Building the Youth Media Arts Community in Boston: A History of RYMAEC

With many divergent philosophies, funding priorities, field-professionalizing efforts and screening venues in the greater Boston-area, it has been a challenge to identify the core community of youth media practitioners.
As a group, we have struggled to determine our common goals and needs, and how to identify to the public who we are and what makes us unique. I have been intrigued by this challenge since I began working in the youth media field as a Boston-based professional in 1993.
But, in 1997, a youth media consortium was birthed.
That year, I was working at the Community Art Center running the Teen Media Program and the Do It Your Damn Self!! National Youth Video Festival. The local youth media field, at that time, consisted of about six agencies and individuals who were working with youth in various settings.
The Massachusetts Cultural Council was funding most of us through its YouthReach program, and the New England Film and Video Festival (NEFVF) still existed through Boston Film and Video Foundation (BFVF). Three of the youth programs still exist today, but neither NEFVF nor BFVF survived.
After many conversations with Jared Katsiane, one of the youth media practitioners, we agreed it would be beneficial and fun to have our students meet regularly and share their work. The result gave rise to the Reel Eyes Consortium, a traveling presentation of youth work that screened in each of the youth programs’ neighborhoods or institutions, culminating at the Museum of Fine Arts.
In those days, egos in the field were big, as the field was fresh and more funding was available. To prove your program was the most deserving was sometimes weighted more heavily than community building for the welfare of us all. For this reason, the consortium dissolved, and Jared and I vowed not to put effort into it again until the climate changed and funding was available for the consortium itself. We continued to work together unofficially, as we had been doing prior.
In 2003, I left the Community Art Center and decided to leave the world of youth media, returning to school. Yet, a week later, I applied to and was hired to run the Fast Forward Teen Video Program at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), where I currently work.
Shortly after I started at the ICA I suggested that the institute support a youth media consortium. The ICA agreed, and began to support the consortium first, as a fiscal sponsor, and eventually as a part of the ICA’s program budget, as part of a 3-year Wallace Foundation grant.
Together, the consortium established an advisory group, created a website, and formalized our mission, which is: “to create a community of Boston area individuals, organizations, and community-based groups committed to supporting and strengthening the youth media arts field through exchanging information, resources, and youth-produced media.”
With its latest iteration, the Regional Youth Media Arts Education Consortium (RYMAEC), in discussion to be a permanent program at the ICA, we have discovered the benefits of being affiliated with a large cultural institution while simultaneously we grapple with how that relationship influences the practice and perception of the community.
At the same time that I was excited to finally have our vision funded, I was unsure of how an institution might exert its own mission and practice, voluntarily or not. Under the umbrella of the ICA, the immediate challenge for me was to define RYMAEC in such a way that it maintained its identity as a true consortium with decision-making coming form its members.
Another challenge was to protect RYMAEC from being absorbed into a position or to a budget line within the institution. I wanted to ensure that the consortium always had sufficient time and money allotted to it as a unique effort.
In addition, outside of the institution, the field had changed. Youth media in Boston was no longer 6 individuals working in organizations with a few kids. It was every student with a cell phone, every teacher with some excitement for the Internet and iMovie; it was Drupal, Ning, Facebook and YouTube.
As we witnessed the youth media field changing, we realized that those of us who had been doing this for 10 years or more have much to offer the field, but that the new developments in the technology along with the new way in which it is being used has developed a new generation of “experts.” Connecting these generations and experiences with each other would be of great benefit to the field and the youth we all serve. As a consortium, we created these connections through two actions that yielded key insights.
First, we formalized the make up of the advisory board by identifying 12 types of institutions or individuals who would represent that breadth of experience, from small non-profits to institutions of higher education. Having a representative from MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program, a Public Access Station Staff member, a Boston Public School teacher and a filmmaker who works in a small non-profit in a small city outside of Boston allowed us to more fully understand the possible uses and needs of curricula and practice in youth media arts. The diverse representatives allow us to be more creative and inclusive in our outreach to attract and support those who are doing this work.
Secondly, we decided to risk over-population in our consortium and offer an event that was open to all who were working with new media technologies in education. Our first “Web 2.0penMic” was a success, allowing public school teachers stand up next to Second Life Gurus, each demonstrating her skills and enthusiasm for new media technologies and arts. By opening up this presentation and dialogue to a wide spectrum of educators, we were taking a risk by suggesting that we were not the experts, and that our community might benefit from being larger than just the youth media arts teachers.
Beth Balliro, RYMAEC Advisory group member and Visual Arts teacher at the Boston Arts Academy, attended the event and remarked, “It was inspiring to see non-media teachers taking risks and exploring ways that new technologies could enhance their academic curricula.”
Through all of this, my fear of the influence of the institution had turned into a healthy dialogue between myself and my colleagues at the ICA about how membership of a self-determining consortium, many of whom work outside of the scope of the “art” world, can exist as, and be funded by, a program of a contemporary art institution.
I have come to appreciate how the perception of such an institution can attract a wider following. Contemporary art is highlighted by experimental uses of information and technology, so the stage is set for our members to feel comfortable taking risks. Furthermore, the expectations of attending an event at such an institution are already met through the perception, setting and exhibition nature of the institute.
Although community building is a concerted effort between individuals, organizations, and time, in Boston we have learned that a mix of patience and persistence has allowed programs to establish roots deep enough to sustain and build a lasting consortium. As a collective, we recognize that we cannot stay relevant and flourish if we are unwilling to embrace, celebrate and incorporate new ideas and individuals into our curricula and methodology. Furthermore, we have learned that patience and longevity can lead to the right partners, even if they are as unlikely as I might have guessed RYMAEC and the ICA would be. We must actively communicate with as many relevant community members and institutions as possible in order to support youth media’s efforts to navigate through the ever-changing world of media, art and technology.

Joseph Douillette is a video artist and educator who lives and works in the Boston area. Since 2003, he has directed the Fast Forward Teen Video Program at the Institute of Contemporary Art. He has directed various other youth media art programs, including the Teen Media Program/Do It Your Damn Self!! Youth Video Festival at the Community Art Center, and the Video Program at the Creative Arts at Park Summer program in Brookline. Joe served on the Board of Directors of Cambridge Community Television from 2000–2008. He also runs Egg Rock Media, a local media production and consulting business, and JP Sucks, a local gourmet lollipop company. Joe has two daughters and he oversees the work of about 20,000 honeybees.

The Twin Cities Youth Media Network

The Twin Cities Youth Media Network (TCYMN), which began in 2000, is the longest running network of youth media organizations in the country. TCYMN began meeting without funding, in 2007 gained funding, and has recently lost funding. Nevertheless, it will survive. TCYMN provides a case study for organizations and regions grappling with transitions in their funding models.
The History of TCYMN
Founding members of TCYMN are media practitioners from a variety of media genres, including experimental, documentary, music, narrative and installation. The original members were Dan Bergin from Twin Cities Public Television, Kristine Sorensen from In Progress, Nancy Norwood from Perpich Arts High School, Witt Siasoco from the Walker Art Teen Program, Mike Hazard from The Center for International Education, Nicola Pine from St. Paul Neighborhood Network, John Gwinn from Phillips Community Television, and Teresa Sweetland from Intermedia Arts. Dan Bergin explains, “The more formal connecting began after the 2000 NAMAC conference in the Twin Cities. We noted how connected the youth media groups from New York, Chicago, and Seattle were and thought we should be able to organize.”
As a result, TCYMN youth media practitioners met informally, eventually pulling together a screening of youth work from across their organizations. The screening developed into the annual All City Youth Film Showcase that premieres at The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis every fall.
The members were diverse in their approaches and communities served, but they all shared the passion for youth media. Additionally, members began to see their individual work improve because they were sharing best practices and experiences among other youth media practitioners.
Staying up-to-date on the other organizations provided the information and encouragement to tell youth about other programs and expand the youth’s experiences. Slowly, the Network developed ideas to expand their work into a Public Television production, a website, marketing and networking for educators and practitioners, as well as to hire a part-time coordinator.
In 2007 TCYMN received funding for a two-year initiative to actualize these ideas and begin expanding the network beyond the founding members. The network saw an explosion in productivity. Membership increased from seven to eighteen youth media organizations. Attendance at the All City Film Showcase began to reach capacity, and TCYMN began to establish a clear presence with a website, monthly newsletter, one-hour Public Television Broadcast production airing throughout the state with DVD duplication, and attendance at “Straight Shot Youth Media Summit” in May 2009.
With this work came formalized meetings, an executive committee, clear policy on membership, agendas and benefits. The increased structure also created transparency and a central location for housing knowledge so it was less likely to become lost with transitions among organizations. It was now clear how others could be members and what they could expect with that membership. Furthermore, the structure created easy entry points for diverse staff from member organizations to become involved. For example, Americorps members or other new practitioners could join the monthly meetings and help with TCYMN projects. Nicola Pine reflects, “I felt like we [were on] a freight train full speed ahead—[we were] extremely productive and focused on our goals.”
At the same time, there were challenges. For example, TCYMN struggled to find the balance between the coordinator’s responsibilities and an appropriate level of work among the members to ensure members’ investment and evidence of need for their participation. However, with funding, the Network increased transparency and access to this community of knowledge, collaboration and shared opportunities for youth.
A Shift in Funding
TCYMN’s two-year funding came to a dry end in June 2009 because of a shift in focus areas for our funder. Temporarily, while TCYMN pursues new funding, members will move back to an all-volunteer run group and scale back Network-wide activities. However, TCYMN sits poised to continue with or without funding because of its strong roots and spirit of collaboration that began without funding in 2000. These roots, which connected youth media organizations and practitioners in the Twin Cities, nurtured relationships across genres, communities and organizational size.
The root of TCYMN’s existence is, first, the shared belief in the power of teaching media to and with youth. We know this is done better when we connect as a field, regardless of funding. Founding TCYMN member Nicola Pine explains, “The network really is an affinity group [of] committed artists and educators who share a belief in the power of media to change young lives.”
Funding exploded the productivity and reach of TCYMN, created structure, transparency, and a central location for knowledge in the field for the region—but not without the strains on informal relationships that come with more defined structures. For the broader field of youth media, TCYMN represents a successful, decade-strong model of community, cross-organizational support and maximizing opportunities for youth and practitioners within a local, regional network.
Twin Cities Youth Media Network
Joanna Kohler is the coordinator of TCYMN. She runs her own production company Kohler Productions and has been telling powerful stories through documentary video and audio projects since 1999.

Google Maps: A Tool for the Youth Media Field

During the April bloom of 2007, Google introduced a refreshingly inventive new online social utility tool called Google My Map that, from my perspective, is a powerful addition to the youth media arsenal. The Google My Map (GMM) application allows users to add digital content (text, video, paths, shapes, photos) to a satellite-imaged map of Earth, creating a personalized and annotated mashup that can be shared online with anyone in the world. The tool is easily learned through Google’s own tutorials and beneath the surface lays an endless array of possibilities for youth media educators.
Soon after the launch of GMM, I worked with two dozen teens—one group in Chicago and one group in Barbados for a summer youth media workshop run by Open Youth Networks. OurMap of Migrations, as we named it, captivated the intellectual and creative imaginations of the youth participants who eagerly added their own photos, videos, bios, travels and research to the map, becoming equally engrossed in exploring its rich content and learning about one another.
In populating the map with a data array of migration histories, including historical information on the transatlantic slave trade routes as well as personal stories of family diasporas, 95% of participants ended up reporting in the workshop exit survey that the map “significantly altered their views on immigration and forced migration.”
The process of jointly authoring a multimedia online map transforms how youth learn, communicate and participate in civic and social spaces. It can also change the way youth and youth media organizations collaborate and communicate with each other.
Youth Media and GMM Examples
Maps can become instrumental in mobilizing action and building new communities across geographic borders; in essence, maps make a world of difference.
To see live examples, see OurMap of Environmental Justice, which documents the toxics and assets of a Mexican-American neighborhood in Chicago.
OurMap of Environmental Justice

View OurMap of Environmental Justice in a larger map
Chicago Youth Voices Against Violence is a recent collaborative work-in-progress created by over a dozen youth media organizations in Chicago that are embedding youth media stories about the impact of violence in their communities. See the map below:
Chicago Voices Against Violence

View Chicago Youth Voices on Violence in a larger map
To take full advantage of GMM, it is important to understand its intrinsic properties and features. The following are suggestions for practitioners in the field to explore the vast aspects of GMM:
Invite Collaborators
Since its release, thousands have people have created GoogleMy Maps. But a quick glance at the index of user generated maps reveals that the vast majority of these are created by single individuals directing friends to their latest tour of Europe. Few take advantage of the most unique and powerful aspect of this tool—the “invite collaborators” button. This simple command feature allows multiple users from across geographical regions to collaborate on a single map, effectively allowing you to harness collective intelligence through crowd-sourcing—many voices contributing to one dataset based on their own localized knowledge and experiences.
Browse the Directory
Click this button and you will be taken to a directory of hundreds of other map data sets that you can choose to use as overlays. For example, we often add the Census Data to Ourmap of Environmental Justice. The census disaggregates population data by race and ethnicity. In a public presentation, all we have to do is click on the Latino category and the map shows that the highest concentration of Latinos in Chicago live in close proximity to some of the more toxic industries in Chicago. This usually evokes a big response among users—such visible evidence is hard to deny.
Create a Theme that is Geographically-based
It is a map after all, so the content should be meaningfully tied to location and place. What is the story of a place? Can the map reveal the past, present and future of a location? OurMap of Environmental Justice shows the close proximity of dozens of schools in the neighborhood to a coal power plant and other toxic facilities. The map brings that reality home in a way no other piece of media could.
Engage the User with Customized Icons and Creative Legends
The legend in GMM allows you to organize your data in a prioritized and readable form and it also helps the user navigate your map efficiently. Plus, you can create custom icons for this legend. For instance, we used animated images of skulls and crossbones in the Youth Voices Against Violence map to indicate sites where recent violence has occurred against youth.
Don’t Forget YouTube
Maps operate as a curated exhibition or film festival. For example, YouTube is the only video platform that actually works—but it works great and a multimedia map with photos and video is twice as engaging! Just grab the embed code, hit HTML on the menu bar, paste in the code and voilá—instant video. Check out some of the videos embedded into Chicago Youth Voices against violence produced by several different youth media groups such as BeyondMedia Education, Free Spirit Media and Community TV Network on the map above.
Embed Map in Websites and Blogs
You can choose to make your map public or private. If you choose “public,” it is automatically added to Google search directory. However, your distribution strategy should not end there. Ask your allies, supporters and members to embed your map into their blogs or websites. On your own website, it is best to embed your map directly onto a sidebar of your home page. Simply, hit the word “link” on the top right menu bar to get the URL or embed code. You can even customize the size of the map itself as well as the precise snapshot of the globe that you want to feature. The beauty of this embedding feature is that you can distribute knowledge broadly without worrying about it being accessed at only one centralized location.
Export to Google Earth to Create a Movie for Presentations
Make a public presentation of your map by exporting it to Google Earth. Simply select “View in Google Earth” and a .kml file will download automatically to your Google Earth application. Once your map is selected in Google Earth, you can choose to make a movie file of your map which navigates the viewer through from one placemarker to the next.
Create a Real Walking Tour Using Your Mobile Phone
If you own a mobile web browser you can easily pull up your MyMap on an iPhone, for instance, to lead you on a walking tour of sites that you have pre-placemarked. You can use the path tool to trace the path in the exact order of landmarks, reading about the sites or watching videos as you go. If you don’t have an iPhone, Google Mobile is an application that can be downloaded to virtually any other mobile phone device. Plus, the brand new speedy smart navigation tool in Street-view actually puts you right on the same street as you walk it. So, if you wanted to have new stakeholders visiting your local city to check out all youth media organizations, they can take a tour in real space and virtual space at the same time.
The possibilities for the field are vast when using the tool Google My Maps. As a practitioner in the field, I encourage you all to share GMM with young producers to come up with their own innovative ideas and uses. Through GMM, we can engage the field to unite on various local and national youth media issues, to learn more from one another across regions, and build a virtual understanding of our communities and our work. GMM has the potential to strengthen our alliances in the field, our visibility and our mobilizing efforts within new public social media networks. Through GMM, potentially hundreds of collaborators, who may be separated by real physical space, could be brought together in virtual geographic space.
Mindy Faber is the founding director of Open Youth Networks, a program of Columbia College’s Department of Interactive Arts and Media that trains under-resourced youth to use social media, games and emergent technologies for change.
Google My Maps Tutorials
Blogs on Maps
Geotagging Tips

The Chicago Youth Voices Network: A Tale of Collective Action

From the outside, it didn’t appear all that revolutionary. Crowding into the narrow meeting space above a store front overlooking a busy Chicago street were a group of diverse teens, standing and sitting on chairs and pillows, talking, laughing, and listening to each other spit a few verses of spoken word. The students represented distinct youth media programs across Chicago, brought together by the collective efforts of the staff of these programs.
Youth media practitioners act as conduits to bring young people together as they create media. However, despite the talent practitioners bring to helping create media produced by teens of a range of skills and interests, in practice they themselves have an incredibly difficult time coming together as a group.
This isn’t to say that practitioners don’t want to. Funding is sparse and small organizations, as most in the field are, see each other as competitors. Despite the relative challenge of competing for funding, practitioners time and again say that face-time and relationship-building with adult peers is one of their number one personal, field-wide goals.
But challenges exist. Youth media organizations tend to have different philosophies about how to teach teenagers media. Some are more focused on building technical skills, some more on teaching teenagers old-fashioned journalism, some on creativity and still others on teaching teenagers the more profit-oriented side of the industry, such as marketing and promotion. They tend to work as silos with their own goals and ways of doing things.
In October of 2006, youth media organizations granted by the McCormick Foundation formed into the Chicago Youth Voices Network (CYVN), which provides face-time and professional development for practitioners. Over the past two years, the group has become more unified and now shares skills, resources, and best practices. Recently, the network put together a brochure to collectively represent CYVN and signal new stakeholders, schools and other audiences to youth media, combining all of their diverse perspectives, mission and goals. Youth media groups across the U.S. can learn from our challenges and successes as we develop a model of networks and collaborations that unites us as a field.
A Funder Discovers the Youth Media Field
Before 2005, the McCormick Foundation, long-time funder of journalism training and leadership programs as well as press freedom activities and diversity in journalism initiatives, had never taken a serious look at funding youth media initiatives. At that time, coinciding with the Foundation’s 50th anniversary, the Program (one of five key funding priority areas at the Foundation) began to explore directing some of its $6 million per year budget toward youth initiatives. It was an eye-opening experience, says Mark Hallett, senior program officer for the Foundation’s Journalism Program.
“It was this wonderful discovery because we had no idea how rich Chicago’s youth media community was, and their work represented so many of the different things we cared about,” he says.
For Hallett, this sector had a fresh momentum to it. After years of supporting initiatives that often seemed to meet resistance with, for example, attempts to increase diversity in mainstream newsrooms, or encourage large media companies to prepare for the online world or to engage their communities better, the youth media sector was already producing valuable and relevant work that incorporated these broader goals. Hallett gravitates to what he calls ‘philanthropic acupuncture’—grantmaking where support is simply feeding an existing momentum rather than fighting resistance.
Hallett suggests that youth media organizations are on the cutting edge in many ways. For one, much of the way youth media practitioners do business is directed by the participants, while many schools are struggling to make their lessons more student-centered. Furthermore, video, photography and delivery of information are salient issues in the digital age—skills youth media groups are teaching. And finally, the perspectives that emerge from youth-produced media make us all aware of the many challenges that today’s youth are facing.
As the McCormick program officers (at that time Hallett and Sara Melillo) got to know the youth media organizations in Chicago, they were struck by the fact that so many were doing good work yet the organizations were fragile. Youth media organizations are typically small in operation and many executive directors skilled in their craft were not always successful fundraisers.
In order to make a larger impact on local, Chicago-based youth media programs, Clark Bell, the director of the journalism program for the McCormick Foundation, and his team decided that simply funding individual groups was not enough—that they had to support a network with professional development and training resources.
The Youth Voices Network
At the first youth media grantee network meeting, youth media practitioners filled out a survey in which they identified what they would want to get out of such a network. The ultimate takeaway from the survey was that they wanted to build relationships. Beyond that, they wanted information on how to evaluate programs and fundraise.
Hallett says that the Foundation’s hope, then as well as now, has been to help provide a forum for the youth media grantees that had to be practical and useful. Too often, foundations draw together grantees for show, without a clear idea of what they want them to do.
The meetings required an entire Friday morning every other month and are typically attended by adult staff. At first, they included intensive professional development and training from hired consultants. Topics included areas such as the importance of evaluation and how to build an individual donor base. However, they were useful, providing an opportunity to step back and ask questions.
As practitioners admitted to shortcomings and chatted about programs, a realization dawned on many: that they are all in much the same boat, passionate and struggling, and have the common interest of wanting to give teenagers in Chicago the opportunity to be a part of the media. But as little organizations in a big city, not one of them has enough manpower or programs to reach all interested teens.
This is how practitioners realized as a group that they are powerful. Last year, the Network not only brought together many of the teens they serve to talk with one another and to provide verbal feedback to youth media practitioners, but also conducted a self-survey about their own programs. Through that, the practitioners learned that they collectively touch 60 of about 100 high schools in the city, and, through participants and audiences, reach tens of thousands of teens.
Some other highlights of the survey were that the youth media groups are small organizations, typically with budgets between $150,000 and $500,000 and two or three employees. The McCormick grant of about $40,000 was one of the largest ones received by most network organizations.
The survey also identified key challenges facing the organizations: growing demand for services without the resources to support program growth (77%); over-reliance on grants, few individual donors (62%); limited budget and staff for fundraising (54%); rising operational costs such as health insurance and utilities (46%) and the need to improve organizational management systems (46%).
One major achievement of the network was the compilation of a brochure—funded by McCormick and led by True Star—to be handed out to teenagers at a high school fair. Presenting themselves as a singular type of program, rather than disparate entities, was powerful for the group. 10,000 copies were distributed. Network members take turns taking the lead on projects, which they find, is necessary to get the work done.
In addition, the network has spurred several collaborations. For example, in September 2008, The Five Freedoms Project and the Academy for Educational Development were looking for youth media educators to kick off a youth video in conjunction with a five-day leadership academy for principles, teachers, advisors and youth in Chicago.
After receiving a call for youth media educators, three members of the network responded—Open Youth Networks, Free Spirit Media and Community TV Network. As a team, they developed curriculum and identified mutual strengths and expertise to correspond with each task and training. The experience was a testament to the power of the network.
Mindy Faber, founder of Open Youth Networks and now the academic manager at Columbia College Chicago’s Department of Interactive Arts and Media, says: “I’m not sure in the past we would have been able to work as a team without really knowing one another. This was such a great way to engage with Chicago youth media orgs and share an experience of teaching side by side, despite our differences and approaches to youth media.”
Next Steps
After three years of funding and support, the McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program has made it clear that its funding of CYVN will likely cease over the next several years. Faber, whose group is part of the network, volunteered (and receives a stipend) to coordinate the network meetings this year. In upcoming meetings, leaders will talk about how the CYVN will work in the future. They are currently in the process of developing a collective mission statement.
At one point, there was discussion of forming an overarching not-for-profit with a mission and a budget, but the group decided against it. The feeling was that the CYVN’s strength is the fact that it is comprised of unique organizations that work together.
Some members think that working on projects together will help keep the momentum going and there’s even been talk about trying to get a collaborative project funded. Such a project has yet to be named and even the format is still up in the air. One idea is to have an end of the year presentation featuring work from all of the groups; another would have each individual organization produce a piece in their medium on a singular topic. All the work would then be brought together and presented.
Members of CYVN need to tell and amplify their own story. In the past, Faber notes that foundations have paid consultants and academics to figure out who and what youth media is. Sometimes youth media is put in the box of adolescent literacy organizations; while other times it is seen as a youth leadership building organization. Through CYVN, youth media can be in a position to define itself and its potential to more local and national stakeholders. Through CYVN, and capturing the unique practices and work of the many, the myths of youth media are replaced with facts and appealing outcomes.
Presenting in this way, CYVN can transform youth media from being a gaggle of struggling organizations to being a vibrant force to be reckoned with.
Suggestions for Future Youth Media Networks
Hallett says McCormick is now looking at expanding its support of youth media—and perhaps spearheading similar networks—in Los Angeles and New York. But in other cities, creating such a youth media network might require grassroots efforts.
If a local funder is invested to support a network, at the least, a stipend for a coordinator and food at meetings must be compensated. Organizations should decide on a regular meeting time that is convenient for most of the members. And at meetings, time spent on peer-to-peer training is extremely beneficial. At present, CYVN does not require outside consultants and instead, look to one another for skills to share.
“What the field is missing is the glue that will hold it all together—and what we’ve found, is that working together, that common desire and impetus, is the glue we were looking for,” Mindy Faber explains.
Faber, echoed by other practitioners in the field, suggests that on the field-wide spectrum, it will take a leader to bring the field together, both locally and nationally. Faber describes such a leader as one with “a larger and shared vision of what is possible; a leader that loves the field enough and is respected by members within the field…that will work on the various steps to strengthen the field.”
Moving Forward
Beyond capacity issues and competition for funding, all across the U.S., youth media practitioners have a sincere desire to share face time and learn from one another as a group. The CYVN is one success story, with many others to follow. For example, this year Youth Media Reporter is bringing six individual regional cohorts of youth media practitioners to collectively document best practices and issues/challenges in the area. Each cohort kicks off with an in-person meeting. Practitioners might consider continuing these meetings after YMR, say monthly, to share updates, resources, and skill-sharing—they might even review the articles they publish and how their suggestions could support other local youth media colleagues.
So far, few regions have come up with their own pathways to design coalitions—for example, the twin cities youth media network. Other cities have attempted to meet as a group, particularly in the Southwest and Southeast but have yet to find the right “glue” that fits their local cohort. Uniting the field is only a few steps away, but it needs the kind of leadership that will ensure a shared vision to strengthen collective work and the power of youth media practice in the future.
Mark Hallett is a senior program officer in the journalism program of the McCormick Foundation. Mark joined the foundation in May 1995, and coordinates grantmaking in a number of areas, including youth media and scholastic journalism, free press and First Amendment initiatives, and community and ethnic media. He is a native Chicagoan and has lived in Mexico, Norway and Spain. He is an avid photographer and serves on the boards of Erie Neighborhood House and the Erie Elementary Charter School.
Sarah Karp is the coordinator for Columbia Links.

Being a Media Mediator: Preliminary notes on practice

I have an odd job. I work in a New York City public school, but I’m hired by a non profit organization, the offices of which I step foot in once or twice a month. Most people familiar with the non-profit world or public school world conclude I’m a consultant or teacher; I’m neither.
Officially, I’m a partnership coordinator or ‘media mediator.’ I work at a small public school, founded under the umbrella of a non-profit organization that launches theme-based, partner-focused college-preparatory schools for underserved New York City youth. The school currently serves 300 students in grades 9-11 and will grow to capacity next year with students in grades 9-12. The most unique element of this school is our focus on media. Media is a core part of our school in three ways: integration across curriculum, specific media studies classes, and community partnerships.
The school partners with corporate, non-profit, academic and government organizations focused on media and media production. Partnerships do not translate directly to financial gifts—our partners give time and energy. They open their doors for site visits and office tours so students can see the variety of work available in the media industries. In addition, our academic partners open their classrooms so students can be exposed to college and know that they can continue studying the media—or any other subject matter—after high school. Partners come into the school to speak with students about their jobs, career opportunities in media, and simultaneously offer mentoring. They help develop internships so students have real-world experiences, provide social justice documentaries from their private collections, invite special guests to our classrooms, and offer broadcasting opportunities so student-made productions are aired on television. It’s my job to cultivate the relationship and organize the activities, between students and partners. I am a media mediator—and I am new at it.
I know a lot about the media. I focused on media studies in college and graduate school, with a particular focus on young people, identity development and media education. I have conducted qualitative research with young people from a variety of social, geographic, economic and ethnic backgrounds.
I spent the past several years working on a Master’s degree, then a PhD in media studies, all while teaching in a college classroom—a wildly different environment than public school. When I defended my dissertation, I realized I was tired of talking about media, young people and media education; I wanted to work directly in media education and with young people.
With this job I get to reach that goal I realized. Now my job lets me:
• manage a media team,
• schedule students in media classes,
• develop a 4-year media education curriculum,
• develop a research protocol that measures the long-term efficacy of our work, and
• create and disseminate public information to promote our school.
These activities strengthen work with our partners and the culture of the school. I chase kids around to remind them of paperwork they owe me for partner activities, field trips, internships, and/or mentorships. I chase teachers around to provide them with updated schedules and plans. Students chase me down when they want Metrocards, binders, Bandaids, or passes to the nurse—none of which I possess. Admittedly, I have had a learning curve to figure out the New York City public school system (a quagmire, at best); the culture of working daily with young people (a very different task than conducting research with them); how to develop intellectually and academically rigorous partner activities; and how to bring structure and organization to a largely unstructured and disorganized environment.
In seven months of work on cultivating and organizing partner relations, juggling the development of a 4-year scope and sequence of media classes, dealing with the daily hectic life of a NYC public school, and learning everything I possibly can about our students, I have learned a few best practices.
Think big, plan small
I started the year with a big picture in mind. By the time we reach capacity—a full 9th-12th grade student body—there will be a variety of internships and mentorships associated with partners who will actively involve our students in multiple tasks. In addition, all 11th and 12th graders will be regularly exposed to college and careers in media through regular site visits. In order to plan for this, I schedule discreet activities, such as monthly film screenings in classrooms to introduce students to social justice issues and experts in the field. In addition, a bi-monthly guest lecture series, where representatives from our partner organizations come speak to students is provided.
Once a month, I bring students to record an interview with each other for a StoryCorps project to encourage their own storytelling and provide a public outlet for their stories. Once a month, a crew of students produces a television show capturing a slice of life from our school community. These two activities are an invaluable asset to students’ self-perception, self-confidence, and maturity. When they tell their stories at the StoryCorps booth, there voices and stories are acknowledged as important and they become part of the national record. When they produce the television show, their hard work has a visible and immediate reward.
These small activities open the door for me to plan larger activities. I am in development with several partners for after school and summer internships. I want students to have internships, mentorships, visit offices, watch movies, hear guest speakers, and be actively and regularly involved in media production, including photojournalism, video production, editing, web design, music production and writing. And they want it, too. But it takes relationship building. Partners and students need to know each other and there needs to be a routine and ascending contact so that the students, partners, teachers and staff are familiar with each other —including each other’s contexts and needs—in order to deepen relationships.
I am developing a college shadow program where once a month where I bring a small group of students to NYU to sit in on a freshman media lecture class and meet with media professors afterwards for lunch. Once a month for a more intensive experience, one student spends a full day with a college student and gets to sit in on advanced, discussion-based media classes to get a richer, more nuanced exposure to college and career options. Simultaneously, I develop intensive video production workshops for advanced students to give them additional experience.
Students at this school are underserved and uninformed on many things deemed valuable by mainstream society. Overall, they do not have regular exposure to college and for many students awareness of college comes through our program. These students need an edge in order to succeed at the university level. One of the ways to achieve this is to excite and involve youth to use media to express their perspective, teamwork, talent and creativity.
Strive for structure
One thing I have learned from working with underserved youth is that their lives are anything but structured or consistent. As much as they resist the boundaries of school, it is sometimes the safest, most consistent place they are at throughout the day.
Regular media partner activities takes safety to the next level and brings structure and organization to students’ daily schedules. Nevertheless, structure comes in baby steps: a regular film screening; a regular lecture series; a regular production deadline.
Striving for structure takes trial and error. For example, I have a group of bright students who produce a monthly television program. They come up with the topics and then shoot and edit the corresponding video. Their drive impressed me so much that once I left them to their own devices and quickly learned that was not the best way to support them. While they were bright and self-motivated, they had not learned how to budget their time, to arrange and write for interviews, to put together a script, to shoot B-roll, or talk to people other than their friends. So I imposed regulations: outlines, deadlines, script checks, and footage checks to name a few. It worked for an episode. Then, I left them alone again, assuming both our lessons had been learned. Two kids skipped class, skipped lunch, played on the computer, assured me everything was okay and got no show done. The other crew members struggled between violating their friends’ confidence—as snitching is frowned upon—and wanting to produce work with quality and substance.
Now we have regular meetings where I leave them to their devices, but I monitor their progress. Now that they have a realistic grasp of their abilities and a better idea of the time frame required, they work on getting a show out every other month. These are bright students, after all: they are quick and dedicated learners.
Listen to students
It is the students who do my job best: they tell me what they want to do. They tell me what’s most interesting and most rewarding. They are right more often than I am.
I started the year with film screenings after school. I thought this was a brilliant idea as it served three purposes. First, it exposed students to partners. Second, it exposed students to vital social justice issues. And third, it did not interrupt students’ class schedules.
However, it was students’ feedback that changed my approach. They informed me that after school, they were so tired, they could not focus on a film and those two hours in the dark was too tempting to sleep through. Based on their feedback, I decided that missing class once a month to watch a film and meet the filmmaker was incentive for both students who worked hard and students who wanted an out from the daily grind or a rigorous school schedule.
Another example of how students helped shape the media program is at the beginning of the year, I thought that watching movies—even social justice documentaries—would be fascinating. When I began implementing these documentaries, students reminded me that they watch movies a lot and documentaries are the film version of reading yet another book: interesting and valuable but the process is still school-related.
To them, visiting offices was more intriguing: office buildings are deliciously unfamiliar, and therefore, instantly exciting. Offices typically have great conference rooms, giveaways, and compelling professionals. Office buildings—especially the offices of magazines and television shows—have the added bonus of a chance encounter with a celebrity. They are new, different and vibrant places. Therefore, I work on scheduling a lot of office visits these days as it gets them out of the classroom and into the ‘real’ world where they can observe different career options and adults in the field.
Talk to teachers
Our teachers teach underserved youth for a variety of reasons and they care deeply for these students. That means they are swamped with work, they have great ideas and beautiful vision, but no time. Talking to teachers—half-started conversations in the hallways and spontaneous run-ins on the subway or at the photo copier—spark some of my best ideas and help them move their ideas to fruition.
* * *
When I first started graduate school, my dad laughed and told me I was on my way to becoming a snob because I used words like ‘dialectic’ in everyday conversation. Now that I work in public schools, I use words like ‘best practice’ in everyday conversation; and when I’m having a bad day, I borrow from the students and express how I’m ‘mad-tight’ because this job is ‘OD’. This essay is the first time in 6 months I’ve talked about the media, young people and media education. I’m generally too busy talking with students to think about talking about them.
My job as a media mediator is creative, open to possibilities, and links partners and media programs directly with youth in school. It is possible to implement media studies in high schools by partnering with non-profits. The atypical position I have needs to get duplicated in the youth media field. As a ‘media mediator’ I am the direct working link between developing youth media programs in schools and building partnerships so that youth develop their media expertise, their future careers, and the media field at large.

Continue reading Being a Media Mediator: Preliminary notes on practice

Cultivating a Field

steve_150.jpgRebecca Renard, co-director of the Educational Video Center (EVC) documentary workshop, cues up a 10-minute tape of her class preparing to make a documentary. Then she presses “play.”
“Get into your group and brainstorm ideas,” Rebecca says onscreen.
Aureliano, also on the tape, leans forward and says, “I think homelessness is definitely a problem for teenagers.” He adds, “But a lot of times they’re homeless because they don’t want to work.”
“But mostly they get caught up in a system where their family is thrown out of housing and there’s nothing they can do about it,” Shinnel counters. “We need to find out about groups that help build more housing. Maybe we can volunteer for them.”
Rebecca stops the tape and asks the EVC staff where they see the teaching of inquiry practice, a method of having students’ own questions drive learning.
“I think what happened would have been totally different if the young people weren’t in a group but were sitting by themselves,” one colleague says.
“Getting the students to go to a deeper level of questioning, to researching and reading is a real challenge,” says another.
“So, how do we get them to really research their issues? To get in the habit of asking questions and pursuing them further—even when there isn’t one clear answer?”
The Educational Video Center study group often spends mornings over coffee and bagels, reflecting on challenges and grappling with how to better teach their students to be critical thinkers. The staff also meets regularly with other New York-based video youth media groups to learn from other organizations and discuss the critical issues they face.
These forums for professional development were founded on the belief that practitioners most effectively improve their teaching when they have regular opportunities to learn from each other. By engaging each other in ongoing discussions about the theory and practice of their craft, staff develop a critical sensibility. EVC’s study group helps build and sustain a culture of a “learning organization” in the office—a place where staff learning is collaborative, public, nonthreatening, and integral to the daily experience of both students and staff.
Virtually no colleges exist where one can earn a degree or certificate to be a media educator. Perhaps the most common way that media educators learn their craft is through trial and error, and they largely do so in isolation.
The challenge of having no formal training is compounded by comparatively low salaries and the lack of a secure career path, which leads to high rates of turnover and the necessity of training new staff. Groups like EVC’s go a long way toward helping youth media educators improve their teaching and feel supported in their learning. That, in turn, can encourage them to stay at an organization longer.
But many organizations don’t have this kind of staff development, and of those that do, too often the lessons learned in individual sessions never find their way to the outside world, where others can benefit from them. As an emerging field, youth media work is not yet professionalized with a commonly accepted set of best practices and standards for teaching, media production, or organizational management.
Part of the challenge of professionalizing youth media is that the field encompasses such a broad range of organizational models as well as various forms of media. Some programs operate as part of larger community media arts institutions, youth organizing projects, or after-school centers. Others are stand-alone organizations operating independently. Some focus on media literacy or building youth skills in preparation for college or a career. Others focus on media education, the arts, recreation, or using the making of media as a therapeutic tool. Still others are driven by goals of civic engagement and social change.
While we have yet to agree on common standards for teaching, producing, and distributing youth media, progress has been made towards finding common ground. New York City’s youth media film and video community, which meets regularly to discuss their work, is doing a particularly good job at forming opportunities for learning among the many local organizations.
Both EVC and the Global Action Project publish curricula to disseminate their youth media practices and principles to teachers and community youth workers across the country. The Manhattan Neighborhood Network’s Youth Channel offers training modules for local organizations wanting to replicate parts of their program.
Video groups have also collaborated to form the Urban Visionaries Festival in New York City, where local youth media groups put on a festival showcasing their work. And many New York-based organizations have formed networks connecting youth media groups and educators, especially those working in video. These include ListenUp! PSA network and‘s youth media distribution project.
These are all positive steps that can and should be replicated by organizations working in various media—print, radio, film, and multimedia. However, individual collaborations aren’t enough to truly professionalize the field and exploit to the fullest the creative ideas and energy produced by these and other initiatives.
Towards this end, we need to establish an effective network—on the local, regional, and national levels—that will move the field beyond simply information- and resource-sharing to collective knowledge-building. Such a network would allow administrators and practitioners at the grassroots to help each other make sense of, and apply new knowledge coming out of the field. In turn, they could contribute back to the field their own innovations and lessons learned.
In addition to professional development, networks can address issues that will help build the field, such as effective distribution of media and curriculum, and how to raise money.
Ultimately, if youth media groups formed a national network, we would most likely attract larger grants from private and federal funding agencies than we do as individual organizations. With support from funders who encourage a culture of cooperation rather than competition, a range of cross-organizational initiatives could emerge, such as institutes facilitating intervisitation of each other’s programs, practitioners conducting case studies of their own projects, a collaborative publication containing essays from the field on the theory and practice of youth media, and a traveling youth media festival.
The point is for us to create meaningful ways to share each of our organizations’ accumulated wealth of knowledge and experience, and to build upon the new information and lessons learned.
EVC is laying the groundwork for such a network by working with the Education Development Center’s YouthLearn. With seed funding from the Open Society Institute and the W.K.Kellogg Foundation, we are launching the Youth Media Learning Network. It will engage teachers, youth workers, as well as emerging youth media practitioners in staff development institutes, where they can learn teaching strategies from each other. These institutes will be sponsored in partnership with organizations from intersecting fields such as youth development, civic engagement, journalism, and the arts. The network will also invest in a select group of emerging and mid-career practitioners who will serve as youth media fellows, honing their leadership skills together as a cohort and engaging in intensive projects designed to capture and disseminate promising practices to other interested practitioners and institutions.
Through these various field-building initiatives, a base of shared language, practices, and goals can emerge. Each organization will then become not only a producing and teaching organization, but perhaps more importantly, a learning organization.
Steven Goodman (pictured above left) is the founder and director of the Educational Video Center and author of Teaching Youth Media. “Cultivating a Field” was adapted and updated from a paper commissioned by OSI for a March 2004 convening on youth media.
This updated article originally appeared on YMR as part of a series exploring a new phase of introspection in the youth media field, in which educators have begun placing a premium on reflecting on their work and thinking and planning on a macrolevel.

Continue reading Cultivating a Field