Not Too Young to Watch, Not Too Young to Make

While the youth media production field empowers children nine years old and older to create their own media, children under the age of eight continue to be exposed to television just as much as their older siblings and peers. As media educators, we know that young children are capable of learning much at very young ages, whether at school, within home settings or from media sources. Children ages four through seven have inherent artistic and theatrical gifts that have not yet been affected by the educational system and the strains and stresses of life. In my eight years’ experience working with children and video, I have found that young children are ready and able to collaborate with adults to make and critique their own media.
Children under the age of eight need access to the fields’ knowledge of meaningful media-making in order to understand how media are made so they can generate, critique, and participate in media as young adults. Such opportunities will not only help develop a critical eye in young children; they will open doors for children to become familiar with media, preparing them to become producers of their own media at an early age. Media production in early childhood learning environments can only prove to benefit children down the road, as they are faced with various challenges both in school and at home, where media play a huge roll in their upbringing.
From Passive Viewers to Creators of Media: A Deeper Experience
Young children in the U.S. are experiencing the complex concurrent development of their creative play abilities and their understanding of the world around them, which includes an increasing amount of engagement with media stimuli. Both inside and outside of their school experience, young children spin their own stories and create their own worlds inside their imaginative play. Meanwhile, even at the young age of 4, children are equipped to ask questions and find out answers about the technology they are interacting with outside (and sometimes inside) school, and they are ready to become empowered through media literacy curricula.
Just as we can turn our television channels to Nick Jr. or PBS Kids and see the kind of media young children are spending three to four hours a day watching (Nielson, 2008), we can also turn our gaze to the ongoing international conversation about “play,” and see that it has become both a buzzword in the field of education and recognized as an essential component to healthy child development (Ackman, 2008, Henig, 2008, Paley, 2004; Singer & Singer, 1990; Tippet, 2007). Because of the multitude of animated options available for children to watch and even interact with (via internet complements to TV offerings), the imaginative play of the very young has increasingly taken on characteristics that stem directly from children’s television counterparts.
This issue took on great relevance for me during classroom conversations I had with young children while teaching art to K-2nd graders at a charter school in Bedford-Stuyvesant from 2000-02. The stories the children told me through their art and writing pointed consistently back to the television world, and I often could not tell if their stories were their own. I started asking children to tell me their stories through collaboration on digital videos, which resulted in the completion of my Ed.M. with a focus on children and media production, and constituted the beginning of Digital Story Workshop.
Digital Video as a Learning Tool for the Very Young
In 2004, I founded Digital Story Workshop (DSW), a video-making program that aimed to facilitate the spontaneous imaginative play of four to seven-year-old children through video documentation, viewing and story editing. This program was backed up by my Ed.M. research, a qualitative study about children’s experiences making and viewing a short film I had made with eight Brooklyn children in 2002 (Ark). The creation of DSW was my response to the obvious widespread exposure of young children to media and their resulting curiosity about it, combined with my personal and academic fascination with young children’s universal ability to create elaborate, engaging, and original stories and play experiences. DSW worked to address several goals. Specifically, to:
• empower young children by highlighting their own imaginative play,
• involve children in the process of planning, acting, editing and narrating digital videos,
• facilitate meaningful artistic collaborations between adults and children,
• document and provide a bridge between explorations at school and at home and between imaginative adventures outside and inside the classroom, and
• provide creative media that complements the educational goals and creative whimsy of children’s television, but that ventures deeper into children’s unique imaginations.
As director of Digital Story Workshop, I videotaped children’s spontaneous play based on various prompts or themes, edited the footage, screened the footage for the children to watch in small and large groups, planned curricula with teacher teams, duplicated DVDs for the children to take home, and wrote grants to attain more funding for this work. As the children revisited their play by watching it play back on a screen, I asked them questions like these:
• Can you tell the story?
• What were you doing there? Why?
• Did anything mysterious happen?
• What did you discover?
• What will happen next in the story?
I recorded the children’s voices and re-edited the videos, leaving some of the natural sounds of the children talking and exploring, interwoven with their voiceover narration that told the story of their play. Final videos ranged from two to ten minutes long and were screened and sent home with the children as DVDs, often decorated with the children’s own artwork.
Two principles guided the work: an overarching reverence for authentic free play among children—as manifest through their spontaneous explorations of places and objects, and a commitment to work with children in small groups—to facilitate deeper learning through meaningful social play. Even more than “media education,” DSW functioned as “play facilitation,” in the sense that it harnessed the powerful tool of digital video to support and enhance the wonderful developmental growth at work within children at play.
Opening the Door to Higher Order Processing
In many of my projects, I captured on camera the spontaneous actions of pre-K through 1st grade students playing in small groups in parks and schoolyards in Brooklyn, and I recorded their reactions to seeing their play as narrative/poetic voiceovers. While watching footage of her group playing in Coffey Park with puppets they had made, Anastasia, a pre-K student at PS 27 in Red Hook, narrated:
We are together.
Your house is beautiful.
Your house is kind of music.
We are not together. We are together.
We are children. We are supposed to be children.
We are together. We not losing everyone.
We are together so we not losing everyone.

Four-year-old Anastasia was somehow able to access this deep and heartfelt poetic space as she viewed the video of herself and her classmates frolicking with their puppets in the autumn leaves. Anastasia’s poetry was echoed by that of kindergarten student Vertyce, who narrated while watching her group’s indoor play with puppets:
When the sun woke up, the sun fell down, cause it was hot.
The sun melted, cause they put water on him, and then the wind blowed the sun,
and after that, it fell on the ground.
And then the puppets ate the sun up, and then they spit out the sun, cause it was very hot.

As teachers, we can only wonder at the reasons why our students make these kinds of dramatic creative leaps. I have been tracking the poetic voice of my students over the years and have documented many such poems, all inspired by young children watching themselves play on video screens. More than anything, these poems remind me that this work is not about technology as an end in itself, but about the effective use of technology to enable children to reach beyond, to a greater, deeper, more awe-inspiring understanding of the world. This type of understanding will benefit them on so many levels—social, emotional, intellectual—throughout their lives.
While at young ages like four and five, children are not ready to operate cameras or editing equipment, they are ready to take the first step toward media creation, by being videotaped, watching their actions, and retelling what they did using their inherently diverse and creative storytelling voices. This process harnesses the vital role of storytelling in young children’s lives and pairs it with technology so as to make both components not only valid but also easily accessible to children.
Sara Barnes, the principal of PS 27, Anastasia and Vertyce’s school, spoke to the importance of the video making process in developing media literacy and self-image: “Video does change so many of the kids, because being able to hold a mirror up to their reality, and watching themselves, watching their own image in real time, interacting, it does move them along pretty fast. Kids themselves tell a story and also have the chance to be the one to reenact the story in the film, so they start to reconceptualize what the whole process is about” (Barnes, 2008). As Shariffa Martinez, a cooperating kindergarten teacher on the year-long DSW partnership at PS 27 that sparked Anastasia and Vertyce’s poetic narrations, said “This work is not an isolated thing. It lends itself to so many aspects of the curriculum” (Martinez, 2008).
Innovation at the Crossroads of Early Childhood and Technology
Over the four years (2004-08) that I worked as a teaching artist/videographer through DSW, I found myself moving against the grain of NYC public schools that had no precedent for media education in early childhood. Because this work is an unusual marriage of early childhood teaching and technology, I have often felt like a lone voice espousing the benefits of media production in early childhood.
After searching for years for any like-minded national efforts that could back up my work, I ultimately concluded that the video medium remains a foreign concept to most early childhood teachers, save for a few exceptions. Those whose work echoes and supports my own include progressive schools that model themselves after the Reggio Emilia preschools in Italy, Richard Lewis of the Touchstone Center for Children, George Forman and Ellen Hall’s Videatives, and the writer and teacher Vivian Paley, who has cultivated a network of teachers who enable their students to act out their original stories on a regular basis. Teachers at private schools in New York City, Cambridge, MA and Boulder, CO are using video to document learning and play in their classrooms.
The Child Care Collection at Ball State University produces a variety of resources for parents and professionals in the field of early care and education, including video documentation of the uses of play, and will feature DSW in a new DVD series in 2009. Coordinator of programming Teresa Matlock supports the premise of questioning children while viewing videos of themselves playing: “When you ask children questions about their play, without video footage for them to reference, you will get a few replies. Show them a videotape of themselves at play, however, and suddenly those questions will receive ten times as many answers, which will then lend themselves to 1,000 more things to play, videotape and think about” (Matlock, 2008).
Videatives (video + narrative) focus on the use of video in pre-school settings with children as young as three. Videatives CEO George Forman likens video revisiting to “a tool for thinking about thinking” (Forman, 2008). In that sense, video is a powerful tool that can enable young children to make a leap into the relatively unexplored metacognitive realm. This prospect has fueled my work: not only have I provided an engaging experience for children, but I have helped them to access brain development that may not otherwise be available to them, especially given the traditional learning climate of many public schools.
As Erin B. Reilly and Alice Robison note in Youth Media Reporter, “new media literacy skills are central to the lives of all young people, who will increasingly communicate and rely upon technology into their adult lives.” Reilly and Robison go on to make clear the importance of the role of “focused, explicit instruction and experience with these skills,” and remind educators that we cannot simply assume that just because children have access to technology, that they will succeed in using the tools to the best of their abilities (Reilly and Robison, 2007). It is important for all media educators to note that early childhood technology enrichment can pave the way to much deeper understanding, once students come to the age at which they can videotape and edit on their own.
While this work may present a challenging addition to most early childhood classrooms, it still resonates deeply with professionals in the field, and therefore should be pursued. Teachers are interested in documenting their students’ explorations of the world, and they are intrigued by the extended vantage points allowed by the video medium. They are open to using such videos within the classroom for “thinking about thinking.” But this discussion is only just getting off the ground; it happens in pockets of the early childhood field, but is not currently sustained by meaningful ongoing professional development.
Given more investment on the part of educators who could commit to becoming a network of early childhood media producers, the dialogue, and as a result, the work, could become much more meaningful. The obvious next step then would be to widen the conversation to include more voices within the field of media education. The challenge for each field is to work together with each other to expand the possibilities of video production for young children.
The Next Step
All young children need to interact with digital video. Eight years and 25 projects after I first introduced a camera into an elementary school, I have witnessed the symbiotic relationship of viewing, questioning and learning that digital video brings to pre-K youth. Because of its power, relevance and increased accessibility and affordability in the world at large, video in the classroom remains a tool that should be explored in early childhood, so that it can help practitioners go beyond documentation and offer truly life-affecting education experiences to their youngest students.
Learning about and interacting with multi-media tools will help to prepare the youngest children to be media critics in a media-saturated society and will validate and enhance their imaginative explorations, which in turn will benefit their intellectual growth in early childhood and throughout their lives. As early childhood and media educators, we have the opportunity to shepherd the youngest generation of media viewer/participants into a new understanding of their relationship to media. Anastasia and her friends are leading the way, with their powerfully relevant poetry that fuels a deepened meaning of our work: “They are together so they not losing everyone.”
In 2004, Kristin B. Eno (Ed.M., Columbia Teachers College) founded Digital Story Workshop, a nonprofit media education company that enabled young children eight and under to make creative videos in collaboration with a teaching artist/videographer/editor. Since then she has produced 25 projects based on the stories and play of pre-K through 2nd graders around New York City. She recently founded Little Creatures, a film company that produces high-quality live-action films based on the imaginative adventures of young children around the world, told in children’s own voices.,
Ackman, D. (2008, August 5). The Architect-Designer Focuses on Child’s Play. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 17, 2008 from Wall Street Journal Website:
Barnes, S. (2008, August 25). In-person interview.
Forman, G. (2008, September 27). Email interview.
Henig, R.M. (2008, February 17). Why Do We Play? Taking Play Seriously. The New York Times Magazine, 38-45, 60, 75.
Martinez, S. (2008, June 26). In-person interview.
Matlock, T. (2008, September 17). Email and phone interview.
Nielson Media Research. (2008). Nielson’s Three Screen Report: Television, Internet and Mobile Usage in the U.S. Retrieved August 6, 2008, from Nielson Website:
Paley, V. (2004). A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Reggio Emilia.,
Reilly, Erin B. and Alice Robison. (2007). Extending Media Literacy: How young people remix and transform media to serve their own interests. Youth Media Reporter, 1, 96-101.
Singer, D. & Singer, J.L. (Eds.) (1990). The House of Make-Believe: Children’s Play and the Developing Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Touchstone Center for Children.
Tippet, K. (2007). Play, Spirit and Character. Speaking of Faith. American Public Media.

Building the Local Youth Media Community

Public presentations of youth media have the potential to broaden perspectives, challenge assumptions, build community, and reward young people for their efforts. Yet it can be difficult to engage new local audiences of individuals who may not be familiar with youth media. Young people hope to engage new youth, adult allies, and local stakeholders who have the potential to become advocates for their concerns. As youth media often seeks to strengthen community relationships, youth media screenings tend to revolve around smaller community events and partnerships where the audience is already invested in the subject matter. Branching out to the broader, local community requires new strategies, taking risks and building partnerships outside of the youth media field.
For many youth media orgs that work with video, one of the key objectives is to widely distribute youth generated content. Many have opted to distribute on-line or through youth media networks. We have found that focusing on our local city as a source of increasing the audience, distribution and diversity of stakeholders in youth media has been fruitful. As a result, our youth media shop has become an important aspect of the community as we develop relationships with cultural institutions, colleges, and businesses to strengthen and expand the field.
Creating a Strategy
Wide Angle Youth Media is a nonprofit that provides youth in Baltimore, MD with practical media education, leadership development, and video production skills to become self-aware, engaged citizens in their community. More than 300 youth participate in workshops at their schools or in our after-school programs each year. Students produce their own media, including documentary and narrative videos, digital photography, and audio recordings, selecting a message and intended audience for each piece. The cycle of research, learning and production naturally progresses to presentation—for the process to complete, young people must have an opportunity to share their work with their intended target audience.
Our organization has historically found it easier to reach an audience outside of our local jurisdiction. Through partnerships with Listen Up! Youth Media Network, Free Speech TV, the National Alliance for Media, Art, and Culture, MNN Youth Channel and the St. Paul Neighborhood Network, we have been able to share our work with communities across the country. In recent years, we have also had successful experiences sharing our videos through online publishing channels: YouTube, Facebook, and our websites.
However, as of 2004, we realized that only a fraction of the Baltimore community had the opportunity to experience our work in live events. This was due in part to the fact that the youth media field is more established through national networks, and that online and broadcast distribution can have many possible niche markets. This challenge is probably shared by other groups outside of cities with a well-established youth media community (such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco), where there are less resources dedicated to supporting youth voice in the public sphere.
Wide Angle averaged 8 public presentations per year from 2001-2004, with each event serving roughly 50 people [1]. The individuals that attend our various screenings across the city create a small yet committed base of about 250 individuals. Our Baltimore-based audience includes youth producers and their families, Wide Angle board members, older adults engaged in community advocacy, local artists and independent filmmakers. Each audience member had already a personal, direct connection to the organization or young videomakers.
While these audience members are very valuable to us, both youth producers and staff observed that we were too often “preaching to the choir”—showing the same work to the same people. So we started to challenge the confines of our local outreach and found that each time we partnered, say, with a local college, our audience grew and diversified. We realized that there was great potential for us to play an important role in Baltimore and that we had the resources to create an environment that united youth media artists with new audiences, crossing community and cultural boundaries. We saw this challenge as an opportunity, and created a mission to:
• Provide a space to share youth media with a diverse local audience;
• Increase opportunities for youth media creation and presentation;
• Create an environment in which young people’s stories, challenges, and talents are appreciated and internalized.
In an attempt to create broad appeal and hundreds of artists to our city and to youth producers, we crafted the Who Are You? Youth Media Festival. We hope our lessons learned serve as a model for community collaboration, engaging arts institutions, business, nonprofits and schools in working together, and bringing the concerns and stories of youth to new audiences.
About the Who Are You? Youth Media Festival
The Who Are You? Youth Media Festival was developed in 2004, by Youth Media Advocacy Coalition (a network of youth media practitioners and supporters, administered by Wide Angle from 2002-2005) members and youth from many local youth-serving nonprofits, including the Baltimore Algebra Project, Baltimore Youth Congress, CENTERSTAGE’s Encounter Program, Critical Exposure, Kids on the Hill, Safe and Sound Campaign’s Youth Ambassadors, Uniquely Spoken, Youth As Resources, Youthlight, and Wide Angle Youth Media. The festival was designed to be an annual event open to any Baltimore young person in 5th-12th grades. The festival’s recurring theme would be identity. The team felt that this was a theme broad enough for participation by all youth, an opportunity for conversations of diversity, and a guarantee that the typical marginalization of youth identity would be challenged.
This partnership of local youth serving organizations exponentially increased our outreach and promotion—from one organization to more than 12 groups and 30 schools, each with their own students, families, neighbors, and areas of the city from which to expand participation. This group was the origin of our Youth Festival Committee—a team of high school students who design, curate, promote, and host the festival each year. By giving young people the power and support to design the mechanism of display the festival is at its foundation advocating for young people’s stories, identities, and perspectives.
It was quickly determined that “youth media” would have to expand beyond video since at the time, there were less than 10 known Baltimore area organizations and four schools with video capabilities. Many of the partnering organizations used other media, including photography, fine art, poetry, and performance. These art forms became the categories accepted into the festival. With two-dimensional art as a key element, the festival could incorporate a gallery exhibition, which instantly increased the duration of the event from one weekend to several weeks, adding an entirely new element to youth media.
What became known as “Gallery Talks,” each week professional artists and educators would lead facilitated discussions for specific audiences, such as college students, art teachers, academics, and the philanthropic and business community. Each “Talk” focused on youth issues and concerns. For example, our 2008 Gallery Talk, “Make Art or Die,” explored the significance of creative self-expression for youth, and the importance of art education, similarly, “Legacy Builders: How Youth Media Can Change the City” introduced youth media to philanthropic and business leaders, who may currently support other methods of youth development and leadership.
As of 2008, we have had three successful festivals (we shifted the event from fall to spring after 2005, skipping 2006). Our 2007 festival ran three weeks, and was viewed by more than 8,000 people. Our 2008 festival lasted five weeks, and was experienced by more than 11,000. Our live performance day reaches over 400 individuals, and each gallery talk has an average of 40 participants. Through audience surveys, external evaluations, and participant comments, we have seen the impact of the festival on the audience, the curatorial team, and the participants in the festival.
Participation in the festival ranges in intensity and impact. Many youth participants return the following year to be on the Festival Committee to have a larger role in creating the festival. For audience-members who attend our Gallery Talks the experience can be quite personal, as they speak with youth producers, and participate in discussions about youth media, and its connection to issues such as mental health, self-awareness, education and civic engagement. The audience for the live performance day has a less intimate experience, but a multi-sensory one, as they view the gallery exhibit, experience “spontaneous” performances within the gallery space, interact with youth producers and volunteers, and then convene for a more formal, high-energy performance in the theater. Audience members are encouraged to participate in some performances, are interviewed in the gallery, and write their own evaluations of the event. Lastly, theatergoers who experience the festival on their way to another theater performance, see drawings and photographs, read quotes and signs on the walls, and have their own opportunity to vote on their favorite piece.
In order to reach new audiences and artists, we are continuing to develop new partnerships, building on common interests in youth development, the arts, and education. In 2007 Goucher College became our Presenting Sponsor, providing financial support, faculty Gallery Speakers, student interns, and a bridge to the college community for our youth. Corporate sponsors have expanded our reach to the business community and provided graphic design, food for events, and financial support. The investment of these institutions and businesses has allowed us to increase our outreach and technical support to schools and after-school programs, increasing our community scope.
More than a third of survey respondents who attended the festival each year have not previously been exposed to youth media. More than two-thirds of our most recent respondents were new to the youth media festival.

Our youth audience is a steady 40%, indicating that the event has youth support, while also welcoming an adult audience. Teachers in particular, have expressed their satisfaction with the experience. One student teacher attending Loyola College shared her thoughts of the 2007 Festival, “It made me realize how important it is to know where your students are coming from, especially when teaching media literacy in the classroom” [3].
Finally, our desire to build an audience of youth who can use this experience as motivation for their own goals is being achieved. “This festival helped me to see that there are people who actually care about what I think as a young person in Baltimore,” wrote a youth attending our 2005 festival.2 Youth who are audience members often tell me they will submit work the next year, and youth who were performing in the festival often consider joining our Festival Committee. In some cases, youth are approached by audience members to commission work, show their work in another event, enroll in a program, or be interviewed, extending their experience beyond the festival.
Youth programs have begun to use the festival as a curriculum tool, building projects into the festival format. Thus the festival acts not only as a civic forum for the recognition of youth voice and youth media, but also works to introduce themes of civic engagement and the need to value youth perspectives into other programs that serve Baltimore’s youth. One community arts educator whose youth had a project in the festival commented, “The festival served as a motivating factor to finish the video and offered a public space for it to be seen. The audience was huge and the space was great. It felt very professional and it really lifted up their voices in a way that I really haven’t seen other places do for kids’ artwork” [5].
Finding Relevance in Your Community
At its core, youth media is about advocacy—young people speaking out for themselves, challenging the stereotypes and limited expectations of the larger society—but to effectively advocate it is essential to build a constituency, a community of support. By creating an event that serves a broad range of youth and their respective concerns, and making tactical choices to build a diverse audience, Wide Angle Youth Media aims to build a broader local appreciation for the power of youth media, support the efforts of schools and community groups, and create an avenue for youth media distribution that will expand over time and become a valued cultural and community resource.
It is my hope that youth media programs in other regions and communities begin to develop their own festivals, looking to their own “natural resources.” Wide Angle is fortunate to exist in a city with a strong after-school community, many excellent higher education institutions, a history of community philanthropy, and a rich performing arts heritage.
Look around your community. Who are the people and institutions that already support youth media? Can they play a bigger role? Are there venues that need to increase their community audiences, or have vacant days and times? What is the big draw for young people in your town—are there other events that they will not only attend, but pay to attend? Seeing where individuals invest is an important key to creating an event that both attracts and responds to the community.
Next Steps
The Who Are You? Youth Media Festival is a model for other communities to engage across school, neighborhood boundaries, and the local city community to provide opportunities for young people to engage and grow. It is critical that local stakeholders dialogue about the ways to debunk the misrepresentation of young people and the importance of the arts for youth.
Finding local partners who can bring diverse resources and audiences to festivals have expanded our audience, inviting youth, businesspeople, educators, and the general public to experience youth media and discover its relevance and significance for their own lives. By doing so, youth media acts as a link to join the local community, building the strength of Baltimore and placing young people on the map. Youth media organizations across the U.S. do not have to rely on distributing media on national networks or on-line resources. They can step onto the street and find that the local community is a ripe terrain for youth media visibility and engagement, as well as honest artistic discourse.
Gin Ferrara is the Executive Director of Wide Angle Youth Media, a Baltimore nonprofit dedicated to helping young people develop leadership skills, using media as the catalyst for self-exploration, personal growth, and community engagement. She is also an educator, writer, technophile, and knitter.
[1] Audience Data Collected by Wide Angle Youth Media 2001-2008.
[2] Baltimore Youth Media Festival Evaluation Report, Deborah Edleman, DrPH, Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health, 2006.
[3] “EVERYBODY HAS A STORY TO TELL”- Advocacy and Evaluation of The Who Are You? Youth Media Festival, Esha Janssens-Sannon, MA in Community Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art, 2007.
[4] The 3rd Annual Who Are You? Youth Media Festival Audience Survey, Wide Angle Youth Media, 2008.
[5] Interviews with Youth Festival Committee Members, Wide Angle Youth Media, 2008.

Best Practices Help Youth Media Educators Exercise the Right to Fair Use

More than ever before, learners need to develop the ability to use language, print, sound, visual and digital media for cultural participation, self-expression, communication, advocacy and citizenship. This is an especially important subject for youth media educators, especially when young people mash up and remix media in radio, video, online and in print.
In recent years, remix practices have gained increased recognition as powerful tools for teaching and learning in the youth media field. For youth media educators, students’ fascination with (and interest in commenting upon and critiquing) mass media and popular culture can be a large part of the draw of participating in a youth media program. Re-using media is a means to strengthen critical analysis and heighten awareness of media’s many creative forms and the cultural, political, economic and social functions of mass media, popular culture and digital media in contemporary society.
Producers and educators in the youth media field need to have a sound understanding of copyright and fair use—a fundamental part of our legal system. Along with my colleagues Pat Aufderheide from the Center for Social Media at American University and Peter Jaszi from American University’s Washington College of Law, and with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, I have spent the last eighteen months working with media literacy educators to develop the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education (The Code).
In November 2007, my colleague Katie Donnelly, a Research Associate at Temple University’s Media Education Lab, wrote a Youth Media Reporter article on the progress of the creation of the Code . At that point in time, we had conducted initial research, outlined in our report, The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy, which described the results of in-depth interviews with 63 media educators who experienced fear and confusion around the subject of copyright. We had also facilitated three small group meetings with media literacy educators, including K-12 educators, university professors, and youth media professionals, in New York City, Boston, and San Francisco. In these sessions, participants discussed hypothetical scenarios involving the uses of copyrighted materials in media literacy education to identify the principles and limitations articulated in the Code.
Since that time, we have conducted seven additional convenings in cities across the country and have found that there is consensus among educators about what constitutes fair use. We then teamed up with leading organizations—including the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE, formerly AMLA), the Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME), the Visual Communication Studies Division of the International Communications Association (ICA) and the Media Education Foundation—and used the themes that emerged in our meetings to create the Code. Prior to its publication, the Code was rigorously reviewed by a committee of legal scholars and lawyers expert in copyright and fair use.
The creation of the Code was necessary in order to help media literacy educators understand the concept of fair use and how it applies to teaching and learning. For example, few educators are aware that in recent years, courts have consistently recognized that transformative uses are fair uses. Specifically, when a user of copyrighted materials adds value to, or repurposes materials for a use different from that for which it was originally intended, it will likely be considered fair use. Fair use embraces the modification of existing media content if it is placed in new context.
While teachers at accredited educational institutions have broad rights to use copyrighted materials in face-to-face instruction under Section 110 of the Copyright Act of 1976, youth media educators who work for non-profit organizations are not entitled to this exemption. That’s why the doctrine of fair use is crucially important to youth media educators.
Fortunately, the doctrine of fair use, part of the Copyright Act of 1976, states that people have a right to use copyrighted materials freely without payment or permission, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. The Code can help increase educators’ and students’ knowledge and confidence in applying fair use principles to their work.
In the Code we have found that educators can, under some circumstances:
• Make copies of newspaper articles, TV shows, and other copyrighted works, and use them and keep them for educational use.
• Create curriculum materials and scholarship with copyrighted materials embedded.
• Share, sell, and distribute curriculum materials with copyrighted materials embedded.
And learners can, under some circumstances:
• Use copyrighted works in creating new material.
• Distribute their works digitally if they meet the transformativeness standard.
Youth media educators are most concerned about students’ ability to use of copyrighted materials in their own creative productions. From the Code:
“Because media literacy education cannot thrive unless learners themselves have the opportunity to learn about how media functions at the most practical level, educators using concepts and techniques of media literacy should be free to enable learners to incorporate, modify, and re-present existing media objects in their own classroom work…However, students’ use of copyrighted material should not be a substitute for creative effort. Students should be able to understand and demonstrate, in a manner appropriate to their developmental level, how their use of a copyrighted work repurposes or transforms the original…”
To help youth media producers learn, understand, and apply their rights under the doctrine of fair use, we recently created lesson plans, videos and two “Schoolhouse Rock” style music videos for educators and learners.
One activity in the plan invites students to consider the meaning of transformativeness by making a poster that incorporates copyrighted materials from magazines, transforming parts of the magazine by creating a new message that repurposes or adds value to the original copyrighted work. Learners consider the following questions:
• What is the context of the original material? What is the context of the new material?
• Who is the audience for the original material? Who is the audience for the new material?
• What is the purpose of the original material? What is the purpose of the new material?
Students recognize that language, images on the page, design elements, or other parts of the magazine all can be transformed for many new creative purposes. In this activity, students recognize that using disproportionately large excerpts of copyrighted work with little or no modification is likely not to be a fair use. The use of large excerpts of a copyright work for the same purpose as the original is likely not to be a fair use, either. When students use such a reasoning process when making use of copyrighted material, they develop critical thinking skills and learn to respect the rights of both authors and users.
Using the Code, youth media producers can claim fair use by learning how to articulate their reasoning using concepts like context, audience, meaning, proportionality, and purpose. They discover that the concept of transformativeness needs to be flexibly applied in order to account for the unique context of any particular use.
As Peter Jaszi puts it, “Fair use is like a muscle—it needs to be exercised.” Youth media educators can and must exercise fair use when incorporating copyrighted materials into teaching and learning. Young people must be encouraged to make their own reasoned conclusions about what qualifies as transformative and fair use.
Under the law of copyright, the doctrine of fair use enables educators to unleash the full creative power of digital media for teaching and learning. The “best practices” approach can help the youth media community to better understand and advocate for their fair use rights under the law.
By helping educators better understand copyright and fair use, it counteracts much of the misunderstanding that has grown up around this topic over the past few years. In recent years, various guidelines—the results of negotiated agreements that do not have the force of law—have confused and frightened educators, who feel they must have their students conform to arbitrary rules about use of copyrighted materials (such as using only 30 seconds of audio, or only 10% of a poem.)
Instead of adhering to these kinds of rigid rules, the Code encourages educators to help students reason through fair use, as the U.S. Constitution originally intended. The Code helps increase confidence among youth media educators who incorporate the use of copyrighted materials into a variety of innovative teaching and learning practices, including practices that make use of remix and approaches that benefit from the transformative use of copyrighted works.
Renee Hobbs is Professor of Communication in the Department of Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Mass Media and Founder of the Media Education Lab at Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater.
Center for Social Media, Media Education Lab & Washington College of Law. (2008). Code of best practices in fair use for media literacy education. Washington, DC: American University. Available:
Donnelly, K. (2007, November). Using media, fair use, and copyright. Youth Media Reporter.
Hobbs, R., Jaszi, P. & Aufderheide, P. (2007). The cost of copyright confusion for media literacy. Washington, DC: American University. Available:

Creating Rooms of Our Own: Women Writers at Work at Girls Write Now

Ninety years ago, Virginia Woolf spoke to the young women of Girton and Newnham colleges in England on what women needed in order to become writers. These talks were to become her famous feminist tract, A Room of One’s Own, and in them Woolf explained why there were so few great women writers, why Shakespeare could not have been Shakespeare had he been born a woman: “For we think back through our mothers if we are women.” She was speaking of the importance of predecessors. It is hard to become a woman writer, she argued, if few have gone before. The lack of successful models demoralizes and dissuades.
In the intervening decades, women have excelled in many realms once off-limits, and many more dazzling female literary models have made themselves known—from Flannery O’Connor to Zadie Smith, Joan Didion to Jhumpa Lahiri.
Still, in this season of great hope and change, we have also witnessed staggering sexism and the status quo. Pollsters worried over so-called Bradley effects, but more amazing than this breed of covert racism, is the way in which, culturally, we feel no need to cover over gender biases. It seems it’s not embarrassing to be sexist: voters unabashedly told news sources during the primaries that they were not sure they’d be comfortable with a woman as their Commander in Chief. These biases are visible in the hallowed halls of all our highest offices. In 2007, only 86 of the 535 seats in Congress were held by women—a mere 16.3%.
Such dismal percentages permeate the culture well beyond politics. We see similar figures throughout the media landscape. A 2007 study found that only 15% of behind-the-scenes talent (directors, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors) on top grossing films in the U.S. were women, and the number has in fact decreased in the last ten years. The White House Project, an organization devoted to increasing the number of women in positions of leadership, reports that in 2005 women accounted for just 14% of guest appearances on the Sunday morning television talk shows. The table of contents of our most revered magazines and journals bear the names of fewer women than men. According to Editor & Publisher, 2007 saw a 0.1% gain in the number of women opinion columnists at the eight largest syndicates—from 24.4 to 24.5%.
Media, then, clearly reflects and perpetuates the inequality of opportunity for women in this country, and the lack of successful women role models no doubt demoralizes our young girls as much as it did in Woolf’s day. But youth media organizations are uniquely poised to serve as a corrective to that inequality. Not only can youth media offer girls the opportunity to thrive as creative and flexible thinkers, and in so doing train them to be our future leaders. We can also provide them with the successful role models they cannot find elsewhere.
Training the Next Generation of Thinkers and Leaders
In “What Feminism Means to Me,” essayist and memoirist Vivian Gornick explains the epiphany delivered to her at the hands of “women’s libbers” of the ’70s: “The lifelong inability to take myself seriously as a worker: this was the central dilemma of a woman’s existence.” This central dilemma persists today, and millions of cracks in the glass ceiling aside, there is an urgent need now, as then, for girls to see themselves as thinkers and workers, valued for the quality of their intellect.
As those who work in media, we know it is about making. This act of creation is inherently empowering—by making media, young people learn the tools and the hunger to make something of their lives. It falls to youth media organizations to make our next generation of media makers a more fair and accurate reflection of our 21st-Century world. Girls Write Now (GWN), a small and burgeoning non-profit mentoring organization, is one potent example of the role youth media can play in that kind of change. GWN pairs teenage girls from New York City’s schools with professional women in writing-related fields, and with an age range of 14 to 80, the women of our community come together as working writers with the purpose of sharing their work, and growing as workers.
Through the program, pairs meet once a week, developing both their writing and the bonds between them, and the whole community of 80-plus women writers meets once a month for workshops in memoir, poetry, fiction, editing, journalism, playwriting, and songwriting. Our curriculum challenges and stretches these young writers—each mentee completes the season with a seven-genre developmental portfolio of her writing. But these portfolios are evolving works-in-progress that encourage process over perfectionism, creativity over caution.
In addition to full participation in our monthly workshops and weekly pair meetings, GWN requires that the girls practice all facets of what it means to be a working writer, preparing them now, when the stakes are lower, for challenges ahead: at public events throughout the year they read their work aloud to large audiences; they must submit their writing to contests. Last year our mentees took home 13 Gold and Silver Key Awards from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. For those girls who did not take home awards, we talked, too, about the reality of rejection in the life of all successful writers, and the need to try again.
By giving girls the opportunity to take risks and try new things, and in so doing both succeed and fail within the safe space of our community, we can teach them not just to become better writers, but to become more fully and resiliently themselves. By focusing on girls, now, we can change the face of leadership in this country, and make sure our future Shakespeares are not limited by their X chromosomes.
Providing Successful Models
Like Woolf, GWN believes in the vital role successful models play in creative development. Through those that have gone before, we learn what we might be capable of. In the world of media, models of course can be living or dead, young and old, present in the flesh, or merely on the page or screen. The growing versatility of media allows all youth media programs even greater freedom—and demands greater imagination—in giving girls many varied “mothers” to “think back through.”
At our Poetry Workshop this November, we read and were inspired by the 19th- and 20th-Century models of Emily Dickinson and Gwendolyn Brooks. One of our mentors shared a sestina she had written. Then the girls from widely disparate neighborhoods of New York City became models to each other: they read their own poems, crafted that day in that communal room of our own, receiving both thoughtful feedback and riotous applause. Finally, at every workshop, there is the culminating craft talk by a highly regarded female author working in the genre.
At our Screenwriting Workshop last spring, the girls listened to Jenny Lumet talk about conceiving, writing, and selling her screenplay for “Rachel Getting Married.” The star of the film, Anne Hathaway, stopped by, and the two talked not about the usual staples of celebrity media (boyfriends, diets, clothing), but about the demanding and rewarding collaborative work of making this movie. At our Memoir Workshop this fall, Janice Erlbaum, author of Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir, spoke of the long process of revising her book, and read to us from her early drafts, demonstrating the equal importance of talent and tenacity. “If your first draft is perfect, congratulations! You may be the first person in the world to whom this has happened,” Erlbaum told us.
Lyn Pentecost, Director of the Lower East Side Girls Club, wrote last year in YMR of the importance of cultural exchange in youth media programming, of the need for “new people, new experiences, new ideas, and new environments.” This seems to me another way of articulating the importance of introducing a range of models—different ways of being, of living, of working. Though one can find such vital newness in Chiapas, Mexico, as Pentecost’s girls did, we can also build it into the spaces—virtual and actual—we create for the young people we serve.
Through on-line social networks or face-to-face workshops, chat rooms or brick-and-mortar rooms, youth media programs should provide girls with a diversity of mentors and models, and encourage them to be mentors and models to one another as they discuss and develop their work.
Using this approach at GWN, we are teaching young women not only what one needs in order to become a writer, but also what it means to be a professional woman in the world. As PinChang Huang, a GWN alumna, told The New York Times last March after a reading at The New School, “I was so nervous when I stepped onstage. I was shaking. But now I feel like I can say or do anything.”
Making Room—and Rooms—for Girls
This paradigm of teaching skills and practices, and providing successful models can be easily repeated in the many different types of media, and of course will benefit boys as much as girls. But it is easier to find those models of professional men, and indeed we often stumble upon male-only “rooms” when we turn on the Sunday news shows, or open newspapers to the editorial pages, or watch our presidential debates.
If we in youth media do not give girls rooms in which to practice the work of making media and to hear and learn from their predecessors and contemporaries today, we are guaranteeing they will inherit a media landscape with little room for them tomorrow.
Maggie Pouncey is Co-Curriculum Director of Girls Write Now, and a fiction writer. She received her MFA from Columbia University, where she also taught undergraduate writing.

Like a Bell that Calls: Participatory Youth Radio in Ethiopia

Left: jesikah maria ross, Right: Esther Obdam
Here’s a youth media challenge: create participatory youth radio in a country where the government controls the media and cultural norms discourage youth self-expression.
Most youth media projects we’ve been involved with include a cast of characters—media educators, organizational partners, community media outlets—who all fundamentally support the idea of young people using media as a tool to explore, analyze, and create change in their worlds. This wasn’t the case on our last project, where UNICEF Ethiopia asked us to create a participatory radio project which brought Youth Dialogue groups and professional radio producers together to create compelling youth-oriented radio programming dealing with sensitive social issues. This task was all the more challenging because we had to accomplish this in a country where community media channels don’t really exist and where media makers are concerned about making missteps, not helping young people gain access to the medium.
It is vital in countries like Ethiopia to nurture relationships with media gatekeepers. It’s these relationships that result in young people gaining greater access to larger platforms, carving out a space for youth-produced radio on state-run channels country where young people are expected to do as they are told. This requires building rapport with adult media partners and finding creative ways to overcome their reluctance of letting go of ingrained production norms and control over the end result. In this article, we share the lessons we learned about building youth-adult media collaborations in a difficult environment in hopes that it will inform youth media educators how to open a channel with media professionals and gatekeepers in the U.S.
The Backstory
Youth Dialogue is a successful program operating for years in Ethiopia that brings together 50 to 70 young people in their late teens or early twenties from a geographic community (a neighborhood or village) to discuss critical social issues and come up with ways to address them. These groups meet bi-monthly and are led by trained youth facilitators who help participants analyze, problem solve, and create plans to deal with the challenges they face—such as extreme poverty, lack of access to education, and the threat of HIV/AIDS. But the information, actions, and empowerment generated in the Dialogue sessions tend to stay within specific communities rather than spread over larger areas. So Youth Dialogue facilitators and funders started looking for ways to increase the impact of their program by communicating participants’ ideas and experiences to a wider audience.
Because radio is the medium with the widest reach in Ethiopia, it’s the obvious vehicle to connect youth voices and actions across villages, cities, regions, and generations. But virtually all radio stations in Ethiopia—national, regional, as well as educational—are maintained by the state [1]. In order to amplify the messages and views of Youth Dialogue participants via these “mainstream” channels, we needed to link Dialogue groups with adult radio professionals to co-create programs that voiced youth perspectives.
Interestingly, virtually all Ethiopian radio stations produce youth programming, but none actually involve young people in generating and selecting content, determining program formats, or doing hands-on production. That’s mostly because the stations have very strict editorial policies on what can and cannot be said and what formats are deemed appropriate. Since radio producers and programmers are held responsible for what goes on air, giving control over content and production choices to young people is a risky proposition. Media jobs are hard to find and—in a country with such high unemployment and strong government oversight of the channels—they can be easy to lose.
In addition, most of the radio stations have very limited resources in terms of equipment, studio space, and staff time. But they all need to build their audience base and are under pressure by the government to increase community participation in program making.
Our pilot project had to:
• Train Youth Dialogue facilitators in basic radio production, how to involve their group members in producing youth radio, and how to collaborate with adult media makers.
• Train adult radio producers how to effectively partner with youth to make media that communicated their ideas and issues in acceptable ways.
• Demonstrate to radio producers and station management how involving youth in producing radio programs would advance their own goals.
Introducing PY Radio
The project involved 25 Youth Dialogue facilitators and 23 radio producers from national, regional, and educational stations [2]. The majority of the young people had no experience with media production. Most of the radio producers created programs for youth, but had no background working with youth. Since the cultural norm in Ethiopia is very top down—adults speak; youth listen and follow—our project aimed to help youth engage adults with confidence and to coach adults on how to share power with young people, viewed as production partners.
Over the course of seven months, we facilitated a series of training activities that developed the capacity of both age groups to collaborate on producing radio programs based on ideas emerging from the Youth Dialogues. The actitivies included separate trainings for each group, an intergenerational radio production, a “playback/feedback” gathering with youth-adult production teams, and a weekend evaluation workshop involving project participants.

Youth participants decided that the best way to reach their peers on taboo topics would be to create radio that was entertaining as well as informative, incorporating stories and language that would catch the ears of young people “like a bell that calls.” They engaged in hands-on radio production training and produced short pieces that experimented with a variety of radio formats and storytelling strategies. They labeled their work PY-Radio, participatory youth radio, and wanted it to feel different, sound different, and have its own brand, which is a sea of change from the usual programs in the country.
Toward the end of the training the youth created a manual that covered radio production techniques, the production process, and tips for working with adults. Producing the manual synthesized what they learned, gave them something tangible to walk away with, and bolstered their confidence. It also created a field guide for involving their peers and collaborating with radio producers to make participatory youth radio in the future.
However, to get this participatory media project off the ground, we needed the buy-in of radio professionals. To achieve this, the benefits of involving young people in making youth radio programs had to become apparent to them. So we encouraged participants to create a list of the potential benefits of this collaboration (a few of them are listed in the table below). Drawing a clear connection between how youth involvement could help producers and programmers meet their needs and those of the station build momentum and interest in the project.

But being aware of the advantages of youth participation was not enough. The radio producers had to be able to partner with young people in a productive, respectful way. The adults signaled that this would be a challenge since both sides often expect a deference to authority (i.e., age and experience). So we brought youth trainees into the latter half of the producers’ training to give both groups a chance to get to know each other and practice making radio together. During this trial run, issues about language and tone (“yo pals!” vs. “good evening gentle listeners”) started to surface. Format selection proved to be a sticky point —the youth preferred jokes and jingles but the adults wanted radio drama. The professionals were also worried that their schedules and reputations would be compromised if the youth didn’t show up on time for recordings. The young folks expressed concerns about being bossed around on the job. Everyone wondered how production decisions would ultimately be made.

These interactions raised important doubts that needed to be addressed head on before the project could proceed. To allay concerns, we asked the whole group to map out a realistic plan for the community-based production slated for the following month. Together they developed a step-by-step process, stressing the need for open communication and collaboration between young people and adults in all phrases of production.
The Challenge of Youth-Adult Participatory Radio
The co-facilitators revealed how PY Radio would play out in practice, following the steps the group had agreed upon during the training and working with young people to record their programs. Through the process of developing youth generated radio, young people demonstrated to media stakeholders their capacity to create interesting, appealing programs of broadcast quality. Consequently, the radio staff gained greater trust in the youth as partners in radio production. However, when editing the final program, it was evident that the challenges of participatory radio resides in the level of control adult radio producers enforce.
For example, the upbeat and colloquial narration of one dialogue group, was totally rewritten by one of the professional producers to be more conservative and didactic. Some of the personal stories of people living with HIV/AIDS recorded by another dialogue group were considered to be too depressing by the adults and were rejected without discussion from the final edit. Their rationale was that the station management wanted positive stories about people living with HIV/AIDS and what the youth produced was too negative.

The Importance of Playback/Feedback Gatherings
After the community productions were completed, the young people and radio producers came together to share their experiences and provide feedback about each other’s radio productions, resolving issues that came up in the process. Although the adult producers had become big fans of the participatory approach to youth radio programs, they still struggled with old habits. During the listening sessions, for example, they tended to tell youth what they “should have done” and how programs “should sound” instead of soliciting young people’s views or simply sharing their concerns. This, of course, upset the young people.
But because the youth had developed a sense of pride in their work and trust in the group process, they were able to point out that this authoritarian approach went against the spirit of collaboration. They asked adults to not be “fault finders”, but instead to act as coaches who start their feedback with what they appreciate and then move to areas for improvement. Since this type of constructive criticism is not the norm in Ethiopia, the group came up with the some phrases adults could use to give feedback and stimulate discussion about style, content, and reaching target audiences. For example:
• I like this piece because… I might try doing it differently by… because…
• What I think works well is… What I think could be improved is…
• What stood out to me is… What I think could be stronger is…
• How would you feel if your grandmother heard this?
• How do you think your peers would react to this?
• How do you think people who know nothing about this issue would respond to this piece?

This session culminated in a set of guidelines generated by the group for doing PY-Radio which addressed various challenges that surfaced during the collaborative media-making process (see box 2).

By the end of the project, 25 Youth Dialogue facilitators learned radio production and involved about 300 of their peers in PY Radio through a series of community production activities. Twenty-three radio producers from eight different stations learned the aims and techniques of participatory radio and collaborated with youth to produce 14 radio programs, all of which aired on mainstream media channels.
Because these programs were vastly different in style than what listeners typically heard across the Ethiopian radio dial, they sparked a lot of debate with communities and among station staff. Stations received letters and calls about the language and content, both positive and negative. Station staff were moved by the programs—some were delighted by hearing new voices, new formats, and new storytelling strategies; others were disturbed by it. The youth radio makers were approached on the streets and at home about the programs, which generated discussion among peers and families about the taboo subjects raised.
All this buzz cut two ways. Some parents and station management felt that the style was inappropriate for the general public. On the flipside, management recognized how the programs drew in large audiences, leveraged their limited staff resources, inspired producers to try new techniques, and fulfilled the government’s desire for greater community participation in local programming. In either case, the significant response signalled that the group had achieved the project goal of increasing the reach of the voices and visions of the Youth Dialogue groups beyond their immediate vicinity.
In terms of youth development, the Youth Dialogue participants developed a new set of technical and social skills. Through radio production work and peer learning, they had to learn to sift through what they wanted to say, decide how to say it, consider their audience, and involve different people. This required negotiation and planning skills, the confidence to speak out, as well as being accountable for their actions and expressions. They also had to collaborate with people whose interests were not necessarily the same as their own. They had to learn to work with adults in an environment of dialogue, respect, and compromise, which added to their personal development.
Radio producers expanded their knowledge and skills in radio production and formats, and tapped into a new source of information for their programs and new partners in their productions. They saw the potential of young people as media producers and the audiences youth participation could bring to their programs. As a result, they became advocates for youth media within their stations. Struck by the enthusiasm of their staff and being mindful of their need to involve the public, station management started to discuss how they might continue to take a more participatory approach to their youth radio programs. At the close of the project, the majority of the participating stations committed staff time and airtime to doing PY Radio. To build on this enthusiasm and provide additional support , UNICEF funded a staff member who had participated in the project to travel to the different dialogue sites for the following six months to provide technical assistance and help station staff connect with the dialogue groups in making on-going youth radio programs.
Lessons Learned
Most people might assume that getting a participatory youth radio project off the ground is primarily about providing tools and training young people—that adult professionals already have the skills and will help transfer them to the youth. But what we found was actually the reverse. The young people embraced new technology, were hip to the latest global sounds, and liked to experiment with form and content. The adults, not so much. Much of our efforts were devoted to encourage adults to let go of their preconceived notions of radio and open up to fresh ideas. They had a vested interest in maintaining their status and holding onto production habits they honed over the course of their careers. This made it tough for them to embrace an untested approach and share control over their programs.

Here are a few lessons from our project that might help other youth educators get adults stakeholders and gatekeepers on board.
Focus on Trust-Building. While establishing mutual respect is key for participants in any youth media endeavor, it is trickier to do in intergenerational projects, especially when cultural norms and media policies discourage creative self-expression. To counter the tendency for young people to self-censor and for adults to exert control, engage the intergenerational group early on in teambuilding activities that establish a safe environment to take risks, share experiences, and, if necessary, express doubts and grievances. This sets the stage for open communication, experimentation, and partnership. In the first series of meetings, include exercises where they explore each other’s backgrounds, limitations, and aspirations to strengthen bonds and foster a sense of solidarity. Finally, create opportunities for youth-adult teams to collaborate on hands-on production exercises as soon as possible and have them collectively draw up guidelines for feedback and next steps. These strategies not only helped generate the buy-in that was key to our project, but also developed the level of trust needed to make it a success.
Play Up Project Benefits for Adult Partners. Youth media practitioners typically focus on project benefits for youth. But in countries where youth voices will only get out through mainstream channels, it is important to foreground how such projects benefit professionals working in the field. There has to be a clear benefit for the people involved either at a personal level (gaining new skills, learning new storytelling strategies) or at station level (reaching new audiences, attracting new funding sources, improving programs to better deal with the competition). What the benefit will be depends on the particular setting, but we discovered that discussing possible benefits up front—and periodically reminding media makers how working with youth can benefit them—cultivated their sense of ownership and investment in the project, ultimately making it more sustainable.
Stay Connected with Power Brokers. It is vital in countries like Ethiopia to nurture relationships with media gatekeepers. It’s these relationships that result in young people gaining greater access to larger platforms. When working in a hierarchical system, aim for the top. Keep radio station management involved through regular communication (via email or phone) by providing project updates and soliciting their insights and feedback. Engage them by visiting their stations, talking up their participating staff (if appropriate), and discuss how their interests are served by the project. This helps reinforce the benefits stations can gain from the project, address concerns as they surface (e.g. equipment access, funding for air time), and lobby for continued support of participatory youth radio. Management not only has to get on board but stay enthused for their staff to feel comfortable heading in new directions.
Explore What Participation Means. The degree to which adult facilitators unconsciously shape youth produced media is a hot topic in most youth education circles. In Ethiopia, we needed a way to begin the conversation about how we’d address this issue. We used sociologist Roger Hart’s “Ladder of Youth Participation” to examine how much adults control the youth media landscape and explore ways to faciliate greater youth voice and editorial input. The ladder shows levels of youth participation in youth-adult collaborations. Beginning with the lower rungs where youth serve as decoration or maybe advisors to mid-level where they wield more youth have more influence in decisions to the top where projects are youth-initiated but jointly governed by youth-adult teams.
In our project, this simple graphic and associated degrees of youth participation galvanized reflection and discussion, causing all of the producers to realize that they were operating at the low end of the ladder. The ladder metaphor reinforced that you can start anywhere and take small steps to make big improvements. It likewise gave producers a concrete vision for the level they wanted to reach and helped them generate strategies for how to get there. We made it clear that while it is ideal to work at the top of the ladder, the level of youth participation will vary depending on resources, skills, and program goals.
Give Media Professionals the Chance to Become Youth Media Advocates. Most mainstream media makers working on youth-oriented programs have a genuine interest in young people’s needs and growth. What they don’t always have is a mindset that views youth as capable production partners. It takes recurring positive interactions over time to shift this mindset. Fold into projects repeated opportunities for youth and adults to try new things, learn from one another, and work as a team—such as the intergenerational production activities, collaborative radio making in the community, and feedback sessions we piloted in our project. Set up these interactions in ways that give adults the chance to get to get to know the youth as individuals, rather than as people who are many years younger.
For example, do warm up exercises where small youth-adult groups spend time talking about shared experiences—what is/was going to high school like, relationships with parents or siblings, career aspirations, hobbies. Facilitate training exercises, like learning how to conduct interviews, where youth and adults have a chance to ask questions about each other’s struggles and achievements. And make sure adults are present at key moments in the production process so that they can experience first-hand the powerful impact media-making has on young people. For example, arrange for adults to be with youth after their field recording or when radio programs go on air. When adult professionals witness the intense excitement, pride, and hope that media making generates in young people, they’ll advocate for participatory youth media with their colleagues and managers which, in turn, contributes to building the youth media movement.
A Final Word
While Ethiopia’s media landscape might seem like a world away from what many of us deal with as youth educators, the reality is that in most countries young people are not seen as equal participants in civil society. Negative stereotypes and assumptions of youth perpetuate the challenge of fostering youth leadership and civic engagement. Media continues to be one of the best ways for young people to insert their voices in decision-making processes that affect them and their communities. But enabling their voice to be heard means putting energy into training adult media professionals to become youth media advocates through building youth-adult collaborations to make it work.
jesikah maria ross is the Training Coordinator of UNICEF/RNTC Participatory Radio Project. She is an educator, media maker, and community development practitioner. She works with schools, non-governmental organizations, and social action groups to create participatory media projects that generate critical literacy, civic engagement, and social change.
Esther Obdam is the Project Coordinator of the Radio Netherlands Training Centre. She is a development practitioner with over 10 years of experience working on issues of child rights and children and young people’s participation, including participation in the media. RNTC is a centre of excellence in the field of media, education, and development.

[1] In 2005 the country opened up the possibility for community media, granting three broadcast licenses to nonstate-run stations.
[2] The project took place from November 2006 to May 2007 and involved youth and radiomakers from three distinct regions–Amhara, Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region.

Tribeca Film Institute Youth Programs: Open Positions

Tribeca Film Institute Youth Programs is hiring five seasonal support staff and media folk from January to May 2009. Please email for more information and details.
Tribeca Teaches
Program Coordinator
Program Assistant
Tribeca Film Fellows
Program Coordinator
Program Assistant
Tribeca Film Institute Youth Programs
Programs Assistant

We Are A Solution: Youth Changing the World through Service-Learning Multimedia Showcase

Calling all youth producers!
Do you want to have the chance to win $500 for your school/organization?
Do you want to showcase your school/organization’s service-learning work?
Are you talented with making videos or taking pictures?
Do you want to get the word out about service-learning?
Then, the We Are a Solution: Youth Changing the World through Service-Learning Multimedia Showcase is for you! Through this national service-learning recognition program for youth, by youth, young people can express how they are transforming their communities, their schools, and even their own lives through service-learning.
The submission deadline is January 12, 2009. Entry packages must be complete and received by NSLP by 5 PM EST. Limit on entry per youth group/team/class. Entries will be sorted into three divisions by grade level: Elementary School (K-5), Middle School (6-8), and High School (9-12). Winners will be selected by public voting from a pool of expert judge determined finalists. All winners will be announced on March 18. 2009.
Go here for official rules, application, and more information.
But wait!
Enter your submission by Friday, December 12 and you will be eligible for a special drawing. The National Service-Learning Partnership will hold a drawing for each division (K-5, 6-8, 9-12) for a $50 gift certificate for a pizza party!
Have questions or need more information? Contact Partnership Director of Member Engagement Christina Kwon at
About the National Service-Learning Partnership:
The National Service-Learning Partnership at the Academy for Educational Development is a grassroots network of more than 12,000 members from all 50 states and U.S. territories. The Partnership connects and mobilizes youth, teachers, parents, administrators, policymakers, education leaders, community partners, businesspeople, and researchers dedicated to advancing service-learning as a core part of every young person’s life and education. For more information, please visit
About State Farm:
State Farm® insures more cars and homes than any other insurer in the U.S., is the leading insurer of watercraft and is also a leading insurer in Canada. State Farm’s 17,000 agents and 67,000 employees serve over 77 million auto, fire, life and health policies in the United States and Canada, and more than 1.9 million bank accounts. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company is the parent of the State Farm family of companies. State Farm is ranked No. 31 on the Fortune 500 list of largest companies. For more information, please visit® or in Canada®.

What youth journalists heard from their peers about this election

From Y-Press and What Kids Can Do (see accompanying article in YMR’s Election Issue Vol 2: Issue 5 “Youth on the Trail):
What youth journalists heard from their peers about this election.
Youth people are finding ways to take action. Young people dissatisfied with government, particularly the policies of the current administration, are motivated to work for change. The grassroots nature of the campaign has caused young people to feel that it is possible for them to enact political reform. With 24/7 news reports and Internet and candidate accessibility, youth have a flood of information about political issues.
Molly Kawahata, 17, Palo Alto, Calif.: “This is such a historic election on so many different levels. The participation we’re getting with young people, the amount of new voters who have come into play, I mean, it’s all so big. For a very long time, politicians and campaigns just kind of disregarded that vote ‘cause it wasn’t something they could count on. I think what changed was that students acknowledged that problem and said, ‘We need students leading other students, and we need this to be truly student-run and that’s how we’ll make it successful.’”
Awareness breeds activism and Millennials are civic-minded.
Young people who were born between 1982 and 2003 have proven themselves to be more community-minded than their predecessors. After learning about opportunities for activism, many youth feel compelled to pay closer attention, or even contribute in a small way to the election. But awareness and activism among young people does not stop there; many youth are getting involved in major causes or campaign projects.
Ava Lowery, 17, Alexander City, Ala.: “Young people have started to realize that there are issues out there that are affecting us directly. For example, a lot young people are being sent to Iraq, a lot of young people can’t afford a college education, a lot of young people are seeing their families struggle without health insurance. So I think young people are starting to get more involved and become less of the apathetic generation that we’ve been painted to be.”
Taylor Bundy, 17, Lancaster, Pa.: “Politics aren’t just for adults anymore. Concerns have risen that directly affect teens: The war, the environment, the economy and global tensions are all significant issues in which teens, especially working teens who pay taxes,
want to have a voice. Not getting involved sooner was my biggest mistake.”
Technology brought youth into the political arena.
The candidates—most notably Sen. Obama – engaged youth via the Internet, which is increasingly used by young people on blogs and social networking sites like Facebook. Young people are also creating their own Web sites to bring young people into politics.
Alex Harris, 19, Gresham, Ore.: We just decided that there were lots of people who were excited about Mike Huckabee, and they didn’t have anywhere to come together and talk about things and make plans and strategize and coordinate. So we decided we needed to create a Web site where they could do that. That was what was. It started as just a discussion forum for people to come and discuss…and we also had a way for them to sign up to fundraise and to raise support and tell people about Governor Huckabee as well.
Many youth are engaged in this election because of the candidates.
Caitie Boland, 19, Great Falls, Mont.: “I think the big difference between last election and this year is Barack Obama. He’s like our JFK, or our Robert Kennedy, there’s something inspiring about him that hasn’t grabbed our generation before.”