Health-Related Teen Media Partnerships

Somerville is a densely populated city of 77,500 people in the Boston urban area. Its residents are a mix of middle class, well-educated young professionals and low income, immigrant families with children in the public schools. The students must deal with issues of acculturation as well as the mainstream American problems of alcohol and substance abuse, gang involvement, teen pregnancy, depression, obesity, and domestic violence.
The City of Somerville and youth-serving organizations in the city have been proactive in dealing with these problems, especially since 2004 when a rash of student suicides shook the city. As a result, the city now provides after school activities, many grant-funded, that deal with educating youth about how to make healthy choices. Federal and state grants are available for youth projects that deal with substance abuse, and many urban social service groups use these grants to fund projects.
As a result, we’ve seen some important changes. For example, Somerville youth have seen underage drinking decline among middle school peers by 50% over two years since they began working with the Health Department and Somerville Community Access Television on community outreach, including media projects that reach their peers via cable TV and the Web.
Youth media in partnership with health providers truly are making a difference in our community, benefiting young people and increasing the overall effectiveness of the field.
Next Generation Producers
As a public access center, SCATV’s mission is to provide a free speech venue for the city on cable TV, providing equipment, facilities, and training to produce programs for the Channel. Youth media is an integral aspect of the mission, as youth rarely have a voice in mainstream media, and the images they see of urban youth are often negative. Next Generation Producers (NGP) is the youth media program of SCATV, which aims to give teens the tools they need to express their world using up to date media technology.
NGP has worked on health-related media programs with teens through a variety of partnerships, including the Boys and Girls Club, a Latino immigrant support organization, a counseling center, an anti-poverty organization with a Latino youth group, and most consistently with a youth group of Somerville Cares About Prevention (SCAP), a community based coalition supported by the Somerville Health Department.
NGP has found these collaborations an excellent way to help achieve citywide goals of having healthier young people, which in effect, increases the value of SCATV to the community. I will focus on the partnership between SCAP and SCATV as a case study as it has been the most frequent and successful.
A Working Partnership
The mission of SCAP is to bring together and mobilize the diverse community of Somerville to prevent and address issues associated with substance abuse while promoting positive mental, spiritual, and physical health, especially among youth. Their youth group is called Somerville Positive Forces (SPF) and its mission is to empower youth to make healthier decisions regarding the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
Since 2007, SPF and NGP have worked together to produce public service announcements, magazine shows, and short original dramas on the topics of underage drinking, prescription drug abuse among teens, and depression.
SCAP benefits our youth media efforts because they diversify our pool of applicants, further uniting young people across cultural groups that might not have a similar opportunity in school settings; and, SCAP issues an annual high school student health survey to follow the rates of alcohol and drug use, depression, and domestic violence in the lives of teens (see: Working with factual percentages related to one’s community is powerful for the young people we serve.
SCAP sees media production, which we provide, as a tool for getting their message out and directly affecting young people through their prevention efforts. For example, for a recent NGP project, students videotaped a skit of a peer saying no to alcohol among a group of friends, representing the statistics in clear graphics throughout the piece. The piece was powerful for both the youth producers and the audience; and, it gave SCAP a direct means to get their message across to a target demographic.
Besides the efficacy of the message, a key to the success of the partnership has been the funding that SCAP receives to support their work at SCATV. SCAP’s primary funders are the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the MA Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS). According to the Director of SCAP, the funders appreciate the wide distribution via cable TV and the Web of the health-related messages that our youth produce.
SCAP contracts NGP to guide the media production aspects of the program, usually providing about $2,000 for a ten-week workshop. NGP has its own cameras and laptops to use for production, and two staff members who are dedicated to the program for a portion of their hours. SCAP has an adult leader who works with the teens as well, keeping the projects on target with the information to be presented. In addition to learning production skills, speaking in front of groups, and conducting interviews with strangers in the streets, teens begin to believe in the positive impact they can have on the local community using media.
Suggestions to the Field
If you are able to identify a health provider that is interested in partnering with your youth media organization, consider emphasizing the win-win partnership that this article highlights. The topic of health is a popular and growing trend and youth media and its distribution capabilities are increasingly attractive to many of these providers.
Consider networking with other youth serving organizations to determine if they have received health-related grants for programs that could incorporate media elements. Suggest co-authoring grants with these organizations.
Once you establish a partnership, here are a few important tips to be mindful of:
Research what health issues are the most important to teens in your community. Have a group advisor on board who is knowledgeable about the topic so that the projects are factual and relevant.
Make sure that the media production skills you offer are interesting and fresh. One challenge we found is that we needed to keep our media technology and instruction hip and new to keep the teens invested. Encourage participants to experiment, to write more abstracted scripts, and even incorporate stop-motion animation. Statistics presented in graphics are effective and give authenticity to the projects—they can be used in multiple creative ways.
Distribute the end projects far and wide through all means of distribution available, including live screenings, cable TV, Facebook, YouTube, and community websites. Enter videos in film festivals to gain recognition for participants, further spreading the information and message forward. This not only helps inform a wide array of viewers but also encourages health-providers to sustain partnerships with youth media.
Next Steps
It is in the best interest of youth media programs to seek out partnerships with youth-serving organizations in their communities to produce health-related media projects, attracting larger partnerships with local and national health providers. We have the right tools, approach, and methodology to make major changes in the areas of health education and access, which will enrich our communities and the young leaders in our programs.

Wendy Blom is the executive director of Somerville Community Access Television in Somerville, MA. She has an MA in Mass Media from Emerson College and an MA in Theater Arts from the University of Colorado. Blom has been active in public access television since 1997. Previously she served as Community Programming Director for the Lowell, MA access center, and as Outreach and Education Coordinator at Boston Neighborhood Network.

A Change in Focus: Youth Media Shapes Community

Youth Media programs are, by nature, uniquely poised to be effective vehicles of youth self-expression, protest and social change. But how effective is this programming in the long-term if we do not make an effort to use these tools to make change in the communities where our students live?
Many times, youth experience great change in youth media programs; however, outside the media-making space, young people often have to squeeze their newly enlarged vision of the world back into the small, often stifling or dangerous spaces of their neighborhoods or schools. Youth media organizations can help make this transition easier by working with families, community partners, and schools to improve young people’s lives and decrease city-wide violence. Partnering with key stakeholders must become a key component of youth media programs in order to contribute to the continued growth and long-term sustenance of the young people we serve.
Of course, what with increasing budgetary constraints and overworked staffs, running a youth media program is difficult enough without thinking about expanding our reach to service entire communities and families. But while the challenges are many, they are not insurmountable. One of the first steps we can take is to incorporate a broader, more holistic vision of our students’ lives—one that incorporates family and community resources—into our program structure and goals.
Young Chicago Authors (YCA)
I am currently the director of publishing for Young Chicago Authors, and have worked with the organization to develop and promote its publishing initiatives for 5 years. For over 18 years, Young Chicago Authors has cultivated voice and vision in youth ages 13-19 by teaching creative writing and performance. YCA began simply as a space where young people could come to write and be a part of a community of writers. Freedom of expression and the nurturing of a safe community space remain core values of the organization.
Contrary to popular belief, writers do not write in isolation. Writers thrive when they are exposed to diverse experiences and perspectives. YCA celebrates the fact that its students come to the organization from all over the city of the Chicago, and with them bring a multitude of experiences, needs, and interests. YCA also believes in writing and creative expression as a means of creating change in individuals and communities. YCA actively seeks to nurture the rich diversity of its community and support the growth of young writers.
One of the primary ways that YCA does this is to encourage a lifelong relationship with the organization. Staff members and teaching artists for the organization reach out to and make concerted efforts to maintain mentorship relationships with both current students and YCA alumni. YCA also encourages its alums to teach and mentor current students by providing employment opportunities to graduates of the program. This allows older students, many of whom are pursuing careers in education and social service, to gain valuable teaching experience, and allows younger students to see that it is possible to make a living as both a creative artist and an educator. This also instills in all of our students the value of giving back to a community that nurtured them.
Whenever possible, YCA also seeks to involve parents in our programming. We invite parents and families to all of our events, and we have asked parents to serve on our Board of Directors. YCA also, on occasion, offers writing classes for parents, giving them a creative outlet that mirrors that of their children, and that, hopefully, encourages families to share with one another.
YCA has also recently been making an effort to establish relationships with local elected officials to develop youth-centered media and writing programming that meets the needs of their communities. For example, YCA is currently working with a group of aldermen to develop a series of student-produced Public Service Announcements to promote safe spaces in some of Chicago’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Students will conduct research and interview community members to gather information about their neighborhoods. This project will enable students to become visible agents of change in their neighborhoods and encourage community members to work together to combat violence. These governmental ties also open the door for YCA to become involved in discussions about—and perhaps the creation of new—educational policy that will ensure that children in all neighborhoods have access to safe, creative spaces.
Suggestions for the Field
Involve key stakeholders despite a small budget: Involving key stakeholders in the community—parents, elected officials and business owners—can be done with no or minimal cost. Incorporating community members as an integral part of existing youth media programming, as well as creating new community-based projects and collaborations, not only can enrich the program, but also help youth understand that they have access to a network of concerned and supportive people in their own communities. Youth and community members need to recognize that they are all part of an intricately woven community tapestry.
Build non-youth media specific partnerships: Establishing partnerships with local community organizations and law enforcement and family service agencies will strengthen youth media’s overall impact. Establishing personal relationships between youth in the community and these agencies makes it harder for children to be treated as “faceless” entities in the community and could reduce the tension and stereotyping that often exist among these groups.
In addition, youth media practitioners must learn from existing organizations and service providers in the local communities where we work. As young people document and disseminate information about existing neighborhood initiatives, they can initiate collaborations and projects to uncover and address needs that are not being met. We need to nurture and provide these opportunities, including employment, for youth to become leaders in their communities.
Suggest community-youth media projects: When youth engage in projects like recording local CAP meetings and interviewing residents to get a better sense of needs of the community, they are using media to build bridges between these agencies and constituencies, which benefits both the community and the field. In this context, youth are seen by the community as valuable contributors, and young people, in turn, can begin to recognize the valuable resources available to them in their own neighborhoods. Youth media programs must investigate community resources to better supply young people with life-tools they need.
Dedicate resources for at-risk youth: Many young people who enter youth media programs express that they have complicated family situations and require safety within the community. Although I would not suggest that youth media organizations should, or have the capacity to be social service providers, I do want to acknowledge that beyond our programs, students live lives that require support and attention. Building relationships with local agencies could provide youth media organizations an opportunity to know what services are available and to direct students to resources they might need beyond our programs—such as housing, counseling and shelter.
The Effects of a Holistic Approach
Those of us who are youth media practitioners and supporters have witnessed first-hand the “magic” that happens when young people come together to work towards a common goal-compiling a magazine, creating a film or collective work of art. Barriers and gaps around race, geography, affiliations, and interests that exist outside of the meeting place fade away and the alchemy of transformation begins. Young people begin to teach and learn from one another and, in the process, discover and uncover new layers of themselves. However, if this transformation is not supported beyond the time and space of a particular program, the “magic” that is created can all too easily fade away.
By incorporating a holistic approach to youth media programming, one that actively encourages and creates opportunities for youth to engage with their communities, young people will learn more about their communities and be able to use that information to effect change, whether through policy, advocacy, media communication or artistic reflection. Youth media producers will also increase their sense of visibility and power, thereby improving self-esteem and self-efficacy.
In addition, focusing on youth media that reaches an adult audience will help communities see young people not as a threat or a drain on resources, but as active, engaged community members.
Youth media programs must play a significant role in helping youth, families, and neighborhoods identify and assign value to the resources that they have. This may lead to increased understanding, need and support—both financial as well as participatory—of youth media programming, thereby creating more opportunities for youth media organizations.
This shift in perception not only has the potential to transform small, daily interactions and one-on-one relationships, but also to improve the overall tone of a neighborhood or community. Young people and adults come to perceive that they’re in the work together, and they take greater responsibility for improving their physical space, the policies that affect them, and their social interactions. Youth media programs must incorporate into their programming a vision that includes not just individual youth, but also the communities and families and institutions where young people are educated, work, and live in order to sustain and encourage continued growth among youth media producers.
Natasha Tarpley is the director of publishing at Young Chicago Authors. A former Fortune Magazine Reporter, she is also the award-winning author of several bestselling books for children and adults.
See the “Neighborhood-Based” approach of the Harlem Children’s Zone (, a New York City nonprofit dedicated to breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty through the provision of comprehensive neighborhood based educational and community programs for children and families.
The Knowledge Works Foundation, based in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, is a foundation committed to “reinventing the relationships between school districts and community, demonstrating the power of a school created and sustained by a village.” Learn more about their community-centered model and policy initiatives at

Out of the Screening Room and into the Streets

It takes more than just showing up with a film and doing a Q&A afterwards if you want to make a deep impact with viewers—especially the local community. Young people need to go beyond simply making and screening a film. They need to learn how to engage an audience, present community issues for social change, and partner with affiliated organizations. They must effectively use their products as resources for education and action—an approach that fosters both the long-term growth of young producers and the youth media field itself.
This is what Youth Views does—it trains young people in using media for social change. Our activities seek to combine the power of media activism with skills in grassroots campaign building and innovative usages of technology to engage people and foster in them the spiritual and humanistic knowledge necessary to successfully work in marginalized communities.
About Youth Views
Youth Views is a project of the Community Engagement and Education department at American Documentary (AmDoc), a nonprofit multi-media arts organization that produces the acclaimed independent nonfiction series P.O.V. on public television (PBS). Building on AmDoc’s mandate to leverage independent media as an effective tool for social change, Youth Views works with organizations to engage young people in community building, cross-cultural understanding and leadership training using media and art. Our partners across the nation include grassroots community-based organizations, human rights groups, neighborhood associations, counseling centers, museums, student clubs, and youth media organizations.
For over 20 years, P.O.V. films have been known for their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues and presenting points of view rarely represented in mainstream media. Youth Views recognizes the power of independent documentary films to transform people’s understanding of the world. Youth Views provides P.O.V. films and accompanying educational materials free to organizations interested in incorporating independent media into their existing programs.
Partnering with Youth Media and Community Organizing Groups
One of the ways Youth Views trains young people to use media for social change is through partnerships with youth media and community organizing groups. For example, Youth Views provides the Listen Up! Youth Media Network, opportunities to expose young filmmakers to social issues, study the documentary form and gain hands-on skills in outreach and organizing. At times, these partnerships involve teaching youth media makers how to encourage and lead dialogue at screenings. Maureen Mullinax, Director of a youth media project at Appalshop (a multi-disciplinary arts and education center in Appalachia) stated, “Since 2001 it has been part of the curriculum for interns in the Appalachian Media Institute to produce P.O.V. community screenings. They see for themselves how media can generate lively discussions.”
In addition to partnering with youth media groups, Youth Views cultivates connections with young community organizers. For example over five years, Youth Views has collaborated with Project Reach, a youth and adult-run, youth organizing and crisis counseling center that has been committed for over 35 years to empower and engage New York City’s most marginalized youth communities. AmDoc has found that both types of partnerships are critical to our work because they foster in young people a commitment and passion for raising awareness about social issues with purpose.
These partnerships, in which films are used as a means to inform an audience of injustice through the leadership of young people, can be reproduced in both youth media and youth organizing fields. Both share goals of providing a safe space for young people to discuss their concerns and refine their communication and leadership skills. These partnerships support the efforts of young people—once equipped with necessary skills to use media literacy for social change—to see the power of using independent media as a tool in community-based work.
Using Film to Create Community and Social Change: Señorita Extraviada
Young people can use film to expand a community’s perspective and raise important issues regarding injustice. In one instance, Project Reach and their partners—the American Indian Community House (AICH) in New York, NY and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center (EPJC) in San Antonio, Texas—participated in the Community Engagement and Education campaign for the film Señorita Extraviada by Lourdes Portillo. This film examines the disappearances of hundreds of young women in Juarez, Mexico. While the film was not youth-produced, young people have used the film to train, organize, and mobilize their communities.
For example, Señorita Extraviada was key to bringing communities together—such as border towns in southern Texas and migrant Mexican populations—together. Young people took part in assembling intergenerational teams to present community screenings; led dialogues that considered the connections between violence against women, the culture of machismo, poverty, and attacks against indigenous communities; and organized action in the U.S. and Mexico about the situation in Juarez. Overwhelmingly, the audience was relieved that the film responded to an ongoing tragedy in their community with respect, cultural understanding, and a critical examination of contributing factors. The film, along with skilled facilitators to manage community discussions and experts ready to share their analysis and resources, drove people to action.
In addition, Project Reach screened Señorita Extraviada as part of their Summer Training Series, which is a community-organizer-readiness programs that examined different forms of discrimination. Youth trainers were surprised by their peers’ resistance to examining their assumptions about the roles of power and its misuse in relationships. In response, youth trainers asked the group to separate into male-identified and female-identified groups. They then had men view Señorita Extraviada while women participated in an exercise where each was given an index card to answer the question “How have you been personally hurt by sexism?”
After the screening the groups reunited, and each man received an index card to read out loud. Responses revealed that each young woman in the program had experienced some form of sexual violence. This startling revelation left the young men shaken, newly aware of the reality of sexism across transnational/cultural boundaries as well as on a personal level. As a result, participants in that session vowed to challenge sexism wherever they saw it and support the rights of women and girls.
Señorita Extraviada was also used on Youth View’s Talking Back program, with young people producing and airing video letters from across the country as part of the national PBS broadcast of the film, which reached over a million American homes. Video letters are still available for viewing online via P.O.V.’s website The Señorita Extraviada video letters included responses from Amnesty International USA, Feminist Majority, activist Eve Ensler, and Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis (D-CA). Participating groups created a reel with an array of the video letters and also screened it to raise awareness about the Juarez murders and the range of activist campaigns to raise awareness and influence policy around the issue. This campaign was also presented to young leaders from around the world at the United Nations during the 49th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women illustrating of how young people can use independent media as a catalytic tool for social change.
Lessons Learned
The Señorita Extraviada campaign is an example of how film can provide opportunities for young people to lead community discussion and trainings while widening community perspectives and engaging community members to dismantle injustice. Some tips on using youth-created media to raise community issues include the following:
Using film as an ice-breaker: Film can be one of the best ice-breakers for groups to get to know one another and to raise awareness of community issues, as the Senorita Extravida experience shows. Discussing someone else’s experience is a safe way for people to begin sharing their perspectives and identifying solutions to ongoing issues.
Training in moving beyond the initial screening: Film educators and professionals in youth media programs can help by training young people to leverage the social issue content of different films to raise awareness and facilitate deeper understanding around the wide array of issues in their global/local communities.
Identifying appropriate audiences: To get films off the shelf and engage communities, youth must identify key audiences. If youth want to work nationally, identify which cities or regions have the highest populations of the groups represented in a film. Or, identify which neighborhoods in their own city are confronting similar issues.
Organizing an event: Young filmmakers seeking to engage community should consult with relevant community groups and suggest venues, times, and facilitators, as well as advice on how to best make an environment a “safe space” for sharing and learning. For example, the best format for a screening may be in a classroom with a trusted teacher or another affinity group that is tackling the issues raised in a film.
Mechanisms for feedback at screenings: At screenings, it is vital to provide opportunities for viewers to present feedback to the filmmakers. For example, AmDoc asks the audience to evaluate the film in writing to obtain further feedback and share contact information if they want to stay connected. It is also important that there be time for the community to discuss ways to get involved and share strategies and resources for addressing these issues.
A respect for diversity: A fundamental element that enables our staff and participants to work successfully with many different types of groups is that we deeply value diversity and respect for other cultures. We honor those values by participating in anti-bias awareness and education trainings and honoring historical and contemporary social justice movements. Staff working with young people at the Youth Views Training Lab encourages participants to identify their points of view and examine how it has been influenced by factors such as race, class, gender, and sexuality. Such intergenerational exchange helps young people understand what influences their perspective and how it impacts their interactions with others.
Through partnerships with youth media and youth development organizations, young people can strategically leverage the power of independent film to inspire community awareness, civic engagement, and inspire social change. Though each young person starts in a different place—whether it’s as a media producer, event organizer, facilitator, advocate, activist or educator—all young people can continue to be agents of change in their communities throughout their lives.
The process has revealed over time that youth engagement heightens their commitment to civic engagement and increases their understanding of civic and social responsibility. P.O.V.’s Youth Training has had this type of impact. The combination of increased personal awareness and sensitivity to the stories of other communities along with the development of skills in areas such as critical thinking, media literacy and community organizing has helped young people see how to make impact on communities large and small.
Being able to examine and use a film—in partnership with grassroots organizations—can be the very example young people need to build a more democratic society. From my experience as a youth media maker and community organizer, the youth media field is in a powerful position to support this larger goal for society.
Irene Villaseñor manages Youth Views at American Documentary, Inc. | P.O.V. She is a graduate of the Educational Video Center’s High School Documentary Workshop and Youth Organizer’s Television. For her first campaign, she joined her parents in advocating for the rights of immigrant workers. If you would like to get involved with Youth Views, contact Irene at

Creating Conversation: Baltimore Youth Explore Audience in the City

It is critical for young people not only to produce their own media segments, but also innovatively bring the issues they raise to a broader and engaged audience. BeMore TV, a student-run media project dedicated to showcasing young people’s ideas through public access in Baltimore, MD, works to entertain, empower, and enlighten the public about issues important to youth. Realizing that television brought limitations to public discourse, young people at BeMore TV find that public access is not always the most accessible medium to reach a local community. Thus, young people at BeMore TV have sought innovative ways to distribute their episodes to a variety of audiences through the internet and grassroots distribution strategies.
BeMore TV is a project of Wide Angle Youth Media, an organization founded in 2000 by Gin Ferrara, who recognized that Baltimore “needed an organization that would do youth media in an ongoing, sustainable way.” Young people need to use media on a larger scale to address issues within their local community. She explains, “Often young people are the target market for what they are seeing on television. [They] need to be able to respond to that.”
Two interns from Wide Angle—Lendl Tellington and Kyle Halle-Erby—conceived BeMore TV after successfully producing a documentary on student-led activism as a response to the education crisis in Baltimore in 2006.
Their documentary, “Schooling Baltimore Street,” made students realize they needed to use media to educate the public on issues that affect Baltimore from a youth perspective. Tellington, now Coordinator for the BeMore TV program explains, “We wanted to find a way to develop critical work that talked about youth issues, but at a faster rate because ‘Schooling Baltimore Street’ took us almost a year to produce.”
With the guidance of mentors such as Ferrara, students researched and developed a plan for a television show. They traveled to New York City to consult other youth media organizations such as the Global Action Project, Listen Up! and the Manhattan Neighborhood Network.
After much discussion with these organizations, BeMore TV decided to air half hour episodes that would feature segments about a specific theme by youth across Baltimore. Submissions for the show—solicited across the city—would provide a platform for many young voices and give BeMore TV a finger on the pulse of issues affecting Baltimore youth.
Youth issues, public access
Tellington and Halle-Erby decided to use public access television—a medium regularly viewed by many Baltimore teens—as a means to generate discussion in the local community. Airing the show on Baltimore’s Public Access would make these voices available to a wide range of people on a recurring basis. As a result, a diverse audience in the city would be exposed to the opinions and perspectives of young people, particularly on issues the young people themselves deemed of significant importance.
Co-founder Tellington describes his vision for the show’s role in the city: “Baltimore is probably one of the most geographically segregated cities, as far as having communities primarily black, and then primarily white. There are so many different communities, and they really don’t talk to each other. BeMore TV is trying to produce work about youth, and motivate communities to talk about issues affecting youth, because most times in the news, [youth are portrayed] in a negative light.”
After successfully producing two episodes since 2006, students at BeMore TV found that Baltimore’s Public Access was not particularly public or accessible. Explains April Montebon, a MVP intern, “BeMore TV is only on Baltimore’s Public Access, and that’s only for people who have cable and who live in the city, so we had a very limited audience.” The lack of a permanent schedule provided further complications to reaching an audience. Though BeMore TV’s purpose was using television to increase access, it would have to explore other vehicles to distribute their work and increase its viewer base.
Outside the city
The youth and practitioners at BeMore TV and Wide Angle confronted these challenges through innovative dissemination techniques on-line, on paper, and in the community.
First, the youth at BeMore TV took advantage of the nationwide popularity and user-based ranking systems of sites such as MySpace and YouTube. Douglas, a student who has been working with Wide Angle Media for three years, currently working on a marketing campaign explains, “We post our videos online, so people can view and rate them. [As a result], we get more viewers; have film makers across the country and across the world as MySpace friends, increasing access to our videos.” For young people, networking on-line to showcase these episodes increased their ability to market media to a variety of demographics across the World Wide Web.
Though networking and marketing videos on-line taught youth at BeMore TV important skills, the internet did not lead to enough local dialogue with community members in the city of Baltimore.
As a result, in conjunction with using MySpace and YouTube, young people researched local trends in media distribution specifically for the city of Baltimore. Using a do-it-yourself distribution guide ( put together by four Baltimore youth media organizations—Wide Angle Youth Media, Creative Alliance, Kids on the Hill, and Megaphone Project—youth at BeMore TV learned that they had to have more face-to-face contact with the local community. Ferrara at Wide Angle explains, “We found that the Internet is a really great way to get outside the city, but inside the city, you have to go to people’s homes. You have to go to the neighborhoods and do events either at a school or at a church or an after school site… for people to really see things.”
Such findings inspired a student-written grant for a new community outreach plan, which April Montebon helped to write and obtain. In order to reach a wider audience the students came up with a yearly plan: they would make two episodes each year, which would be aired at public screenings, and help teach three workshops each year, using a peer-to-peer model. In this model, students assist the Mentoring Video Project at Wide Angle to teach youth about technology. At public screenings, youth present each episode, lead discussion on the topics they raise, and use the time to get a sense of possible future themes.
Inside the city
Montebon explains the importance of community screenings in this new approach: “The reason for a screening is, you can [sit at home and] watch something on TV… but it takes another step to have a type of forum. I think what the community screenings are supposed to serve, is a platform where people can start a sort of discourse.” Airing a youth-made TV episode in a community context, such as a public park, museum, or neighborhood event, creates a potential for dialogue. It is easier for people to talk to one another about youth-led issues in a group setting, as well as engage with youth media makers on the issues they raise.
The screenings provided a context for learning more about the local audience of Baltimore, which as times, were challenging. The youth at BeMore TV believe in the issues represented in each episode. In a youth media organization, young people are supported for such ideas, but in the community at large young people often face challenges of stereotypes and condescension.
Two types of community reactions posed challenges to the success of the screenings. Recounts Tellington, “When people hear about youth media, it’s like ‘Aw, the kids [are] telling stories with cameras,’” which does not take the issues young people represent within their video seriously. On the flip side, Tellington explains, “Last year there was an individual who came to the screening, which was presented as a community screening, not as youth-made work. This person got there and said, ‘I thought this was a community meeting,’ and broke out and left.” Convincing the community that youth perspective is as valuable as any other to community success is often difficult.
BeMore TV believes young people often have more of an understanding of local city issues before these issues become part of mainstream news coverage. For example, Ferrara states, “We were talking with students about issues in schools way before it became a city-wide discussion.”
Since most Baltimore residents do not realize youth are often the first to recognize real issues, BeMore TV is working on its audience to embrace young people as informers and influencers of important issues within the city of Balitmore. While Ferrara openly admits, “I’m really grateful to have some idea of what’s going on for young people in Baltimore,” the rest of Baltimore still needs to listen to what youth have to say.
The latest episode on hip-hop, the trailer for which students have already shown at two city-wide events, marks a transition in BeMore TV’s approach to representing and distributing issues raised by young people.
The episode uses hip hop to both entertain and talk critically about issues. Using hip hop draws the local Baltimore audience to learn about critical issues while having fun, which aligns with the mission of BeMore TV that values entertaining and enlightening the public about issues important to youth. “We’re trying to make a transition,” says Tellington. “We found a component in hip hop that is very entertaining, that people can relate to. We are trying to use that as a vehicle to talk to more communities. [It is about] finding that [arena] where you can talk critically, and use entertainment to get your message across.”
While results of adding entertainment to BeMore TV’s episodes has yet to be assessed, BeMore TV’s multi-faceted approach to disseminating media products is an example of how youth media organizations might distribute media and affect a local audience.
The young people of BeMore TV show how sometimes it is not only about making a media product—such as airing episodes on local television—but also working to realize the goal of community dialogue. In Baltimore, MD youth find that distributing their episodes on the internet, on television, and in local screenings increases access and distribution of the issues raised in their videos.
Learning from challenges of these different approaches, youth continue to find ways to get their voices heard—helping to bring vision and perspective to the local community in Baltimore. Youth media practitioners can support young media makers by offering insight, sharing research and findings on channels of distribution and audience, as well as advocating for youth media at public and community-based screenings locally. Young people of BeMore TV are not simply representing issues in the local community; they are finding inventive ways to inspire conversation while using multiple distribution strategies to increase the range and impact of their media—with a twist of entertainment.
Grace Smith is the Assistant Editor intern at the Academy for Educational Development. She is a writer who grew up in Baltimore, MD that recently moved to New York from New Orleans.