Introduction to this Issue

The YMR editorial and production team thanks the many contributors to this issue.  Collected in this issue are articles, reports, and spotlights that touch upon and explore issues of real concern and interest to youth media professionals across a variety of contexts.  They provide resources to inform and possibly challenge and inspire our further thinking in a number of ways.  At the level of the field, we have two reports that should get readers thinking and talking about the trends, similarities and differences, challenges and opportunities that mark what it means to organize, practice, support, and sustain youth media spaces and practices at this moment in time.

Kathleen Tyner’s report on the most recent NAMAC survey offers one kind of data for thinking about the field and our respective programs in relation to wider patterns.  Readers are especially invited to contribute comments that help bring to the surface meaningful patterns or questions that emerge in the data.  From Aggie Ebrahimi Bazaz & Kasandra VerBrugghen we have another view of conversations happening within and about the field of youth media, and in particular the important ways that youth media is intersecting with multidisciplinary youth arts organizations.  Their article brings readers into recent gatherings of youth media stakeholders at the National Alliance for Media Arts & Culture (NAMAC)/Alliance for Community Media (ACM) Joint Conference in Philadelphia in August, 2014, and the Creative Youth Development Summit in Boston in March 2014.  Again, YMR encourages readers to contribute comments and engage with these reports in ways that help continue the critical conversations that are vital to continuing momentum around field building.

Emerging from the NAMAC/ACM youth media pre-conference retreat is a new feature of YMR–the integration of Huzzaz as a platform for sharing youth media artifacts and products on YMR.  Youth media organizations are invited to continue to help build the gallery by sending YouTube or Vimeo links of youthmade media to YMR’s production editor, Anthony Dalton at

The role of youth professional development in youth media programs is evolving and we are pleased to publish here two pieces that bring us close to this work as it is organized at Free Spirit Media in Chicago and at Spy Hop Productions in Salt Lake City.  Lucia Palmarini’s article introduces readers to a new program, The Chicago Track — a free professional development and networking series targeting aspiring 18-25 year old media and music professionals from ethnically and geographically diverse backgrounds.  In a short YMR spotlight piece, readers are introduced to Spy Hop’s program, PitchNic, now in its 12th year of providing creative pathways to professional media careers and empowering young media makers to construct identities as independent filmmakers.

While these pieces focus on advanced youth media makers poised for transitions to careers in media industries, Allison Butler’s article introduces us to efforts in Amherst, Massachusetts to introduce younger learners to the visual literacy practices and principles that inform youth media curricula and programming.  This piece takes us inside a collaboration between a community theatre and UMASS Amherst faculty and students to provide a critical film literacy program for third graders from diverse school and community contexts.  Butler and her student research assistant have provided an account of a collaboration that invites YMR readers to think about the kinds of partnerships that help sustain their programs as well as ways of engaging younger learners on pathways to youth media production.

In addition to all of the authors above who generously share their work through YMR, the journal continues to evolve with the expertise, energy and talent of a dedicated and multifaceted editorial and publishing team in the Department of Media and Communication at Muhlenberg College:

Jenna Azar, co-director of the HYPE youth media program

Anthony Dalton, digital cultures media assistant and instructor

Aggie Ebrahimi-Bazaz, assistant professor of film studies and media and communication

It has been a special pleasure this spring to welcome Aggie to YMR’s home at Muhlenberg College.  We are grateful for her continued role in the work of youth media field building efforts beyond the vital role she played in her previous post at NAMAC.

We invite readers interested in any aspect of YMR’s work to contribute to the dialogue as we seek to integrate diverse activities, artifacts, and voices.

YMR Video Gallery Launch

A unique strength of YMR is that it is a resource that can bring together diverse voices from across the field and across a variety of practices to exchange ideas and contribute to the continued vitality of the youth media sector. Since our re-launch last year and ongoing, we think frequently about how to build upon this strength and contribute to the development of a collective voice.

Inspired in part by the youth media gallery curated for the NAMAC/ACM 2014 National Conference, we began to think of the new YMR website as not only a site for reflecting on youth media practices, but also as a site for sharing the wide array of youth media artifacts and products, the viewing of which is in itself an opportunity for reflection. Using the Huzzaz platform, we are proud to announce the launch of the YMR Video Gallery, a central space on the YMR website to collect and distribute films produced by young people in youth media programs across the country:

This gallery allows us to bring together films and voices from a variety of perspectives and practices, and it invites youth and youth media programs into conversation with one another’s work. If you’re interested, for example, in films on gender equality, you can visit the gallery page, find the gender equality category and watch films reflecting on this theme in a variety of ways, informed as each film is by the unique contexts in which it was developed. 

We believe that a centralized space for sharing and accessing each other’s work is a useful tool for the field, and we would love to hear your thoughts on how to optimize this utility.

Help us build the gallery and presence of youth media artifacts on YMR.  Please send YouTube or Vimeo links to

The Chicago Track Creates A Bridge To the Professional Media World

November 5, 2014

In 2013, Chicago set a new record with the largest increase in film and television production in the city’s history with estimated revenues of $358 million and 2,198 filming days—a 20% increase over 2012 1. Recent increases to tax incentives for production in 2009 have helped promote Illinois and Chicago’s resurgence as hubs for the motion picture industry, creating opportunities and employment for thousands working in the fields of film, television and commercial production 2. Beyond the motion picture screen, Chicago has long fostered a strong commercial advertising base, supporting post-production houses, as well as a dedicated documentary filmmaking community. While the Department of Labor projects that occupations in the film and media industry will grow 3% nationally by 2022, they estimate that the growth in Illinois could be as high as 9% 3. There’s no doubt about it—the industry is on the rise.

In a commitment to extend burgeoning opportunities in the industry to the next generation of media makers, The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), with support from The Chicago Community Trust, has partnered with youth media organization Free Spirit Media (FSM) and youth poetry and music organization Young Chicago Authors (YCA) to develop and produce The Chicago Track—a free professional development and networking series targeting aspiring media and music professionals from ethnically and geographically diverse backgrounds. The Chicago Track specifically zooms in on 18-25 year olds who have participated in teen arts programs and have a desire to continue developing in the field but may not have chosen the college track. The program is designed to bridge access to industry professionals in Film/TV and music, while giving a behind-the-scenes look at the growing industry and developing participants’ skills to promote themselves as artists, engineers, and producers.

The Chicago Film Track, led by Free Spirit Media, is a natural extension of the organization’s emerging pathways initiative to “enhance opportunities for college and career readiness” 4.  The Chicago Track is the most recent advanced program that FSM offers to bridge the gap from its scaffolded in-school and after-school programs, to a potential career in the industry. Since 2000, FSM has been helping young people develop their skills and build their authentic voice through advancing education and digital learning through hands-on and project-based media production. FSM has long valued the importance of career development by creating opportunities through its social enterprise, Free Spirit PRO, and its internship program, Flash Forward. Free Spirit PRO, a commercial production company that employs both advanced media students and adult media professionals to create high quality products, provides training and economic opportunity for youth who want to take the next step. Flash Forward places young people into internships at professional media outlets, film sets, and production houses and provides professional development training. The Chicago Track is the next step, targeting a wider range of young adults beyond FSM alumni, to help make connections that emerging media makers need in order to launch their careers.

The Chicago Track program focuses on three key areas critical to success: knowledge, skills, and access. Many young people who dream of a career in the industry imagine themselves as directors or actors and may not realize the vast scope of careers and employment in the industry. The Chicago Track is designed to expose young adults to the diversity of opportunities in the film and television world—from professional unions to commercial production houses to entrepreneurial endeavors. The Track’s workshop format utilizes small group breakouts to pair media professionals with participants to share their background, experiences, and advice around specific topics like brand development, producing independent films, or preparing to be on set. In these spaces, young people engage with seasoned creatives and build relationships that create pathways into an industry traditionally known for its exclusivity.

At The Chicago Track’s first workshop, hosted in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) offices in downtown Chicago, it was clear that the young people who showed up on an unusually sunny Saturday represent the most committed and driven of their peer group. Track participant Mark, shared, “I’m 18 years old and I’m hungry for success.” Another noted, “Just being next to people who are a part of so many great movies made me feel like the job was more possible for me.” The industry professionals who came out hailed from a range of backgrounds and offered their own personal experiences as testaments to the adage that there is no one right way to make it. One guest gave his business card to specific participants, telling them that he expected their phone calls. Another, who has produced films from half-million dollar budgets to 3.5 million dollar budgets, told his captivated listeners, “If you have a strong story, there is no reason why you can’t be producing content right now. If you have a phone, you can make a movie.” Another reminded youth participants of the value of collaboration, reminding participants that their peers are as much a resource as the mentors who were presenting.

By the end of the workshop, during the open networking part of the event, mentors and young people were exchanging emails and ideas and making plans for next steps. Participants shared their “Aha” moments from the day: “You can make it happen if you have the right tools and persevere.” “Networking and collaborating is essential.” “When talking to investors, I need to speak from a business perspective, and not a purely creative one. Investors want to know how to make their money back, not how great of a story I have.” Though it was just the beginning, the immediate influence of perspective, skills, and advice from the other side of the curtain promised to help bridge the gap from passion to purpose for Chicago’s next generation of media makers.

The Chicago Track initiative has flourished due largely to the breadth and strength of its partnerships. Working with Young Chicago Authors (YCA)—a reputable youth arts organization known for its Louder than a Bomb youth poetry festival—has magnified the impact of engagement within the youth adult community. The City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events has offered increased exposure and a connection to a greater vision for the city. An advisory committee, formed in collaboration with Rich Moskal, the Director of Chicago’s Film Office, represents leaders and industry professionals in the unions, education, commercial, and documentary fields that make up the city’s rich media ecosystem. Their support has leveraged relationships and resources that directly benefit the young adults participating in The Chicago Track. Finally, support from The Chicago Community Trust, one of the oldest and more reputable funders in the city, has provided much needed organizational capacity to allow YCA and FSM to invest in the success of the program.

In its first year, program and leadership staff have spent much time discussing the pedagogical and strategic approach of the program. What is the right concoction of soft skills and hard skills? What is the right dosage for sustained impact? What type of mentorship model is most likely to help young adults succeed? How can the program serve both the young person who lacks experience in the field and the young person just launching their new production company? These questions, reminiscent of any youth development program model, will continue to shape the Track’s ongoing development, as well as participants’ continuous feedback. Fundamentally, The Chicago Track is a bold leap into the uncharted territory of alternative, post-secondary pathways—a simple inquiry that high school graduates ask themselves daily: What’s next?

  1. “Chicago Sets New Record for Film, TV Production in 2013.” The Chicago Tribune, January 21, 2014.
  2. “Welcome to The Illinois Film Office.” Film:. January 1, 2013. Accessed November 5, 2014.
  3. “Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators Summary.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. January 8, 2014. Accessed November 5, 2014.
  4. “Zoom.” Free Spirit Media, Accessed January 20th, 2015.

Spotlight on Spy Hop: PitchNic Prepares Young Filmmakers for Media Careers

In her article in this issue, “The Chicago Track Creates A Bridge To the Professional Media World,” Lucia Palmarini calls attention to the diverse ways that Free Spirit Media is creating professional development and networking experiences for young media makers considering careers in film and media. Data gathered by Kathleen Tyner in her report, “Mapping the Field of Youth Media,” further demonstrate the importance of career development in youth media programming with 65% of responding organizations indicating that preparing youth for careers in media is central to their mission. Beyond the increasing pressures on youth media organizations to provide professional training, we also recognize the field’s long history of helping young people develop the creative skills and practices valued in the creative media and technology industries.

This short spotlight presents another example of a youth media organization that is trying to provide pathways into professional media careers. Spy Hop’s PitchNic is a model professionalization program in Salt Lake City, Utah, where experienced youth media makers participate in more extensive engagement with filmmaking practices including networking, production, and distribution. Conceived in 2001 as an innovative way of bringing together young filmmakers with real production resources, Spy Hop’s PitchNic empowers young filmmakers to see themselves as independent filmmakers by immersing them in a yearlong intensive professional filmmaking curriculum. Each year, a small number of students write, shoot, and edit a 20-minute film. They also have the unique experience of pitching their story ideas to a panel of film professionals. Through this process, the panel of professionals select six pitches to advance to a final round, which are then narrowed down to four final films by the class. As teams of three—a director, producer, and cinematographer—learn first-hand how to create a professional-caliber film, they are guided and mentored by Shannalee Otanez and Joshua Samson, both accomplished professional filmmakers.

The films produced at PitchNic have screened at over 30 festivals internationally, including Sundance Film Festival and Los Angeles Film Festival. The most recent PitchNic films premiered in November 2014 at the Jeanne Wagner Theatre, a sold-out event that drew outstanding coverage in the Utah Review. In his enthusiastic review, writer/blogger and art lover Les Roka highlighted the passionate young filmmakers’ accomplishments and growth: “To the delight of an audience that asked plenty of questions after each film was screened, the students, working with mentors Josh Samson and Shannalee Otanez, demonstrated just how their creative work serves to stimulate and sustain enlightened views leading to social and cultural awareness and even change.”

To learn more about this program and view their impressive work, see the PitchNic Vimeo channel here.

See a 10-Year Retrospective here.

Update from the Field: Youth Media, NAMAC & the Creative Youth Development Movement

In August 2014, over forty youth media practitioners, leaders and stakeholders gathered at the National Alliance for Media Arts & Culture (NAMAC)/Alliance for Community Media (ACM) Joint Conference in Philadelphia. The premise of this gathering –sponsored by Youth Media Reporter – was that there is now, as there has always been, a need for network building, resource sharing, and the nurturing of collective power around challenges and opportunities in youth media practices across the country.


Attendees represented manifold perspectives; they were teaching artists, youth media alumni, local and national funders, public school educators, nonprofit leaders, academics, researchers, activists and more. Guided by the facilitation of Jason Wyman, participants were asked to identify needs and visualize multi-stakeholder solutions pertaining to, for example, exhibition and distribution strategies, the infrastructure of a National Youth Media Network, youth and adult partnerships, funding, and other such critical matters. A full list of areas of focus and proposed visions can be found here:

The discussions at this convening were richly textured and rife with possibility; each idea warrants its own in-depth engagement. If, however, we were to distill the five-hour, intensive into a central question, it might be: how do we organize to optimize the power and potential of youth media work?


In that regard, it may be helpful to consider the national conversations emerging within multidisciplinary youth arts organizations. Last March over 200 representatives from community based organizations across the country that serve young people in the arts, humanities, and sciences gathered in Boston to finalize a policy agenda and develop key strategies to advance the work of what is now being termed the Creative Youth Development field in an effort to support the creative and intellectual development of the young people in our communities. The Creative Youth Development Summit was informed by research conducted throughout the fall of 2013 by Lauren Stevenson and Junction Box Consulting in Oakland, California.

The Summit was hosted by the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) and presented in partnership with the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities (PCAH) and the National Guild for Community Arts Education (NGCAE) as a celebration of MCC’s 20th anniversary of Youth Reach, its grant program that supports out-of-school-time programs that help young people develop creatively and intellectually and in turn prepares them for future success. More information about the Summit can be found online at:


Since the March 2014 Summit and the creation of the National Policy Agenda for Creative Youth Development, key stakeholders have gathered to further discuss the work and continue to move the dial forward. One such gathering was the National Guild for Community Arts Education’s annual conference in Los Angeles in November. A pre-conference and several round table sessions were held to discuss this work and what should be done to continue to advance the agenda.  In December, the CYD partners once again met to discuss how this work is going to continue and who is going to take the lead. The results of that meeting have yet to be released.

20140806_140751Regardless of who or how this work is going to get done, the CYD movement is a growing national effort to elevate very similar work that so many of us in youth media have been doing for years; yet, our two groups are largely disconnected. The CYD policy agenda is rooted in strategies around youth leadership, cross-sector collaboration, sustainable funding models, and communicating impact on a broad scale – much of the same strategies that youth media organizations have been employing for years. While there is no doubt overlap in the numbers, if you combine 200 organizations with the nearly 100 within youth media, we are significantly impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people across the country!

So what now? Over the past year, NAMAC has had a leadership change and their new Executive Director Wendy Levy has been working tirelessly to reshape, rethink, and retool the organization to meet the needs of a growing community of independent media artists and organizations across the country, including those within the youth media field. NAMAC is now ready to help pick up the conversation where it left off after the conference in 2014. NAMAC, led by Wendy Levy, facilitated a conversation amongst the field on March 9, 2015, including over 40 youth media leaders. This 90-minute virtual roundtable focused on strategies for convening, growing and sustaining youth media organizations, along with the best ways to collaborate for collective impact in our communities. All are welcome to view the roundtable conversation:

Next steps would also need to include or integrate intermediary organizations with whom the work of youth media intersects: YMR, NAMAC, ACM, the NGCAE, NAMLE, and/or others. As a network, we can identify priorities – as we did in the NAMAC pre-conference – and align with strategic partners to communicate, collaborate and leverage each other’s work. 

As we saw in the aftermath of the NAMAC pre-conference, an agenda-setting and implementation effort requires capacity. While support from YMR and NAMAC were essential to the National Youth Media Network’s administration over the last two years, we have largely operated on minimal resources and immense volunteer energy. In this context, we proved our power in numbers: we were in consistent and enthusiastic communication; we hosted a series of online conversations (guided by priorities expressed within the Network); we organized several conference presentations; we hosted a national youth media contest in partnership with high-profile partners like the DoGooder Awards; and we grew the Network from 30 youth media practitioners and organizations to well over 100.

We’ve seen through examples such as the Open Society Youth Media Initiative, what sustained operational support can do for cohering the field.  We have so far effectively and repeatedly demonstrated our commitment to work collectively with minimal support to elevate the youth voice and perspective on a national level and to help nourish and support this growing field. In order to keep growing and to implement the visionary and mutually reinforcing ideas that were discussed at the NAMAC Conference or that are discussed in this new issue of YMR, we need to work together to ensure that this grassroots effort to connect, share and learn with and through one another, has a solid foundation and steady administrative support going forward.

Thinking Like a Filmmaker: Notes on Visual Literacy Learning and Civic Engagement

with Florence Neale1

Introduction: “Okay, folks, it’s time to think like a filmmaker!”

What does it mean to think like a filmmaker? More specifically, what does it mean for third graders to think like filmmakers? This question is tackled regularly at Amherst Cinema, through the See-Hear-Feel-Film (SHFF) program. SHFF began at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York in 2001. The curriculum, developed by Anne Marie Santoro, a program designer and producer of educational media, is designed to teach visual literacy skills to third graders 2. SHFF uses short films from around the world to help third graders “become more active, thoughtful viewers of visual media; understand how to write with clarity, confidence, and joy; improve their creative expression and storytelling skills; lead more examined lives” ( In the fall of 2011, SHFF came to Amherst Cinema, a non-profit, member-supported movie theater in Amherst, Massachusetts. In its first year, the program reached 18 schools and 991 students across the Pioneer Valley, and in four years, now reaches 24 schools and 1300 students.

A key element of the work at Amherst Cinema is the relationship built between the third grade participants and the educational facilitators who lead the groups. This narrative is drawn from three years of SHFF work at Amherst Cinema, through reflection journals and participant-observation notes compiled by students from the University of Massachusetts Amherst who work as educational facilitators at the Cinema. Work as an educational facilitator represents a unique opportunity for university students to connect classroom learning with civic engagement. Drawn from UMass Amherst students’ experience, this essay shares how SHFF is organized, what role it plays in youth learning, and how civic engagement can contribute to greater community connection.

Young people and visual media learning

Who are young people in the process of cultural production and what are they learning? With its emphasis on filmmaking and storytelling, See-Hear-Feel-Film (SHFF) teaches young people valuable visual literacy skills, including the ability to make sense of, produce, interpret, design, and understand how visual images function in a broader social context 3. When exploring the fear and fascination that often accompany new media use, Drotner and Livingstone argue adults debate “the cultural values that society should promulgate to its children” 4. Making sense of visual culture can help young people, their schools, families, and communities make better sense of the mediated world in which they live. Visual literacy intersects with cultural studies in a shared effort to explore the mechanisms of cultural production and cultural practices 5. Exploring this intersection invites us to see “the ways in which meanings are established, negotiated and circulated” 6. To focus particularly on youth is to make complex sense of their role as active audiences. The cultural studies approach to studying children “begins from the assumption that audiences are indeed ‘active,’ but that they act under conditions that are not of their own choosing – and to this extent, it challenges the tendency to equate ‘activity’ with agency or power”7. Young people are part of the structures and systems within which they live and have input in making sense of those structures and systems. When given the opportunity to share their input, young people may be able to see themselves as active agents and take greater ownership and control of their learning.

Young people learn through the visual, yet this can be easily taken for granted because it is something with which we are so familiar. Because of the overload of messages, Serafini writes, “we often take for granted the ways in which visual images play a role in our daily decisions and experiences. We have become desensitized to how visual images affect our thinking and how we view ourselves”8. Children learn from the media and Davies notes that learning is expected to be useful, including the education of “established codes and value of their society, whether to reinforce or subvert” [Davies, Maire Messenger. “Reality and Fantasy in Media: Can Children Tell the Difference and How Do We Know?” In The International Handbook of Children, Media and Culture, edited by Sonia Livingstone and Kirsten Drotner, 121-36. London: Sage, 2008.]. For young people, learning from the visual provides a framework that invites them to see the structure and multimodal organization of visual messages. Serafini writes that to more effectively develop students’ skills, “teachers need theoretical, curricular, and pedagogical frameworks from which to draw upon” 9. This is what SHFF provides: a theoretically-grounded project that works within third grade curricular expectations and includes students as active learners in the process. It draws directly from students’ comfort with the visual even as they may struggle with traditional literacy. Many of the participants are recent immigrants and English language learners, so traditional reading and writing are often alienating to them. Through SHFF, visual literacy is an entry point to traditional literacy practices.

Young people are exposed to a great deal of visual messages, but this does not mean they pay attention to all of them. What they may be missing is a focused attention on developing the ability to interpret and analyze messages10. The global reach of digital media “has been instrumental in recontextualizing children’s media practices” both for active users and creators of media as well as those who are audience to the myriad texts and images available 11. Film is a potent visual medium, especially for young people. Both capturing a youth audience and capturing a valid representation of youth on screen are tasks of utmost importance for the film industry 12. If given the opportunity to see on film people like them, or people whose struggles are akin to their own, young people may gravitate to cinema as a way to work through their own identity projects.

Despite the importance of the visual – and of visual media – there is little research on what is learned. As Drotner and Livingstone observe, “children’s media cultures have come to assume a central position in many public debates regarding cultural values, social norms and expectation for the future. The same cannot be said for research” 13. Jerslev writes that questions about who watches youth films and how young people experience youth films have not been researched. Buckingham points out that to make the most comprehensive sense of the complex interactions between young people and the media, research needs to explore multiple levels of the context of young people’s environments. This is what Amherst Cinema and SHFF aim to do: provide third graders with the opportunity to learn about movies and storytelling while also approaching traditional literacy from a position of support and alternative entry.

How the program works

I (Allison) was first introduced to the See-Hear-Feel-Film (SHFF) program when the education director, Jake, approached me with the opportunity for my students to act as educational facilitators in its first iteration.  SHFF draws on volunteers from the local community as well as from the surrounding 5-colleges. Since the fall of 2011, participation as an educational facilitator has been a key part of my advanced Communication courses and it is an experience that students consistently evaluate as positive. Over the course of three years, UMass Amherst students have contributed significant organizational and structural improvements to the running of the program. SHFF represents a rare opportunity for University students to feel the impact of their classroom learning immediately and recognize that their voices and contributions matter.

The full curriculum for third grade students is taught over the course of five units, two of which take place at the cinema. The remaining three take place in the students’ classrooms. In the first unit at the cinema, students watch two short animated films. The films, Trompe L’oeil 14 and My Life with the Wave 15, are used to teach the students that films are visual stories that come from one’s imagination and that film production is an intentional process. Trompe L’oeil, at just four minutes long, tells the story of a worm who (appears to) live in the country and when his home suffers a disturbance, the “camera” pulls out and the viewers see that the worm actually lives in an apple that sits on a cutting board, in front of a picture of the country; the cutting board rests on a table looking out a window onto a cityscape. My life with the wave is the story of a boy who visits the ocean and brings a wave home with him, only to be convinced by his parents that the wave will be happier back at the beach. A particularly salient point about this film is that a 12-year-old boy created it, only about 3 years older than the third grade students attending the cinema.  Students learn story structure and create poems and then develop a storyboard for their poems.

The participants are led in a discussion about both films after they are shown, during which they answer questions about the films and discuss relevant film vocabulary. Through this early discussion, the youth participants shift from passive attendees to active participants in the process of analysis 16.  Participants then have a popcorn break, which always proves thrilling: they enjoy the snack, move around the theater, and can engage the facilitators.  The participants are broken up into small groups of 5-8 with 1-3 volunteers per group, depending on the number of participants and volunteers present. They are led in a creative activity where they build a poem using word association: one participant says a word, then the peer beside them says a word they associate with the previous word, and it continues in this way around the circle. This process allows the participants to begin thinking creatively. Then they plot out a movie, similar to the films watched, through a storyboard construction. Each group receives a title, such as Our Life in an Enchanted Forest or Our Life with a Lightning Bolt, and each participant receives one piece of the storyboard to complete, by constructing one sentence and one drawing to put together a story.  The groups then present their stories to the rest of the class.  Jake also shows them a piece of the storyboard for the movie Ice Age, to show that what they are doing is actually an important part of making real films.  Each participant receives a journal when they leave to continue their writing activities on their own time.

In the second unit at the cinema, students watch Going back home 17 and The color of paradise 18 to learn how conflict and characters are created in a story. Students learn about internal and external dialogue, then develop and act out a “sequel” to one of the films viewed. Going back home tells the story of a little girl who must move from her city home to a country home in preparation for a new baby, a move she is not happy about. The clip watched from The color of paradise focuses on a young blind boy who waits for his father to pick him up from school. While waiting, the little boy recognizes the sounds of an animal in distress and is able to save a baby bird from the claws of an approaching cat.

In Unit Two, neither film is in English. The projectionist reads the subtitles so the participants can focus on the action in the films instead of trying to read. The Color of Paradise is set in Iran and is in Farsi; Going Back Home is in Danish.  Participants are asked to guess what languages are spoken in Iran and Denmark prior to viewing the films.  Jake uses a beach ball designed with a globe to show participants the geographic location of the films. The third grade students are also taught about conflict and the difference between inner and outer dialogue.  They learn that in film it is possible to feel one thing and say another.  After a popcorn break (which the students remember fondly from their previous visit), they are then again broken up into small groups of 5-8 with 1-3 volunteers per group. The groups are assigned the task of coming up with a sequel to one of the films viewed in class. The sequel scene must include some type of conflict and inner and outer dialogue.  Certain participants are given lines to speak that are spoken aloud by the character, and other participants are the character’s “thought bubble” and speak aloud the inner thoughts of the character, which are meant to conflict with what the character is saying out loud. The students then present their scenes to the rest of the class.

Youth participants

The youth participants always appear excited to be at the theater. For many, it is their first time in a movie theater and, by Unit 2, they like returning to the space. Occasionally the participants are a bit fidgety when they arrive at the theater.  They have been on the bus for a long time, are excited to be in a movie theater, and are excited to do something different from the regular school day.  They go from sitting on the bus to sitting in the theater, which can be a bit stressful.  Jake is cognizant of this and allows the young students to get up and stretch if they seem overly restless.  This environment is so different from their classrooms, much of their excitement is expressed physically. Especially in the spring, when they see a volunteer they remember from the fall session, they are visibly excited.

The day of the week, the weather, and with whom the participants interact are factors in their activity and behavior.  In general, if it is a Friday the participants are much more energetic and excited for the weekend.  If the weather is bad, the participants tend to take a little longer to focus their energy.  If the students are interacting with the university facilitators, they seem to want to work to impress them and be seen as “cool” by the older students.  The youth participants practice their social skills with the university facilitators, seeking common ground and opportunities to share.  They enjoy chatting and the popcorn break is an important time for bonding.  If the youth participants have a substitute teacher, they are less likely to be attentive and focused. The participants behave differently if there is more than one school at the program on the same day; they appear to be more respectful of each other since they are interacting with students they do not see on a regular basis.

The various demographics of different classes/school districts also appear to influence the experiences and behaviors of participating youth. In general, See-Hear-Feel-Film (SHFF) reaches out to underserved, at-risk youth, with a large population of recent immigrants and English language learners.  Because some students move and switch schools with high frequency, they may attend multiple sessions at the Cinema within a year.  SHFF also reaches out to students with special needs, especially ADD and ADHD learners. The opportunity for non-traditional learning is recognized as  beneficial for students who do not “fit” the regular classroom curriculum expectations.

There are fewer youth participants from higher socioeconomic backgrounds and when they are in the cinema, the undergraduate facilitators and participant observers note differences that emerge. These students, coming from highly focused (and better resourced) schools, were better prepared for the program and more knowledgeable of film terminology, as well as slightly more advanced in their basic reading and writing skills and general vocabulary.  Some of these participants dropped hints about their level of privilege, mentioning possessions like iPhones, tablets, or video game consoles.

In their reflection journals and participant-observation notes, university student facilitators make note of dramatic differences between these youth participant groups, especially those who struggled in under-functioning schools. These students still know a considerable amount of film terminology, because even though some had never been to a movie theater before, they watch TV and movies at home.  These participants often have more difficulty with reading and writing skills, and do not discuss expensive possessions like those mentioned by groups with greater socioeconomic privilege. Over the course of three years, several local hardships, including a severe and unexpected October snowstorm (2011), Hurricane Irene (2011), and a school shooting (2013), had grave impact on young people’s lives and home security.  One boy had been abducted during a school shooting the previous semester and educational facilitators were made aware so as to be more sensitive to his needs. Participants of lower socioeconomic status convey a stronger sense of independence and autonomy in their daily lives, sharing details about walking home alone from school, being from divorced families, or having exceedingly overextended parents.  Some of the topics that emerge in conversation have included the struggles of being separated from their parents who are incarcerated and those who remain in home countries, sending their children to live with extended family members.  All of the participants openly discuss their lived experience and willingly bring both school and home experiences into the guided conversation at SHFF.

Overall, the youth participants are always very excited and eager during the program. They occasionally are so excited to be in the theater, they forget to pay attention and are chatty during the films or when Jake is talking.  Jake is always particularly aware of the students with special needs who struggle with focus, and works with the volunteers to support these participants.  Youth enjoy more freedom during SHFF than in their regular school day, and they especially enjoy the creative freedom.  Jake makes it very clear that no idea is “wrong,” and the participants respond well to this inclusion.  When a response is off-topic or tangential, Jake skillfully reigns in the comment and ties it back to the subject. The third grade students consistently feel respected and valued in their experience.

One area of concern that emerged is the tendency of boys to dominate the girls in small group activities.  For example, when it was time for girls in a group to say their sentence as part of the storyboard project, male peers would talk over them and tell them what to say in their sentence.  This had the effect of making the girls more timid in their active participation.  In their reflection journals and participant-observer notes, university student facilitators comment that the boys tended to add plot twists and action to the stories while the girls tended to focus on adding characters.  Boys introduced violence to the stories, occasionally wanting to kill off the characters the girls created, which upset the girls who also tended to focus on creating happy endings for the stories.  Ultimately, a rule was established that no killing could happen in the stories.

College facilitator role

Universally, the college-aged educational facilitators who participate in SHFF express that it was one of their best experiences at UMass.  Many said they wish there had been opportunity to participate in the program earlier in their college career, since some were graduating and did not have another chance to volunteer.  Others said they would be coming back to the program to volunteer again.  For some, participation in this program led them to change their career path to one that works more closely with children.

One of the things undergraduate facilitators learned was the importance of media literacy for young children.  They could see the youth participants were learning the basics of how movies are constructed and that this would be important knowledge as they grew older.  They were impressed with Jake mentioning the name of the director to the participants since this taught them that movies are created by people, which is the first step to understanding how media are constructed. The facilitators learned leadership skills through guiding the groups of participants and watching Jake, whose sustaining passion and ability while administering the program was impressive to them.  Facilitators also mentioned gaining an appreciation for the knowledge and understanding of third graders.  Many seemed to expect the children to have very little knowledge about films and to not be very observant film viewers; however, they were impressed by the participants’ knowledge and observational skills. The facilitators mentioned surprise at the difference in the knowledge between the participants of different schools and towns.

Having university-aged educational facilitators is excellent for this program. The youth participants look up to the “big kids” and really enjoyed connecting with them, particularly during popcorn breaks.  Sometimes the facilitators would mention being nervous going into the program because they had not worked with kids before and did not know what to expect. However, after their first sessions, the facilitators mentioned a growth in their confidence and an eagerness to go back and continue volunteering. They mentioned affection for the participants and that they thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to work with kids.

Strengths and struggles of the program

Jake is the main strength of the program.  He is highly praised and is excellent at working with the youth participants. He works very hard to remember all of their names, which models a great deal of respect. Though he’s seen all of the films he shows during the programs many times, he always appears excited about and interested in them, which inspires the participants. Observing Jake leading the participants during the discussion was inspirational for strategies to use while leading the small groups.  Jake is also able to recognize when a part of the program needs to be changed, and is open to suggestions to that effect from the volunteers. For example, Jake changed the titles of the stories the participants create from My Life in an Enchanted Forest to Our Life in an Enchanted Forest, in response to the suggestions and observations of the volunteers; this leads to a better sense of collaboration and teamwork in the creation of the storyboard.  Based on suggestions, Jake now hosts post-workshop debrief sessions and added in the beach-ball globe so the youth participants could make sense of where the films they were watching took place.

The program is highly praised by all of the UMass students. They say that they want to volunteer again and that it was one of their best experiences at UMass. They loved working with the youth participants and they felt the third graders learned a lot during the program. Many UMass students said that this program made them see the importance of instituting media literacy in schools as a regular part of the curriculum. Working as an educational facilitator becomes a key entry on their resumes and a salient conversation point in their job interviews.

Many of the towns who have children who participate in the program have a high population of bilingual/English-as-a-second-language residents.  Specifically, many participants spoke only Spanish or Spanish as a primary language.  Since this program is oral and print dominated, there were occasionally problems with participants who could not speak or were not comfortable speaking English. While SHFF offers an alternative entry to traditional literacy, greater support for English language learners would be beneficial.

While most attention is paid to student behavior, there are concerns with teacher behavior in the theater as well. The classes whose teacher had prepared them using the guidelines Jake provides were much more knowledgeable about filmmaking and much more observant while watching the films. When the teachers were involved and engaged during the presentation the participants followed their lead and were more eager as well. However, teachers who were more controlling, who told participants how to behave and what to say when creating their stories, led to an oppression of the students’ creativity, which undermines the point of the program.  Some teachers appear to use the time at the Cinema to do their own activities, which can be distracting to both youth participants and facilitators.  A desire has been expressed for teachers to be more proactively involved in preparing their students for their time at the Cinema as well as staying actively involved themselves.

At the start of its fourth year, SHFF suffers from its own popularity; university students, who once made up the most consistent and well-structured cohort of volunteers, are now often sidelined because of the transient nature of their school schedule.  SHFF runs from September through April and follows the public school calendar, which is not equally matched by the university schedule or student availability. Sometimes the university students are only able to observe, which, while valuable, does not give them the hands-on experience they crave.

Conclusion: Next steps

The third graders who participate in See-Hear-Feel-Film learn that they are active, not passive, viewers.  They leave the program with an understanding of basic film terminology, including animation, projectionist, inner/outer dialogue, geography/different cultures as well as an understanding of conflict, both between people and internally. They learn that sometimes you can think one thing and say another.  These young learners develop understanding of creativity and storytelling, the similarities and differences between books and movies, as well as basic aspects of stories and how they appear in films and movies.  The program gives them an outlet for creativity in writing and illustration that they may not get in their regular classroom because of limited time and curricular expectations.  The participants learn collaboration with each other in creating the stories, and develop confidence in public speaking during their presentations.  Ideally, this will extend beyond the third grade and into other areas of learning.  A continuation of the program could be beneficial for students to see how their learning can extend beyond the movie screen.  Participants leave the program excited about their work and sad that it is over.  They leave saying they want to create movies of their own and want to write in their journals; the learning is so integrated into the creative experience, they do not even realize “learning” has occurred.  Their creativity is sparked by the program and they are excited to continue their explorations.

The university student facilitators are initially intimidated by the prospect of leaving behind the familiarity of their own classroom and campus.  By junior or senior year, they are confident in their college routine and often nervous to move beyond it – even as they know they need work and internship experience for job and graduate school applications.  They are not fully aware of how to transfer the skills they learn to other professional opportunities. Undergraduate facilitators are emboldened by the opportunity to have a direct impact on their community and this is a valuable experience that takes them beyond campus.  Undoubtedly they learn a great deal from the experience, but do not necessarily have the skills or recognize how to apply that learning to other experiences.

Like much other work in media literacy, the impact of SHFF remains largely anecdotal and qualitative.  Those who participate in the work attest to its value and influence, but there is little quantitative analysis that measures what, exactly, the youth participants are learning. For both the youth participants and college-aged facilitators, this is an experience that takes them out of their regular classroom experience and solidifies their learning in an experiential way.  While the program is, thus far, universally appreciated by the college facilitators and the youth participants, but this does not prove long-term learning.  Specifically for third graders struggling with language and literacy development, SHFF offers an alternate route to learning, which is extraordinarily valuable.  However, we need to understand more deeply how these skills may or may not impact their experience and learning in the context of high-stakes testing that currently marks the face of public education.


  1. Florence Neale was the student researcher on this project
  2. Falinski, Joanne. “Program Evaluation Study: See-Hear-Feel-Film Program.” Pleasantville, NY: Jacob Burns Film Center, September 1, 2005.
  3. Serafini, Frank. Reading the Visual: An Introduction to Teaching Multimodal Literacy. New York: Teachers College Press, 2014.
  4. Drotner, Kirsten, and Sonia Livingstone. “Editors’ Introduction.” In The International Handbook of Children and Media, edited by Sonia Livingstone and Kirsten Drotner, 1-16. London: Sage, 2008.
  5. Buckingham, David. “Children and Media: A Cultural Studies Approach.” In The International Handbook of Children and Media, edited by Sonia Livingstone and Kirsten Drotner, 219-36. London: Sage, 2008.
  6.  Buckingham, David. “Children and Media: A Cultural Studies Approach.” In The International Handbook of Children and Media, edited by Sonia Livingstone and Kirsten Drotner, 221. London: Sage, 2008.
  7.  Buckingham, David. “Children and Media: A Cultural Studies Approach.” In The International Handbook of Children and Media, edited by Sonia Livingstone and Kirsten Drotner, 232. London: Sage, 2008.
  8. Serafini, Frank. Reading the Visual: An Introduction to Teaching Multimodal Literacy. 1. New York: Teachers College Press, 2014.
  9. Serafini, Frank. Reading the Visual: An Introduction to Teaching Multimodal Literacy. 2-3. New York: Teachers College Press, 2014
  10. Serafini, Frank. Reading the Visual: An Introduction to Teaching Multimodal Literacy. New York: Teachers College Press, 2014
  11. Drotner, Kirsten, and Sonia Livingstone. “Editors’ Introduction.” In The International Handbook of Children and Media, edited by Sonia Livingstone and Kirsten Drotner, 1. London: Sage, 2008.
  12. Jerslev, Anne. “Youth Films: Transforming Genre, Performing Audiences.” In The International Handbook of Children, Media and Culture, edited by Sonia Livingstone and Kirsten Drotner, 183-95. London: Sage, 2008.
  13. Drotner, Kirsten, and Sonia Livingstone. “Editors’ Introduction.” In The International Handbook of Children and Media, edited by Sonia Livingstone and Kirsten Drotner, 3. London: Sage, 2008.
  14. Panke, Ingo. “Trompe L’oeil.” Germany, 2001.
  15. Chavez, Jairo. “My Life with the Wave.” USA, 1998.
  16. Davis, Richie. See-Hear-Feel-Film: Amherst Cinema program promotes kids’ literacy, creativity. Amherst Bulletin, October 16, 2014. Avail:, accessed October 24, 2014.
  17. Horsten, Michael. “Going Back Home.” Denmark, 2000.
  18. Majidi, Majid. “The Color of Paradise.” Iran, 1999.

Mapping the Field of Youth Media: Results of An Environmental Scan of Youth Media Organizations in the United States


The National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) is a collective organization of US media arts organization. Through collaborative projects, research, resources and advocacy, NAMAC works to connect, develop and build capacity for media arts organization.   Since 2003, the organization has partnered with media scholar Kathleen Tyner of The University of Texas at Austin to conduct four surveys of youth media organizations in the US. The research is intended as an environmental scan of youth media programs to assess their capacity to meet the demand for their services. As a field-building strategy, the results of these studies are used by youth media advocates and practitioners to assess their support systems, challenges and gaps in their capacity to offer and sustain content creation opportunities for young people. In this sense, the studies can also be used for needs assessment, advocacy and strategic planning efforts that contribute to best practices and sustainability for youth media programs.

Some refer to youth media as a “field,” yet consensus is vital for field building, raising questions around practices and boundaries, concepts, relationships and affinity between youth media organizations 1. Moreover, the diverse range of activities, media and missions complicates consensus around best practices and impact that can be used to prioritize and support activities that assess outcomes, build capacity and support sustainability for youth media programs. Much of the existing research discusses youth media within the context of media effects research or critical literacy, resulting in programs related to risk aversion, media literacy and youth development. The research also reflects a strong emphasis on qualitative, ethnographic and action research 2.

Although there is a body of work related to theories and concepts for creative production in the media arts 3, more mixed methods studies related to the impact, best practices and lessons learned from youth’s engagement with creative media production would be useful for field-building strategies 4.

Emerging international efforts to collect evidence of youth media practices in global, cross-cultural contexts broadens the scope of research foundation 567.

Yet much more research is needed to guide evidence-based approaches for youth media organizations’ strategic planning, funding priorities and policy efforts. In particular, few studies exist at this time to accurately map the purposes, practices, number and type of youth media production programs in formal or informal learning environments in the United States. At the least, results could provide evidence of affinity and consensus across youth media programs that could be used for field building. For youth media organizations who are stretched to support a growing interest in media production by youth, a research agenda also provides evidence that can be used to establish planning, priorities and polices that help to build capacity and sustainability for the emerging field of youth media.

Mapping the Field of Youth Media: Results of An Environmental Scan of Youth Media Organizations in the United States is intended as a contribution to the research base for youth media in the United States. Conducted by Kathleen Tyner at The University of Texas at Austin in partnership with the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC), the study is part of a longitudinal effort to map the field of youth media in the United States from 2003-2013. Additional discussion, information graphics, tables and open-ended comments related to the study’s data sets can be found online 8.


Data was collected between April 1 and August 1, 2013, using a convenience sample of youth media organizations from the Youth Media Google Groups and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) membership lists, combined with a rolling sample method. The first questionnaire request was sent via email to 161 advocates and directors of youth media organizations. Respondents accessed an online questionnaire that collected data about the number and kind of youth media programs within established, non-profit media arts organizations and after school programs in the United States. Data collection included questions related to organizational mission, demographics, client demographics, budgets, funding sources, media production activities, and organizational challenges. The questionnaire included original questions from previous youth media surveys conducted with NAMAC since 2004. Additional questions were added to the survey in 2013 to assess capacity issues related to new media practices and platforms.

Sample Size and Characteristics

Sixty-eight (68) youth media organizations responded between April 1 and August 1, 2013. Three were discarded as incomplete with responses to fewer than 50% of the survey questions for a total sample size of 65 (n=65). Not all respondents answered every question in the survey. The total number of responses for each question is noted in the discussion for each item.

Twenty (20) respondents were from the NAMAC membership list and the other 45 were recruited from rolling sample techniques such as word of mouth and Youth Media Google Group.

A large majority of these 65 respondents represented directors, executive directors and managers who more likely to provide accurate answers to questions about organizational topics such as funding and budgets. And so the erratic response rates for this survey do not appear to be a result of the respondents’ inability to respond to the questions.

Geographic Reach

The sample represents youth media programs in 40 US states and the District of Columbia with multiple respondents in California (8), Massachusetts, Minnesota and Texas (7), Rhode Island and Washington (6), Pennsylvania and Illinois (5), New Mexico and New York (4), Alaska, Oregon, District of Columbia and Connecticut (3), Arizona, Kansas, Idaho, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Utah (2).

One response (1) was collected from the following states: Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia. The following graphic displays the geographic reach of the survey respondents.

Youth Media Organizations Geographical Reach


Organizational Mission

Respondents were asked to identify all of the aims and purposes for their program’s youth media work. In a subsequent question, they were then asked to state the number one purpose of their organization. Fifty-two (n=52) responded.

The general aims and purposes were diverse. The highest priorities given to the following: a) to encourage creative self-expression (100%); b) to give youth a voice (96%); c) media literacy (94%); and d) to build and strengthen our community (92%).

Respondents were then asked to identify one main mission for their youth media work. The question elicited a wide range of diverse responses and open-ended remarks: a) to give youth a voice (31%); b) to encourage creative self-expression (19%); to build and strengthen our community (17%); and to encourage civic participation (12%).

Table 1 ranks the aims and purposes selected by all respondents. Additional open-ended comments are included at the end of each table.

Table 1: Aims and Purposes fro your Youth Media Work

Please select ALL THE REASONS that your organization is devoted to youth media. ResponsesBy Frequency* (n=52)
To encourage creative self-expression 100%
To give youth a voice 96%
Media literacy 94%
To build and strengthen our community 92%
To encourage civic participation 77%
To prepare participants for careers 77%
To provide alternatives to commercial, mainstream media 71%
To facilitate learning in academic subjects 65%
To offer youth healthy recreational activities 67%
To specifically prepare youth for careers in media 65%
To protect children from the harm caused by media 37%
  • Results may not total 100% due to rounding

Open-ended comments to this question reinforced some of the organizations social justice and youth development priorities. Respondents wrote that their work intended to: cultivate social change leaders, organize for collective power, serve as a feeder to our adult and other community programs, build curiosity and critical thinking skills, and to raise cross-generational awareness/understanding.

The respondents were then asked to identify the most important mission for their organizations. Table 2 ranks the organizations’ primary mission.


PRIMARY MISSION. Please tell us the NUMBER ONE reason that your organization is devoted to youth media:  ResponsesBy Frequency * (n=49)
To give youth a voice 31%
To encourage creative self-expression 19%
To build and strengthen our community 17%
To encourage civic participation 12%
To prepare youth for careers in media 8%
To prepare participants for the workforce 6%
To provide alternatives to commercial, mainstream media 6%
To facilitate learning in academic subjects 2%
Media literacy 0%
To protect children from the harm caused by media 0%
To offer youth healthy recreational activities 0%
  • Results may not total 100% due to rounding

In open-ended remarks, respondents note that the diversity of these organizations make it difficult for them to identify one main mission that represents their diverse scopes of work. For those with a relationship to a larger, supporting “umbrella” organization, the articulation of aims, purposes and mission was even more complex.

“…our youth programs are quite diverse unto themselves, and because some programs come and go with funding, so tried to give the general flavor of our work.”

“Our youth media work lives at the intersections of youth leadership development, political education (i.e. root cause analysis) and media work.”

“The nature of our work at a “soft-funded” center that is part of a larger academic institution (a “private/public” university) means that it can be difficult to describe the boundaries of our professional development, workshop, and youth media programs.”

Themes across open-ended comments about the primary aims and purposes of their work are related to the cultivation of social change and youth leadership development, support for civic engagement and political education by youth, and educational offerings, especially in media literacy education. Other comments referred to their organizations mission to create pathways for populations that may be underserved in media industries, and to give youth a voice by providing multiple outlets for self-expression.

Main Mission of the Sponsoring Organizations

Twenty-five percent (25%) responded that they are a stand-alone, non-profit organization solely dedicated to youth media programs. However, the majority (62%) of the youth media programs in the survey are directly affiliated with larger non-profit organizations as their fiscal sponsors. Another 14% represent public or private school programs. Three organizations stated that they are commercial, for-profit businesses (5%) engaged in consulting and development for youth media programs. The remaining 8% of respondents identify as PEG access stations, youth media programs with a broader audience of adults, charter schools, after-school programs, and other youth development programs.

The majority (62%) of the sample that worked under the umbrella of a larger fiscal sponsor were also asked to identify the main mission of their fiscal sponsor. A large majority of the sponsored youth media programs (84%) identified arts/media arts as the main mission for their fiscal sponsors. Other missions that were stated for these sponsoring organizations were workforce development (29%), and Technology/Computer or STEM-related (18%) organizations. Social service agencies (9%), health/prevention organizations (11%), and academic/career certification programs (9%) were missions of the main sponsors. In open-ended remarks, 36% of the respondents (n=55) identified public access stations, social justice, youth and community development (23.5%).

Years of Service

The survey asked about the number of years that these organizations have been in operation (n=63). The sample reported a broad range of years in service—from 1 to 40 years. The average number of years in service for this sample was approximately 12.5 years. Four organizations were in their first year. Sixteen (26.2%) of the organizations were operational for 1-5 years, fourteen from 6-10 years (22.9%), twenty-four from 11-19 years (39.3%), and ten (16.3%) were operational for 20 to 36 years. Two (3%) reported that their organization has provided at least 40 years of youth media services. 4 did not respond.

Participants Served by the Youth Media Programs

Survey questions asked about the type of clients served by these youth media programs. The term “clients” refers to participants who receive direct services from the programs. The respondents were asked to estimate the age, income levels, gender, sexuality and demographic profiles for their clients, based on terminology used in census data collection.

Service by Race, Ethnicity

Service for a diverse range of racial and ethnic groups was reported, with some organizations reporting higher percentages of service to specific groups. All groups reported high levels of service to African American participants. Approximately 19% report high levels of service (above 50% of their participants) to African American youth, although 19% of the sample also reported that African American youth made up a smaller portion of their overall client base (under 10% of their participants).

Sixteen percent (16%) of the sample reported high percentages of service (50% and above) to Latino-Hispanic youth, with 4% reporting no service to this demographic group.

When asked about service to Caucasian/White students, 10% of the sample reported that these students made up more than half of their participants and one-fourth of the sample reported that Caucasian/White students made up fewer than 10% of their participants. Native students make up 75-100% of the client base for only a few organizations.

The organizations in this survey also reported lower levels of participation for Asian Americans. Ten percent of the sample did not serve Asian American youth and almost half (45%) of the sample reported that Asian American students make up under 10% of their participants.

Lower levels of service for some demographic groups correspond to lower percentages of some in the general population. The lowest percentage of participant service was reported for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders. Forty-three percent (43%) reported no participants in this demographic category. Results also represented low participation in these youth media organizations from Native American and Alaskan Native youth. Twenty-eight percent (28%) reported no participants for these groups and 45% reported that these youth represented under 10% of their client base.

Service by Urban-Rural Location

All of the organizations served urban youth with the majority reporting that urban youth make up over 50% of their participants . Nonetheless, the majority also reported some service for rural and suburban youth, although at much lower levels. Forty-one percent (41%) reported no service to rural youth. One rural organization commented that We have a very difficult time being compared to other youth media organizations located in urban areas that have a broader reach and easier connections with large, national outlets.”

Service by Income Levels

The programs were more likely to serve lower-income participants and 68% reported that low-income students make up over half of their participant cohort. Nearly half (46%) did not serve wealthy participants.

Service by Gender and Sexuality

Service to males and females was relatively even, with two organizations (6%) devoted to youth media programs for girls. When asked about their service for LGBT youth, 66% reported lower levels of service. However, 52% reported that they did not know the sexual identities of their participants.

Service for Disabled Students

Levels of service to disabled students was low. Although 69% reported some service, the levels of service were very low for half of the organizations. However, at least one organization was particularly dedicated to this population, noting that “We take our work with youth very seriously. It takes a lot of work, time, people, energy, etc, but it’s worth it. We work with all ages and backgrounds with special attention to youth with disabilities and English language learners.”

Service by Immigration Status

When asked about immigration status,16% reported no service to non-U.S. participants and 33% reported that under 10% of their participants were non-U.S. citizens). However, it is important to note that 27% of the sample reported that they did not know the citizenship status of their participants.

Age of Participants

As seen in Tables 3 and 4, the target population for most of the organizations was Grades 7-12. Only a small percentage of the organizations reported that they work with elementary-aged youth. Table 3 displays results for youth participants, ranked in the “none” column.

Table 3: Age Levels for Youth Participants

by Frequency* None Low % Medium High %
Please estimate the target audience for all services through your youth media programs in the following age groups: None 1-10% 11-25% 26-50% 51-75% 76-100%
Grades 9-12 (n=52) 0% 2% 6% 27% 25% 40%
Grades 7-8 (n=49) 10% 18% 37% 25% 8% 2%
University (n=40) 13% 45% 23% 10% 8% 3%
Grades 4-6 (n=39) 31% 31% 28% 8% 2% 0%
Pre-School – 3 (n=34) 65% 29% 3% 3% 0% 0%

* Results may not total 100% due to rounding.

The responses also indicate that only a small percentage of adults participate in these programs. Table 4 displays results for adult participants, ranked in the “none” column.

Table 4: Service to Adults

by Frequency* None Low % of Clients Medium High % of Clients
Please estimate the target audience for all services through your youth media programs in the following age groups: None 1-10% 11-25% 26-50% 51-75% 76-100%
Adults: Teachers (n=35) 26% 51% 20% 20% 0% 3%
Adults: Artists (n=33) 27% 58% 12% 0% 0% 3%
Adults: Other Community Members (n=31) 16% 55% 23% 3% 0% 3%
Adults: Seniors (n=30) 67% 23% 0% 0% 7% 0%

* Results may not total 100% due to rounding.

Youth Media Activities and Practices

These organizations devote their time to a broad range of services. The respondents prioritize production and programs related to direct participant services with youth in school programs. They favor both and field production and studio production. The majority reports that they spend well over half of their time working in collaborative, project‐based work. They are least likely to conduct workshops or certificate programs for adults.

Types of Youth Media Activities

When asked about the percentage of their clients who participated in various types of programs, the majority reported a high percentage of participation in after-school programs or summer camps (80%), followed by school day programs (74%) and community classes or workshops (60%). Over half of these organizations (54%) offer a teacher development program. Almost one-third offer distance education classes (31%). Table 5 Displays the percentage of time that the programs spend on youth media program activities, ranked in the “none” column. 

Table 5: Time Spent on Direct Participant Services

by Frequency*  None Smaller % Medium Larger %
Please estimate the PERCENTAGE OF TIME your youth media program devoted to the following activities in the last year: None Under 10% 10‑25% 26‑50% 51‑75% 76-100%
Field Production (n=53) 2% 15% 36% 30% 11% 6%
Materials/Curriculum Development (n=49) 8% 33% 39% 16% 4% 0%
Studio Production (n=50) 16% 16% 22% 30% 12% 4%
Academic Year Student Workshops/Programs (n=51) 16% 16% 22% 16% 24% 8%
Summer Youth Workshops/Camps (n=50) 16% 10% 42% 18% 8% 6%

* Results may not total 100% due to rounding

As seen in Table 5, the organizations reported that 32% of their time was spent with academic year programs such as in-school, after-school and workshop activities. Nonetheless, 16% do not participate in school programs. Over half (52%) spend small amounts of time on summer camp programs, with 14% spending a large percentage of time on summer camps. The time spent in field production is slightly higher than studio production for these programs. The organizations also spend significant time with curriculum development activities, although 8% report no time was spent with this. Table 6 displays results related to outreach and distribution, ranked by the “none” column.

Table 6: Time Spent on Outreach and Distribution Activities

by Frequency* None Smaller % Medium % Larger %
Please estimate the PERCENTAGE OF TIME your youth media program devoted to the following activities in the last year: None Under 10% 10‑25% 26‑50% 51‑75% 76-100%
Screenings/Presentations (n=52) 2% 42% 42% 8% 4% 2%
Web Site and Social Media Outreach (n=47) 6% 58% 30% 4% 0% 2%
Distribution of youth-produced work (n=47) 11% 49% 25% 9% 4% 2%

* Results may not total 100% due to rounding

As seen in Table 6, screenings and presentations of youth media work are a priority for almost all of the organizations in the survey. They are more like to use web sites and social media for other outreach activities. Although 6% spend a larger percentage of their time with the distribution of youth produced work, the majority do not spend significant percentages of their time with distribution.

When asked about activities related to adult programs, the programs reported that some of their time was spent with workshops for K-12 teachers, trainers and artists. However, over 40% did not conduct adult workshops. Programs related to professional certification for adults were rare in this survey with 87% reporting no time spent on these activities, even though 9% report that they work under fiscal sponsors with a focus on workforce development through academic/career certification programs.

Table 6: Time Spent on Adult Programs by Youth Media Organizations

by Frequency* None Smaller % Medium % Larger %
Please estimate the PERCENTAGE OF TIME your youth media program devoted to the following activities in the last year: None Under 10% 10‑25% 26‑50% 51‑75% 76-100%
Workshops for K-12 Teachers and Administrators (n=46) 41% 37% 15% 7% 0% 0%
Workshops for Media Artists/Trainers (n=46) 48% 37% 13% 2% 0% 0%
Professional Media and Software Certification Programs (n=47) 87% 9% 2% 2% 0% 0%

* Results may not total 100% due to rounding

Respondents were also asked to report the percentage of time spent on duties that are directly and indirectly related to their staff work as professionals in the youth media sector. Table 7 reports results, ranked by the “none” column.

Table 7: Time Spent on Professional Staff Activities

by Frequency*  None Smaller % Medium % Larger %
Please estimate the PERCENTAGE OF TIME your youth media program devoted to the following activities in the last year: None Under 10% 10‑25% 26‑50% 51‑75% 76-100%
Program Administration (n=50) 2% 26% 42% 24% 4% 2%
Outreach (n=49) 2% 37% 45% 12% 4% 0%
Program Evaluation (n=52) 2% 50% 42% 4% 2% 0%
Presentations at Public Events (n=49) 8% 65% 18% 8% 0% 0%
Fundraising (n=49) 14% 35% 35% 6% 4% 6%
Festivals (n=48) 25% 54% 17% 2% 2% 0%
Conferences (n=47) 28% 60% 13% 0% 0% 0%

* Results may not total 100% due to rounding

Almost all of the responding organizations report that most of their time involves program administration and outreach, with smaller amounts of time also spent on program evaluation. Ten percent (10%) report that they spend over half of their time fundraising for their programs. Very few of these organizations report time for professional events at conferences, festivals and public presentations.

Activities by Medium

The organizations report that they engage in media practices in digital video (93%), photography (60%), blogs (51%), social network projects (43%) and the graphic arts (43%). Fourteen respondents engage in print publications (26%). Very few respondents in this sample do youth media production in video games (11%). Only one response reported production activities that involve creating mobile apps (2%) or virtual worlds (2%).

When asked to describe the percentage of time spent with specific genres in their programs, the majority of responses were related to documentary and narrative film production. Four responses were related to larger percentages of time with music and audio production and four others reported high percentages of time with photography. Although half spent various amounts of time across diverse genre, a large majority of the respondents spent no time at all with games, radio, traditional print, web design or the production of mobile media content. Nearly half spent no time at all with news or online publications.

Table 8: Activities by Types of Media 

Youth media programs use a wide range of analog and digital media. Select ALL the types of media produced in your youth media program (Check ALL that apply): (n=51)by Frequency*
Videos (digital) 93%
Photography 60%
Blogs (written) 51%
Animations 51%
Social Network Projects 43%
Graphics 43%
Print Publications 26%
Radio shows 21%
Vlogs (video) 19%
Remix and Mashup 17%
Podcasts 21%
Videos (analog) 14%
Video games 11%
Virtual Worlds 2%
Mobile App Development 2%

* Results will not total 100% due to multiple responses and rounding

Activities by Genre

As reflected in the question about media, survey questions about specific genre produced by youth, revealed that traditional and narrative genre were most often used. Documentary dominated this sample and high percentages of youth media in narrative forms is also reported. The majority reported some percentage of work in experimental media, although less time was devoted to non-narrative genre. Most organizations in the survey also did some work with non-narrative, experimental media production. The majority worked with public service announcements, but these were reported at lower levels of production. Table 9 displays results, ranked by the “none” column.

Table 9: Types of Genre

by Frequency*  None Smaller % Medium % Larger %
Please estimate the percentage of work that students produce in the following genre.  None Under 10% 10‑25% 26‑50% 51‑75% 76‑100%
Documentary (n=51) 2% 16% 33% 26% 14% 10%
Narrative/Fiction (n=51) 8% 29% 24% 29% 4% 6%
Public Service Announcements (n=49) 14% 45% 25% 16% 0% 0%
Experimental, Non-Narrative (n=47) 19% 45% 19% 17% 0% 0%
Multimedia or Transmedia (n=48) 23% 42% 25% 8% 0% 2%
Music and Audio Production (n=47) 23% 36% 21% 11% 4% 4%
Photography (n=48) 25% 38% 21% 8% 4% 4%
Online blogs or vlogs (n=44) 39% 39% 16% 5% 2% 0%
Online Publications (n=47) 47% 38% 9% 0% 0% 2%
News (n=42) 48% 29% 14% 7% 0% 2%
Radio (n=47) 62% 19% 9% 6% 2% 2%
Traditional Print Publications (n=46) 63% 28% 7% 0% 0% 2%
Web Design (n=47) 66% 23% 6% 2% 2% 0%
Mobile Media Content (n=43) 67% 19% 12% 2% 0% 0%
Interactive Games (n=42) 88% 10% 2% 0% 0% 0%

* Results may not total 100% due to rounding 

The majority does not work in traditional print and radio genre, however a few organizations are devoted to print and radio. In addition, some organizations focus on music, photography, news, and transmedia genre. In open-ended remarks, two respondents also mentioned their uses of animation and comics.

Although most do some work in online publications, blogs and vlogs, evidence of other types of production that requires computer design, computer networks, or coding was reported by very few of these organizations. Wide majorities did little or not work in web design, mobile media content, or interactive games.

Uses of Production Tools. The production tools reported by the organizations reflect their emphasis on traditional genre and formats. Video editing software (93%) and video recording hardware (91%) were most often used. Computers were reported by over 80% of the organizations. Audio editing and recording software was also used by 80%. Photography hardware (69%) and software (63%) was used by the majority of the organizations. Social media platforms (67%) and other online platforms (56%) were reported, as were cell phones (44%) and computer notebooks (39%). However, computer programming software was used by only 15% of this sample.

Organizational Capacity of Youth Media Organizations

In an attempt to measure organizational capacity, the organizations were queried about staffing, leadership, budgets, strategic partners and funding sources.

Staffing and Leadership

Reported number of staff for full-time, part-time and consultants ranged from 0-16 staff members and the average number of staff in each category was 3 staff members. Twenty-nine surveys identified consultants for an average of 3 consultants for this subset. The reported range for volunteer support was broad, from 0-50. However, one organization reported 1,364 volunteers.

Sixty-seven percent (67%) reported a full-time director and 21% reported a part-time director. Five organizations reported that they did not have a youth media program director and two reported that their director was a volunteer. The majority of Youth Media Program Director’s salaries were reported under $50,000 per year. Of these, 18% were under $10,000 per year and 14% received no salary.

Budgets for Organizational Partners

Approximately 9% of the sponsoring organizations budgets were under $50,000 per year and 5% reported no budget for their sponsoring organizations. Nearly 26% had budget over $1 million and of these, 3% reported budgets over $5 million per year for their sponsoring organizations. About 20% reported that their sponsoring organizations were funded in the $250- 500,000 range and 15% of their sponsors operated with budget of $500,000-1 million per year.

Budgets for Youth Media Programs

Over half (53%) of the annual youth media budgets reported were under $100,000, with 20% of these under $10,000 per year. Three percent of organizations (3%) reported no annual budget for their program. On the other end of the spectrum, 3% reported budgets between $1-5

million and 8% reported annual budgets of $500,000 and $1 million. Approximately 35% were in the $100-500,000 range with about 10% of these

reporting budgets between $150,000-250,000 per year.

Table 10: Total Budget for Youth Media Program Activities

The budget this year for youth media programs is approximately: Responses by Frequency* (n=60)
No budget 3%
Under $10,000 20%
$10-25,000 8%
$26-50,000 10%
$51-100,000 12%
$100,000-150,000 15%
$150,000-250,000 10%
$250,000-500,000 10%
$500,000 to $1 million 8%
$1-5 million 3%
Over $5 million 0%

*Responses may not total 100% due to rounding.

Respondents were also asked to specify how their budgets were allocated. The majority of the budgets were spent for staff and equipment- related expenses. Very few resources were devoted to fundraising, educational resources or staff development activities.

As seen in Table 11, staff costs make up the largest line items for the organizations’ budgets with 69% reporting that over half of their budgets are devoted to staff salaries. This may help to explain why 47% report no additional stipends or honoraria for staff. Nine percent (9%) did not report costs for staff in their budgets. This may reflect some of the respondents in the sample who work from public and private educational institutions. This subsample who are employed in school systems may also be reflected in the 10% of responses that indicate no direct overhead costs.

Purchase and repair of equipment also took up a higher percentage of the budget for approximately 10% of the respondents, although 8% did not report this. Fundraising, educational materials, staff development and travel were relatively lower budget priorities for these organizations. Table 11 is ranked by the “none” category.

Table 11: Budget Breakdown

By Frequency* None Smaller % of the Budget Medium Larger % of the Budget
Please indicate the approximate percentage of your youth media budget that goes to the following: None 1-10% 11-25% 26-50% 51-75% 76-100%
Purchase/Repair of Equipment (n=54) 8% 4% 42% 37% 8% 2%
Staff (n=55) 9% 4% 18% 33% 31% 5%
Overhead (rent, supplies, etc.)(n=50) 10% 44% 38% 4% 2% 2%
Exhibitions/Distribution of Youth Work (n=49) 14% 65% 16% 2% 0% 2%
Consultants/Contractors(n=46) 17% 37% 28% 11% 4% 2%
Travel (n=51) 24% 61% 12% 4% 0% 0%
Staff Development (n=48) 29% 58% 6% 2% 2% 2%
Purchase/rental of film/educational materials (n=45) 29% 64% 4% 0% 0% 2%
Fundraising (n=47) 32% 51% 13% 0% 4% 0%
Staff Stipends/Honorarium (n=47) 47% 34% 15% 2% 2% 0%

*Responses may not total 100% due to rounding.

Funding Sources

The majority or respondents indicated that private foundations provided the largest percentage of their annual funding. Some organization received funding from local, state and corporate sources, as well as some fees for services. Relatively few of the organizations reported that a significant percentage of their funding came from federal government sources. Results are displayed in Table 12.

Table 12: Youth Media Funding Sources

By Frequency*  None Smaller % of the Budget Medium Larger % of the Budget
Please indicate the approximate percentage of funding for your youth media programs that comes from the following sources: None 1-10% 11-25% 26-50% 51-75% 76-100%
Private Foundation Funding (n=51) 4% 12% 22% 27% 22% 13%
Fees for Services (n=48) 19% 35% 23% 15% 0% 8%
Corporate of corporate foundation funding (n=48) 13% 50% 23% 10% 4% 0%
Individual Donors (n=46) 13% 67% 21% 0% 0% 0%
State government funding (n=49) 33% 29% 25% 10% 4% 0%
Local government funding (n=50) 34% 32% 16% 12% 4% 2%
Federal Government Funding (n=47) 47% 23% 17% 11% 0% 2%
Sales/Gate From Distribution or Exhibition of Work (n=41) 68% 27% 2% 2% 0% 0%
Advertising (n=42) 95% 5% 0% 0% 0% 0%

*Responses may not total 100% due to rounding.

The majority indicated that private foundations provided the largest source of funding for these respondents, followed by fees for services. State and local government sources were important to several organizations but approximately one-third of the sample reported no income from these sources. Levels of federal funding were low, with 47% reporting no federal funding sources.

Strategic Partnerships

It is important to note that funding for some of the organizations and consultant in the survey may come to them indirectly in the form of a contract or sub-contract from another agency. In addition, these partnerships create opportunities to apply for larger grants, especially in the government-funded sector, thus building each organization’s scope and capacity to fund and expand their programs. One respondent commented, “We primarily seek partnerships with local, national, and international groups to evaluate, create curriculum materials, and raise visibility within the media literacy and youth media communities.”

The organizations in this survey primarily partner with other non-profits (90% and with public schools (87%). Increasingly, higher education (58%) and museums (42%) are potential partners, especially for media arts and STEM programs. Approximately one-third reported partnerships with private K-12 schools (36%) and libraries (32%). Thirty-one percent (31%) partnered with community colleges. Table 13 displays results related to the strategic partnerships for these youth media organizations.

Table 13: Strategic Partnerships for Youth Media Organizations

Does your youth media program partner with any other organizations? N=59
Non-Profit Organizations 90%
Public Schools 87%
Colleges/Universities 58%
Museums 42%
Private Schools 36%
Libraries (Public) 32%
Community Colleges 31%
For-Profit Organizations 29%
Libraries (School) 19%

*Responses may not total 100% due to rounding.

In open-ended remarks related to strategic partnerships, respondents stated:

We primarily seek partnerships with local, national, and international groups to evaluate, create curriculum materials, and raise visibility within the media literacy and youth media communities.” 

“We are trying to strengthen our educational outreach as there is a strong desire for it within the community, but it will only ever be in the form of workshops and labs, we are not a teaching institution.”

Supports and Challenges for Service Delivery and Sustainability

Funding is one only threshold for service delivery and sustainability. Results related to the supports and challenges for these organizations provide insights into strategies for capacity building and sustainability for youth media organizations. Respondents were asked to rate barriers for service and challenges to sustainability of their organizations on a scale of 1=Low/4=High.

Research for youth development programs reflects a socio-cultural-ecological approach to recruitment, engagement and retention of participants 9. Chief among these barriers are transportation, location, cultural relevance, interest, and trust. In addition, young people often have a busy schedule, including family and work duties that may compete with their involvement with youth media organizations. Many of these challenges also resonate with other youth development organization’s barriers to service in the social service sector.

Barriers to Service Delivery

The organizations were asked to rank barriers to service on a scale of 1=Low/4=High. Several items on the scale were not applicable or not a problem for a few of these organizations. None of the organizations cited staff turnover, staff development, a need for help with curriculum design, inter-generational communication, awareness of their program, or accessibility of their youth media activities or funding as barriers to participants’ access to their programs’ services.

Table 14: Barriers to Service Delivery

By Frequency & Mean

Please RANK participants’ barriers to your services on a scale of 1=LOW and 4=HIGH: Not Applicable to my organization Mean Responses 1=LOW and 4=HIGH
Students have too many other activities (n=51) 0% 2.65
Poor transportation options (n=51) 2%  2.47
Student mobility/retention (n=51) 0% 2.36 
Access to Technology Tools (n=51) 2% 2.12
Participant Recruitment (n=51) 2% 1.80
Access to Technology Knowledge (n=51) 4% 1.73
Language barriers (n=51) 6% 1.57
Location for our youth media activities present security risks (n=50) 4% 1.34

On average, none of the barriers were ranked at a high level. The youth media respondents reported that the biggest barrier was that student have too many other activities, followed by poor transportation options for students and access to technology tools. Issues related to participant retention were problematic for some organizations, but participant recruitment was even less significant for these organizations.

Barriers to Sustainability

Respondents were asked to rate barriers to their organization’s sustainability and capacity to deliver services. Table 15 ranks responses by mean average.

Table 15: Barriers to Sustainability

* By Frequency & Mean (n=51, unless otherwise noted)

Please RANK participants’ barriers to your services on a scale of 1=LOW and 4=HIGH: Not Applicable to my organization Mean Responses 1=LOW and 4=HIGH
Funding for our program 8% 3.14
Public Awareness of our program 4% 2.45
Staff’s need for more support/training to work effectively with youth 4%  2.16
Need Help with Planning for the Future 6%  2.14
Opportunities to evaluate the impact of our program activities 4%  1.98
No centralized place to store and share our media products with the field 6%  1.78
Too much competition with our youth development programs (n=50) 6%  1.72
Counseling for youth in need of adult support (n=50) 12% 1.76
Recruiting staff 4% 1.71
Staff Turnover 4% 1.67
Need Help with Curriculum Design 6% 1.57

It is important to note that the diversity of the organizations contribute to a wide range of rankings for issues related to capacity and sustainability. As expected, funding was a concern for all of the organizations, with 55% of the sample rating it as a very significant barrier. Other concerns were related to public awareness of their programs, staff training and the need for strategic planning opportunities.

Staff development issues, including recruitment, retention and training were also a concern. Public profiles and awareness of their programs in the community, and opportunities to evaluate the impact of their programs was a challenge for many organizations.

In open-ended remarks, individual respondents cited funding for staff positions (3 respondents), students’ family demands (4), and high demand for their services (2). One noted that scheduling difficulties with schools around testing was a significant barrier to their service delivery.

Outreach and Distribution

In relation to the organizations’ concerns about public awareness as a sustainability strategy, the questionnaire contained items related to opportunities to promote the work of these organizations. Most of the organizations used the web (96%), YouTube or Vimeo (90%), public screenings at local showcases (89%) and festivals (69%) to distribute the youth work. Others used cable (33%) or broadcast (25%), print (21%) or radio (21%). Nearly one-third of the organizations (31%) distributed their curricular products. Press placements were used by approximately one‐third of the sample. Fourteen respondents skipped this item.

When asked specifically how the media that youth produce is used to promote and recruit participants, 52 organizations relied on word of mouth, as well as their websites (94%), social media (89%), targeted emails (83%) and community events (81%). Over one-third (39%) relied on targeted press placements, including school newspapers, and 33% relied on mainstream press. One organization reported that they worked with a professional distributor, another made visits to potential educational partners, and 12% relied on paid advertising for visibility.

Discussion of Results

Mapping the Field of Youth Media: Results of An Environmental Scan of Youth Media Organizations in the United States reveals a tenacious core of youth media practitioners who intersect with a wide spectrum of traditional educational, social justice and youth development efforts. With high demand and low budgets, these organizations are fueled by the commitment and passion of local youth media practitioners who shape and customize the agenda for media production, site-by-site. The purpose of the study is to investigate the nature, scope and capacity of these organizations so that results may be used to assess need, impact and strategies for sustainability. In addition to its uses in field building, it is also hoped that the study can also contribute to an emerging, mixed methods research base that promotes the study of youth media programs and their contributions to their communities.

The survey results indicate that the providers of youth media education in the US are non-profit or volunteer organizations who often operate under a larger non-profit which are often affiliated with the media arts. Nonetheless, there is a sizeable contingent who run youth media programs without the benefit of a larger fiscal partner. Most of these are not new organizations. On average, the organizations have been providing youth media programs for 12.5 years, with some in business for decades.

The majority of the organizations in this sample serve relatively large cohorts of diverse participants with limited resources. Most depend on foundation funding with limited government support or fees for services. The organizations are more likely to serve local, urban communities. Although some of these community-based programs also serve adults in their communities, especially teachers, the majority are devoted to youth, primarily adolescent youth.

The Aims, Purposes and Mission of Youth Media Programs

 The history of youth media production in the United States is grounded in broader trends for youth development and community-based media production for a diverse range of media makers. Contemporary youth media practices can be traced to related programs in cable access television, non-profit arts programs, digital literacy efforts, and youth development organizations 10. In all of these cases, as access to production equipment, knowledge and audiences became less costly and cumbersome, a wider range of media production opportunities across diverse platforms were used to engage and connect young people with the media tools and distribution outlets that could best support and amplify their “voice.” In the process, these activities reveal a wide range of aims and purposes, such as artistic expression, workforce development, life skills development, education, community participation, and the resolution of social inequities.

Past studies in the NAMAC Mapping the Field series indicate that “youth media” encompasses diverse interpretations about the nature and purpose for the work. The 2013 study is no exception. Research indicates that diverse definitions for the term “youth media” are used, sometimes conflating media produced by youth with media produced for and about youth. For the practitioners in this study, “media conceived, developed and produced by youth and disseminated to others,” is an operational definition. 11.

Nonetheless, when asked to articulate their various missions, the organizations in this study also reported a wide range of aims and purposes for youth media programs. These run the continuum from support for individual to collective expression and encompass values and goals from both youth development and community development perspectives. In this regard, the responses raise questions about the kind of consensus necessary to promote youth media as its own field. Instead, the results indicate that these organizations operate as an outgrowth of general youth development work, as a strand of community activism, as support for general academic or career pathways for youth, or all of the above.

The sample’s strong affiliation with creative production and the media arts is reflected in their purposes and activities, such as “to encourage creative self-expression” and practices that involve experimental, non-narrative media forms. The results indicate that while there is some consensus around “giving youth a voice,” the aims and purposes of youth media production differ widely between programs engaged in general youth development work, such as social service and prevention work, and those with a focus on fine arts and activist communities. Themes related to youth media as a way to “strengthen communities” play on the concept of voice and representation in the goal of social justice, critical autonomy and equity. Most of the organizations refer to the goals of encouraging civic participation and providing alternatives to mainstream media. Although youth media activities are seen as a way to “prepare participants for careers,” they are less likely to see this as a pathway to specific media careers. Most want to build media literacy skills, yet 37% of the sample did not frame media literacy from a protectionist approach that protects children from harm caused by media.

Although media literacy is a goal for 94% of the sample, it is not cited as a primary mission in the sample. Furthermore, there is evidence that most of the time spent with program activities are centered around production. Nonetheless, the majority of the sample reported either no budget (44%) or very low funding levels (44%) for equipment purchase or repair. These responses raise questions about the degree to which these organizations support and bridge the two domains of critical media analysis and critical media production that provide fertile areas for further research.

When asked to select only one mission for their work, 12 of the organizations did not respond. The remaining responses demonstrate diversity and little consensus. The top missions selected were to give youth a voice (31%), encourage creative self-expression (19%), build and strengthen our community (17%) and encourage civic participation (12%). Workforce development (6%) preparation for media careers (8%) were the main mission for only one organization cited academic learning (2%) as the main mission. Given the diversity of these missions and consensus about the way that youth media programs have the potential to “give youth a voice,” more research is needed to explore the specific contexts and characteristics for the contemporary concept of “voice” in youth media.

Sites of Practice

The relationship between formal and informal education further complicates the concepts necessary to frame the field of youth media. Notably, the concept of “youth media” does not have a strong association with formal education in the US, although media production undoubtedly takes place during the school day in many institutions. For example, public and private school newspapers are common in public schools and represented in this sample, although recent studies indicate that traditional print media programs may be in decline 12. In addition, formal education settings devoted to digital, gaming and electronic forms of transmedia production are beginning to emerge and the nature of these participatory production activities for learning is in need of further research 13. This study indicates that youth media programs increasingly connect with formal educators through after-school and summer camp programs. The association between formal educators and youth media practitioners during the school day is a core component for these practitioners’ programs.

Scholars have noted that the accountability, discipline-based education and traditional pedagogies associated with formal education support a practical “ed tech” approach that can create tensions with the experimental, participatory, ideological and activist missions of some youth media programs. Henry Jenkins and others have called this emphasis a “participation gap” 14. As expressed by the UNESCO Communication and Information Sector:

Access to information does not define itself only in terms of access to different technologies and media, but must take into account the nature and type of information youth need for full participation in society 15.

In theory, strategic partnerships with formal and informal educators raise the capacity for both groups to meet the demand for participation in youth production programs. In the process, these partnerships also have the potential to build the field of youth media by engaging more practitioners as advocates.

Results from this study indicate that the production and distribution of media by youth are currently focused on participatory knowledge and production in informal, community-based and after-school spaces. Whether this indicates an alternative to limited offerings and traditional technology instruction addressed in formal schooling is unclear and are grounds for further research.

Although public schools provide educational technology and access opportunities for their students, in recent years these opportunities have diminished due to shortages in funding and qualified IT personnel and the inordinate emphasis on standardized testing. As schools begin to plan—and raise funding– for renewed digital literacy integration in a climate of testing and workforce development, the educational technology agenda appears to focus on hard and soft technology skill assessments that address the perceived needs of employers and bureaucratic practices related to standardized testing and assessment. Nonetheless, the study provides some exceptions to this perspective, particularly with the larger organizations who operate during the school day.

Partnerships between community-based youth media programs and formal education institutions build the capacity for all stakeholders. In particular, schools can take advantage of practitioners’ media production expertise–skillsets that may not be widely available to teachers at an interdisciplinary level. However, these strategic partnerships offer both opportunities and challenges for youth media organizations. Although strong partnerships with formal educators provide a much-needed way to build organizational capacity and spread, efforts to bridge formal and informal education may also compromise the resources and distort the mission of community-based groups. In particular, content-delivery modes of instruction, rigid schedules, limited access to artistic equipment and practices, and limited space for ideological discourse are barriers to the core work of youth media practitioners. If formal educational institutions hope to remain relevant in the face of burgeoning production practices, these youth media organizations provide a vital resource for school change efforts. In addition to modeling a blended critical literacy and skill-based curriculum across media platforms, youth media programs field-test participatory pedagogies that exemplify innovative designs for contemporary learning environments.

This is not to say that the organizations in this survey are focused on a high level of digital media production. The majority of the sample report that although they work in digital formats, most of their work is in traditional documentary and narrative forms of moving image media. Traditional radio, print and music still have a smaller but solid presence in the sample. Even web design is not engaged by 66% of the respondents, although the majority used the web for distribution of student work and visibility. Also, in spite of the fact that graphics and social media are acknowledged by these programs, the practices for this sample do not appear to transition into more sophisticated computer production for games or mobile apps. The marginalized uses of virtual worlds, gaming and mobile application development in these programs deserves more investigation. And so the question remains: In an era of high digital access, where are young people finding opportunities to refine their every day knowledge of digital environments and related critical production skills?

Challenges and Support for Sustainability

The organizations identify barriers to service that are common in other youth development programs. These include recruitment and retention factors such as transportation, students’ choices of activities, and student mobility. Access to media tools was also cited. However, it is important to note that these barriers were not considered high with a mean scale of 1.34 to 2.65 on a scale of 1=Low/4=high.. More research is needed to analyze barriers by investigating responses in relationship to subsamples of organizational characteristics.

The challenges to the organizations’ overall sustainability were somewhat higher on a scale of 1=Low/4=High. These included funding (mean 3.14), public awareness of the program (2.45), staff development (2.16), opportunities for impact evaluation (1.98) and strategic planning (2.14). Policies and funding priorities that target these areas for strategic planning have the potential to support sustainability. In addition, more evidence of impact contributes to the research base and identifies best practices that can be widely shared with other youth media practitioners, thus contributing to sustainability.

As advocates work to build the field, this wide range of practices and purposes present both supports and challenges for youth media practitioners. Supports for field building include the broad vision and inclusiveness needed to provide a strong base of consensus among advocates for youth media. When viewed in this way, the diversity of missions and activities could be seen as a challenge to field building. However, when seen in the context of community-based media, the diverse aims and purposes of youth media may also serve as a support for the emerging field. When characterized as a dynamic process instead of a well-defined practice, this breadth and ambiguity has the potential to reach out across interdisciplinary, inter-agency sectors. In particular, youth media can be seen as a timely and flexible way for communities to use media to respond to changing social concerns and related communication practices.

In 1999, John Higgins foreshadowed this discussion in his historical analysis of community television as process:

Community television as process conceptualizes constant change within individuals and the collectives within which they participate. Community television as a process addresses the criticisms that video training in the access context focuses on technology as a panacea for social ills. Instead, video training and participation is seen as a means to an end rather than the objective itself, where individuals and groups become confident in awareness and skills necessary to shape the world of television and move on to sculpt the social world. The process orientation is purposes, such as those suggested by the new media and data technologies 16.


The organizations that participated in Mapping the Field of Youth Media 2013 are indicative of a an emerging field with committed advocates who provide media production opportunities for a diverse audience of young people. The broad missions and practices for these programs are represented in every aspect of the study, from the demographics of the clients served, to media and modes of production, and activities.

What remains clear is that these programs offer a “lifeline” for individual youth in

traditionally underserved communities. In this sense, support for the individual young people who participate in their youth media activities is seen as paramount to the success and impact of these youth media programs 17.

In addition, the involvement of the young people in shaping these organizations also represents the kind of inter-generational mentoring and internships that build both hard and soft skills. In the process, these organizations remain agile and flexible as they serve their communities.

[Our organization] has seen many changes over the years – [we are] part of a national organization…a program of a larger organization [a museum] and an independent nonprofit organization. [We have] diversified its media outputs, adding the web, radio and audio slideshows to its print production. It has been encouraging to hear young people determine the best output for the potential story, which really helps them understand the medium. But most importantly, leadership decisions have always been made with [an organization of young alumni from the program]….All outgrowths of young people see media as an opportunity to tell stories and have their voices count.

The Mapping the Field of Youth Media 2013 study is one small contribution to a growing research base about the nature and impact of youth media production programs in the United States. The study is intended to provoke increased dialogue that helps to build the capacity of these organizations to fill the demand for their services as they navigate volatile changes in community education, civic participation and the generational shift into a digital world.


Thanks to Aggie Ebrahimi Bazaz and Jack Walsh of the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) in San Francisco, CA for their continued support.

Kathleen Tyner, Associate Professor, Department of Radio-Television-Film, The University of Texas at Austin,

Thanks to:

Alaska Teen Media Institute
Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute
Aurora Picture Show
Austin Film Society
Bay Area Video Coalition
Beacon Charter High School for the Arts
Center for Media and Information Literacy
Children’s Media Project
Columbia Links
Community Film Workshop of Chicago
CTV North Suburbs
Educational Video Center, Inc.
Free Spirit Media
Gandhi Brigade
Global Action Project
Harken Youth Media
ILA VIetnam
In Progress
Independent Filmmaker Project Minnesota
Jack Straw Productions
Kansas City Public Library
KBOO Community Radio
La Salle academy
Magic Box Productions
Manhattan Neighborhood Network
Media Arts Center San Diego
Media Literacy Project
Migizi Communications
Minneapolis Television Network
Mississippi Public Broadcasting
Nickelodeon Theatre
Northwest Film Center
Open-Ended Response
Real Art Ways
Reel Grrls
San Francisco Film Society
Scenarios USA
Screen Savvy Kids
Scribe Video Center
Somerville Community Access Television
Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP)
Spy Hop Productions
St. Paul Neighborhood Network
Stories From Deep in the Heart, a project of Texas Folklife
Street-Level Youth Media
Swept Away Media
TAPA: Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts
The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston
Thurston Community Television
TILT at Ninth Street Independent Film Center
Union Station Kansas City, Inc.
Venice Arts
Video Association of Dallas
Vision Maker Media
WCCA TV 13 “The People’s Channel”
Westerly High School Video Communications
Yollocalli Arts Reach – National Museum of Mexican Art
Youth Media Project



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