which is cover the story of young people. With the young Democrats
and young Republicans and young protesters going to conventions, we thought
it was important to highlight the fact that there were young people involved
in the convention. What was really important about the young delegates’ perspective
was that they were really focused on the issues important to youth and their
peers, and they were highlighting those issues for the older folks there.
But from what I saw in the mainstream press, young delegates were sort of
being covered as sidebar stories.

Q: At the Republican National Convention, you had to turn around stories
on a very tight deadline. How did you prepare for it?

A: Our planning
started months before. We had the kids listen to stuff Youth Radio had done
from the last convention to get a sense of what we were able to get last
time and the format it was in. And we had young people in the newsroom on
convention watch. All our interns—not just the ones going to
the convention—were reading up on convention stories, looking up young
delegates, identifying the stories that weren’t
necessarily being covered that had to do with young people.

Teen and adult
staff were talking to a lot of delegates in advance to find out which ones
had interesting stories and were great characters. We had pre-interviews with
some of the characters we covered. We also sent adult producers early to Boston
and New York, and they scouted stories and locations so they could tell us, “This
is how long it is going to take us to walk from here to here.”

The New York Times had
done a story on conservative punks for Bush and that’s how we heard about
a conservative punk in New York who we eventually did a story about. A lot
of people thought he was an oxymoron.

We also knew it was important to cover
the stories of the RNC protests, and to get the man-on-the-street sound of
protesters. And a lot of our stories were also connected to our young people’s own experience at the conventions. DeSean Robinson-Walker wrote a show for Tavis Smiley about being a young African-American Republican. Elena Alvarez’s
commentary for Latino USA was her reflection on her interactions with protesters.

the kinds of stories young people would be telling was part of the planning
process. We had to determine who would be able to tell the stories well,
who would be able to reflect on something in their life. And we needed students
who could hunker down and be really nimble in terms of changing plans and
meeting hard deadlines.

Q: How did you go about getting assignments from major media outlets like National Public Radio?

A: It helped us that we already had relationships with editors at various
media outlets. There are people within NPR and other outlets who see that the
youth voice is really important, that youth can sometimes tell a story in a
much more powerful way and can sometimes actually take a deeper look at youth
issues than an adult reporter can.

And for the convention, a lot of coverage
has to be analysis and punditry. We’re really able to bring something
that takes more risks and that really adds to the sound of the coverage and
makes it more young, more fresh, quirky, funny, and also meaningful in terms
of communicating what young people involved in politics are thinking about.

people can ask the questions that elicit responses that provide more of a
window into the why and how of a story. Like with the conservative punk piece,
the student reporter came into it with his own take on punk culture and was
able to bring this witty, astute sense to the writing that helped bring along
the piece.

NPR had one person running all the election coverage and she had
worked with us in the past. She has a sense of the kind of stories we do
and we pitched her the ideas we had over the phone and listened to what she
wanted to get from us.

We said, “These are the students coming along with us and we’ll send you a script when they have something.” For Elena’s story, for instance, we just said, “Here
we have this great perspective of this young woman born in the U.S. who grew
up in Tijuana.”

For Elena, going to the convention was her first flight
out of Mexico and it was her first time in New York City.

Same thing for the
Tavis Smiley show. We talked about who DeSean was, how he was a young African-American
Republican who had never been around a large group of Republicans before.

is a value to having the fresh and diverse perspectives of young reporters
who come from all over the country and from all different classes and backgrounds.
Sometimes the coverage of these events can seem really monolithic in who
is being represented, and our students brought their own perspective.

When you’re working for a national media outlet on a tight deadline,
is there a danger that the teens lose some opportunities for learning?

At the conventions, the process of each story was a sped-up version of our
editorial process at home. Our working model is highly collaborative between
adult and youth. When you get to the national level it’s even more collaborative, and at the conventions we were definitely working together to make our deadlines, whereas here at home we might have more time to say to the youth, “Write as much as you can and I’ll do an edit and you can get back to it,” and
walk away.

But I think the thing that gets lost for sure in the bigger outlets,
is what happens in terms of editorial control. We try to maintain as much
as we can—and in working with national outlets for years we’re
at the point now where if the media outlet makes changes to a story they
are good at telling us so we can go back to the students and tell them before
the change is made. But still, you definitely do lose some editorial control
once you get to that level of production.

And depending on the kinds of stories you’re doing, if you’re always chasing stories that are highly investigative or very tied to what’s happening in the news and require a quick turnaround, you can end up relying on one or two or three really talented writers and reporters. Really trying to draw out a student’s personal perspective is one way to avoid that star reporter syndrome.

But in the end, no matter who goes to the convention it’s a really big deal for our young people to go there and see such a huge, historical, political media event and to feel like they were part of the media junket at large, and also to see how youth media covers the convention differently from the mainstream press.

Continue reading Conventions Made Unconventional

Do You Have Time for Kids’ Issues?

clinton_150.jpgLast fall, Children’s PressLine sent its young reporters to Boston and New York for the Democratic and Republican conventions. Children’s PressLine election coverage appeared in The Daily News, The Boston Globe,, and Connect for Kids.

Katina Paron, Children’s PressLine’s editorial and program director, talked with Youth Media Reporter about how she pitched stories to national outlets, and what a youth perspective added to mainstream election coverage.

Q: Why did Children’s PressLine choose to send reporters to the convention?

A: Children’s PressLine—it used to be Children’s Express—has covered every major political convention since 1976. We train our kids so that they are journalists, reporters, and editors, but we always try to get them to think of themselves as advocates for their peers first.

We let them know that they are part of the media, and since the media is such a powerful tool, it’s their obligation as young people and as journalists to talk to their peers in need and ask politicians how they will be responsible to those young people.

We’ve done hundreds of interviews with young people facing really intense issues, and we can’t pass up the opportunity to say to politicians, “You are accountable to these young people.” The conventions were a concentrated time to bring those voices of the young people we talk to directly to the politicians.

Q: How did you pitch The Daily News?

A: We started a conversation with The Daily News in April or May. We had done a convention supplement with them in 1992, and I said, “Remember us in 1992? Can we cover this convention for you too?”

But when I first called, I couldn’t get an answer. They didn’t know what they’d be interested in by us, but the newspaper’s education editor did pitch the idea to the executive editor. He said OK to her, which opened the path for me to call him directly and get a verbal affirmation from him.

But I didn’t hear back, even after leaving several messages with him. So I called his secretary and said that the editor had already accepted the idea and I just needed to know who I should talk to since I can’t get hold of him. I was persistent. I said, “We already got an OK on this, I just need a confirmation of the OK.”
They sent me to another lead editor, and he really liked the idea of having a kid’s perspective on the convention. It’s so hard to get news at the convention and kids’ perspectives on the convention is news made interesting.

After we got confirmation, I said to the executive editor, “You agreed to run our stuff deadline. What do you want us to run?” I didn’t know they’d want it to be daily. But we ended up running a daily reporter’s notebook on the convention from a kids’ perspective and it got picked up by

It was a little snarky and smart-alecky. When one kid asked a delegate at the RNC, “What’s the job of a delegate?” he said, “Just as long as we don’t pick our noses when the camera is on us.”

Another 13-year-old went to an event and they tried to serve him alcohol. That’s interesting for the general public to be reading that, to hear from a kid’s point of view that this is politics today, this is what these kids are seeing. It gives readers a sense that there is no news at the conventions, that this is a series of parties. To put these young people who aren’t jaded in a room with all these politicians and delegates and to have a young person tell it like it is, it gave readers an unusual perspective on the convention.

Q: While many youth media organizations work with teens, Children’s PressLine works with kids who range from ages 8–18. How do the politicians react to being interviewed by such young people?

A: The politicians have always been respectful to the young people because they’re young and cute, and because they’re young and have something to say, and because they’re trained journalists and have press credentials. When the kids see a politician they run up to them and say, “Do you have time for kids’ issues?” If they say, “I don’t have time for kids’ issues,” and walk away, it looks really bad.

And when you see kids ages 8–18 who are briefed on the issues approach politicians with intelligent questions, it reminds politicians that kids are their constituents, and even if kids can’t vote, they have to work on their behalf.

Continue reading Do You Have Time for Kids’ Issues?

Smart Money: Who Funded Youth Media Election Coverage?

Minnesota-based Phillips Community TV raised money specifically for Battleground Minnesota, a teen-made documentary on the elections. “We did a whole separate fundraising campaign for this video,” said program director John Gwinn. First, they produced a trailer,
then researched organizations that might be interested in helping to fund a
full-length feature. One staff member at Phillips Community TV used
to work for an online philanthropy project and, through that, had the idea
that the locally based Target and Best
be interested in funding the show through their government affairs divisions.
After watching the trailer, Target gave $10,000 and Best Buy gave $5,000. They
also helped Phillips organize a house party “mostly
with young, wealthy liberals,” said Gwinn. It raised about $7,500 more., the
alternative news source that hosts the youth-written Wiretap, got special funding
to cover the elections from the Wallace
Global Fund
, the Schumann
Center for Media and Democracy
the Albert A. List Foundation,
and the Open Society Institute.

A look at the funding strategies of youth media organizations that covered the 2004 election.

Alternet made the organizational decision to have Wiretap focus
on the youth vote angle. But none of their funding was specifically earmarked
for Wiretap funding, says editor Twilight Greenaway.

Andrew Lynne, educational facilitator at Manhattan
Neighborhood Network’s
Youth Channel
, said that the organization did not raise money for
its coverage of the elections. Even so, he says, Youth Channel thought
it was important to cover the elections because its “staff members
felt a certain responsibility to provide a community media outlet as opposed
to a corporate media outlet on the election, and so we all took it on ourselves.”

In the past, New York–based Youth Communication received
funding from the New York Community
the New York Foundation, and the Valentine
Perry Snyder Fund
of JP Morgan during election years to produce
special issues of the teen-written New
Youth Connections
on voting and political participation. They did not
apply for funding for their special 2004 election issue, says executive
director Keith Hefner, because he felt that year more foundations were
interested in direct “get out the vote” efforts than what Hefner calls “pre-registration
education.” “We’re trying to lay the groundwork so that when
someone approaches a kid on the street and says, ‘Are you registered
to vote?’, the kid will want to register because they understand why
it would make a difference.”

Three youth-reported news services—Children’s
New York, Y-Press in Indianapolis, and 8-18
Markette, Michigan—partnered to secure funding to exchange youth among the
organizations covering the conventions. Each bureau received $5,000 in total from
the Open Society Institute and the Arsalyn
, which is part of the Ludwick Family Foundation. Children’s PressLine Program Director Katina Paron believes they received
the funding not only because of the civic engagement angle; foundations “love partnerships because it saves on resources for
them.” She adds, foundations “really love peer exchanges
and this was kind of an extreme peer exchange.”

Youth Media Reporter Syndication

RSS, or “Really Simple Syndication” (among other names), allows online content, such as the Youth Media Reporter’s news headlines, to be easily distributed. Through the use of an “RSS news reader” desktop application or web-based “RSS aggregator,” content from multiple sources can be viewed in one place.
Youth Media Reporter offers a free RSS feed that includes headlines, summaries, and links to Youth Media Reporter‘s website. To subscribe, click the orange “XML” button below.

Youth Media Reporter Headlines xml.gif

Accessing RSS Feeds

To read the Youth Media Reporter Headlines RSS feed, you usually must either install RSS reader software or have access to a website that acts as an RSS aggregator. Web-based aggregators are relatively easy to set up and allow feeds to be read at any networked computer, PDA, or Web-enabled phone. Bloglines and the RSS module of MyYahoo! are two free providers.
RSS reader software, such as Pluck, SharpReader (both free Windows applications) and NetNewsWire (Mac), is more customizable and often includes the ability to alert you to new headlines or content.
Some web browsers, such as Opera, have an RSS reader built in. Others, such as Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, require extensions to add RSS features.