Little did I know how much of my core values, international mindset and future life plans would develop when I joined the Children’s Express Indianapolis bureau—now called Y-Press—just a few weeks after my 13th birthday, smack in the middle of 7th grade. I was nervous and shy, having no idea what to expect, but I loved books and writing, so I applied to attend a weekend-long training.
Fifteen years later, I can still recall each one of the six teenagers who trained us. The idea that my peers—not adults—would train us was a revolutionary idea to me, and a taste of what was to come. I quickly learned that everything in the program is built around a core principle: that young people’s voices matter; and, every aspect of the organization, from the story process to the board of directors, is built around youth leadership.
Taking part in a youth-led organization meant both amazing opportunities as well as a lot of grunt work. We led interviews and completed articles, but we had to do our research, prepare questions, and write and rewrite until our articles were as strong as any professional journalist.
One of the most frightening tasks was making phone calls. Do you know how rare 13-year-olds are required to call up complete strangers and request interviews? I was terrified. But I learned from the older kids—the editors—to write out a script and practice it before making a call. (Later I would give the same training to friends in college who didn’t have that experience and struggled making simple calls to the college registrar or a new landlord).
That summer, I was part of a reporting team that traveled to Havana, Cuba. Thanks to journalism visas from both the Cuban and American governments, we were able to legally travel to the country in a time when few Americans could, to report on the lives of Cuban youth during the “Special Period.”
We prepared for months through weekly meetings, phone interviews with Cuban youth in Miami, and piles of research. One of the most memorable briefing exercises included filling large pieces of paper with our stereotypes about Cuba: cigars, Castro, army fatigues, authoritarianism, boat people. Recognizing and naming stereotypes was powerful, as it helped me understand that the role of a journalist is to uncover and think critically about such unspoken biases.
Although we had adult mentors who traveled with us, it was our job to schedule our time in Havana—another exciting leadership opportunity. We were granted permission to cover the annual convention of the Pioneros—communist youth from across the island. Prior to departure, we scheduled interviews in private homes, churches and at the Synagogue and read up on the complex laws governing American traveling to Cuba, but nothing could prepare us for the actual experience of international journalism.
For me, each day felt like an adventure. One of the first days, we spoke in hushed tones with a 17-year-old in her family’s crumbling mansion. She spoke of the struggles of the Special Period and economic woes, such as the young women who would sell their bodies for a bar of soap. Days later, her story contrasted the patriotism of the Pioneers, who had traveled from all over the island to celebrate their love for their country and the revolution. I wondered what I had taken for granted from a US perspective. When we interviewed a young poet and some of her peers, we bonded, despite the seeming enmity between our two governments. As I traveled around Havana and saw signs denouncing the US embargo, I realized that maybe my government wasn’t telling me the entire picture.
If I had been reporting on all of these interviews alone, I perhaps would have never made sense of it all. However, we had an important policy: debriefings were mandatory after interviews. And so at the end of each day, the other young reporters and I would gather and discuss what we had observed and learned from our interviewees.
Often, our spirited conversations would last for hours, debating communism, the US embargo and other complexities. The debriefings helped me recall the initial list of stereotypes we had generated, and it was remarkable how few I believed by the end of the trip—the Cuba I had come to know was much more complex, complicated, and interesting. That fall I wrote my first article for the local paper, The Indianapolis Star, about my observations of the country, and how much I learned from the young people I interviewed. See the article in it’s original format here and in PDF form here.
The Cuban youth I interviewed in Havana were the first of many interviewees who would profoundly impact me over the years. Some of the most memorable stories I worked on after returning to the US included interviews at the Indiana School for the Deaf, Latino youth living in Indianapolis, and a classmate who was expelled from my high school following the massacre at Columbine. As a youth media journalist, I was also able to continue to travel, interviewing young cancer patients in Russia and kids living in and on the streets in Brazil. As I grew older, my Children’s Express/Y-Press experience grew with me, offering new ways to see the world, and an incredible opportunity to learn by doing.
As I stayed with the organization, I experienced important nonprofit learning opportunities particularly during a time of crisis. Children’s Express nationally had undergone a leadership change, and was attempting to reduce the level of youth involvement in editorial decisions. The adult leadership at the bureau met with members, alum, and parents to decide what to do. Collectively, we decided to break-off and become independent, but not before weighing the positives and negatives, and having very serious discussions about our broader goals and values. Then came the re-branding process, where we brainstormed names to reflect what our bureau did. One parent, an advertising executive, helped us think strategically about this. We decided on the name “Y-Press,” and he worked with us to design a logo that incorporated a question mark, representing one of our core values to never stop asking “why.”
While our overall focus was to produce quality articles and radio pieces, in the process, youth leaders learned how to collaborate, fundraise, work with professionals, help make big decisions during times of change, and organize trainings. By the time I graduated from high school, and by extension Y-Press, I was committed to making something out of the incredible opportunities I had been given. I went on to major in international relations and lead student volunteer trips overseas, intern for African journalism Programs and become a student leader at my university.
This month marks 15 years that I have participated in the youth media field, and one of my greatest take-away is that the full impact of youth media programs extends far beyond the media products themselves, and lasts much longer.
Youth media programs affect the lives of their participants, and by extension the lives of everyone they interact with. In the fifteen years since my first nervous weekend of training, I have trained hundreds of youth to follow in the same footsteps, first as a Y-Press member, and after college returning to Indianapolis for a year to work as an adult staff member and mentor.
In 2007, I left Indianapolis to contribute to research on refugee youth living on the Thailand/Burma border. Inspired by the youth I met, I co-founded Digital Democracy, a nonprofit that harnesses new technology to empower marginalized communities. Since its founding, I have been continually grateful for the lessons I learned at Y-Press, which has greatly informed our own programs, starting with the idea that making media can be an important first step in leadership development. One of our initiatives, Project Einstein, draws directly on this by empowering refugee youth through digital photo trainings, new media literacy curriculum, and online exchanges that connect students living in refugee camps overseas to resettled refugee students in the United States.
At Y-Press, I learned that young people are just as capable as adults of producing quality journalism. At Digital Democracy, we extend this belief in people in a global manner, using human rights as a basis for taking technology tools to groups such as refugees, women and youth who have been neglected, abused, and/or marginalized.
Whether working with women in Haiti to create a technological response to gender-based violence or connecting human rights workers in Southeast Asia via mobile phones, we focus not just on the end products, but the process of empowering our partners as leaders in those projects. And we have been able to incorporate youth media in many ways, particularly with Project Einstein trainings in Bangladesh, Thailand, South Africa, Kenya, and Guatemala, thanks to the partnership of a fellow Y-Press alum.
In each of our youth media projects, I have a goal I strive for—the precedent that was set for me at Y-Press. These goals include how to:
• ask questions and think critically;
• break down a seemingly impossible task and make it manageable;
• work in a team and believe in oneself; and,
• emphasize that young people’s voices matter and deserve to be heard.
Every human being, no matter how young, deserves to have his or her voice heard. Youth media programs have the power to change the world by instilling this value in the young people they serve. Nothing makes me more excited or proud than when I watch as another young person accepts, learns and re-produces this fact and helps others recognize and value the multiple other voices in one’s community. Through youth media as a journalist and now a co-founder of my own nonprofit, my experience continues to help others take that step toward creating truly global, engaged citizens.
Emily Jacobi is co-founder and executive director of Digital Democracy, a New York-based nonprofit that works globally to empower marginalized communities with digital tools. Emily began her career at the age of 13, as a youth journalist reporting from Havana, Cuba on the lives of young Cubans during the Troubled Period. Since then she has worked on media and research projects in Latin America, West and Southern Africa and Southeast Asia, as well as En Los Campos, a multi-media exhibit highlighting the lives of teenage migrant farm workers in the United States. Prior to founding Digital Democracy she worked at Internews Network, AllAfrica.com, the Center for PeaceBuilding International and Y-Press.
Robert Martin trained professionally as a stage and screen actor and continues to produce, direct, write and perform original stories in schools, theaters, festivals and just about any community setting where a story needs to be told and folks want to tell them. He specializes in the fields of Community-based Arts, Applied Theater, and Digital Storytelling; utilizing his diverse background in alternative styles of theater, hip-hop and oral history to create original media. He currently produces the Clear Creek Festival, a multi-discipline, community arts festival just outside of Berea, KY.
YMR: You have developed a successful approach toward incorporating Applied Theater and media production in the classroom. How did your own background inform the work you do today?
Robert Martin: I became a youth media educator and researcher through a passion for theater and story. Like most of the arts, theater gave me a voice, a platform to explore my identity, and tools to interact with the world. Through theater, I could connect to others, communicate my own experience, and begin to examine the world.
In college, I spent a lot of my time thinking about storytelling—what the tools are that a storyteller needs to successfully honor both voices in the story, that of the actor and character they portray. Theater helped me record my experiences in my physical and emotional memory so I could re-create experience as a writer, actor or director. After graduating, I moved to New York City and was drawn to community-based artists and culture workers—people who did not necessarily identify as traditional theater practitioners, but who had stories to tell about their homes, lives, communities, and place in the world.
I found that when a group is deeply invested and has control over the fate of their projects, the participants often develop a much greater capacity and passion in telling their own stories and incorporating stories they find meaningful. From this place I approached my work as a theater artist and activist, which led to becoming a teaching artist; and, eventually led to work as a youth media educator.
YMR: How did you come to the work of applying theater and media production techniques in the school context? Tell us about your experience in transfer schools and your vision for your work.
Martin: It started when I became a teaching artist with Dance Theatre Etcetera working in NYC Transfer High Schools in Brooklyn. I was wrestling with how to connect my own insights into the power of storytelling with the situation facing Transfer School students. Transfer students are sensitive to failure and doubt, which are aggravated by the traditional top-down, learning-for-the-test, pass/fail structure of the conventional public school system.
Transfer schools are a particular initiative by the NYC school system to address over-aged, under-credited students. These are students that in high school fell behind in their necessary Regents’ credits requirements for reasons of truancy and a variety of other factors, dropped out of school, and agreed to re-enter the educational process through a Transfer School. These schools are typically small (with about 150 students) and have a staff of advocate counselors from a partnered social service agency who meet with students in group sessions each week in addition to their Regents-required classes. Coined “group,” these meetings are a more accessible space to talk about the challenges that affect the school process.
In addition, transfer schools often have a curriculum that is student-based and each student has her or his own trajectory. Additional structures are set up to help re-frame the student’s experience so that they no longer experience failure, including opportunities to work or intern and see society and the workplace differently.
As a teaching artist, I found that an efficient way to cut through the anxiety and insecurity shared by the students in relation to their previous experiences, often with oppressive institutional structures, was to focus my approach as a facilitator using a Freirian approach of Co-Intentional Education—the idea that every person has something to offer, a story to tell, and the capacity to teach as a member of a community if the learning space is genuinely grounded in power sharing and dialogue.
My goal was to help students use media to re-frame their history of experiencing failure within the school system. For many students media was also a tool to examine challenges they felt within their families, their communities, and society more generally—toward an experience of ownership, agency, pride, and community engagement.
YMR: In your work, Applied Theater techniques are a fundamental component of the process through which you support students’ storytelling and media production. Explain a bit more about how this works.
Martin: My aim has been to combine applied theater and critical pedagogy alongside digital storytelling because media and video production clearly piqued my students’ interest from day one. Most students were instantly hooked by the prospect of learning media production, specifically professional camera equipment and editing software.
Students were using media technology as a tool for recording and communicating information. I had only a small role in getting them engaged in this aspect of the class, mostly because new media technology, including video, audio, social media and cell phones, were totally normalized and preferred means of communicating. It took a bit more time to ramp up to the task of telling personal stories, but when framed around assignments—such as: create a short PSA on an issue teens face at school or discuss the challenges teens face getting to school in the morning through a short narrative film—students were able to own their vantage point, become more open to sharing and receptive to other’s feedback as we began to build community around shared experience.
I found that using Applied Theater techniques, such as role-playing exercises, were key. For example, students would role-play as media creators (a role I would ultimately ask them to own by the end of the class) the process of presenting a film treatment to an audience who, in turn, played the role of a production company giving the presenter the opportunity to dialogue around suggestions for improvement and collaboratively arrive at strategies for moving forward.
The combination of Applied Theater and media production, in addition to offering high level tools of expression, creation, and collaboration, positively impacts the lives of students, offering a process that allows students who experienced failure in school to reframe their experiences in a different light with the support of their peers.
YMR: What would you recommend to other youth media educators, given your experience?
Martin: I recently completed my Master’s degree through the first Applied Theater Masters program in the United States at the City University of New York School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS). At CUNY, I was able to reflect on my teaching practice as a scholar practitioner and go further in capturing the best practices of fusing applied theater with digital storytelling to make the most of classroom learning.
My research evidence includes first-hand accounts from my students who explained why the process engaged them as learners and how it helped change their ideas of what they could accomplish in their lives.
Youth media educators can apply theater and media production to over-aged, under credited students—an important demographic—but also in any school as the goals are the same: to build classrooms that transgress, pursue critical dialogue, support a safe and accessible space for students to explore what ignites and confounds them and their place in society. Such classrooms emulate those envisioned by such scholars as Dewey, hooks and Freire. But the goal is not simply a classroom commitment to “educate” in an innovative way or even to achieve a rise in graduation rates. While those are important outcomes, our approach is fundamentally about valuing young people and their experiences and encouraging them to own and invest in their lives and communities when so many outside influences suggest the opposite.
An Applied Theatre approach to Digital Storytelling will be challenging to the youth media practitioner as it requires group building, acting, devising material, role play, and critical dialogue carefully integrated within a tight media pedagogy. We also know most teachers may not have opportunities to create these learning opportunities left unsupported in their classrooms; but, as alternative educators with access, we can utilize these tools to aid the classroom in becoming a transgressive and safe space that deeply engages story and personal development through theater and media.
Born in Brooklyn, NY, Christine L. Mendoza went to Educational Video Center (EVC) in New York City as a teenager. She returned to EVC after spending two years in Spain where she worked for the Consejeria de Educacion, and taught English using visual media as a facilitation tool. Christine received her Masters from the Comparative Ethnic Conflict Program at Queens University in Belfast and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BA in Media Studies from Hunter College. She has facilitated workshops at an international youth camp in Finland, to Protestant and Catholic youth in Belfast and in Johannesburg, South Africa. She has also interned at ABC News and BBC Northern Ireland. Christine is currently the co-director of the Youth Documentary Workshop and the director of Educational Research and Evaluation at EVC. In this interview, Christine draws connections between her personal experience and her vision of youth media for educators and students she now trains.
YMR: You participated in Educational Video Center (EVC)’s programs as a student, first a high school student then a college student. Now you work for the organization as a full-time staff member. What about your experience there drew you back in as an adult?
Christine L. Mendoza: EVC literally saved my life. When I was 15, I dropped out of high school and was out for a year. I went back to school at City-as-School, an alternative high school program. That’s where I learned about EVC.
EVC made school more relevant, and was exactly what I needed as an independent student who still needed some guidance. EVC provided a program that was part classroom, part workplace. I felt that I was given a lot of responsibility and that I was trusted. So many times before I had been told I was a failure, but the staff at EVC helped me find what I was good at, and supported me so I could succeed. I continued at EVC through the end of high school, and then into college. As a high school student, I participated in the Doc Workshop, and I transitioned into the YO-TV program when I started College. I was exposed to global issues because I was able to travel as an EVC media educator. Looking back, I can see that so many of my choices—from where to go to graduate school to what I want to do for a career—are thanks to my experience at EVC.
When I started at EVC in high school, I was living day by day and school was not one of my top priorities. From there, I became the first in my generation of my family to go to college. I have one older and one younger brother, and their lives have followed a different path which didn’t focus on education.
Because of the skills I developed at EVC and the emphasis they placed on education, I am able to be the person I never imagined I could be—a person that is really contributing to society. For this reason, I have returned to EVC as an educator and researcher—I want to pass on to a new generation of young people the confidence and skills that EVC gave to me.
YMR: What makes the EVC curriculum different from traditional school/educational curricula? Why does this appeal to you as an alumnus and educator?
Mendoza: EVC emphasizes engagement, literacy, and civic journalism. Young people have to be engaged in and like what they’re doing in order to be successful and to make a real difference.
Knowing that, EVC asks young people to create their own research questions and develop their own means for research, helping to support in realizing their vision. At the end of projects, the young people present their research to staff and community members, and their knowledge and insight are appreciated and valued.
I experienced this first hand while I was a student at EVC. The work that I was doing at EVC was project-based, relevant to me and my peers, and it was meaningful. I wasn’t sitting down and memorizing material for class. My learning was connected to something real, and something that would be helpful to the community in the future. I knew that the research I was doing and that the videos we were producing would help other people.
Because of the way EVC’s program worked, it became critical that I was there and that I worked every day. I never missed a day at EVC and I never missed a day of class at school because of EVC. I began to understand why school was relevant to me. When students find this connection for themselves, between a project they’re working on and school, it makes a big difference in the way they feel about school overall.
YMR: Describe a project you worked on that had a big impact on you.
Mendoza: The second video I worked on, through YO TV, was about the juvenile justice system in the United States. We wanted to tell the story of young people who were incarcerated, while showing the broader community issues that led to that moment in their lives. The message of the film was that incarceration doesn’t work because it creates a high level of recidivism and does not, in fact, reduce crime.
The film demonstrated that it’s the lack of resources in a community that lead to crime, and those who do commit crimes need better alternatives to incarceration.
The project had a huge impact on me at the time. We decided that as part of the research for the film, we would go to Rikers Island—New York City’s main jail complex—to better understand the experience of being there. We were given access to inside the Island. There, we interviewed prisoners, saw cells, and saw the church. While we couldn’t film these things, we were able to use the information we gained to create a portrait of that community.
The most notable part of that experience was the time I spent working with formerly incarcerated youth. As part of our reciprocal agreement with New York’s Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) program, we had to go into incarceration programs and teach film classes. My peer filmmakers and myself (all college students) created a curriculum, and did a series of four peer-to-peer workshops. Through the process of these workshops, the young people opened up and told their stories to the EVC students, and we shared stories with them. Not only was I personally impacted by their stories, but I discovered then that I enjoyed teaching and working with young people, and I decided I wanted to be a teacher.
YMR: How did your involvement with EVC impact your educational and career trajectory?
Mendoza: My work with EVC impacted my educational trajectory in a very concrete way. I graduated from undergrad with a major in media and a minor in sociology. I focused on written journalism because I had obtained a very good film education from my work at EVC and other community media outlets in NYC. My interest in sociology was spurred by the research I did for film projects at EVC.
I was exposed to international travel through my work at EVC, and that opened more doors for me after college. I went with EVC to Belfast, Ireland, to work with Catholic and Protestant youth on a project that would build bridges across religious divides through film. While there, I made connections with the University. I went back to those connections later, applied and was accepted to the Master’s program. I graduated with a Master’s in International Politics and Ethnic Conflict Resolution from the School of Politics, International Studies & Philosophy, and wrote my thesis on the education of new immigrants in divided societies. I looked specifically at Belfast and Quebec as case studies. Following that experience, I’ve been able to work with youth in South Africa, and most recently in Spain.
I have to say that staff at EVC was definitely influential in getting me on this path—more so than the curriculum itself. Torrance York, Steve Goodman, and the whole staff created a culture of acceptance and understanding. They were open to what I was going through, and supported me.
YMR: Do you see the potential to expand programs like EVC into the traditional school structure and school day?
Mendoza: Well, right now I am doing research to develop ways in which EVC’s educational model can be replicated in all high schools. I’m finding that there is a big difference between how things work at EVC, and how youth media programs work within high schools. This difference is mainly due to the fact that all students at EVC selected to be here, and the high school students at schools are sometimes brought into the program without the option. However, I’m finding that once the high school students get more involved in the EVC-style work at their high school, they get hooked. They see that they are allowed to work in the building in a way they can’t during the school day. They have ownership of the space and a new kind of authority. They feel more comfortable and this helps them engage.
I am continuing this work, to find out how we can best create an EVC microculture within traditional school spaces. We’re also developing innovative ways to tie EVC curriculum into the high school core curriculum. We have coaches working with history teachers and global studies teachers, but also hoping to partner with math teachers.
YMR: What would you encourage other youth media educators to do for their students, as a result of your life experience and work with EVC? Mendoza: I encourage all of my students to look toward outside opportunities and open their minds to bringing different kinds of people into their lives. I encourage my students to strive to be well-rounded and exposed to lots of different careers and ideas, to find something that they are really good at, and to travel. This could be as simple as getting out of your own borough. Right now, I’m working with a team of youth to do research on the Liberian population in Staten Island—a community of New York City that youth might never see otherwise.
I also encourage my students to be self-reflective about their learning. I see that this helps them get engaged. I ask them to write down their expectations for learning or for the project, and to revise the list every two weeks or so. This practice creates a kind of self-awareness of the learning process. I also encourage them to keep working and keep moving, so that they have no time for self-doubt.
Chrystian Rodriguez is a youth-producer-turned-media educator who currently works at Global Action Project (G.A.P.) in New York City where he writes curricula, develops community relationships, and works directly with a new generation of filmmakers. Since joining G.A.P. in 2004, Chrystian has facilitated a variety of programs with young people from different communities as well as identity groups. He has also devoted his time to co-organizing youth film festivals, coordinating and facilitating media literacy, production and political education programs locally and nationally; specifically, in conferences such as the Grassroots Media Conference, the Allied Media Conference and the United States Social Forum. Chrystian is also a pop-culture guru and has begun research on the subject in educational environments during his time spent as a fellow of the Youth Media Learning Network. He is also very obsessed with zombies.
With nine years of media education experience behind him, Chrystian reflects on his experience as a youth producer, his youth media genealogy and career trajectory, as well as his future goals to open his own youth media organization one day.
YMR: Your first experience with media production was a call-in TV show hosted by the MNN Youth Channel in New York City. What did you gain from this experience and how did it impact your next steps as a media producer and educator?
Chrystian Rodriguez: I had an early interest in connecting politics with media. It came about during a media class at my high school. It offered me a new way to understand what’s behind the media, its purpose and intentions. Even more than that, I started to think about the connection between filmmakers and what they are producing for an audience—what you want them to take away from the experience, the story, but also what you want your audience to take away about you as a filmmaker [and] your world view. My media class teacher took notice of my interests and recommended that I become a part of the MNN Youth Channel (YC); a youth media program within Manhattan’s public broadcast channel. And so, I began working as a volunteer supporting youth in production while exploring my own cinematic/broadcast interests.
I quickly moved from a volunteer to producer. I co-hosted a call-in TV show that critiqued current films and engaged young people in discussions about movies. Youth Channel staff recognized my ability to work collaboratively with other youth, beyond my technical skills, and so they asked me to become a peer trainer. Soon, I ran both technical and editing workshops for other YC participants. I enjoyed it but I was insanely shy, and so it was difficult for me because it was the first time I was in a leadership role and I needed to be able to facilitate and communicate in new ways.
YMR: Not long after, you transitioned to an executive producer role for “Defense Against Media Nonsense,” a role in which you taught yourself how to facilitate the production process with young people. In what ways did you grow through that experience? How did it change the way you view the world?
Rodriguez: Because the staff at YC was interested in my personal growth, they transitioned me out of the peer trainer position, and at age 18 I became the executive producer of a television show called “D.A.M.N. YC NEWS!?” (Defense Against Media Nonsense).” The experience was trial by fire and learning by doing and showed me that you have to grow into being an educator.
When I became responsible for producing—on my own—a 30-minute piece every two weeks, I quickly realized that the format was not going to appeal to a young audience. So I [led] a planning process with my YC peers. [The] vision and new format would soon be identified as an alternative youth news show. Being the point person was new to me—planning, coordinating committee meetings, and then managing production—and challenged me to bring my creative self to become an educator/media maker. Guiding the YC team [I had] to create a learning process for others. At this point there was no room for shyness.
YMR: Soon after you moved into an educator position at Global Action Project (G.A.P.). What were your first few years like? Did you find things that surprised, inspired, or intimidated you?
Rodriguez: I got exposed to NYC’s youth media landscape through the Urban Visionaries Youth Film Festival, which helped me build relationships with many organizations and learn from their different approaches and missions. That is how I got to the Global Action Project (G.A.P.), a youth media organization that works with young people most affected by injustice in order to build the knowledge, tools and relationships needed to create media for community power, cultural expression, and political change.
During the first few years working as an educator there, I developed a new perspective on youth media. I began to see that it wasn’t simply about the production process, but also about exploring identity and helping young people understand for themselves the ways in which they are affected or oppressed by media messages. Most importantly, I began to understand how media could be used as a tool for young people to think critically about the conditions that affect their communities and discover themselves politically.
The kinds of things that encouraged me at G.A.P. included stepping into a co-facilitator model, working in collaboration with another educator to bring our strengths and interests into the curriculum and our programs. A fundamental difference between co-facilitation and working alone is that, as a co-facilitator, you are in constant dialogue with another educator, negotiating facilitation style, communication, curriculum ideas, and hopefully, building best practices together. It also helps us become more accessible to the youth in the program because there are two adults to connect with. When it works, there is a stronger dynamic and peer analysis between facilitators about what young people need, what youth are bringing into the educational space, and how their experiences and knowledge can be incorporated into the media process. That also speaks to the popular education approach that G.A.P. uses.
There are two other things that I’ve been part of that have helped to shape my approach to this practice. First is that I play a key role in constantly revising and applying G.A.P.’s curriculum (http://curriculum.global-action.org), which means that I’ve taken on both staff development support for other media educators across the field through trainings and workshops. Most recently, I worked with folk to revise the structure of G.A.P.’s core framework. Specifically, we worked to make sure that we communicate through our curriculum both the oppressive and libratory potential of media. It’s the idea of praxis—that whenever there is oppression, there will also be people working for justice by identifying the challenge, taking action, assessing the outcomes, and following up on what’s next that can lead to a victory. For us, the key component is the media’s role in this process, for better or worse.
Personally, I have also worked to develop a way to include popular culture in an educational space. I’ve done this for two reasons:
1) Pop culture is a powerful force in shaping the way we think; and,
2) It is crucial to young people’s daily experience—they are immersed in it—so educators must unpack pop culture with youth in the work we do.
I believe that as educators, we need to support young people in deconstructing pop culture without taking the joy out of consuming it. I had the chance to explore this idea through my time as a Youth Media Learning Network fellow by developing a workshop called “reframing pop culture.” The workshop was designed to challenge the universal concept of the “every man” hero reflected in mainstream media. By repurposing characters from movies such as X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Matrix, unrepresented communities like immigrant youth experimented with rewriting and structuring narratives to include their own stories and histories.
As an educator, I am continually learning. For each young person, what he or she takes away from the media production process is unique. There’s no one approach, and no single outcome. I want to give young people some of what I gained through my experience learning media production and analysis at a young age.
YMR: Sometimes G.A.P. requires young people to have challenging or uncomfortable conversations in order to arrive at a new understanding of a social issue. Can you name one project that stands out to you as both trying and fruitful? What did you learn?
Rodriguez: G.A.P. does a lot of political education with youth in the process of making media and supports young people to think about media as a kind of political entity. This means that the workshops sometimes lead people into challenging conversations, as they understand the existing ideological and political components of media. In the beginning, there is often a lot of push back from the young people, particularly if they’ve never had these kinds of conversations before, as they start to see that the conditions they face are not random, but have histories and systems in place to sustain them. Everything is not always peachy. This is about critical thinking.
And while some conversations are difficult, they’re also invaluable. And as an educator/facilitator it’s important that you shape the space for these conversations to be productive and positive for the development of young people as individuals and as a working group.
For example, a few years back I co-facilitated a group that wanted to make a video examining the relationship between beauty standards and race. It invited a conversation about privilege among certain social groups and the lasting impact of colonialism on concepts of beauty closely related to Eurocentric standards. This was a challenging conversation to facilitate in a racially diverse group of youth who rarely get to talk to each other across race and identity about this kind of issue, especially for mixed race youth identifying as white.
The reason it was hard is not simply about “difference,” but exploring identity through history, and supporting youth to critically reflect on who they are. The result was Beauty and the Box, a sci-fi narrative that critiques media’s role in shaping beauty standards. And while the final piece is not explicitly about race and beauty to the extent our conversations were, the process was essential to informing the piece—who they cast as the hero, and the contrasting worlds they created. Their relationships and conversations went way beyond the video and advanced the critical thinking in their daily lives.
YMR: What would you say to a funder that asks why youth media programs are important for urban youth?
Rodriguez: By “urban youth,” do you mean youth of color who come from oppressed communities? If we’re talking about youth media in general, then it’s about providing tools for youth to represent themselves and their communities for the simple purpose of telling a story that is not often heard. It’s a way for youth to explore and “put their voice out there,” but that’s not all it can be. Not all youth media organizations are the same.
For example, at the Youth Channel I learned how to effectively develop and manage production for broadcast in a way that was youth-generated, and at G.A.P. we have a very specific social justice framework. So for a funder, these kinds of programs create ownership tied to youth history, experiences, and identities. And the reason why that’s important is because, as youth are immersed in mainstream media it affects their thinking and provides a space to question and build their analysis of the world. Ideally, it gives youth a way to align themselves with advocacy campaigns through the production of messages used for social justice.
YMR: What three things would you like every young person to walk away with after going through a youth media program?
Rodriguez: I would like young people to leave G.A.P. with the tools, resources and the knowledge to use media practices for their own use—whether or not ideologically motivated—to have access to a supported process of identity exploration. I’d like young people to understand that knowing themselves is a large part of the media production process and leave with the understanding that media is a large part of our culture and society shapes we do. I would like them to have a better state of mind about how to read the media that we’re fed every day, what we’re apt to understand as our reality, and be able to reflect, and question, and to have a critical distance from it.
[As educators, we must help youth] to understand a non-hierarchical model for media production—working collectively [as a] team to identify with and produce something that they can all connect with. When you build on an understanding about how work can happen in a non-hierarchical space, this can also directly be translated into our daily experiences in communication and working with other in our community.
YMR: What is your dream for the next ten years of your work in the youth media field?
Rodriguez: My dream for the next ten years? This is actually a question I asked myself not to long ago. I really want to be in a place where I will be working on my own media projects specifically connected to my ideological beliefs. I also want to extend my experience and knowledge as an educator, providing professional development workshops and/or presenting in lectures available for other educators. [One day, I’ll] create and manage my own youth media organization—a dream I aspire [to fulfill].
Letter from the Editor | Youth Media Reporter (Volume 4: Issue 5)
Welcome to YMR’s fifth issue of Volume 4 with a focus on “Investing in Youth Media.” As many of our readers know, YMR has been documenting the best practices and high points of the youth media field for over four years.
During this time, we have found that the most common challenge facing youth media programs in the U.S. today is identifying foundations to sustain investments of youth media programs. This sentiment has been echoed in national youth media surveys (see Kathleen Tyner/NAMAC), key reports, several articles published in YMR, in conversations at the 2009 Youth Media Summit (hosted by The McCormick Foundation and AED/YMR), as well as the “State of the Youth Media Field” white paper. (See also “Ten Nonprofit Funding Models,” Stanford Social Innovation review, Spring 2009).
With this in mind, in 2009 YMR staff reached out to approximately 40 funders to get a sense of the value they place on youth media. YMR asked funders to speak specifically to the six priority issue areas identified by key stakeholders in the field: Youth and Adult Leadership, Developing Strategic Partners, Research and Evaluation, Distribution, Curriculum, and Professional Development and Networks. At the time, with support from the McCormick Foundation, YMR staff were developing a Youth Media Investment Prospectus—a project that was later halted in response to the economic downturn and consequent shifts in foundation priorities.
For this issue of YMR, we re-approached funders to contribute a special issue that provides readers with a range of perspectives and insights in the youth media field, including: funders (The Stuart Foundation and The Stone Foundation); intermediaries (GFEM and NAMAC); and practitioners (Wide Angle Youth Media). Many thanks to our eight contributors:
• Clark Bell, Mark Hallett and Janet Liao, The McCormick Foundation
• Lin Ishihara, The W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation
• Susan Hayman Malone, Wide Angle Youth Media
• Alyce Myatt, Grantmakers for Film and Electronic Media
• Rhonnel Sotelo, The Stuart Foundation
• Jack Walsh, National Alliance for Media Arts & Culture
This issue’s return to the issue of youth media funding and sustainability reflects the increasing relevance of youth media practice in education and youth development. Without a doubt, youth media practice resonates with a variety of funding organizations.
Many funders agree that youth media programs are valuable because they engage youth as actors and creators, encourage youth interaction with their communities, engender a sense of social responsibility among youth, provide hard and soft skills that scaffold success in school, the work place, and in life, and contribute to a future heavily reliant upon media skills and social innovation. As Frank Baiocchi from the Polk Brothers (Chicago, IL) explains, “Media is a vehicle for young people to find their place within their community and get a better sense of their world. Through youth media, youth voices are heard on a variety of issues—including health, gender, LGBT, immigration—in order to debunk myths and fill in the gaps.”
Moreover, young people today require multiple forms of literacy—including media and visual literacy. Integrating youth media literacy in youth programs across issue areas would greatly change the social climate that young people operate within. As Alyce Myatt explains, we are in a “state of emergency.” Though these times produce rich soil for innovation, investments in youth media—despite its acute success in youth development and youth engagement—have suffered.
My personal suggestion to practitioners and investment stakeholders in the field is to visibility communicate on a broad scale the power of youth media as a strategic tool that unites and leverages multiple—if not all—issue areas. Youth media can make a major contribution to areas of health, education, environment, the economy, poverty/incarceration and inequity, and workforce readiness, to name a few. Funders who are serious about these issues must consistently make long-term investments in youth media rather than falling privy to funding “the next big thing,” an all too often short term gratification.
Youth media is a critical mechanism for defining culture, identity and representation in the 21st century. Foundations, schools, business and the Government can make a major difference in the future by focusing on scaling youth media for the long term. It is my hope that this issue of YMR informs and ignites a dialogue to propel the youth media movement forward, as amplified as our collective intended aim for youth voice.
We look forward to your comments regarding this issue. Our next and final issue in 2010 will focus on the successes of youth media alums and how youth media kick started their own movements.
Ingrid Hu Dahl
Editor-in-Chief, Youth Media Reporter
Youth Media Reporter is managed by the Academy for Educational Development
This issue of Youth Media Reporter is supported by:
The McCormick Foundation’s investment in youth journalism and news literacy programs helps students become more knowledgeable news consumers, perform better in school and develop into better-informed citizens. At the core of the youth media programs we support is journalistic inquiry—the craft of interviewing, fact-finding, fact checking. These initiatives focus on the importance of news to young people, the importance of the First Amendment in our democratic society and ways to discern reliable information.
One vivid example is Michael Mahaffy, a graduate of Hyde Park Academy on the South Side of Chicago. Born into a low-income family, dealing with a father battling drug addiction, Michael struggled in school, ended up falling into a rough crowd and got arrested. Fortunately, he found True Star, a program that provides Chicago youth the opportunity to learn media production, from magazine publishing to radio broadcast.
“I stumbled into a classroom one day after school and True Star people were in there. Honest to God, I was supposed to go pick up drugs to sell that day at 4 o’clock, but I never made it. I heard Ms. Deanna McLeary [executive director] say True Star pays students to learn. That’s all I needed to hear. To me, that sounded like all reward, plus the bonus of no risks involved,” Michael says. It turned out to be a life-changing decision.
Traditionally, the Foundation’s grant-making activities have been shaped by the life cycle of a journalist from mid-career training programs to senior news management leadership initiatives. After completing an intensive strategic planning process, we have embarked on a strategy of allocating resources to educating news audiences, with a primary focus in Chicago and selective efforts nationwide. We are seeing exciting and innovative models take root—from networks of youth media organizations to news literacy programs in after-school and in-school environments.
In this article, we will reflect on five promising trends that we are seeing in the youth media field and offer a look into the innovative, exciting projects that are helping to build the field.
Networks of Youth Media Organizations
In early 2007, the McCormick Journalism Program began convening 11 Chicago-based youth media grantees for intensive professional development and training. Led by hired consultants, youth media leaders convened and ultimately formed the Chicago Youth Voices Network (CYVN). Today, CYVN collectively trains more than 6,000 youth per year in intensive, sustained programming. With professional supervision, youth produce media on issues ranging from education to the environment, youth violence to community health. The collective audience for in-person showings of youth-produced work is in the tens of thousands; the online, radio and television audiences approach a million.
CYVN partners with more than 60 public high schools and scores of other nonprofit groups. More than 3,000 Chicago public school teachers and nonprofit staff benefit each year from resources provided by these groups or attend trainings that range from half-day workshops to journalism fellowships.
Parlaying CYVN’s success, McCormick provided seed funding in 2010 to launch the Youth Media Los Angeles Collaborative (YMLAC), a consortium of advocates for young journalists, connecting youth media producers to a vibrant web of mentors. The group recently launched a Web site that seeks to aggregate youth media resources and content from students, educators, professional journalists, non-profit agency trainers and members of advocacy and literacy organizations. The fledgling YMLAC, led by Cal State University Northridge professor Linda Bowen, has proven an invaluable coordinator for the thousands of youth in Los Angeles.
Content Production Collaborations
McCormick’s stewardship of the Chicago Youth Voices Network was elevated by grants of $60,000 from the Chicago Community Trust and $35,000 from the Rappaport Foundation to carry out a citywide project, NUF SAID, to survey, evaluate and report on the challenges faced by Chicago teens.
The project, which kicked off in January 2010, convened youth from eight CYVN youth organizations and provided training on creating polls, using social media to disseminate surveys and group reporting. More than 850 local youth responded to online polls on issues such as crime and violence, health, education, employment and the environment. Working together toward specific goals has further galvanized CYVN leadership and the benefits of this collaboration, said NUF SAID project coordinator Tom Bailey. “NUF SAID created space and time for cross-pollination among program staff and youth, to a degree that was not really possible before.” For instance, NUF SAID has brought together a group of about 75 CYVN youth and their adult coordinators four times during the first six months of the project. During each convening, youth and adults from various organizations worked together to help plan, shape and complete the project objectives. “This kind of collective authorship has brought the entire sector closer together,” Bailey said.
Partnering with Local Universities
Colleges and universities play a key role in convening journalism advisers, providing resources (technology and meeting space) and connecting with students on media production opportunities.
In Chicago, the journalism, media and communications programs at Northwestern, Loyola, DePaul and Roosevelt universities and Columbia College expanded their rich training programs to include teens in the communities they serve. Roosevelt University, in collaboration with the Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, organizes an annual High School Media Awards, which includes multimedia workshops for students and an adviser track for journalism students. More than 300 students and dozens of teachers participate each year in the spring event.
In Los Angeles, where McCormick has made selective investments in pilot youth journalism projects, the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California and the California State University school system are key players in convening and seeding needed journalistic collaborations among educators, community media organizations and mainstream media to ensure that scholastic journalism continues to have a place in public education in face of budget cuts. USC began offering a course in Teaching Journalism to High School Students, building off of a successful college journalism students/high school student mentorship modeled after its Intersections: The South L.A. Reporting Project.
Several of our YMLC partners are also working with the City Colleges of Los Angeles to expand training and resource networks. “We can all shortcut our time and efforts by reinforcing each other’s programs,” says Steve O’Donoghue, director of the California Scholastic Journalism Initiative. The Los Angeles-based initiative provides journalism training and resources to high school journalism advisers by partnering with local journalism and media organizations and involving local college and universities in creating much-needed networks of support.
Contributing to News Literacy
The sheer overpowering and overwhelming 24/7 news cycle leaves a growing sector of the U.S. population unprepared to fully distinguish or appreciate the difference of approaches among professional journalists, information spinners and citizen voices. In addition, the fragmentation of available news sources and digital advances in disseminating information serve to further exacerbate this situation. Schools are challenged to keep up with this onslaught of information in an environment where young people primarily consume their news online. Journalism and news literacy programs can provide:
• A frame of reference to distinguish fact from fiction, opinion or propaganda.
• An understanding of the First Amendment, the role of a free, independent media and the importance of journalistic values.
• A curiosity to seek information and better understand communities, country and international affairs.
The Urban Media Foundation (UMF) is one example of an after-school program that is taking news literacy education head-on by infusing multimedia journalism courses with practical modules that emphasize important financial and life skills.
Located in South Los Angeles, the youth program is housed at the offices of Our Weekly—a weekly paper covering the communities of South Los Angeles. In addition to multimedia reporting and writing courses, youth have the opportunity to take classes such as “Financial Literacy: Making Money Work for You” and “Green Reporter,” which emphasize using media skills to research and communicate project findings.
Measuring and Evaluating Success
It is crucial to have a framework for evaluating the impact of youth media programs. At McCormick, we are taking steps to build a learning community of grantees, other funders and experts in the field to share best practices.
Groups such as the News Literacy Project (NLP) and Stony Brook University (SUNY)—both featured in YMR’s News Literacy issue in June 2010—are creating benchmarks for evaluating the effectiveness of news literacy curriculum and sharing successful frameworks with others in the field.
The News Literacy Project has developed comprehensive pre-and post-testing, student and teacher surveys customizable for middle school and high school levels. Teachers can adapt the quiz for the specific grade level and ability of their students. The concluding performance task is intended to assess both the lessons learned and students’ understanding of the material.
In addition, NLP local staff attends presentations by journalists as well as NLP classes led by teachers. The goal is to help NLP participants improve their performance, according to NLP Executive Director Alan Miller.
Stony Brook is also in the process of designing and testing a new assessment tool for news literacy courses at the collegiate level. The pilot test was administered to Stony Brook students in 2008 and 2009. According to Marcy McGinnis, associate dean of the School of Journalism, preliminary results suggest that News Literacy education has three effects: increased voter registration, short-term increase in news consumption and increased ability to identify flaws in news reports.
Since 2005, the McCormick Foundation Journalism Program has invested more than $7.5 million in youth media. Our projects grapple not only with journalistic standards, critical thinking and free expression, but also ethic issues, information quality and digital citizenship.
Our key priority is to give people, especially youth, the tools to appreciate the value of quality news coverage and to encourage them to consume and create credible information across all media and platforms. We will continue down the path of building an informed citizenry by investing in quality news content, protecting journalistic rights and educating people to better appreciated the importance of news literacy.
Spotlight on Youth Voice
Youth media festivals are golden opportunities to showcase the work of youth and engage local media and train teachers on the importance of journalism and youth voice.
Check out the exciting youth media showcases and conferences happening in:
Young Chicago Authors
2010 Youth Media Conference: Whose Body is it?
Dec 11, 2010
High School News Literacy Summit
November 12, 2010
Youth Media Los Angeles Collaborative/USC
Youth Media Showcase
December 4, 2010
Clark Bell is the McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program Director. Clark, who joined the foundation in October 2005, oversees journalism grantmaking initiatives and shapes the program’s focus on critical issues facing the news media. Clark is a veteran reporter, columnist, editor, publisher and communications consultant. Prior to joining the McCormick Foundation, he was a managing director for American Healthcare Solutions, where he developed communications strategies for hospitals, medical foundations and technology firms.
Mark Hallett is a senior program officer in the journalism program of the McCormick Foundation. Mark joined the foundation in May 1995, and coordinates grantmaking in a number of areas, including youth journalism, free press, diversity in journalism, and First Amendment initiatives. He also has worked on conference and event planning, development of special initiatives, solicitation and review of proposals, project evaluation and foundation communications efforts. Prior to coming to McCormick, he was an editor at Safety + Health magazine, where he launched an international edition and researched, assigned and wrote stories on workplace safety and environmental issues. Mark has led workshops on nonprofit communications, internet-based research and Web site development, and has worked with several nonprofits to create their Web sites. He is an avid photographer and speaks fluent Spanish and Portuguese. He has traveled extensively and has lived in Mexico, Norway and Spain.
Janet Liao is a program officer in the journalism program of the McCormick Foundation. Janet, who joined the Foundation in May 2009, assists existing grantees with implementing and monitoring their projects and helps solicit and evaluate new journalism grant proposals. She guides grantmaking in a number of areas, including youth media, new media and journalism training, and works on conference development, program evaluation and developing new strategic initiatives. She joined the Foundation from Imagination Publishing, where she served as editor and project manager of customized media projects, including magazines, newsletters, advertorials, webcasts and online videos for Fortune 500 companies and associations.
About The McCormick Foundation Journalism Program
The McCormick Foundation believes there is nothing more critical to the vitality of a democracy than free, vigorous and diverse news media that provide citizens with information they need to make reasoned decisions. The Foundation’s Journalism Program invests in projects that enhance content, build news audiences and protect press freedoms. The McCormick Foundation, which honors the legacy of Robert R. McCormick, is one of the nation’s largest charities, with more than$1 billion in assets. Since 2005, the Foundation has invested more than $7.5 million in youth media programs since 2005.
About The W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation
The W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation concentrates its grantmaking in three program areas: early childhood development, education and youth development. It has an asset base of approximately $100 million and distributes $3.7 million in grants each year in Chicago, Boston, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area. The Foundation continues Mr. W. Clement Stone’s vision to change the world and make it a better place for this and future generations.
About Lin Ishihara
Lin Ishihara has been the Senior Program Officer at the Stone Foundation for four years. Prior to joining the Foundation, Lin worked in school settings and held leadership positions at several youth-focused organizations, including the Richmond District Neighborhood Center and San Francisco School Volunteers. She has served on numerous Boards and Advisory Councils including San Francisco Afterschool for All, Japanese Community Youth Council, San Francisco Beacon Initiative, and Northern California Grantmakers Family Philanthropy Exchange.
YMR: What has your experience been at The W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation with investing in youth media/youth development programs?
Lin Ishihara: Youth voice and broader social impact are the twin pillars of our youth development grantmaking. With this frame, we fund a number of youth organizing, youth-led social change and youth media programs. Stone is a small foundation; grants to fund direct services for youth would not go far. Youth media programs are a strategic investment because they build youth skills and have a larger impact.
Grantees like Youth Communication, Educational Video Center and Youth Radio exemplify how to work with youth to develop deeply resonant stories that influence public perspectives and policy maker decisions about issues important to young people. The Foundation also supports programs that build capacity within the field. Youth development organizations are mostly small, independent entities with thin infrastructure and small budgets; the work of groups like Community Network for Youth Development—which strengthens capacity around effective staff practices and program quality—is vital.
YMR: From your point of view, what does the funding landscape look like? What are investors interested in and what overall trends do you see?
Ishihara: There are two big issues. First, the funding pot has not grown since the shrinkage of 2008 and 2009. Many funders (Stone included) are making smaller grants and many are not considering new grantees. Every nonprofit requires a few new funders each year just to stay afloat. For most foundations, the overall budget picture for 2011 is not yet clear. It is likely to continue to be a precarious time for grant seekers.
Second, in this time of scarce resources, organizations must be able to show and convincingly talk about results. Youth media and youth development organizations are doing a better job of collecting data on the impact of their programs; for example, increased engagement, technical skills development, and improved communication skills.
There is growing pressure for all groups working with youth to demonstrate impact on student achievement. Despite this pressure, youth media and youth development organizations need to be careful not to get sucked into claiming academic outcomes if they are not providing services that directly address academics.
YMR: From your point of view, why aren’t funders interested in investing dollars in youth media?
Ishihara: There is a continuing mis-perception that youth media is simply putting a camera or microphone in young people’s hands and sending them off to capture a story. It may seem loose rather than rigorous. Funders may not understand the high level of skill building involved in youth media—technical, critical literacy, research and analysis. There is also a need for more funder education about youth media’s multiplier effect—that the impact of a youth’s work ripples out to peers, educators, parents and community.
YMR: Can you share some highlights from your 2006 meeting of Youth Development grantees that resulted in the report: Learning From The Field?
Ishihara: We believe it is important to listen to our grantees, to learn from their experiences so we are smarter about how to better support their work in ways beyond the grant. In 2006, we gathered our youth development grantees from across the country for a one-day session in San Francisco. Grantees talked about what they were struggling with, what they were learning, and what was next on their agenda. It was a terrific gathering of leaders doing exceptional work with young people.
The need for more support around capacity building was unquestionably the big issue of the day. Grantees said they wanted help with planning, marketing and infrastructure needs that never get funded. We also noted a real hunger for more opportunities to connect with and learn from peers.
As a result of the convening—and our trustees’ responsiveness to what grantees said they needed—in two short months we launched a new grants program, which we implemented for two years. Grantees could apply for up to $20K for capacity building—a small amount that made a big difference. These grants supported strategic planning, website development, fundraising, and documentation of curriculum that was largely on scraps of flip chart paper.
In 2009, we had to put these capacity building grants on pause because of the decrease in our budget and the decision to focus on general operating and program grants. We hope to re-start these grants when more funding is available.
YMR: What recommendations do you have for practitioners in the field who seek new investors and new stakeholders, outside those that already support youth development/youth media?
Ishihara: First, ask your current funders to open doors to other funders. Your current funders know your work and believe in it. They are terrific credibility builders with peers in philanthropy. Be specific about the kind of assistance you want; for example, you might ask: “Would you be wiling to email XYZ Foundation and introduce our organization?” Or, “Would you look over our prospectus and advise us how to strengthen it for a foundation audience?”
Second, look at funders that are supporting similar organizations. This provides a more concrete window into grantmaker priorities. Grant funding is about the intersection between the priorities of the funder and goals and activities of the grantseeker. If your program and the foundation priorities are not a close fit, I do not recommend wasting time on a proposal.
Third, there are few foundations that have youth media as an explicit funding category. Therefore, you need to widen the lens of your funder research to funders that support youth leadership, youth development, civic engagement, and the arts—areas that intersect with youth media.
Fourth, it is odd to say this to youth media organizations, but be ready to tell your story—your strategy, implementation and results—in a clear, compelling and concise manner. Attention is fleeting so you need to communicate with confidence, passion and command the facts. It is a plus if you can talk about what you are learning, revealing the questions you are asking, your level of analysis and how you are making adjustments to the program.
About Wide Angle Youth Media
Wide Angle Youth Media is a nonprofit that provides Baltimore youth with media education to tell their own stories and become engaged in their communities. Through after school programs, community events, an annual Youth Media Festival, and youth-run television show, Wide Angle strives to make media make a difference. In 2009-2010 Wide Angle trained more than 500 youth in critical thinking, public speaking, and media production, sharing their stories and messages with more than 20,000 people in the Baltimore Metro area. Wide Angle works with youth ages 11-15 through their Baltimore Speaks Out! Program and youth ages 15-20 through their Mentoring Video Project and Youth Festival Committee Programs.
About Susan Hayman Malone
Susan is the executive director of Wide Angle Youth Media. Embarking on the agency’s second decade of groundbreaking youth media programming in Baltimore with a re-invigorated focus on youth voice, Malone intends to build new avenues for Wide Angle’s program and media distribution to regional and national audiences. Susan has been with Wide Angle since 2003; first, as the program manager, where she developed effective youth programming, assembled new financial funding networks, and managed the dynamic day-to-day activities of the growing organization. Malone graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art with a BFA in photography and has been working in the Baltimore art community for the past 13 years. Susan’s experience includes a mix of both private and public creative experience at organizations such as Mission Media, Photoworks, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. firstname.lastname@example.org.
YMR: What new innovations has Wide Angle begun to increase investment in programs?
Susan Hayman Malone: Fee-for-service programming now accounts for 30% of our budget and 50% of those dollars support our core programs. Donor and corporate relationships are very important to us, and we work directly with individuals to invite them into our organization, to build a network of relationships between their friends, families, Wide Angle staff, and one another.
Building ongoing strong partnerships with public, private and other community stakeholders has also been instrumental to our program support. Over the year, we have built strong ties to our local government agencies including the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute, and Baltimore City Public Schools. Thanks to these unique relationships we are able to leverage dollars and program exposure to larger audiences.
YMR: What current, unique funding streams does Wide Angle have?
Malone: We have an individual donor that has been supporting Wide Angle Youth Media’s Mentoring Video Project (MVP), an advanced media production internship and youth development program for Baltimore City youth that takes place over the course of an academic year with off-site video production and field trips taking place throughout the city.
This particular donor has been an advocate and supporter of media reform. We first met with the donor at a round table to review opportunities for media distribution in Baltimore, which was funded in part by the Betty Lee & Dudley P. Diggs Memorial Fund of the Baltimore Community Foundation. Afterwards, we continued animated conversations about the role of media in the lives of young people, and brought the donor into our family to experience our work first hand. Since attending our screenings, visiting the workshops, speaking with our youth, this passionate donor made a five-year commitment to support a specific program MVP. As most organizations experience, multi-year funding is rare these days. Thanks to this type of support we were able to leverage funds from additional sources, providing a system for ongoing programmatic support.
YMR: What has your experience been in fund development for Wide Angle in the last year? What trends are you seeing?
Malone: We are seeing a trend where foundations are supporting nonprofits who engage in social enterprise efforts to bring dollars into the agency. To align our mission with this trend we have partnered with the school system to provide additional in-school and out-of- school programming as a fee–based program that we facilitate.
City funding for after-school programming is being reframed into out-of-school time, thus encouraging nonprofits to develop year-round programming to include summer opportunities and jobs for youth. This means that nonprofits must offer additional programming to maintain city-funding sources.
Lastly, we are seeing a slow movement where city agencies or foundations are supporting organizations that provide workforce development opportunities for young people, especially those who are associated with the Department of Juvenile Justice or in foster care services.
YMR: How might you convey to new funders that investing in youth media is a major return in investment?
Malone: As a youth media organization we are inherently enthusiastic about our work, but my job is to channel that passion into tangible opportunities for our donor(s) to connect with the young people we serve. By cultivating long-term relationships with funders they meet and discover the unique individuals you serve and together you will build a network of. The multi-year commitment is not for everyone, this type of relationship takes time, energy and commitment from both parties. But if you build this type of relationship you, the donor, and the youth, will experience a different type of philanthropy, a real return on everyone’s investment. In the end, the funder will see programs strengthen, they will witness stories that change communities, and they will observe students achieve life long success.
The key to youth media investment is the word “long-term.” For example, at Wide Angle young people join our Baltimore Speaks Out! Program at 11 years of age, and many stay with us through high school and beyond. When funders make multi-year commitments, they are able to witness individual growth, and see the impact their funding has on each unique participant.
The students in programs like ours do not just gain technical media skills. They grow into interesting, expressive and successful young people who emerge from the shadows of shyness and walk out onto a stage, confident in front of audiences in everyday life. They build workforce skills to prepare them for jobs and college; and, they grow into creative thinkers, encouraging their friends to contribute to raising youth voice in Baltimore. Such outcomes come from the overall health and wellbeing of our organization, the youth we serve, and from caring funders who make long-term commitments.
YMR: How do you pitch Wide Angle to a variety of different and new funders?
Malone: Understanding the priorities and goals of any new potential funding source is the most important first step, before determining if an income stream is right for you and your programming.
Maintaining diverse funding streams involves staying focused on our mission while exploring how new funding opportunities can support our overall goals and successfully build a sustainable funding base.
At Wide Angle Youth Media, first, we research development options to make sure a foundations’ goals align with our mission. Then, we build our case around the language in their focus/strategic area. For example, many funders in Baltimore prefer to focus on youth development or leadership skill building—key elements to our work.
Academic perspectives from our University partners are helpful when we prepare grant proposals for Humanities Based Funding, and business insights from local business leaders are helpful when pursuing corporation sponsorships or foundation support from a business. The ebb and flow of language is quite different if a donor prefers amplifying youth voice or advocating for a specific movement.
YMR: What are some next steps for Wide Angle?
Malone: As we embark on the next decade of youth media programming in Baltimore we will continue to focus on amplifying youth voice locally and nationally. We will accomplish this by building integrated youth media curricula for in and out of school time programs, and supporting young people as they build workforce skills so they can discover life long success.
Our charge is to find sustainable sources of income, develop business models for the social entrepreneurial work we offer, while staying true to our mission. Our biggest challenge is to grow and build a budget that both supports our staff in a comprehensive way so that our team can focus on the programs they operate, and, find equipment and software dollars to continue to bring new technologies to all the youth we serve.
About Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media (GFEM)
GFEM is an association of grantmakers committed to advancing the field of media arts and public interest media funding. GFEM serves as a resource for grantmakers who fund media content, infrastructure, and policy, those who employ media to further their program goals as well as a collaborative network for funders who wish to learn more about media.
GFEM seeks to increase the amount and effectiveness of media funding by foundations and other funders and the use of media in grantmakers’ and grantees’ work. GFEM intends to raise the broader foundation community’s understanding of current media policy and trends, affecting funders’ work in the larger grantmaking community. Recently, GFEM created a database where youth media grantseekers can upload their projects and where funders interested in supporting projects can find initiatives to meet their funding criteria. Check out: www.media.gfem.org.
GFEM’s aim is to deepen the field of media funding by providing programs and services for colleague grantmakers. GFEM facilitates collaboration and idea sharing among media grantmakers and leaders in the field and works to increase the amount and quality of data available on trends in media funding. For more see: www.gfem.org/about and www.gfem.org/media_issues.
About Alyce Myatt
Alyce Myatt has served as executive director of GFEM since 2006. Prior to GFEM, she was a multimedia consultant providing analysis and strategic planning services for independent media organizations and the philanthropic community. In that capacity she has had a client base that included the Council on Foundations, the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC), the Women Donors Network, the Center for Digital Democracy, Free Speech TV, MediaWorks, OneWorld TV, Emerson College, TVE Brasil, the Heinz Endowments, and the Annie E. Casey and Skillman Foundations. Prior to her return to consulting, she was Vice President of Programming for the Public Broadcasting Service overseeing independent film, PBS Kids, and the Ready To Learn initiative. Alyce has been a program officer for media at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and president of her own consulting firm that provided program development services, strategic planning, and brand management to a variety of clients in television, radio, and for the Internet. Her production credits include the Smithsonian Institution, Nickelodeon, and the ABC News magazine “20/20.”
YMR: What is the Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media’s vantage point on the current funding landscape?
Alyce Myatt: We live in a media saturated environment. Media has the ability to influence. At GFEM, we believe that the philanthropic sector has a role to play in policy making. Because media is not being perceived by most of the sector as a primary issue of concern it is often not funded to the degree of other issue areas like health and human services and education. However, Funders can be more effective in solving the issues they prioritize by supporting and using media as a key strategy.
YMR: From your point of view, what does the funding landscape look like? What are investors interested in and what overall trends do you see?
Myatt: Recently, GFEM did a presentation with Joi Ito, head of Creative Commons, asking where he thought the most strategic areas to invest were. He said he thought there should be greater investment in young people, particularly in areas of conflict as an activity to move them away from more dangerous activities. Technology can be used for good or ill. If foundations more actively engaged youth in conflict areas (domestic or international) they would have an opportunity to spark innovation in young people.
For example, Ushahidi, a crowdsourcing web site that identified locations of conflict in Kenya, connected concerned individuals around the world. Within three years, the application has expanded and evolved to identify not only places of conflict, but where food, water and medical supplies were located during the Haiti devastation, areas where the oil spill was washing up on shore in the Gulf, and many other examples across Europe and Africa. This project/application began as a volunteer effort and is now supported by funders and governments investments.
The political climate, coupled with innovations in the media sector, has increased funders’ awareness of media; as a result, they are actively learning how to use and support it. Media runs the gamut—it includes everything from social issue documentaries and narrative films, to investing in new media/social media tools (such as applications for mobile phones).
YMR: Why or why aren’t funders interested in investing dollars in media?
Myatt: Some of the reasons that I hear from funders who are not funding media are primarily based on myths and assumptions—for example, it costs too much money to fund (“hundreds of thousands of dollars”), which is not true. Small investments are equally important. We recently spoke to a documentary filmmaker and her first investment was $500. That was enough to get her started.
It is important to note that even though anyone can go out to a BestBuy, purchase a Flip video camera and install Final Cut Pro on a laptop—that is not what we are talking about. Not everyone can tell a well-crafted story.
Media making is littered with failure. But to support those who are making an important, well-crafted story—one that can make significant change—is a critical opportunity for investors.
Funders cannot simply leave media to “other” funders to support, just because your area of focus is poverty or health. Media is a component that greatly adds to and advances the solutions to all issue areas.
Media is also extremely important when we try to address issues of marginalized communities such as women and communities of color. Workforce, pay and health disparities are just some issues that place these communities at a disadvantage.
Because of its power, the absence of women and people of color in the media is actually perpetuating stereotypes. Similarly, smart and engaged youth are absent in the media, which increases the social assumption that youth do not care or, even worse, that they are a threat. Commercial media picks up on these stereotypes, which permeate and causes tremendous damage. Gangsters, bitches and hos—these stereotypical and constructed images in the mainstream are frightening. Consequently, because of their perceived threatening power, they encourage disaffected youth to aspire to these archetypes.
YMR: What does the funding landscape look like, specific to Youth Media?
Myatt: A single major investor in the field—as we have had in the past—does not exist now. When I was a program officer at MacArthur back in 1999, we had a specific youth media initiative through our community-based media arts center. When MacArthur phased-out funding in this area, Open Society Institute picked up the mantel until 2005/2006.
Now, family foundations are supporting youth media in their localities. The NEA and local governments do what they can to support youth media. Many youth media organizations are partnering with one another for group funding. Collaborative efforts such as these are extremely useful while allowing each organization to maintain its’ individuality.
YMR: What are some key takeaways in the recent GFEM report “Funding Media, Strengthening Democracy: Grantmaking for the 21st Century”?
Myatt: We can make a substantive impact in the sector if we address three issues.
First, there is no way to calculate how many philanthropic dollars are going into media (or anything else, for that matter). All information needs to be readable by machines. Therefore, grants and grant reports should be in an open system and calculated in real time. We need to know how much money is going into media and how much is going into youth media in order to effectively identify gaps, overlaps and new opportunities.
Second, regardless of what one is funding, eventually, media is always involved. Media is a strategy and an important tool for all strategies and critical issue areas.
Third, grant making must become more collaborative. If we are serious about significant social change, we must be open and transparent within the sector and not take a propriety stand when funding a particular area.
Referring to Patricia Zimmermann’s book entitled States of Emergency: Documentaries, Wars, Democracies, multiple sectors are currently in states of emergency; in fact, extreme states of emergency. In terms of media, philanthropy should be ahead of the curve. Too often I hear funders talking about incorporating the uses of Twitter and Facebook when instead, they need to be involved in the next iteration of social networking tools. In this regard, Philanthropy is moving too slow.
YMR: What recommendations do you have for practitioners/educators in the field who seek investors?
Myatt: While it might be obvious to talk with funders who already support media, I would also recommend meeting with funders interested in supporting education, workforce development, community development, and other areas that an effective youth media program could strengthen.
The role that youth media can play in the overall education of a young person is key. Basic literacy skills—in addition to media and visual literacy—can be an assumption of youth media if it is structured well. All of our concerns about the education of youth can be addressed through a comprehensive, well-crafted youth media program that develops cognitive and socio-emotional skill sets.
Further, media skills are 21st century skills and require a proficiency in audio and video content for multiple-media platforms. Every company, agency, service organization—even shops, stores, and restaurants—typically have web sites that require content design and consistent maintenance. Media/communications is at the heart of the 21st century industry.
Media is so pervasive and kids are so well versed in media (mobile applications, social media, etc). It is the adults who are behind the curve. Adults need to better understand how to develop media applications that enhance the skill development of young people. Youth media is an important model that starts where young people are (rather than where they are not comfortable) where they can engage with tools that are important to their future and that of the next generation.
About The Stuart Foundation
The Stuart Foundation, located in San Francisco, Calif., is dedicated to the protection, education and development of children and youth and works to ensure that all children grow up in caring families, learn in vibrant and effective schools, and have opportunities to become productive members of their communities. The foundation focuses its investments in California and Washington.
The Foundation partners with selected organizations that:
• develop and disseminate innovative programs and practices
• contribute to effective public policy to improve conditions for children and youth
• support and develop the potential of young people
In turn, the Stuart Foundation dedicates time, money, expertise and advocacy to each partnership. Many of their partnerships are long-term, and some have spanned over a decade of successful collaboration.
About Rhonnel Sotelo
Rhonnel Sotelo oversees implementation of grantmaking strategy, directs the management of the foundation’s grants, and oversees all of the Foundation’s daily operations. Rhonnel also continues to direct the foundation’s initiatives for community schools and youth development.
Prior to joining the Stuart Foundation, his nearly two decades of experience included directing The San Francisco Foundation’s West Oakland Initiative and Multicultural Fellowship Program, and owning and operating Urban Works in Seattle. Trained as an urban planner, Rhonnel focused the firm’s community planning and design work to assist neighborhoods, nonprofits, and small towns on livable communities in the Pacific Northwest and California.
Rhonnel holds a Master of Arts in Urban Planning and a Bachelor of Arts in English, both from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is a member of The San Francisco Foundation’s Koshland Committee for Civic Unity, sits on the Advisory Board of the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Youth Truth Project, and has served on several committees and task forces for the National Coalition for Community Schools. He lives in Oakland, Calif. with his wife, Chris, and their two daughters, Quin and Kate.
YMR: What has your experience been at The Stuart Foundation with investing in youth media / youth development programs?
Rhonnel Sotelo: It has been powerful and extremely influential in how we have shaped the Foundation’s overall strategy. Our board and staff have had the distinct honor of experiencing firsthand the transformative power of experiential and project-based learning, which has been most exemplified by our work in youth media.
In many ways, it has taught us the importance of having the principles of youth development present in lives of children and youth in their classrooms, home life, and communities. When you look at our schools and neighborhoods throughout the country, it is very clear that the engagement of young people precedes any conversation we have about their achievement. Youth development has a role to play in public education, neighborhood revitalization, and community health. These 21 “Promise Neighborhoods” that just received grants from the United States Department of Education need to make it a central piece of their planning efforts.
YMR: From your point of view, what does the funding landscape look like? What are investors interested in and what overall trends do you see?
Sotelo: For the better part of this decade, the Stuart Foundation has provided a great deal of support for the field of youth development. Since 2003, the Foundation has made more than 180 grants totaling nearly $15 million in support of youth media, college success, and experiential-learning opportunities.
Since the adoption of our strategic plan in2008, the Foundation has gradually decreased its funding to a select few organizations in youth development. We continue to fund in the field because we believe it has a great deal of knowledge to impart on our nation’s public education systems.
Youth development funders are changing course and now funding public education—a recent pendulum shift by the greater funding community.
YMR: From your point of view, why or why aren’t funders interested in investing dollars in youth media?
Sotelo: Results—that goes both ways. The most ardent youth development funders know and value the impact of youth-media programs—strong, caring relationship with adults and peers, pathways to career and life success, power of youth voice, more positive social norms, and meeting high expectations. They are comfortable with the type of impact youth media programs create and celebrate them.
Those who are more skeptical require more outcomes. They need to understand the contribution, or more unrealistically the attribution, of program service delivery on the youth they serve. Some might want results to impact education or community development that likely are one or two degrees of separation from program purposes. The youth-media field, as a whole, needs to strategically communicate its value and power on meeting the needs of young people.
FACT: Youth media has important institutional knowledge that has implications for other fields.
ACTION: Partner to share knowledge. Public education is one area that could benefit youth media partnerships.
FACT: Youth media has value and power to meet the needs of young people.
ACTION: Communicate this widely as a field and individually.
FACT: Youth media organizations tend to be self-centered.
ACTION: Encourage funders to support conventions, capacity building, networking, and research for the field as well as communicate the value of youth media with other grantmakers.
YMR: What recommendations do you have for practitioners/educators in the field who seek new investors and new stakeholders, outside those that already support youth development/youth media?
Sotelo: Owning your outcomes and results are key. This comes in multiple forms. It could be through rigorous program evaluation. It could be through quality strategic communications. It could be through strong articulation of mission, vision, and values by an organization’s board, staff, and students.
Continuing to seek partnerships, collaborations, and influence in other fields such as public education, health, foster care, and community development are also critical for youth development and youth-media organizations. The opportunity is there today to make in-roads through efforts such as community schools, choice neighborhoods, and promise neighborhood efforts.
For example, the Youth Speak! Collective, a digital media arts and multidiscipline youth development organization in Los Angeles, is a key organization in a community schools collaborative in the City’s Pacoima neighborhood. Youth Speak! Collective not only provides outstanding services to the most disengaged youth, its Executive Director plays a central role in the leadership of the collaborative.
Similarly, Reel Grrls in Seattle has done an amazing job of building and growing their organization by partnering with other nonprofits, local schools, and county agencies. Through these partnerships, they are able to provide real-world experiences and client projects for their students.
One final word of advice—utilize your existing funders for field-focused support beyond grant. Some of the ways funders can support these efforts are sponsoring convenings, research, and/or making introduction to other funders