Porn Sites by Minors, Featuring Themselves

For an audience of over 1,500 people who paid him over hundreds of thousands of dollars, one teenager sold images of his body on the Internet. His story is part of a larger trend, the New York Times contends. “Minors, often under the online tutelage of adults, are opening for-pay pornography sites featuring their own images sent onto the Internet by inexpensive Webcams,” reports the Times. “And they perform from the privacy of home, while parents are nearby, beyond their children’s closed bedroom doors.”

What We Can Teach “We Media”

On July 7, 2005, the day of the London bombings, the BBC received a deluge of photos, videos, and emails from eyewitnesses to the attacks. Though not from professional journalists, much of the citizen-submitted media was of high quality, and the BBC incorporated it into its own reporting. It even set up instant diaries for specific citizen journalists to tell their stories.
Since then, the citizen journalism movement—also known as “we media” or “participatory journalism,” in which ordinary citizens report on their communities via blogs, cameraphones, video, and the web—has received heightened attention. News organizations eager to embrace “we media” are trying to figure out how best to do that while remaining accountable to the citizen-submitted information they run. Participatory journalism activists have become increasingly concerned that the movement may actually not be participatory enough, accessible only to those wealthy enough to own the latest technology.

Practitioners could leverage the hype surrounding “we media” as a chance to publicize youth-made media as well as our educational methods. It could also lead to new sources of funding.

Curiously absent from these discussions is a recognition that the youth media field—arguably the prototype for citizen journalism—has already grappled with these same issues of inclusiveness and accountability and arrived at working solutions. While it’s unfortunate that youth media has been overlooked in discussions surrounding citizen journalism, the publicity now surrounding participatory media also points to opportunities for the field. Youth media practitioners could leverage the hype surrounding “we media,” including the ensuing conferences and writings about the phenomena, as a chance to publicize youth-made media as well as our educational methods. It could also lead to new sources of funding.
At a recent conference on participatory journalism, the Associated Press reported, Farai Chideya, a correspondent for National Public Radio in Los Angeles and founder of Pop and Politics, lamented that without access to technology, many poor people of color may not be able to participate in making and distributing news online.
In an article on the Digital Divide Network, Educational Development Center for Media & Community program director Andy Carvin echoed Chideya’s concern. The media phenomenon will remain “skewed to well-off, well-educated populations as long as disenfranchised groups, such as low-income populations, people of color, and people with disabilities don’t have equal access or the skills to participate,” he wrote.
Youth media practitioners need to join this discussion. To address Chideya and Carvin’s concern, we could point out that for 20 years youth media organizations have found ways to include one of the most disenfranchised groups of people: low-income youth. For example, we can point to projects like The Beat Within, which publishes poetry by young people living in juvenile detention centers in California; Voices in Arizona and Native Lens in Washington, two media groups engaging young people on reservations; and Represent and L.A. Youth, both magazines that work with foster youth.
When news organizations wonder how to collaborate with citizen journalists to get high-quality, first-person angles on news, we should mention longstanding partnerships between youth media groups and news organizations such as that between Scripps Howard News and Children’s PressLine, between National Public Radio and Youth Radio, Voices and the Arizona Daily Star, and the more recent collaboration between the teen-written Sex, Etc. newsletter and MTV.
We should inform news groups and “we media” activists about the media educator model commonly used by many youth nonprofits. This model not only makes media tools available to teens, but also pairs them with educators, often professional journalists who provide young people with training, workshops, and proven practices that help them tell their stories effectively.
If news organizations or citizen journalism activists express concern that this method may not work with adults, the youth media field already has evidence that it does. Pacific News Service‘s youth media projects eventually led to multiple ethnic media projects. Appalshop provides media equipment and training to adults as well as teens living in the Kentucky Appalachians. Represent spawned Rise, a newsletter written by parents who have lost their kids to foster care.
News organizations that adopt the media educator model would no longer need to wait passively for high-quality submissions from citizen journalists. They could send media educators to run workshops in the communities they wish to engage, as Bridges to Understanding does. Bridges, a Seattle-based digital storytelling project, sends trained educators around the world to help youth living in indigenous communities document their lives.
Newspapers might send not only journalists, but also media educators to Iraq and other countries mired in war and civil conflict, where they can guide soldiers and local citizens to tell their stories in their own words. This kind of collaboration between a journalist and citizen occasionally occurs by chance, as with the moving diary of a young girl living in Iraq during the U.S. invasion excerpted in the Washington Post last fall.
But if news organizations were to employ media educators, they could get these types of first-person takes on news intentionally and regularly. Chances are they would also stumble across story angles and leads that could be found no other way. When I edited a magazine written by teens in foster care, I had access to a number of untapped stories I would never have heard of simply because I had sustained, trusting relationships with young people living in the system.
Of course, it may be a ways off before the citizen journalism movement or news organizations begin modeling programs based on youth media groups. But those of us in the field can make it happen much more quickly by actively entering the dialogue surrounding the burgeoning phenomena. By attending conferences and participating in related online discussions, we can make it common knowledge that youth media has an extensive body of knowledge to contribute. Youth media organizations might apply for funding to run workshops helping news groups develop their own systems for acquiring high-quality citizen media, or to teach activists how to engage citizen reporters from a broad range of backgrounds.
These are all issues that the citizen journalism movement is beginning to address and to spend money on. When holding so many solutions, we should not wait to be invited to the discussion.

Continue reading What We Can Teach “We Media”

Raising the Bar

In 2003, a National Research Council report found that students learn better when schools foster caring and supportive relationships and high expectations. This month the American School Board Journal reports “few victories are more important than raising expectations.” If poor and minority children do not believe they can learn as well as those with advantages, “it can be difficult–if not impossible–to convince students that education offers their best opportunity for a better life.” And “it doesn’t take much to have low expectations of poor people and people of color,” warned the founder of the Haberman Educational Foundation, which helps high-poverty school districts hire teachers and principals. “All you have to do is grow up in American society, and you’ve built them in.”

Can 250 Video Cameras Bridge the Israeli-Palestinian Divide?

In a Time Magazine cover story, Steven Spielberg talks about his new movie exploring the aftermath of the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. He also reveals his plan for improving Israeli-Palestinian relations: “There’s a project I’m initiating next February that I think might also do some good,” he said. “What I’m doing is buying 250 video cameras and players and dividing them up, giving 125 of them to Palestinian children, 125 to Israeli kids, so they can make movies about their own lives—not dramas, just little documentaries about who they are and what they believe in, who their parents are, where they go to school, what they had to eat, what movies they watch, what CDs they listen to—and then exchange the videos. That’s the kind of thing that can be effective, I think, in simply making people understand that there aren’t that many differences that divide Israelis from Palestinians—not as human beings, anyway.”

On the Defense

A football player at a New Jersey Catholic high school was expelled last October for blogging about his coach. Now he’s considering suing the school. “It’s outrageous that a private institution can wave their proverbial hand into students’ homes where they are being monitored by their parents,” the student’s lawyer told MTV News, the Media Center Blog reports. The school says it prohibits students from blogging on sites like MySpace and Xanga to protect not the school, but students from Internet predators.

Psychologists, Mental Health, and Youth Development

applied_150.jpgThe following article originally appeared in Youth Today.
Many professional groups comprise the tapestry of what Youth Today readers call “youth work”: Educators, health professionals, managers with MBAs, sociologists and economists all bring their special knowledge to research, direct service, management and policy work. And they all offer guidance into the principles and practices of youth work.
Over the summer I reviewed two extraordinary publications that were written mostly by psychologists. It got me thinking that some of the most noteworthy recent contributions to youth work have come from the various fields of psychology.
If I needed any evidence of the ascendancy of psychology in youth work, it came in a work carrying the longest title of any major report in recent memory: Treating and Preventing Adolescent Mental Health Disorders: What We Know and Don’t Know, A Research Agenda for Improving the Mental Health of Our Youth (Oxford University Press). It’s edited by psychologists Dwight L. Evans and six others from the Adolescent Mental Health Initiative, which is sponsored by the Annenberg Foundation Trust and Annenberg Public Policy Center.
This impressive collection of readings (818 pages) reminds us that one in five youths suffers from a developmental, emotional or behavioral problem with mental health dimensions. The U.S. Surgeon General reported in 2000 that one in ten adolescents struggles with a mental health issue that is severe enough to lead to a “serious impairment.”
The first signs of mental health problems often appear in adolescence. So one would expect high standards in youth work for early detection, training of youth workers, treatment protocols, cross-program referrals and more. Yet the breadth of these competencies among agencies and staff in our field isn’t nearly enough to adequately deal with the high prevalence of mental health problems among youth.
Because the consequences of mental health problems reach deep into adulthood, this should be reason enough for government and foundation funders to provide more money and training for those working with teens. But consider this: Only one in two American high schools have formal mental health counseling services on site. Most youth programs don’t have such services at all, nor access to resources to routinely and adequately provide mental health care to youth.
To boost their own competence, youth workers can benefit from chapters in this report that review what we know and what we need to know about depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse and suicide. Then the Annenberg team, under psychologist Martin Seligman, adds a wonderful chapter, “Beyond Disorder,” reporting on the results of the Commission on Positive Youth Development; it essentially argues that the positive youth development movement is a sound mental health campaign for America’s youth.
As with most research about youth work today, many of the writers in this volume adopt the mantra of “evidence-based mental health treatments.” In other words, they want society to use only the most compelling, well-executed research in choosing treatments and approaches. Unfortunately, this isn’t always practical for those running youth programs, because they aren’t in a position to know whether their mental health providers are selecting “evidence-based” treatments.
Those who run youth programs can certainly identify with other findings by the psychologists about the youth field, including too few treatment evaluations, the difficulty in separating mental health issues from other issues (such as problems in school), gaps in knowledge about program implementation, fragmentation of service systems, cultural barriers and finances.
The other insightful publication is the huge, two-volume Encyclopedia of Applied Developmental Science, edited by psychologists Celia Fisher and Richard M. Lerner and published by Sage Publications. This encyclopedia for youth workers and others presents a comprehensive theory of applied developmental science, then offers A to Z coverage of topics from “Abstinence in Adolescence” to “Youth Programs.” (Apparently, nothing of interest in our field starts with Z.)
Fisher and Lerner deserve enormous credit. As Robert Granger, president of the W.T. Grant Foundation, writes in an introduction, “Applied developmental science has helped us see and synthesize what people need across the lifespan.” Fisher and Lerner show us the ability of psychologists to pull together information about individuals, families and communities in a kind of dynamic new science of development that is informed by theory and tested in practice.
Every time I tried to find space on my bookcase for these works, I found it more useful to leave them on my desk. Many youth workers and program administrators will as well.
Andrew Hahn is a professor at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

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“A Terrible Lesson in Civics”

A Tennessee high school paper was confiscated for publishing birth-control information as well as a photo of an unidentified student with a tattoo her parents did not know about. The episode sparked another First Amendment rights debate about student publications. “This is a terrible lesson in civics,” a University of Tennessee journalism professor told the Associated Press (here via the Los Angles Times). “Either the students are going to have a voice, or you’re going to have a PR rag for the administration.”

College Newspapers Hit the Big Time

“As the commercial press is hammered by shrinking profits, layoffs and falling circulation, college newspapers are thriving,” reports Newsweek. Advertisers eager to reach the college demographic have flocked to student papers, resulting in inflated budgets for some campus publications, as well as elaborate newsrooms and increased circulation. “We work with 1,800 papers, reaching 11.4 million students,” said the senior vice president for a marketing firm that links college papers with national advertisers. “It’s not a little niche thing.” Critics point out, however, that bigger budgets don’t necessarily translate into better journalism.

Coffee, Colleagues, and Collaborative Learning

“Virtually no colleges exist where one can earn a degree or certificate to be a media educator,” wrote Steven Goodman, director of the Educational Video Center (EVC), earlier this month. “Perhaps the most common way that media educators learn their craft is through trial and error, and they largely do so in isolation.”
Isolation, in part, motivated film educators and administrators in New York City to revolutionize the way they learn their craft. Energized by a convening of colleagues at the Open Society Institute nearly two years ago, Manhattan Neighborhood Network’s Youth Channel director Hye-Jung Park realized youth video groups in New York City could begin learning not only on the job, but from each other. Since then, EVC, MNN, Global Action Project, Paper Tiger Television, Ghetto Film School, TRUCE, and DCTV have formed a study group that meets every six weeks during the academic year. Over bagels and coffee, they discuss teaching practices, their students’ work, and the educational theory behind it all. This year, group members have been observing each other in the classroom.
While the idea of getting together to discuss one’s practice sounds simple, group members say that in a field just beginning to define its methods, the group’s impact has been immense. “It gives people a place and time and a space to talk about strategies and the big ideas and issues,” said Goodman. “It’s helped us develop a shared culture across the organizations that takes the work seriously and frames all of us as learners. It’s also building a social network. People will check in and say, ‘We’re working on this,’ or ‘There’s a demonstration you should know about.’”
Goodman provided the following tips for how other youth media organizations can run their own learning groups.

Rotate facilitation.
Take turns hosting and leading meetings. This encourages groups to share responsibility for planning meetings and gives everyone a chance to view one another’s home sites.

Combine theory with practice.
Spend time at each meeting discussing reading related to the job as well as time examining student work and the challenges and successes of producing it.
Challenge the group to read material that can provide a theoretical framework, such as readings on critical literacy and educational thought. The New York group has examined readings by John Dewey, James Paulo Gee, Paulo Freire, and Kathleen Tyner. Youth media practitioners, says Goodman, are “standing on the shoulders of other people and there’s a whole history to what we’re doing.” But acknowledge that some of the readings might be abstract and that practitioners are being asked to stretch a bit in examining them.
Consider having a theme to explore at meetings, such as how to encourage young people to move away from telling their own stories and into reporting.

Practice nonjudgmental observation.
When observing each other’s work with young people, for instance, instead of saying, “I noticed the kids were bored,” try the less loaded, “I noticed there were two kids in the back of the room that didn’t talk.” This helps to cultivate a sense of trust and openness.

Keep group momentum and encourage consistency.
Aim to have a core body of members who you can count on to show up. Schedule regular meetings, aiming to convene every one to two months.
Check in frequently to determine what’s working and what isn’t about the group. Especially in its beginning stages, the group is a work in progress and needs room to accommodate members’ needs, wants, and even a few whims.
Serve food. Snacking while learning can create a relaxed, supportive atmosphere. This is important, says Goodman, because groups are “a way for people to be colleagues. Many of us share some of the same challenges in our teaching and we can really learn from each other and support each other.”
This article is part of a series exploring a new phase of introspection in the youth media field, in which educators have begun placing a premium on reflecting on their work and thinking and planning on a macrolevel.

Continue reading Coffee, Colleagues, and Collaborative Learning

Donor Power Activate!

“Nonprofits subsist on a tragic irony,” writes fundraiser Jeff Brooks on his Donor Power Blog. “While they seek to do good in the world, they rely on fundraising–which is a bad thing. That’s balderdash. Self-destructive balderdash. Donors love to give.” Brooks, who has been serving nonprofits for 18 years, shares his expertise with tips and musings on topics including “Down with focus groups!,” “How to get donors to do your work for you,” “The best day of the week to send email,” and “If THEY build it they will come.”