Youth journalism: Reporting the News for Global Citizenship

In school newspapers and magazines, youth centers and after-school clubs, youth today are engaged in producing quality journalism that has become vital to communities worldwide. At a time when the population of young people is at its highest, youth journalism is a window on the issues and ideas that will shape the next century. For media educators, this not only points to the need to continue supporting young journalists to report stories that interest them but it also highlights an opportunity to use youth-produced news to generate dialogue and awareness among young people from diverse cultures.
News media organizations are rapidly increasing their use of online technology to make journalism more interactive and participatory for their audiences. Many school newspapers and magazines have already expanded to Web-based versions, reaching out to a larger, global audiences. Using online technology, media educators can create opportunities for young journalists to go beyond reporting the news to interacting and discussing their stories with their peers in different corners of the world.
By including cross-cultural interactions and discussions as an integral component of youth journalism programs, whether at the local, national or global levels, media educators can make the news more relevant for youth today and better prepare them for the next century of global citizenship. Youth media educators need to continue supporting young journalists to report their views and to spread youth-produced news among young people from diverse cultures and corners of the world.
Online Technology for International Youth News Reporting
In 2004, PEARL World Youth News was launched as a Web-based youth news service—a youth journalism project developed to further this goal of cross-cultural dialogue and global citizenship among young people through good journalism.
Secondary school students from around the world managed PEARL, determining what they wanted to report and providing unique youth perspectives. Stories published on the PEARL Web site were made available to student publications across the world so they could add international youth news to their local coverage.
Today, the initiative has connected student reporters and editors from 13 countries, including Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Cameroon, the United Kingdom, Dominican Republic, Pakistan, and the United States. For these youth journalists, the project presents an opportunity to see their names in a school magazine thousands of miles away and to interact with young readers in a very different socio-cultural setting. PEARL journalists have reported on breaking news stories like the Pakistan emergency and Cyclone Gonu hitting Oman to features on straightedge music, sex education, and choosing the right college.
PEARL World Youth News, which is dedicated to Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was gruesomely murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002, is a partnership between the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN) and the Daniel Pearl Foundation. Dr. Judea Pearl, Daniel’s father and president of the foundation, says: “Danny championed the search for truth, integrity in reporting, and the love of humanity. PEARL World Youth News provides a forum for the next generation of journalists to continue this important work.”
PEARL reporters and editors use shared online platforms at every stage of the journalistic process to ensure collaboration and discussion to the maximum extent possible. Since the project is founded on the goal of inculcating good journalistic principles and practices among young people, the first step for any high school student who wants to join the project as a PEARL reporter is to successfully complete its online training and certification course.
Using open-source software (Moodle), this course takes students through reading materials on the basics of journalism and requires three assignments that are read and reviewed by graduate journalism students in the United States. Students submit their assignments online and receive electronic feedback from their evaluators.
Once students are certified as PEARL reporters, they use a variety of online interactive tools to collaboratively decide topics to report and what resources are available, and then submit their stories. A group of these reporters, typically from one school and working under the supervision of a teacher and a journalist, edits the stories and publishes them on the PEARL Web site. At any given time, student reporters in four to five different locations work with student editors in a fifth location to determine the site’s monthly content.
PEARL World Youth News is based on a completely online, interactive template. Youth radio, TV, print or new media organizations can similarly use online technology to bring a global component to their work. Media educators can encourage youth reporters to engage in discussions with their peers based on the issues and events covered in their news stories, find sources from their peers in different countries and form full-fledged collaborative partnerships among youth news projects in different countries.
Making cross-cultural interactions a part of youth news projects can spur discussions and awareness among young people on issues that make a difference—making both local and international events more authentic for them as they engage in global issues that impact their lives.
As Sultan Mehmood, a PEARL reporter from Pakistan who was in the United States as an exchange student, states: “This [project] has made me aware of many things happening around the world…that I didn’t think twice about before. It has enabled me to learn what teenagers in others parts of the globe are thinking about. [Journalism] keeps us aware of what our governments are doing and what the needs of the people are. It keeps us aware of what is happening in the world.”
Youth News in the 21st Century
A report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on “Children, youth and media around the world” states:
One of the largest problems regarding media rights for youth is simply lack of coverage of children and young people in the news. What little coverage there is too often portrays youth in the context of sensationalist issues, e.g., child abuse, exploitation and violence, with little respect for the dignity and privacy of the children and scant opportunity for young people to speak for themselves. Young people around the world feel excluded from or dis-served by the media when they are portrayed simplistically as superficial, apathetic, poverty stricken or delinquent.
The report adds: “Youth say they believe only young journalists can really understand their problems.”
Educators and media practitioners can play a vital role in filling this gap by creating links between young journalists and youth audiences in different communities so that youth perspectives get represented within mainstream news media. When young people can report on what is relevant to them and find out that their peers in another city or country are concerned about the same—or a very different—issue, this will raise their sense of being part of an interconnected world in which their voices are being heard. And, amid the various sources of information available today, their exchange will be based on factual, accurate, balanced, fair, and objective news stories on issues of importance to them.
Youth journalism is fundamental to create an appreciation for freedom of speech and expression among young people. As Eric Newton, vice president of the Journalism Program at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, explains, “If we teach young people about the First Amendment, they’ll learn it. If we let them practice the First Amendment, through student media, they’ll grow up to understand it and live it—and they’ll also be better students.”
Inherent in the journalistic process are skills critical to the 21st century: global awareness, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, media literacy, cross-cultural awareness, and leadership.
Nancy Kaplan, who teaches a journalism course and facilitates a journalism after-school club at the College of Staten Island High School for International Studies in New York, states:
PEARL World Youth News develops the writing process while introducing my students, literally, to the world of news. My goal as a teacher is to provide opportunities for global interaction and involvement for my students. PEARL is international, and students are immediately able to interact with other student reporters around the world. Projects like this are truly necessary in the 21st century world of learning.
With the increasing demand of online social networking among young people, interactive youth journalism presents a way to shape these discussions within an authentic, meaningful, and secure environment. Moreover, the use of information and communication technology (ICT) tools in classrooms, after-school clubs, and community centers across countries today has made it easier for media educators to develop interactive connections among youth journalists. Organizations like iEARN, for instance, have used ICT tools for the past 20 years to connect educators and students in purposeful curriculum-based online projects like PEARL World Youth News. These projects demonstrate how authentic collaborative activities are likely to lead young people toward greater interest and participation in civic affairs.
Studies have shown that young people are curious about global events. In a survey titled “Youth media DNA: Decoding youth as news and information insiders,” the World Association of Newspapers studied newspaper habits of young people from 10 countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Serbia, Sweden, Spain, Lebanon, South Africa, Colombia, the Philippines, and Japan). The study found that young people want to learn more about the links between local and global issues, particularly when it comes to security and the environment. One young participant from Serbia who was interviewed for the survey stated: “In order to be well-informed you need to read newspapers, watch TV, all media, but [to] also have contact with other people, talk with people.”
Youth journalism and youth media can help answer this curiosity by creating accessible online forums for discussion across borders based on youth-produced news stories on issues that matter to young people. By developing these connections—and partnerships—among young people, and by sustaining collaborative models of youth journalism, educators and youth media practitioners can help strengthen youth-produced news and can establish a firm global youth perspective in the socio-political debates leading to the next century.
Anindita Dutta Roy is the director of membership and youth media programs at PEARL World Youth News. She served on the first Youth Media Reporter Peer Review Board in 2007.