This Is Your Brain on Media

A recently released study by the Kaiser Family Foundation prompts USA Today to explore whether kids’ media multitasking affects their concentration, or even their brain development. The director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston points out “There are few ‘media literacy’ programs in schools to help children sort out advertising claims and understand how media can affect them.” Sounds like prime time for youth media organizations to make their case for why they need funding to teach media literacy.

The “Rescue” Dilemma

brothels150.jpgI run a nonprofit in Oakland, California, that teaches teens music and filmmaking. One of the first youth I worked with—I’ll call him Damon—was homeless and had spent over a year living with his family in a four-door sedan. Sixteen years old, his ankles were swollen from sleeping upright and he rarely got the chance to wash his clothes or take showers. The only money his mother received to provide for him and his sister was public assistance through her boyfriend. Needless to say, it wasn’t enough for them to live on, so Damon and his sister sold candy at school and on the streets.
My staff and I knew that the kids could get help at a children’s shelter, and we told Damon this, but it was something the family would not consider. They loved each other deeply and said they would rather live in hard circumstances than be split up. Whenever a social worker caught wind of their situation, they’d drive outside county lines for a week, to hide.
My staff struggled to figure out what we could and should do. We didn’t want to sit passively by while Damon and his sister suffered. But we also knew that the kids were not being abused and it wasn’t our job to decide what was best for the family. In the end, we sometimes took the family’s clothes home to wash them. We also gave Damon pocket money for meals and called social workers to learn more about their options. We often struggled with the frustration that we were not doing enough. Other times we wondered if we were taking charge too much by encouraging them to seek the kind of help we thought they needed.
Most of us who work with youth have lost some sleep over dilemmas like this. Last month, Hollywood learned a little about these kinds of struggles when a documentary film about a youth media artist made it to the Oscars—and won.
Born into Brothels is a must-see for everyone, but especially for those of us working in the youth field. Not only does it do a great job of celebrating youth media, it also raises the kind of ethical issues that come up when you’re working with kids in challenging environments. The challenges are magnified for the movie’s star and co-director, Zana Briski, because the kids she works with are young—under the age of 14—and because she is a British-Canadian photographer and filmmaker working in India. Watching Briski negotiate her work with the kids through a translator and strict societal rules is fascinating. I only wish the ethical issues Briski encounters—the ones that make youth work so nuanced and tricky—had been better examined.
Briski went to Calcutta to photograph prostitution. She wanted to capture the red-light district’s people, their relationships and their struggles. But Briski had trouble photographing the adult workers in the trade. Understandably the women, their husbands, and johns were suspicious about her intentions.
As is often the case, the kids were the ones most willing to set aside their suspicions and explore their curiosity. In this instance, their curiosity was Briski—a white, well-intentioned foreign woman from a comparatively privileged background—and the cameras and photography lessons she offered them.
With cameras in hand, Briski’s young students embarked on an amazing journey as photojournalists and cultural anthropologists. The kids’ intimate and playful portraits of their family, friends, and neighbors surpass what Briski had initially sought to accomplish herself. Briski had wanted to capture an authentic portrayal of the red-light district, but the kids’ views on their own lives seem far more moving and irreplaceable than what any adult could have documented. I loved this. It captured what many of us working with youth in media regularly preach—that kids possess unique lenses on life that are worth sharing with others.
Born into the Brothels also shows how transformative and empowering it can be for kids and teens to share their stories through art. One of the talented youth, Avijit, is flown to Amsterdam to participate in an international youth photo exhibit. When you hear Avijit’s sophisticated critique of a photo in Amsterdam, you can’t help but get swept up, wondering how far the cameras and Briski can take the seven kids she works with.
But it disturbed me to watch Briski fall into a trap common to youth work, and never quite realize it is a trap. Briski assumed that she knew what was best for the kids. That assumption remained dangerously unchallenged throughout the film.
To be fair, Briski does acknowledge in the film that she’s not a social worker, yet she seems to forget that once she becomes invested in the kids’ lives. Though Briski is clearly a temporary presence in the children’s world—and though she comes from a different cultural background and does not fully understand the subtleties of their situation—throughout the film she seems to feel justified in trying to “rescue” the kids by pulling the young photographers away from their families for a life they know little about.
She sees getting the kids in boarding school as the first step to preventing them from becoming prostitutes themselves. But it’s hard for her to get them into the schools—either the schools don’t want the kids of prostitutes, or they demand that she jump through loopholes to enroll them. Curiously, Briski does not involve the kids’ parents in this process until she authoritatively informs them that their kids are expected to leave for boarding schools imminently. Is this because they are prostitutes and we are expected to assume they don’t care for their children?
The frustrations of trying to rescue the children mount for Briski, and towards the end of Born into Brothels, she is filmed in a taxi complaining over her cell phone, “I’ve done all that I can do…I’ve done all that I’m willing to do.” Avijit is sitting next to her, unaware of her admission.
Watching this, I felt compassion for Briski’s incredible efforts trying to help the kids, and I well understood her desire to do so. But as a youth worker I also found it troubling that someone can assume this kind of authority in a young person’s life knowing that she won’t always be able to support the kids on the path she sets them on. Yet the movie portrays Briski’s efforts to place the kids in schools as the actions of a savior, never exploring whether Briski’s assumption that she knew how to save the kids was correct or naïve.
In the end, Briski places four of the seven kids in schools. By the time the film was completed, only one of the four youth she had placed remained in school. I was left with many questions. Does Briski consider her work done and complete with these youth? How available is she to them today? Do we really understand the relationships these kids have with their mothers, the hopelessness of their lives, and their sadness? What did Briski learn about her attempts to save them? Would she do it again?
In the end, we should applaud Briski not for her attempts to “rescue” the youth, but for her understanding that young people possess so much ability to articulate their worlds and communicate their fears and hopes through art. Briski may be still learning about her limitations as a youth worker, but she does get how important it is to listen to kids’ perspectives, and how much the world can benefit from hearing those viewpoints—she founded a youth media nonprofit organization called Kids With Cameras. So however problematic the film is, Briski has clearly caught the youth bug. She also snagged an Oscar. Not bad.
Ken Ikeda is the founder and executive director of Youth Sounds, a media and arts organization in Oakland, California, serving youth ages 14-20 through programs in video and music production. He has worked the midnight-to-8-a.m. shift as a street outreach worker for the Department of Homeless Services in New York City, and has been a community organizer and an education policy analyst. He is a graduate of Columbia University, where he majored in anthropology, and a former doctoral candidate in Education Anthropology at Stanford University before taking an indefinite leave to begin Youth Sounds. The curriculum and principles of ethnography and storytelling in Youth Sounds are informed by his work and studies.

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On a Mission

amyplotch_150.jpgMarketing expert Amy Sutnick Plotch has developed branding programs, national product launches, and advocacy campaigns, and has worked with dozens of nonprofits to develop communications programs that improve fundraising. Plotch recently talked with Youth Media Reporter about how sharpening a youth media outlet’s mission prepares it to respond to national events of global significance, like last fall’s elections.

Q: How can defining a media organization’s mission help it determine its audience and what kind of stories to cover?

A: For a corporate media company like the New York Times, their mission is to make money for their stockholders. So they have to come up with stories that will both attract viewers and interest advertisers.
For youth media organizations with a clear mission, they need to figure out which audience can help them achieve their mission and what that audience needs to know about and learn from the media outlet in order to support the mission.
Say the organization is committed to promoting youth activism. If their mission was to enable adults to understand young people better, then they could reach out to adults.
If they want to get young people involved in social change, then they’d reach out to young people. They would want to cover the issues that young people might be interested in, whether that’s the environment or education, but it probably wouldn’t be social security. They’d probably want to cover young people who are already involved and taking on leadership roles so their audience would know what organizations to contact if they themselves wanted to get involved.

Q: How does defining a mission and audience help an organization know how to respond to events of global significance, like the elections?

A: There are so many different ways you could cover the election and you can’t do it all because you can’t stretch yourself too thin. You can use your mission to guide you to decide what are the stories you want to get and what are the stories that will be very helpful to your audience and would be really valued by your audience.
Once you’re clear about your mission, it also becomes easier to find the funders that will support it. When you look at the plethora of funders out there, it helps you make the right cut if you’re clear about your mission and your goals.

Q: Many youth-made media organizations have more than one audience—for instance, some of what one outlet produces might be intended for an adult audience, some for a teen audience. Is it important for an organization to stick to one audience?

A: An organization will have one mission statement, but many different audiences might be affected by that mission statement, and there might be more than one audience whose support you might need. So you can have many different audiences.
From a marketing standpoint, you want all of these different audiences to see your organization the same way. Public television is a great example of that. It has programs for all ages, but they are bound together by educational cultural value.

Q: Some youth-made media organizations feel divided about whether their main mission is to serve the teens they work with or their audience. How important is it to be clear about this?

A: I think that you can do both in a way that they strengthen each other, and you might wind up with better product and better process. If you really think through your mission and audience carefully, and develop a product to have the impact you want to have on your audience, you’re doing two things: you’re pushing yourself creatively and analytically, and maybe learning more from the process, and you may be developing a better product.

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The Power of Peer Pressure

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

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

“Yeah,” says Williams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This simply was not true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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