The Power and Impact of Gender-Specific Media Literacy

“Fifty-seven percent of girls and 59 percent of boys say the female characters in the television shows they watch are “better looking” than the women and girls they know in real life…Seven out of ten (69%) say they have wanted to look like, dress, or fix their hair like a character(s) on television…Both girls (62%) and boys (58%) say the female characters they see on television usually rely on someone else to solve their problems, whereas male characters tend to solve their own problems.”(1)
For many, this is not new news. We know that media emphasizes stereotypes and gender roles. But in the youth media field, we don’t always account for how girls, specifically young girls, are bombarded with images of women as powerless, passive victims noted primarily for their bodies and sex rather than their minds and capabilities.
Youth media organizations that focus on girls have seen the positive effects of gender-specific media literacy training—it changes girls’ relationships to themselves, their bodies, and each other. However, these organizations’ effects are limited unless the field as a whole takes to heart the impact of media on girls. Until then, youth will continue to re-create harmful stereotypes in their own media—they might say they do not identify with say, a tall, blond model, yet she continues to show up in their films. It is up to the field as a whole to help students critique media, avoid stereotypes, and act out new identities.
Why Girls?
Gender stereotypes are a part of our daily lives. From bus stops, billboards, schools, work, even bathrooms, youth are constantly absorbing messages that media throws at them. “Studies estimate that, counting all the logos, labels and announcements, some 16,000 ads flicker across an individual’s consciousness daily.”(2) Girls as passive, boys as active, boys with trucks and super heroes, girls with Barbies, dollhouses and kitchens: constantly interpreting these social messages, youth are trying to fit into the stereotypical gender messages showing traditional roles of men and women.
To avoid the inundation of images we protect ourselves by avoiding the flood of information and moving into a state of automaticity. The problem with this is the conditioning that occurs while our minds are on autopilot. “The media condition us to habitual exposure patterns to the messages they want exposure for. This increases the risk that we will miss many of the messages that might have value for us [and] accept [without challenging] the meaning they present.”(3)
Sadly, the constant exposure of sexualization, objectification and images of gender stereotypes directly contribute to girls’ lack of self- and body-confidence, as well as depression and eating disorders. As a result, girls who do explore media tools often use these to mimic overt sexualization, sending or posting videos/images of themselves to a predominantly male audience. In effect, the behavior reinforces this harmful gender role stereotype.
Eileen L. Zurbriggen, PhD, chair of the APA Task Force and associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz says it well: “We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development.”(4) The persuasive influences of the media have been linked to negative health outcomes, such as eating disorders and poor body image, anxiety, and violence.
The images in the media are powerful and pervasive. As a Reel Grrl producers shares, “I know that I shouldn’t compare myself with women in magazines or on TV, but it’s hard not to. They make me feel ugly.”(5) As a field, we cannot ignore the role media plays on girls’ lack of confidence and poor self-esteem.
So what can youth media programs do? Youth media practitioners need to incorporate creative ways to encourage thinking beyond socialized gender norms. Girls, especially, must be given a space to critically explore and use media tools to break down the roots of stereotypes and gender role-play. If we do not provide the tools necessary for critical examination of these norms and a space for young people to create different messages and alternate identities in media-making, our efforts to support youth media will be incomplete.
We need to evaluate where girls see themselves and how media reflects those ideals. Do they support or repress them? How can girls create their own messages to accurately reflect and support how they feel, act, and aspire to be?
Through girl-specific media literacy, an analysis of images and critical discussions, girls take the power from media to define them and put it into their own hands. Through girl-specific youth media programs, the media that girls use and create are instrumental to their developing sense of themselves, the world, and of how and who they should be.
Breaking Out of the Mold
“The influence of the camera is huge. And to be able to just take that and make your own message, I think, has really proven something to me,” says the producer of the Reel Grrls film The Wall of Shame.(6) This powerful film challenges teenage girls to talk back to the mainstream advertisers and their demeaning images of women. Girls pull ads from magazines, write on them and critique their messages. This offers a way to recognize their objectification, sexual exploitation and gender stereotypes.
The film explains and questions, “Every day we are bombarded with thousands of advertisements. But what exactly are the advertisers trying to sell us? Are they simply trying to sell a product or is the product inconsequential and the real objective is to sell us a mindset that would make us, the public, more eager consumers?” Looking at existing media, the girls in the film talk about how they feel about themselves in relation to what they are (or are not) seeing. “We are able to recognize the kind of images that we feel like we are supposed to be like but we know we don’t have to be.”(7) Making the connections between social issues and how media perpetuates them helps girls to not just receive these messages—working to take them apart and critique them in a very poignant way, they are able to choose how they see them. To see the film, go to:
Girl-Specific Youth Media
Girl-specific youth media programs like TVbyGIRLS, Reel Grrls, and Beyondmedia Education, provide gender-focused media literacy education. Their overarching missions are creating stories and messages that show creative, compassionate, involved and thinking girls and women. They provide mentoring and leadership programs that use the tools of media and analysis to combat the defeating and limiting messages young people receive everyday.
In these girl-specific programs, girls:
• Explore how visual images evoke emotions and become the visual vocabulary for their unique storytelling.
• Support one another in collaborative working models and in individual leadership styles, and develop more confidence to share their ideas and be open to different ways of thinking.
• Create film projects that use a strong intellectual inquiry and share their authentic stories with their peers, families and communities.
• Receive individualized mentoring relationships with women media professionals. TVbyGIRLS encourages the development of self-expression and critical thinking.
Reel Grrls
• Watch popular TV shows, PSAs and commercials, then fill out critique forms. The forms ask participants to notice technical effects, as well as what message the media is trying to get out, who the message is aimed at and whether the message is effective. These are things they ask girls to think about and write down before coming up with their own project ideas.
• Understand the “language of media”: Types of shots, rules of framing and shot composition. They highlight these rules by letting youth shoot and then looking at the footage together.
• Analyze ads in magazines that are interesting/upsetting to them and come up with questions based on those ads. They then conduct street interviews with people using the ad, asking the same questions.
Beyondmedia Education
• Use images that are inclusive, realistically depicting the diversity of women in the world.
• Understand the role of art in the world as presenting the broadest range of images, such that each person has the opportunity to see her or his reflection somewhere in that mirror.
• Strive to break down boundaries that are maintained through so-called “professional standards” controlling expression and containing resistance.
These organizations are girl specific; however, the activities and technical exercises can be directly adapted for non-girl specific organizations as well. In fact, it is encouraged, as the effects of these programs have been profound.
Mentors and parents, for example, see more confidence, leadership, and critical thinking in the girls. There is a shift in how girls see themselves as well as the world around them. “My daughter’s level of self-confidence shot up after being in the program. To have your child experience personal growth, that’s what stands out strongest about what the program offers.” –Reel Grrls parent.
Youth producers from these organizations report that: “Reel Grrls gave me the ground to stand on and know myself for the first time as a real filmmaker. And I haven’t wavered a bit.” -RG grad, who has just finished film school and completed her first feature.
Maddy from TVbyGirls says, “I think the importance of TVbyGirls is that we make films in such a different style that people really stop and pay attention. We don’t blend in as just another voice saying, “Do this, do that.”
Likewise, Annie from TVbyGirls explains, “I’ve become so much more aware of the importance of youth voice, especially girls’ voices, and how we can have an impact using the media. I love that we can tell real stories and open people’s eyes.”
In short, when youth are media literate they are more capable of steering through the media world and embracing and building the life they want, rather than letting the media create the life they want for them.
Suggestions for the Field
As youth media educators we have a responsibility to discuss the power and impact of our creations and how they inform viewers. Media educators, male and female, need to provide media literacy curriculum that makes young people aware of how gender norms, stereotypes, and sexualization impacts girls and young women. Regardless of mission or youth focus, youth media organizations can:
• Offer gender-specific youth media literacy programming. Organizations like MediaWatch offer lectures, videos and links to further media literacy resources. In addition, JUST THINK and the Center for Media Literacy offer curriculum and free hand outs.
• Attend a gender-studies or gender-focused media literacy class through a local youth network or university. Invite a graduate student in this field or a speaker to help the staff develop gender-specific media literacy skills.
• Start a Media Literacy Group. Gather interested people monthly and discuss best practices, share a media literacy reading list and report and discuss current events.
• Ask youth to think not only about the images they’re using in their work, but how they’re representing themselves—their family, race, town, and gender. Encourage them to take responsibility for their work and to be resourceful in how they’re portraying their characters, each other and themselves.
Deconstructing media messages reveals a valuable link between sexism, gender stereotyping and maintaining the male-dominant status quo. The ultimate step is to use young people’s root awareness of media messages to encourage and support youth media that more closely resembles young people’s reality than idealized, received, or constructed images. The more people who make media that debunks stereotypical norms, the more likely those norms will change.
Rebecca Richards Bullen is the associate director of TVbyGIRLS. Formerly a coordinator and producer with Twin Cities Public Television, she has over 15 years of production experience. Rebecca has been a media and leadership mentor for more than 7 years. A current steering committee member for the Twin Cities Youth Media Network, she is dedicated to expanding the access to authentic and diverse stories by youth, especially girls. She is also the proud mother of 2 terrific children and expecting a third in November.
(1) Reflections of Girls in the Media: A Content Analysis Across Six Media and a National Survey of Children. Conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation and Children Now.
(2) The Bribed Soul: Ads, TV and American Culture. How advertising transforms both our experience and identity into a “sponsored life.” By Leslie Savan.
(3) Media Literacy, third edition. W. James Potter, pg. 13.
(4) APA Press Release February 19, 2007: Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Executive Summary.
(5) Reel Grrl participant.
(6) Reel Grrls, “Wall of Shame” video.
(7) Reel Grrls, “Wall of Shame” video.

Youth Media is Coming Out

Growing up queer in a hetero-normative society is complicated, risky and tricky to navigate. More than a quarter of queer youth have dropped out of school, and a third have attempted suicide in the previous year, citing harassment as a reason. Twenty to forty percent of queer youth account for young people without homes—often because their families find fault with their sexuality (Wright, Colorlines).
For many queer youth (an inclusive term for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Intersexed, and Questioning individuals), looking or “acting gay” is fraught with dangerous social ramifications. The process of coming out and “becoming” queer is difficult to explore. As a result, it is sometimes safer to stay in the closet. Unlike their peers of color, queer youth are less likely to have a queer parent or family member to go to when oppressive comments take their toll. In general, queer youth have a difficult time finding the support of adults, family members, and peers because they risk abandonment, rejection, and abuse in “coming out.” Finally, many of the existing LGBT centers and queer social spaces predominantly cater to adults 21 and over.
Fortunately, queer youth are able to find support and community at youth media programs because they encourage young people to tell their stories and share their perspectives. For many queer young people, youth media programs allow for a confessional “coming out” as they build community in a safe and supportive environment—often alongside non-queer peers. Learning from queer youth experiences at these organizations, practitioners can get a better sense of how and why they should support queer youth media.
A Space of Becoming & Belonging
In almost a dozen interviews, almost every queer young person at youth media organizations remarked on the unique, close-knit community among queer peers and mentors. The prominence of this theme suggests queer youth require and value a safe space to confess their coming out story, explore and express identity, and essentially “become” queer within themselves, their homes, and communities.
“Becoming” is a term used by Lori MacIntosh and Mary Bryson two professors at the University of British Columbia, in their article “Youth, MySpace, and the Interstitial Spaces of Becoming and Belonging,” in the Journal of LGBT Youth. In their article, they identify how social networking sites like MySpace have become “everyday locations of engagement…changing the way [queer youth] are made visible [and are] recognized.” Establishing one’s identity as queer in a public space is essential to “becoming.” To that end, youth media programs are similar to virtual social networking sites and, arguably, better since they provide a physical space for becoming that youth desperately need in their lives.
For example, Daniel, an 18-year-old queer Puerto Rican-raised-Muslim, dropped out of school in 9th grade because he felt constantly harassed by peers and adults. Fortunately, together with six of his peers, he co-founded SupaFriends at Global Action Project in New York City and became part of a family of queer youth (and supportive adults) who shared their coming out stories by creating video pieces with a social justice component. Daniel (aka Gaydussa) explains, “SupaFriends helped me feel comfortable and safe enough to come out to my parents. To feel safe—not be judged, have fun, work together, lead and inform—[and] have a visible and visual coming out story is important.”
Importantly, youth media programs also allow queer youth to control how they define and express their identity. Jeff McHale, creative director of Split Pillow—a non-profit motion picture and media literacy education company in Chicago, IL—states, “Creating art, whether it be film, theater, music or fine arts can be a therapeutic [process] for many queer youth.” He continues, “Giving them the opportunity to create their own [media] allows them to make the kind of [queer representation] that they wish [and] want to see.” Through youth media, queer youth can be part of a more positive, visible and recognized representation of queer identity and culture.
By claiming a queer identity and then collectively representing it, queer youth can accomplish what MacIntosh and Bryson identify as the next stage in development: “belonging.” Belonging occurs when a public community develops and becomes “the space of movement.” By screening films, airing radio shows, or recording songs, queer youth media achieves that space by reaching a public audience. Often, this audience is interactive, inciting community and belonging. For many queer youth, this opportunity to be recognized is life changing.
Social & Political Impact
Through youth media programs, queer youth are finding the space not only to look inward but to create media that questions societal norms, challenge oppressive outlooks, and inspire a change in perspective. For many queer youth, this is their one shot at getting a message out. By working with other young people, queer youth discover inventive and collaborative ways to interact with and affect their audience’s perspective.
Queer youth produce media that serve as models for how to combat homophobia and stereotypes in powerful, sometimes playful, and, most importantly, effective ways. Most, if not all, queer youth media are tailored to both queer and straight audiences, broadening dialogue across difference. Professor Mary Gray, who focuses on youth media at Indiana University, suggests, “Queer youth challenge mainstream media, [demonstrating] that they are politically savvy and already at the forefront of community activism [with] a host of other young people. They aren’t just concerned with their identities—although they are certainly important—they’re also concerned with what’s happening in the world.”
In 2007, Daniel at SupaFriends and two other queer youth producers created an animation called Three Queer Mice. Their piece was based on their approach to, and research of, nursery rhymes. Daniel and his co-conspirators imagined what it would be like to have grown up hearing queer tales. So, they changed the words in the rhyme, revealing the stories of three queer “mice”—a gay mouse that leaves school “because his gender expression was in disregard,” a transgender mouse that gets arrested for using the “wrong” bathroom, and a mouse representing Sakia Gunn, who was stabbed and murdered in 2003 for being a lesbian.

After screening the film at Urban Visionaries Youth Film Festival, a straight peer came up to congratulate Daniel on what he felt was a “really good, clever, and eye opening” film. This conversation meant a lot to Daniel, as it not only proved the film did its job but also connected him to a seemingly impossible audience to reach. As a result, Daniel believes that youth media is part of social change. He explains, “If you’re queer and making media and you have a certain issue you want to approach using media—that is social justice.”
Liza Brice, a young woman who has interned at various queer radio programs explains, “[Young people] need spaces to be involved [in] transformative change to undo oppressive pressure and in doing so, produce something liberating.” In Seattle, WA, three young producers at Reel Grrls worked to create a liberating and humorous approach to homophobia and stereotypes in the mainstream. The team of queer and straight young women wanted to encourage audiences to examine prejudices in a non-threatening manner by asking the question, “What would it be like to live as a straight person in a gay world?”
Dedicated to “all those still in the closet,” Coming Out… is a mockumentary video the team produced that illuminates the impact of heterosexism and homophobia on the identities of queer youth in a strategically welcoming manner. The film serves as an important example of the approaches queer and non-queer come up with when they work together to address a social issue.

Recognizing the power of the film, practitioners at Reel Grrls pushed beyond the typical extent of a youth media video program so that the producers could engage with youth audiences at schools. Wanting the producers to be part of distribution, they identified ways to support and gain funding, inviting the producers to create an accompanying distribution guide—which one of the producers co-taught—to several middle schools, high schools, and universities (See Lila Kitaeff’s accompanying article). Their anti-homophobic curriculum alongside screening Coming Out… provided important insights as to what collectively queer youth and their families and friends experience in the “coming out” process and how to address homophobia.
If it weren’t for youth media providing an opportunity to make media in such a specific space, queer youth may never have access to a public audience (that includes family and friends). Queer youth need an audience to receive their messages, witness their stories, and see that they, too, belong. Like in Daniel’s case, Global Action Project provided the type of public screening that could make Three Queer Mice accessible to a straight peer. Because these instances are rare—partly due to mainstream media, peer pressure, conformity, cliques at school and fear of rejection or violence for being queer—queer youth benefit immensely from youth media programs.
What Practitioners Can Do
Catering to queer youth requires a lot of care, focus, time, and on-going support. Queer youth need a lot of attention and room to take the lead. The formula for a successful educator relies on a delicate mix of personality, style, empathy and dedication. Almost every queer young person interviewed mentioned a practitioner at his or her organization who really made him or her feel supported, who listened, and who allowed for a space to say whatever he or she wanted. The practitioners that made the most impact were extremely available and understanding. They backed up queer youth, joined forces in their struggles and hopes, and believed in their ability to make a difference. But most importantly, the instructor did not judge them. Finding the right practitioner to cater to queer youth requires professional development and training, resource and time allocation, dialogue, and a compassionate listener.
Practitioners should keep in mind that outside of youth media organizations, it is often not easy to identify queerness or allies. Rejection, violence and other exclusionary social reactions to queer sexuality keep many youth from openly discussing sexual orientation. For non-queer youth subject to oppression, the likelihood that they can turn to an understanding and empathic parent or adult is much higher than that of a queer youth who, unfortunately, risks the same social rejection within their own families. As Zaida Sanabia, a youth producer at Beyondmedia in Chicago, IL explains, “Without [adult allies] it would take a lot of courage for a young person to bring up queer issues [and represent that in media].”
The beauty of youth media organizations is that queer youth can be supported while engaging with other young people expressing their stories. As youth producer Ana Lopez at REACH LA reflects, “We are so different, but we’ve all had similar struggles in finding ourselves.” Lopez’s claim that all young people have had struggles provides the necessary backdrop for queer youth to unite common experiences that, ultimately, bridge the homophobic divide.
With the help of facilitators, young people can engage in conversations not commonly found in every day discourse that positively examine the intersections of race, gender, class and sexuality. Kali Snowden, one of the producers (and main character) of Coming Out… explains, “Oftentimes we create a lot of negative energy by talking about racism, sexism, and homophobia.” She continues, “[We need to] be more light-hearted, all inclusive, and recognize we all take part in oppression.”
McCarter at Split Pillow suggests that practitioners “Have everyone sit around and talk about issues [which] reinforce the fact that queer and straight youth have more in common than they sometimes think.” Professor Gray explains, “conversations about queerness among non-queer youth [are] incredibly valuable. Getting all young people to look at their attitudes about sexual and gender difference gives them a chance to see how they are both different from but not that unlike their queer peers.”
Practitioners can also learn from the few organizations that have queer-specific programming, such as Reel Grrls in Seattle, WA; Beyondmedia, Radio Arte, and Split Pillow in Chicago, IL; Global Action Project in New York, NY; and REACH LA in Los Angeles, CA. And in the U.K., there’s Queer Youth Radio.
Gina Lamb at REACH LA suggests the following to practitioners working with queer youth:
• Set serious group-decided ground rules. Identify space that is positive, safe, and away from outside drama.
• Do not tolerate oppressive comments. It is the responsibility of the group to call out discriminatory language.
• Everyone has participatory buy in (think the film The Breakfast Club) and can be vulnerable to each other.
• Facilitators must be ready and prepared to deal with tough topics, which will require resources and collaborative teaching.
• Reach out to other programs for training.
• Be a supportive and accepting adult ally, advocate and role model to queer youth, knowing that many do not have access to such adults.
Next Steps
Youth media is one of the best tools to support queer youth to build a positive identity because the focus of programs often encourages youth to claim and represent their identities despite harmful stereotypes projected by mainstream media. By providing a space to process becoming and belonging, youth media affords queer youth to finally amplify their stories and share their points of view among a community. Steven Liang, a teen activist in L.A. explains, “[Our stories] really foreshadow what could become amazing change in the future. If [queer] youth don’t tell their stories and document who they are and where they’ve been, then there won’t be much to look back on in the future.”
But their stories, in fact, radically affect the future. As Professor Gray explains, “[The] most revolutionary use of new media by queer youth is to connect with and circulate the range of stories and disseminate political strategies via new media.” These dialogues have the potential to build coalitions, partnerships between youth media and national LGBT organizations/Gay-Straight Alliances, and tap into major youth-led anti-hate movements—echoing the grassroots foundation of the youth media movement in history. Youth media educators who believe in supporting young people need to make a concerted effort to empower queer youth. With the support of youth media programs, queer youth can create media that confronts stereotype and bias in their own lives and in the greater society.
Ingrid Hu Dahl is the editor of Youth Media Reporter and a founding member of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in Brooklyn, New York. She has an M.A. in Women’s & Gender Studies and is the guitarist in the band Boyskout.
Macintosh, Lori and Mary Bryson, “Youth, MySpace, and the Interstitial Spaces of Becoming and Belonging,” Journal of LGBT Youth, Vol. 5 (1) 2007.
Wright, Kai, “Risking it All to Find Safety,” in Colorlines (Issue no 44: May | June 2008)
Reach LA’s Queer Youth Crashpad

Interview: Salome Chasnoff | Beyondmedia

Beyondmedia Education is a Chicago-based 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to collaborate with under-served and under-represented women, youth and communities to tell their stories, connect their stories to the world around us, and organize for social justice through the creation and distribution of media arts.
Recently, Chicago Public Television station WTTW’s Image Union refused to air Beyondmedia Education’s award-winning documentary Turning a Corner, claiming that the content is inappropriate. As part of the award, Turning a Corner was to be screened on WTTW’s Image Union program. Created in a media activism workshop with members of Prostitution Alternatives Round Table (PART)—15 women who had been street-level sex workers in Chicago—the film recounts their battles with homelessness, violence and discrimination and provides insight into Chicago’s sex industry. Beyondmedia Education recently won the Chicago Reporter’s John A. McDermott Documentary (short) Film Competition for Turning a Corner. WTTW’s refusal to air the program cites the sensitive subject matter—sex workers in Chicago—as the reason for their decision.
In response, and due to other recent events that have challenged access to free press in Chicago (including Loyola’s takeover of WLUW and the buyout of the Chicago Reader and the firing of key writers) on January 17th Beyondmedia Education organized a meeting at Columbia College for community and independent media makers to come together to build a media justice plan for action addressing issues of censorship, inequality in media access, and the increasing corporate control of media in Chicago.
In January, YMR interviewed Salome Chasnoff, Executive Director of Beyondmedia.
YMR: In your own words, please discuss the important issue of community access to public media as it relates to the youth media field.
Chasnoff: It’s to recognize the reality that young people are part of our world. We are all in this together. We all need to communicate in the same space. Adults are very quick to complain that young people don’t communicate with them—that there is an invisible divide between the generations both in the public and private spheres. For example, “I don’t understand their music, dress, etc.” Media—public communication—is a way for these divides to be bridged and the public forum to be rebuilt.
In some ways, media reflects what is happening on the ground and in some ways it constructs what is happening. We can see the public and private as co-creative. Through media making we can repair the social fabric. Youth media is key to that enterprise. Technology is the means but the end result is larger. Youth are going to run the world and they are the vibrant voice of today. That has to be reflected in everything—including public access—and adults need to be accountable to young people. The only way to do that is to hear them. But young people also need to take responsibility for speaking and participating—and fight for the space in which to do it. If youth have something to say in the public space and that access is blocked—that is censorship.
YMR: About 30 people attended the media justice meeting you organized at Columbia College. What was the overall outcome?
Chasnoff: There were all kinds of groups that attended the meeting. Beyondmedia works with many different cohorts. Attendees included policy makers, media makers, academics, and youth media. Unless we are trying to develop an initiative, it is normally difficult to get these groups together. Everyone is so busy. People need to have a particular, shared objective.
In the break-out groups, there was a concern for university accountability (journalism/media programs). Students are being trained for jobs that do not exist—therefore, universities must share resources and be transparent in their programs.
People want to continue meeting and bring in more groups and definitely more young people (for youth voice). We are developing a listserv and the next meeting will be at Southwest Youth Collaborative in order to change the context of each meeting to reflect the diversity of voices. We are committed to win-able battles.
At the meeting, we talked about a live weekly forum where people could express their views on a particular issue (a hot issue) that could be broadcast locally. This would work well for young people and all different marginalized groups. Parents are complaining that they do not know what their teens are thinking. Youth can speak through media and adults can learn a lot from that.
YMR: How can educators, media justice organizers, community members and young people collaborate and support each other in doing this type of work?
Chasnoff: An important thing is to remember that we are all involved in the same project. What we do is about all of us. We don’t have to actively collaborate to keep each other’s best interests in mind. If what we are creating is for everyone, than we are collaborating. We have to remember to keep our blinders off and always expand our vision so it includes more and more issues, people, and audiences. If we are acting out of a social justice model, than ultimately, what we do will serve the greatest good.
YMR: What role can independent and community media play in accessing young people within public media?
Chasnoff: This is already happening. I’ve been a media maker for twenty years and I have seen youth media grow from something non-existent to a viable field. Part of that is the way technology has grown—young people have more access to media tools and knowledge. Public media must create a space of access for marginalized voices.
For example, independent/community media must have opportunities for young people to become involved and expand their frame as a result of talking to young people. Youth must learn how to engage media with solving issues or problems that concerns them.
YMR: One specific question at the meeting was “what kind of a job is Chicago public media doing in representing the public interest”? How does this relate to youth media?
Chasnoff: I think people would find youth media (and marginalized voice/media) interesting in Chicago. The Chicago public likes to be challenged and entertained. Many want to be active, critical viewers. The work we make here in Beyondmedia is not entertainment based and yet we get a lot of positive responses from a diverse array of people.
Rarely has my breath been taken away by mainstream media. But when someone is taking public space for the first time after making their story their entire lives, it is totally unique, fresh and surprising. It has the capacity to capture people’s imaginations and they can learn from that. It is not a story that is made to sell a product. It is a story that is expressing lived experience and, therefore, something most people can relate to, recognizing the truth in storytelling. The problem with a lot of university filmmaking programs is that state-of-the-art equipment is available to learn on but you might as well watch the products on mute—they are boring. The focus is warped in my opinion. Young people that really want to grab the power of these tools in their hands and use them to express their unique vision and get something that would make their world better—that is exciting.
YMR: What strategies can youth media educators use to access public media more effectively and consistently?
Chasnoff: Develop relationships with gatekeepers of public media and educate them to what youth media could bring to them and their audiences. Try to work creatively together. Develop programming that would allow youth to “see” behind the scenes how public media is made (and even develop roles for them such as internships and/or career paths). Work with public media such as NPR, PBS and even universities to develop resources. If taxpayers support and “own” these outlets, then they should reflect our vision. Young people and adults must fight to own public voice. We can’t take our ownership for granted—we have to fight for it on a daily basis. The relationship between public media and free speech/democracy is indivisible because you can’t have one without the other.
For example, as a result of the response from our colleagues and peers, Beyondmedia did win a battle. It’s not official yet but, despite the set back with WTTW’s Image Union, it looks like our full documentary will be aired on WTTW’s regular programming in the spring in an even better time slot and not just the initial short version proposed to air. This proves that there are win-able battles out there when you mobilize your troops in the field and beyond.