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First Amendment Issues

Bringing in the Bling

Rejection builds character.

Maybe I tell myself that because I’ve danced with rejection. My character could touch the sky.

I spent this past summer interning with the youth media nonprofit Children’s PressLine, in New York City. A group of our young reporters and editors were gearing up for the Republican and Democratic national conventions, where they would churn out stories from the hub of the action.

I was in charge of securing various food and material contributions to keep costs down during both convention weeks.

While I knew that nonprofits survive on donations, as a journalism major at Hollins University I also knew that journalists should not accept donations if it compromises journalistic integrity. So before accepting the internship, I asked my supervisor, “How much influence do your donors have on the topics and stories that you cover?”

“None,” she said.

So I took the job. Two months seemed like more than enough time to get everything ready for the conventions. Here’s how I pictured my summer internship: I would make lots of calls, lay on the charm, explain my goal to get free stuff for the kids, and a voice on the other end would proclaim “Yes, of course!” After work, I would shop and soak up music in Central Park. Life really would be a bowl of cherries!

Or so I thought.

When I finally jumped into cold calling what seemed like every food business in Manhattan, I learned that getting donations was far from easy.

Some days were worse than others, not only because of repeated "no’s," but also because of the hang-ups.

You try arguing with the angry buzz of a disconnected telephone call!

Or, after pleading with a pizzeria for what seemed like hours, they sent a single “One Free Large Thin Crust Pizza” coupon in the mail. Did they expect us to divide the pie into 30 scraps and tell the kids, “Just chew slowly?”

Didn’t they understand I was trying to feed an army of growing kids?!

Yet, food was probably the easiest to get. More so than discounted train tickets, computer supplies, cameras, T-shirts, or 30 Boston Duck Tours! Companies kept feeding me poor excuses in a “call someone who cares” tone.

In silent retribution, I compiled a hit list of cold, greedy corporations who couldn’t spare their time, energy, or food—crumbs, really, in the scheme of things—for our small yet notable organization. I vowed to deprive them of my business, as if I were saving society from corporate hunger.

At one point I even considered pitching pride and decency out the 15th-floor office window by teetering to a particular car rental company in heels, a mini-skirt, and low-cut blouse to ask the owner once more if he was certain that he wouldn’t cut us a deal.

He was. But, don’t worry, I called instead.

July arrived, and I began to get the hang of things. Or really, I just got better at it. The more comfortable I got asking for donations and talking about CPL’s mission, the more donations I received. People responded best when I remembered their name, didn’t ramble, and managed not to sound nervous.

By the end of the summer, I had even adopted a gutsy tone, and I rehearsed my pitch before calling. The donations were not exactly rolling in, but these things take time. In the end, I snagged some pretty cool bling (for those of you who don’t know, “bling” means goods.) I got free cell phones and minutes for both conventions, and lots of free food.

So, I’ll share my secrets with you. My logical but hard-earned approach to getting donations in a city you’re not in:

Be a fearless caller. Just like in high school, there are no stupid questions—or wrong companies to call. The best place to start is the Yellow Pages or city guide on the web.

Ask for someone in charge or in public relations. Typically, they are the ones who make these decisions or can direct you to someone else who can. If it’s a worker, keep in mind that they are busy, and cut to the chase.

State your organization’s mission. Why should anyone care about you? Be clear about what you want, why you need it, when you want it by, and how much you want.

Be perceptive and receptive to your audience. Know their values. Is the business small or large? I found family-oriented places the most willing to donate. When I called “mom-and-pop” places, I made it clear that the kids were my top priority, not the food. The kids literally depended upon me for sustenance during both conventions. They were the backbone of the project and deserved the most valiant effort I could give, and people responded to that.

Leave messages and try, try again. If you don’t catch someone the first time, usually, they are curious and will call back. But if someone says they will get back to you, don’t hold your breath. Call back and ask for someone else. Give a pseudo-name the next time. It’s just like going to dad after mom says “no.” We all did it, and a lot of times it worked. And never leave a "maybe" hanging.

Keep a written record of who you talk to, when you talked to them, their position, and their response. It is embarrassing and unprofessional to forget someone’s name or a previous conversation with them.

Pay attention to ads or articles concerning groups that could help you. In my case, the cell phone company that donated phones and minutes targeted a hip, young, urban crowd in their ads, very similar to our kids.

Use your PR skills. If you want something, let them know what you can offer in return. Allow them to share their ideas with you as well. Most companies, I learned, were willing to invest in us if they understood our mission and if we could give some publicity in return. We offered press releases, photo-ops with our kids, or their company name or logo on our T-shirts and banners. A cell phone company requested a focus group with the kids regarding their cell phone experience after both conventions. So that was definitely a win-win situation.

Make things convenient for them. I always offered specific days and times that we would pick up their donation to minimize hesitations over details. After all, donors are giving you their services or products for free, so you want to make it easy for them.

Persuade them that if they say “no” they will miss out on one of the best opportunities of the year. Peer pressure can be a powerful tool of persuasion. When I was trying to persuade someone who sounded hesitant, I mentioned others who had already jumped on the bandwagon, eager about the distinguished guests that would either see or talk with our young reporters at both conventions. Does George W. Bush or Hilary Rodham Clinton ring a bell?

Learn to love rejection. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

In the face of rejection, I say, “Bring it on!”

Rebecca Staed is a junior communication studies major at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. She worked as an intern at Children’s PressLine last summer. She is available for media internships—preferably paid ones, as she is a very poor college student, living on instant oatmeal and Easy Mac.

Continue reading Bringing in the Bling

Conventions Made Unconventional

Last fall, as newspapers across the country reported the same stories about
Kerry’s war record and Bush’s tough stance on terrorists, election dispatches from young reporters provided a respite from the usual campaign rhetoric. Berkeley-based Youth Radio sent its reporters to Boston and New York to cover the Democratic and Republican conventions. Spots aired on National Public Radio’s
Morning Edition, All Things Considered, the Tavis Smiley Show, and Latino USA.

Kurwa, Youth Radio’s news director and editor of the international desk,
talked with Youth Media Reporter about how she pitched her stories to national
outlets, and what a youth perspective added to mainstream election coverage.

Q: Why did Youth Radio choose to cover the conventions, and why cover them for outlets with largely adult audiences?

By going to the conventions, we were trying to do there what we do here on
a daily basis, which is cover the story of young people. With the young Democrats
and young Republicans and young protesters going to conventions, we thought
it was important to highlight the fact that there were young people involved
in the convention. What was really important about the young delegates’ perspective
was that they were really focused on the issues important to youth and their
peers, and they were highlighting those issues for the older folks there.
But from what I saw in the mainstream press, young delegates were sort of
being covered as sidebar stories.

Q: At the Republican National Convention, you had to turn around stories
on a very tight deadline. How did you prepare for it?

A: Our planning
started months before. We had the kids listen to stuff Youth Radio had done
from the last convention to get a sense of what we were able to get last
time and the format it was in. And we had young people in the newsroom on
convention watch. All our interns—not just the ones going to
the convention—were reading up on convention stories, looking up young
delegates, identifying the stories that weren’t
necessarily being covered that had to do with young people.

Teen and adult
staff were talking to a lot of delegates in advance to find out which ones
had interesting stories and were great characters. We had pre-interviews with
some of the characters we covered. We also sent adult producers early to Boston
and New York, and they scouted stories and locations so they could tell us, “This
is how long it is going to take us to walk from here to here.”

The New York Times had
done a story on conservative punks for Bush and that’s how we heard about
a conservative punk in New York who we eventually did a story about. A lot
of people thought he was an oxymoron.

We also knew it was important to cover
the stories of the RNC protests, and to get the man-on-the-street sound of
protesters. And a lot of our stories were also connected to our young people’s own experience at the conventions. DeSean Robinson-Walker wrote a show for Tavis Smiley about being a young African-American Republican. Elena Alvarez’s
commentary for Latino USA was her reflection on her interactions with protesters.

the kinds of stories young people would be telling was part of the planning
process. We had to determine who would be able to tell the stories well,
who would be able to reflect on something in their life. And we needed students
who could hunker down and be really nimble in terms of changing plans and
meeting hard deadlines.

Q: How did you go about getting assignments from major media outlets like National Public Radio?

A: It helped us that we already had relationships with editors at various
media outlets. There are people within NPR and other outlets who see that the
youth voice is really important, that youth can sometimes tell a story in a
much more powerful way and can sometimes actually take a deeper look at youth
issues than an adult reporter can.

And for the convention, a lot of coverage
has to be analysis and punditry. We’re really able to bring something
that takes more risks and that really adds to the sound of the coverage and
makes it more young, more fresh, quirky, funny, and also meaningful in terms
of communicating what young people involved in politics are thinking about.

people can ask the questions that elicit responses that provide more of a
window into the why and how of a story. Like with the conservative punk piece,
the student reporter came into it with his own take on punk culture and was
able to bring this witty, astute sense to the writing that helped bring along
the piece.

NPR had one person running all the election coverage and she had
worked with us in the past. She has a sense of the kind of stories we do
and we pitched her the ideas we had over the phone and listened to what she
wanted to get from us.

We said, “These are the students coming along with us and we’ll send you a script when they have something.” For Elena’s story, for instance, we just said, “Here
we have this great perspective of this young woman born in the U.S. who grew
up in Tijuana.”

For Elena, going to the convention was her first flight
out of Mexico and it was her first time in New York City.

Same thing for the
Tavis Smiley show. We talked about who DeSean was, how he was a young African-American
Republican who had never been around a large group of Republicans before.

is a value to having the fresh and diverse perspectives of young reporters
who come from all over the country and from all different classes and backgrounds.
Sometimes the coverage of these events can seem really monolithic in who
is being represented, and our students brought their own perspective.

When you’re working for a national media outlet on a tight deadline,
is there a danger that the teens lose some opportunities for learning?

At the conventions, the process of each story was a sped-up version of our
editorial process at home. Our working model is highly collaborative between
adult and youth. When you get to the national level it’s even more collaborative, and at the conventions we were definitely working together to make our deadlines, whereas here at home we might have more time to say to the youth, “Write as much as you can and I’ll do an edit and you can get back to it,” and
walk away.

But I think the thing that gets lost for sure in the bigger outlets,
is what happens in terms of editorial control. We try to maintain as much
as we can—and in working with national outlets for years we’re
at the point now where if the media outlet makes changes to a story they
are good at telling us so we can go back to the students and tell them before
the change is made. But still, you definitely do lose some editorial control
once you get to that level of production.

And depending on the kinds of stories you’re doing, if you’re always chasing stories that are highly investigative or very tied to what’s happening in the news and require a quick turnaround, you can end up relying on one or two or three really talented writers and reporters. Really trying to draw out a student’s personal perspective is one way to avoid that star reporter syndrome.

But in the end, no matter who goes to the convention it’s a really big deal for our young people to go there and see such a huge, historical, political media event and to feel like they were part of the media junket at large, and also to see how youth media covers the convention differently from the mainstream press.

Continue reading Conventions Made Unconventional

Do You Have Time for Kids’ Issues?

clinton_150.jpgLast fall, Children’s PressLine sent its young reporters to Boston and New York for the Democratic and Republican conventions. Children’s PressLine election coverage appeared in The Daily News, The Boston Globe, Alternet.org, and Connect for Kids.

Katina Paron, Children’s PressLine’s editorial and program director, talked with Youth Media Reporter about how she pitched stories to national outlets, and what a youth perspective added to mainstream election coverage.

Q: Why did Children’s PressLine choose to send reporters to the convention?

A: Children’s PressLine—it used to be Children’s Express—has covered every major political convention since 1976. We train our kids so that they are journalists, reporters, and editors, but we always try to get them to think of themselves as advocates for their peers first.

We let them know that they are part of the media, and since the media is such a powerful tool, it’s their obligation as young people and as journalists to talk to their peers in need and ask politicians how they will be responsible to those young people.

We’ve done hundreds of interviews with young people facing really intense issues, and we can’t pass up the opportunity to say to politicians, “You are accountable to these young people.” The conventions were a concentrated time to bring those voices of the young people we talk to directly to the politicians.

Q: How did you pitch The Daily News?

A: We started a conversation with The Daily News in April or May. We had done a convention supplement with them in 1992, and I said, “Remember us in 1992? Can we cover this convention for you too?”

But when I first called, I couldn’t get an answer. They didn’t know what they’d be interested in by us, but the newspaper’s education editor did pitch the idea to the executive editor. He said OK to her, which opened the path for me to call him directly and get a verbal affirmation from him.

But I didn’t hear back, even after leaving several messages with him. So I called his secretary and said that the editor had already accepted the idea and I just needed to know who I should talk to since I can’t get hold of him. I was persistent. I said, “We already got an OK on this, I just need a confirmation of the OK.”
They sent me to another lead editor, and he really liked the idea of having a kid’s perspective on the convention. It’s so hard to get news at the convention and kids’ perspectives on the convention is news made interesting.

After we got confirmation, I said to the executive editor, “You agreed to run our stuff deadline. What do you want us to run?” I didn’t know they’d want it to be daily. But we ended up running a daily reporter’s notebook on the convention from a kids’ perspective and it got picked up by Alternet.org.

It was a little snarky and smart-alecky. When one kid asked a delegate at the RNC, “What’s the job of a delegate?” he said, “Just as long as we don’t pick our noses when the camera is on us.”

Another 13-year-old went to an event and they tried to serve him alcohol. That’s interesting for the general public to be reading that, to hear from a kid’s point of view that this is politics today, this is what these kids are seeing. It gives readers a sense that there is no news at the conventions, that this is a series of parties. To put these young people who aren’t jaded in a room with all these politicians and delegates and to have a young person tell it like it is, it gave readers an unusual perspective on the convention.

Q: While many youth media organizations work with teens, Children’s PressLine works with kids who range from ages 8–18. How do the politicians react to being interviewed by such young people?

A: The politicians have always been respectful to the young people because they’re young and cute, and because they’re young and have something to say, and because they’re trained journalists and have press credentials. When the kids see a politician they run up to them and say, “Do you have time for kids’ issues?” If they say, “I don’t have time for kids’ issues,” and walk away, it looks really bad.

And when you see kids ages 8–18 who are briefed on the issues approach politicians with intelligent questions, it reminds politicians that kids are their constituents, and even if kids can’t vote, they have to work on their behalf.

Continue reading Do You Have Time for Kids’ Issues?

Smart Money: Who Funded Youth Media Election Coverage?

Minnesota-based Phillips Community TV raised money specifically for Battleground Minnesota, a teen-made documentary on the elections. “We did a whole separate fundraising campaign for this video,” said program director John Gwinn. First, they produced a trailer,
then researched organizations that might be interested in helping to fund a
full-length feature. One staff member at Phillips Community TV used
to work for an online philanthropy project and, through that, had the idea
that the locally based Target and Best
be interested in funding the show through their government affairs divisions.
After watching the trailer, Target gave $10,000 and Best Buy gave $5,000. They
also helped Phillips organize a house party “mostly
with young, wealthy liberals,” said Gwinn. It raised about $7,500 more.

Alternet.org, the
alternative news source that hosts the youth-written Wiretap, got special funding
to cover the elections from the Wallace
Global Fund
, the Schumann
Center for Media and Democracy
the Albert A. List Foundation,
and the Open Society Institute.

A look at the funding strategies of youth media organizations that covered the 2004 election.

Alternet made the organizational decision to have Wiretap focus
on the youth vote angle. But none of their funding was specifically earmarked
for Wiretap funding, says editor Twilight Greenaway.

Andrew Lynne, educational facilitator at Manhattan
Neighborhood Network’s
Youth Channel
, said that the organization did not raise money for
its coverage of the elections. Even so, he says, Youth Channel thought
it was important to cover the elections because its “staff members
felt a certain responsibility to provide a community media outlet as opposed
to a corporate media outlet on the election, and so we all took it on ourselves.”

In the past, New York–based Youth Communication received
funding from the New York Community
the New York Foundation, and the Valentine
Perry Snyder Fund
of JP Morgan during election years to produce
special issues of the teen-written New
Youth Connections
on voting and political participation. They did not
apply for funding for their special 2004 election issue, says executive
director Keith Hefner, because he felt that year more foundations were
interested in direct “get out the vote” efforts than what Hefner calls “pre-registration
education.” “We’re trying to lay the groundwork so that when
someone approaches a kid on the street and says, ‘Are you registered
to vote?’, the kid will want to register because they understand why
it would make a difference.”

Three youth-reported news services—Children’s
New York, Y-Press in Indianapolis, and 8-18
Markette, Michigan—partnered to secure funding to exchange youth among the
organizations covering the conventions. Each bureau received $5,000 in total from
the Open Society Institute and the Arsalyn
, which is part of the Ludwick Family Foundation. Children’s PressLine Program Director Katina Paron believes they received
the funding not only because of the civic engagement angle; foundations “love partnerships because it saves on resources for
them.” She adds, foundations “really love peer exchanges
and this was kind of an extreme peer exchange.”

Youth Media Reporter Syndication

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Who’s Who: More Youth Media Organizations That Helped Get Out the Vote

mondale_150.jpgAs November 2, 2004, approached, the mainstream media reported that the youth vote might swing the elections. Teens at youth media organizations devoted considerable energy to helping lure their peers to the polls and informing them about the issues at hand.

In Minnesota, two of Phillips Community Television’s Youth Media hip-hop artists—Chris “Shakademic” Johnson, 18, and Glenn Scott, 19—collaborated with adult producers to create a political documentary that got teens talking about the election. In it, Shakademic teaches the real Walter Mondale how to scratch a record with headphones pressed against an ear. According to The Star Tribune, when the thirty-minute documentary made its debut on Twin Cities Public Television Channel 2, it scored the second highest ratings of any show that night. Johnson and Scott also distributed copies of the show to local high schools. New Youth Connections (published by Youth Communication), the magazine written by New York City teens and distributed to approximately 60,000 students in the city’s public high schools ran a special pre-election issue featuring an interview with a young soldier in Iraq who was beginning to question the war, as well as interviews with teen GOP protesters and young Republicans. In that issue teens also ruminated on whether inmates and 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote, and why a woman has never been nominated for president.

The cable-access Manhattan Neighborhood Network’s Youth Channel broadcast a spirited panel of teen activists debating issues like whether the Republican convention should have been held in New York, what would happen if there was a draft, and how the government should respond to AIDS abroad.

Even Newsweek partook in youth-made media, running a regular section about young people’s perspectives on the elections presented not through the usual lens of an adult reporter, but written directly by young people.

Introducing Youth Media Reporter

Dear Reader:
We are very excited to launch Youth Media Reporter, a web journal sponsored by the Open Society Institute’s Youth Initiatives program. Designed as a forum for stakeholders in the youth media field, Youth Media Reporter will discuss emerging ideas, trends, and practices, and will deepen and extend knowledge about the developing field. We are pleased to announce that Kendra Hurley, an accomplished journalist and veteran youth media professional, is the editor of Youth Media Reporter. Kendra is also a managing editor at Youth Communication, where she served as editor of Represent, a magazine for and by youth in the foster care system, from 1998 to 2004. She has written for publications including USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, City Limits, and Child Welfare Watch. She earned an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Columbia University.
Youth Media Reporter aims to be a dynamic publication that reflects the richness and diversity within the youth media field. This growing community of programs represents a landscape in which young people are participating in a process of collaborative inquiry, communication, production, and distribution, thereby providing audiences with compelling and unique perspectives about their experiences, their hopes, and their communities. While programming approaches and methodologies vary among organizations, there remains a commitment to involving the most hard-to-reach and isolated youth. Practitioners, scholars, and researchers are increasingly interested in learning more about program practices, the range of themes discussed in the media, the means of media distribution, and the media’s impact on audiences.
We hope that you find the articles/discussions vital and informative. We look forward to hearing from you as you contribute your ideas and suggestions for future articles and topics.
Erlin Ibreck
Director, Youth Initiatives
Open Society Institute
Anna Lefer
Program Officer, Youth Initiatives
Open Society Institute