Interview: Susan Hayman Malone, Wide Angle Youth Media

About Wide Angle Youth Media
Wide Angle Youth Media is a nonprofit that provides Baltimore youth with media education to tell their own stories and become engaged in their communities. Through after school programs, community events, an annual Youth Media Festival, and youth-run television show, Wide Angle strives to make media make a difference. In 2009-2010 Wide Angle trained more than 500 youth in critical thinking, public speaking, and media production, sharing their stories and messages with more than 20,000 people in the Baltimore Metro area. Wide Angle works with youth ages 11-15 through their Baltimore Speaks Out! Program and youth ages 15-20 through their Mentoring Video Project and Youth Festival Committee Programs.
About Susan Hayman Malone
Susan is the executive director of Wide Angle Youth Media. Embarking on the agency’s second decade of groundbreaking youth media programming in Baltimore with a re-invigorated focus on youth voice, Malone intends to build new avenues for Wide Angle’s program and media distribution to regional and national audiences. Susan has been with Wide Angle since 2003; first, as the program manager, where she developed effective youth programming, assembled new financial funding networks, and managed the dynamic day-to-day activities of the growing organization. Malone graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art with a BFA in photography and has been working in the Baltimore art community for the past 13 years. Susan’s experience includes a mix of both private and public creative experience at organizations such as Mission Media, Photoworks, and the Baltimore Museum of Art.
YMR: What new innovations has Wide Angle begun to increase investment in programs?
Susan Hayman Malone: Fee-for-service programming now accounts for 30% of our budget and 50% of those dollars support our core programs. Donor and corporate relationships are very important to us, and we work directly with individuals to invite them into our organization, to build a network of relationships between their friends, families, Wide Angle staff, and one another.
Building ongoing strong partnerships with public, private and other community stakeholders has also been instrumental to our program support. Over the year, we have built strong ties to our local government agencies including the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute, and Baltimore City Public Schools. Thanks to these unique relationships we are able to leverage dollars and program exposure to larger audiences.
YMR: What current, unique funding streams does Wide Angle have?
Malone: We have an individual donor that has been supporting Wide Angle Youth Media’s Mentoring Video Project (MVP), an advanced media production internship and youth development program for Baltimore City youth that takes place over the course of an academic year with off-site video production and field trips taking place throughout the city.
This particular donor has been an advocate and supporter of media reform. We first met with the donor at a round table to review opportunities for media distribution in Baltimore, which was funded in part by the Betty Lee & Dudley P. Diggs Memorial Fund of the Baltimore Community Foundation. Afterwards, we continued animated conversations about the role of media in the lives of young people, and brought the donor into our family to experience our work first hand. Since attending our screenings, visiting the workshops, speaking with our youth, this passionate donor made a five-year commitment to support a specific program MVP. As most organizations experience, multi-year funding is rare these days. Thanks to this type of support we were able to leverage funds from additional sources, providing a system for ongoing programmatic support.
YMR: What has your experience been in fund development for Wide Angle in the last year? What trends are you seeing?
Malone: We are seeing a trend where foundations are supporting nonprofits who engage in social enterprise efforts to bring dollars into the agency. To align our mission with this trend we have partnered with the school system to provide additional in-school and out-of- school programming as a fee–based program that we facilitate.
City funding for after-school programming is being reframed into out-of-school time, thus encouraging nonprofits to develop year-round programming to include summer opportunities and jobs for youth. This means that nonprofits must offer additional programming to maintain city-funding sources.
Lastly, we are seeing a slow movement where city agencies or foundations are supporting organizations that provide workforce development opportunities for young people, especially those who are associated with the Department of Juvenile Justice or in foster care services.
YMR: How might you convey to new funders that investing in youth media is a major return in investment?
Malone: As a youth media organization we are inherently enthusiastic about our work, but my job is to channel that passion into tangible opportunities for our donor(s) to connect with the young people we serve. By cultivating long-term relationships with funders they meet and discover the unique individuals you serve and together you will build a network of. The multi-year commitment is not for everyone, this type of relationship takes time, energy and commitment from both parties. But if you build this type of relationship you, the donor, and the youth, will experience a different type of philanthropy, a real return on everyone’s investment. In the end, the funder will see programs strengthen, they will witness stories that change communities, and they will observe students achieve life long success.
The key to youth media investment is the word “long-term.” For example, at Wide Angle young people join our Baltimore Speaks Out! Program at 11 years of age, and many stay with us through high school and beyond. When funders make multi-year commitments, they are able to witness individual growth, and see the impact their funding has on each unique participant.
The students in programs like ours do not just gain technical media skills. They grow into interesting, expressive and successful young people who emerge from the shadows of shyness and walk out onto a stage, confident in front of audiences in everyday life. They build workforce skills to prepare them for jobs and college; and, they grow into creative thinkers, encouraging their friends to contribute to raising youth voice in Baltimore. Such outcomes come from the overall health and wellbeing of our organization, the youth we serve, and from caring funders who make long-term commitments.
YMR: How do you pitch Wide Angle to a variety of different and new funders?
Malone: Understanding the priorities and goals of any new potential funding source is the most important first step, before determining if an income stream is right for you and your programming.

Maintaining diverse funding streams involves staying focused on our mission while exploring how new funding opportunities can support our overall goals and successfully build a sustainable funding base.

At Wide Angle Youth Media, first, we research development options to make sure a foundations’ goals align with our mission. Then, we build our case around the language in their focus/strategic area. For example, many funders in Baltimore prefer to focus on youth development or leadership skill building—key elements to our work.
Academic perspectives from our University partners are helpful when we prepare grant proposals for Humanities Based Funding, and business insights from local business leaders are helpful when pursuing corporation sponsorships or foundation support from a business. The ebb and flow of language is quite different if a donor prefers amplifying youth voice or advocating for a specific movement.
YMR: What are some next steps for Wide Angle?
Malone: As we embark on the next decade of youth media programming in Baltimore we will continue to focus on amplifying youth voice locally and nationally. We will accomplish this by building integrated youth media curricula for in and out of school time programs, and supporting young people as they build workforce skills so they can discover life long success.
Our charge is to find sustainable sources of income, develop business models for the social entrepreneurial work we offer, while staying true to our mission. Our biggest challenge is to grow and build a budget that both supports our staff in a comprehensive way so that our team can focus on the programs they operate, and, find equipment and software dollars to continue to bring new technologies to all the youth we serve.

It’s a Big Screen After All? How Connecting with New Audiences Strengthens Youth Media

I am a youth media facilitator at Wide Angle Youth Media, a nonprofit located in Baltimore, MD that combines youth development and civic engagement with video and media production. As a tool for framing dialogue around community issues, youth media is capable of having a serious impact on audiences outside the field, but too often the distribution and the screening of end products preaches to the choir. I worry that the genre I help young people make will be inexorably marginalized, never really recognized as a legitimate and real form of media outside of youth media programs.
Though our youth receive many opportunities to share their work with others through local screenings, film festivals, public television, and online distribution via Wide Angle, many of the audiences for these events are not necessarily the people our youth would most like to talk to; for example, our young people are often more interested in receiving recognition from their peers. In finding out who young people want to talk to and strategizing ways to provide youth with the technical and creative means to best talk to that group, youth tend to make work that, reflexively, is more meaningful to themselves. In order to strengthen the field of youth media we have to find ways to improve how our end products are relevant to audiences outside our immediate networks; the challenges of doing this, in turn, should strengthen the quality of the media literacy training that our participants receive.
Youth Media Audience and the Small World Problem
At the core, I think we at Wide Angle are interested in relationships; we are interested in relationships as facilitated by media, as a means of connecting people to other people, connecting people to ideas, and for connecting youth to the world around them through the process of making media. However, as a result of the complexity of video production, the youth-development aspects of youth media and other issues inside the core group of youth producers often supercede the use of end media products to actually mediate between groups of people.
It can be difficult to gain the attention of new types of audiences for youth media. Wide Angle’s events and screenings typically target youth in our programs, their families, their friends, other youth and adults already involved in after-school programs, arts education, and individuals invested in nonprofits and funding. The audiences for this work tend to already value youth perspectives and hold generally liberal social and political viewpoints. We have worked hard to increase and diversify our audience, but the path of least resistance usually leads to said persons.
In order to reach new kinds of audiences and broaden recognition, we must seek out and build relationships with persons and organizations that bridge networks. Mathematicians and sociologists studying the so-called “Small World Problem,” which is concerned with how isolated groups of people are in fact connected, look for what are called “random connectors in a network”—essentially, people that are able to span subcultures and groups that tend to be insular. Such persons, psychologist Judith Kleinfeld suggests, “can vastly decrease the distance between points” (Kleinfeld, 2002). Identifying connectors between the youth media world and diverse audiences can be a complex and time-consuming task that may require a reallocation of staff and student time, but it is necessary in order to broaden recognition of the field.
Youth Media Stylistics
While interviewing students at the end of my first year at Wide Angle, I asked, “What would you like to do better in your next project?” The most common response was that they would like to make work that would appeal more to their peers. While this particular concern is a subset of the larger problem of the narrow audience for youth media, I think it is apt to frame the argument, especially in the context of how the style of our youth media is related to the audience we are able to cultivate. The youths’ reaction suggests that they believe their work does not receive sufficient recognition, and that, ultimately, the youth are not making the kind of work they wish they could. By being disconnected from their peers, or other target audiences, their work is ultimately disconnected from themselves.
Though Wide Angle’s video productions have included animations and scripted works of fiction, documentaries make up the majority of our catalogue. Most of our youth start with learning basic documentary style video because it requires less preparation before filming, it acts as a vehicle for learning basic camera technique, and it provides an accessible way of engaging with their community. But, after being involved several such productions, our youth became anxious to try and find new ways to communicate their ideas and to explore media.
In making youth media with middle-school and high-school students, we are engaging with an age group that is under tremendous pressure to conform and identify themselves in relation to popular tastes, especially in media. When youth begin to make their own media, it can be difficult to overcome their initial desire to reproduce what they see in dominant media. Trying to emulate what they have seen before can run the risk of being frustrating—there simply isn’t time, equipment, and expertise to recreate what they have seen in a music video on television; the desire to “compete” with popular media in this way can also stunt youth development by making youth less willing to experiment and explore.
However, it can be even more difficult to win over their peers who, being unfamiliar with media technology and production, have little patience for media that does not match up with what they are familiar with in television and film. Thus, when attempting to engage with other youth, we are not merely competing with pre-established views on the content of the work; we are also competing stylistically with expectations derived from dominant forms of media. We are engaged in renegotiating what “good” media is and what it looks like.
As a media educator, I am excited to explore different ways of making media, but, at times, the youth with whom I work have felt that they were expected to make documentary style productions because that is what they have made previously, and possibly also because other staff and I have a history of making documentary-style productions. As staff we had to reevaluate our own biases and be aware of how of our own tastes may dictate the expectations of the youth with whom we work. In order to keep both our youth and our audiences engaged, we must help young people to plant their own stylistic feet in the ground and to make conscious, critical decisions about the style of their productions.
Examples from Wide Angle
Although we do not have a large staff at Wide Angle, we have the benefit of a variety of different technical talents. One way we have attempted to keep staff biases from dictating style to students is by identifying youth interests first and then pairing them with appropriate staff. Guest artists and other organizational partners provide youth with the proper expertise to learn how to make the sort of media that really interests them.
Facilitators should work with youth to identify the stylistic skills they need in order to attract the attention of their target audience, while still addressing the content of the media they are making. We have found that this often results in a more exciting piece of media for both the youth and for their intended audience. Additionally, youth are often enthusiastic to learn new technical skills; working in this way gives youth in our programs a chance to specialize their skills and etch out personalized ways in which they can push our programs forward. At Wide Angle, our high school students have found the following ways to make media that appeals more to their own stylistic interests:
• Young people decided to rely less on verité aesthetics and begin doing more scripted work. When they do use documentary conventions, they have augmented the typical “talking head” interview style with animations, scripted montages, and other elements that add an additional layer of interest to the project.
• Our students have tried to focus more and more on youth perspectives and interests by avoiding over-reliance on “expert interviews” with adults. While these sorts of interviews were informative, our youth felt they did not appeal as much to their peers. Seeing people like themselves on screen sometimes goes a long to way to make a youth audience feel connected to the issue.
• Our students have become more aware that the subject matter and style of their production will dictate potential audiences, and that they should plan for their desired audience at the outset of production. Some of Wide Angle’s most successful projects have resonated with youth on the basis of their content. Schooling Baltimore Street, a documentary about youth activism in response to school funding cuts, provides a positive perspective on what is, essentially, rebelling against school authority to demand one’s rights.

• A recent Wide Angle production, Young Love?, uses a variety of tactics, including a game show parody and other satirical elements aimed at the depiction of romance in television and film to examine youth perspectives on sex and relationships. In this instance, the media connects well with youth because youth are central characters in the work, the work addressed topics of interest to youth, and the projects made use of stylistic elements that break out of the documentary mold. Additionally, our youth made use of genre and style parody as a workaround for not being able to actually reproduce the look and feel of a work of mainstream media, and as a means of commenting on the conventions of mainstream media depictions of romance.

• Teens in our programs have become more aware that their identities as youth provide them with filming opportunities that would not be possible for adults working in a professional production environment. In Wide Angle’s Division Problems, middle school students documented youth gangs in Baltimore, featuring street interviews with gang members.

Recently, some of our students began a production on teen gambling at their public high school. It would have been next to impossible for an adult to gain access to a public school to make a film on this topic. It is important that our youth, as well as outside audiences, understand that youth media can be qualitatively different than adult media and that youth have a powerful ability to explore issues in ways that are not open for adults.
Suggestions to the Field
In order for youth media to expand into new audiences and new viewer demographics, we have to be “random connectors,” making work that is able to bridge groups and cultural tastes towards different genres of media, and develop outreach plans that are able to cross subcultural interests and affiliations.
• In understanding that youth have different privileges from adults, it is important to think of how youth can be the “random connectors” that are needed. Last year, our youth produced a short video on surveillance cameras in Baltimore City and managed to get an interview with the official in charge of the program. No police representative would probably have done such an interview for a typical grassroots media production, but because the department was interested in talking with youth, we were able to get our foot in the door, even though the youth did not ultimately share the department’s opinions on the surveillance issue.
• Placing the focus on the youth-development aspects of youth media and other issues inside the core group of media producers often relegates the use of their products to a grant-obligated afterthought. Focusing on the use of the media should improve the quality of the students’ education by requiring youth to view their work as having a public life and to consider how they would like their media to impact others. Without these components, youth media loses its civic relevance and becomes indistinguishable from arts education.
• For Wide Angle, the simplest way in which we reach new audiences is by piggy-backing on other organizations’ events. These sorts of small-scale and short-duration partnerships allow us to tap into someone else’s network with minimal fuss.
• At the same time our youth have worked to make their media more appealing to their peers, we have to consider the way in which their peers may be accustomed to viewing media. There may be basic media literacy hurdles to be crossed before the average high school-aged youth is willing and able to have a dialogue with or about a film. Therefore, selecting the right venue or situation in which to view a film is as important to making good use of our end products as the stylistic decisions we make in production. For instance, youth may have better engagement with a work of youth media if it is shown and discussed in a well-facilitated classroom setting.
• Festival screenings remain one of the main ways in which small, independent media gain recognition within their field. There are a growing number of youth media festivals at local, national, and international levels, but these are often separate from larger film festivals. Larger festivals often have a youth film category that consists of adult-made films designed for a youth audience. Increased involvement of youth media as a film category at such festivals would be an indicator of the growth and development of youth media as a field.
I became involved in youth and community-based media because, as an artist, I found it difficult to make a significant impact on people’s lives from within a gallery setting. Video and other forms of media can speak in a vernacular that can be more accessible for a general audience.
Making and using youth media encourages relationship-building and civic engagement.
Screenings and presentations of youth media encourage discussion, and youth media can sometimes initiate dialogue on an issue in a way that adult-made media cannot. As youth media practitioners, we must work to keep youth media relevant to people outside our field. We must preserve the civic aspects of youth media that distinguish it from arts education and from youth development, for it attends best to these roles at the very time it is of greatest use to the larger community.
David Sloan has worked as a community-based media artist and activist since 2006, when he assisted Cira Pascual Marquina to curate the Headquarters exhibition at the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. He received his MFA in Community Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2008 and currently works with youth as a media literacy educator with Wide Angle Youth Media and the Baltimore Algebra Project.
Works Cited:
Kleinfeld, Judith. “Could it be a Big World After All? The ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ Myth,” Society. University of Alaska Fairbanks: January / February 2002.

Building the Local Youth Media Community

Public presentations of youth media have the potential to broaden perspectives, challenge assumptions, build community, and reward young people for their efforts. Yet it can be difficult to engage new local audiences of individuals who may not be familiar with youth media. Young people hope to engage new youth, adult allies, and local stakeholders who have the potential to become advocates for their concerns. As youth media often seeks to strengthen community relationships, youth media screenings tend to revolve around smaller community events and partnerships where the audience is already invested in the subject matter. Branching out to the broader, local community requires new strategies, taking risks and building partnerships outside of the youth media field.
For many youth media orgs that work with video, one of the key objectives is to widely distribute youth generated content. Many have opted to distribute on-line or through youth media networks. We have found that focusing on our local city as a source of increasing the audience, distribution and diversity of stakeholders in youth media has been fruitful. As a result, our youth media shop has become an important aspect of the community as we develop relationships with cultural institutions, colleges, and businesses to strengthen and expand the field.
Creating a Strategy
Wide Angle Youth Media is a nonprofit that provides youth in Baltimore, MD with practical media education, leadership development, and video production skills to become self-aware, engaged citizens in their community. More than 300 youth participate in workshops at their schools or in our after-school programs each year. Students produce their own media, including documentary and narrative videos, digital photography, and audio recordings, selecting a message and intended audience for each piece. The cycle of research, learning and production naturally progresses to presentation—for the process to complete, young people must have an opportunity to share their work with their intended target audience.
Our organization has historically found it easier to reach an audience outside of our local jurisdiction. Through partnerships with Listen Up! Youth Media Network, Free Speech TV, the National Alliance for Media, Art, and Culture, MNN Youth Channel and the St. Paul Neighborhood Network, we have been able to share our work with communities across the country. In recent years, we have also had successful experiences sharing our videos through online publishing channels: YouTube, Facebook, and our websites.
However, as of 2004, we realized that only a fraction of the Baltimore community had the opportunity to experience our work in live events. This was due in part to the fact that the youth media field is more established through national networks, and that online and broadcast distribution can have many possible niche markets. This challenge is probably shared by other groups outside of cities with a well-established youth media community (such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco), where there are less resources dedicated to supporting youth voice in the public sphere.
Wide Angle averaged 8 public presentations per year from 2001-2004, with each event serving roughly 50 people [1]. The individuals that attend our various screenings across the city create a small yet committed base of about 250 individuals. Our Baltimore-based audience includes youth producers and their families, Wide Angle board members, older adults engaged in community advocacy, local artists and independent filmmakers. Each audience member had already a personal, direct connection to the organization or young videomakers.
While these audience members are very valuable to us, both youth producers and staff observed that we were too often “preaching to the choir”—showing the same work to the same people. So we started to challenge the confines of our local outreach and found that each time we partnered, say, with a local college, our audience grew and diversified. We realized that there was great potential for us to play an important role in Baltimore and that we had the resources to create an environment that united youth media artists with new audiences, crossing community and cultural boundaries. We saw this challenge as an opportunity, and created a mission to:
• Provide a space to share youth media with a diverse local audience;
• Increase opportunities for youth media creation and presentation;
• Create an environment in which young people’s stories, challenges, and talents are appreciated and internalized.
In an attempt to create broad appeal and hundreds of artists to our city and to youth producers, we crafted the Who Are You? Youth Media Festival. We hope our lessons learned serve as a model for community collaboration, engaging arts institutions, business, nonprofits and schools in working together, and bringing the concerns and stories of youth to new audiences.
About the Who Are You? Youth Media Festival
The Who Are You? Youth Media Festival was developed in 2004, by Youth Media Advocacy Coalition (a network of youth media practitioners and supporters, administered by Wide Angle from 2002-2005) members and youth from many local youth-serving nonprofits, including the Baltimore Algebra Project, Baltimore Youth Congress, CENTERSTAGE’s Encounter Program, Critical Exposure, Kids on the Hill, Safe and Sound Campaign’s Youth Ambassadors, Uniquely Spoken, Youth As Resources, Youthlight, and Wide Angle Youth Media. The festival was designed to be an annual event open to any Baltimore young person in 5th-12th grades. The festival’s recurring theme would be identity. The team felt that this was a theme broad enough for participation by all youth, an opportunity for conversations of diversity, and a guarantee that the typical marginalization of youth identity would be challenged.
This partnership of local youth serving organizations exponentially increased our outreach and promotion—from one organization to more than 12 groups and 30 schools, each with their own students, families, neighbors, and areas of the city from which to expand participation. This group was the origin of our Youth Festival Committee—a team of high school students who design, curate, promote, and host the festival each year. By giving young people the power and support to design the mechanism of display the festival is at its foundation advocating for young people’s stories, identities, and perspectives.
It was quickly determined that “youth media” would have to expand beyond video since at the time, there were less than 10 known Baltimore area organizations and four schools with video capabilities. Many of the partnering organizations used other media, including photography, fine art, poetry, and performance. These art forms became the categories accepted into the festival. With two-dimensional art as a key element, the festival could incorporate a gallery exhibition, which instantly increased the duration of the event from one weekend to several weeks, adding an entirely new element to youth media.
What became known as “Gallery Talks,” each week professional artists and educators would lead facilitated discussions for specific audiences, such as college students, art teachers, academics, and the philanthropic and business community. Each “Talk” focused on youth issues and concerns. For example, our 2008 Gallery Talk, “Make Art or Die,” explored the significance of creative self-expression for youth, and the importance of art education, similarly, “Legacy Builders: How Youth Media Can Change the City” introduced youth media to philanthropic and business leaders, who may currently support other methods of youth development and leadership.
As of 2008, we have had three successful festivals (we shifted the event from fall to spring after 2005, skipping 2006). Our 2007 festival ran three weeks, and was viewed by more than 8,000 people. Our 2008 festival lasted five weeks, and was experienced by more than 11,000. Our live performance day reaches over 400 individuals, and each gallery talk has an average of 40 participants. Through audience surveys, external evaluations, and participant comments, we have seen the impact of the festival on the audience, the curatorial team, and the participants in the festival.
Participation in the festival ranges in intensity and impact. Many youth participants return the following year to be on the Festival Committee to have a larger role in creating the festival. For audience-members who attend our Gallery Talks the experience can be quite personal, as they speak with youth producers, and participate in discussions about youth media, and its connection to issues such as mental health, self-awareness, education and civic engagement. The audience for the live performance day has a less intimate experience, but a multi-sensory one, as they view the gallery exhibit, experience “spontaneous” performances within the gallery space, interact with youth producers and volunteers, and then convene for a more formal, high-energy performance in the theater. Audience members are encouraged to participate in some performances, are interviewed in the gallery, and write their own evaluations of the event. Lastly, theatergoers who experience the festival on their way to another theater performance, see drawings and photographs, read quotes and signs on the walls, and have their own opportunity to vote on their favorite piece.
In order to reach new audiences and artists, we are continuing to develop new partnerships, building on common interests in youth development, the arts, and education. In 2007 Goucher College became our Presenting Sponsor, providing financial support, faculty Gallery Speakers, student interns, and a bridge to the college community for our youth. Corporate sponsors have expanded our reach to the business community and provided graphic design, food for events, and financial support. The investment of these institutions and businesses has allowed us to increase our outreach and technical support to schools and after-school programs, increasing our community scope.
More than a third of survey respondents who attended the festival each year have not previously been exposed to youth media. More than two-thirds of our most recent respondents were new to the youth media festival.

Our youth audience is a steady 40%, indicating that the event has youth support, while also welcoming an adult audience. Teachers in particular, have expressed their satisfaction with the experience. One student teacher attending Loyola College shared her thoughts of the 2007 Festival, “It made me realize how important it is to know where your students are coming from, especially when teaching media literacy in the classroom” [3].
Finally, our desire to build an audience of youth who can use this experience as motivation for their own goals is being achieved. “This festival helped me to see that there are people who actually care about what I think as a young person in Baltimore,” wrote a youth attending our 2005 festival.2 Youth who are audience members often tell me they will submit work the next year, and youth who were performing in the festival often consider joining our Festival Committee. In some cases, youth are approached by audience members to commission work, show their work in another event, enroll in a program, or be interviewed, extending their experience beyond the festival.
Youth programs have begun to use the festival as a curriculum tool, building projects into the festival format. Thus the festival acts not only as a civic forum for the recognition of youth voice and youth media, but also works to introduce themes of civic engagement and the need to value youth perspectives into other programs that serve Baltimore’s youth. One community arts educator whose youth had a project in the festival commented, “The festival served as a motivating factor to finish the video and offered a public space for it to be seen. The audience was huge and the space was great. It felt very professional and it really lifted up their voices in a way that I really haven’t seen other places do for kids’ artwork” [5].
Finding Relevance in Your Community
At its core, youth media is about advocacy—young people speaking out for themselves, challenging the stereotypes and limited expectations of the larger society—but to effectively advocate it is essential to build a constituency, a community of support. By creating an event that serves a broad range of youth and their respective concerns, and making tactical choices to build a diverse audience, Wide Angle Youth Media aims to build a broader local appreciation for the power of youth media, support the efforts of schools and community groups, and create an avenue for youth media distribution that will expand over time and become a valued cultural and community resource.
It is my hope that youth media programs in other regions and communities begin to develop their own festivals, looking to their own “natural resources.” Wide Angle is fortunate to exist in a city with a strong after-school community, many excellent higher education institutions, a history of community philanthropy, and a rich performing arts heritage.
Look around your community. Who are the people and institutions that already support youth media? Can they play a bigger role? Are there venues that need to increase their community audiences, or have vacant days and times? What is the big draw for young people in your town—are there other events that they will not only attend, but pay to attend? Seeing where individuals invest is an important key to creating an event that both attracts and responds to the community.
Next Steps
The Who Are You? Youth Media Festival is a model for other communities to engage across school, neighborhood boundaries, and the local city community to provide opportunities for young people to engage and grow. It is critical that local stakeholders dialogue about the ways to debunk the misrepresentation of young people and the importance of the arts for youth.
Finding local partners who can bring diverse resources and audiences to festivals have expanded our audience, inviting youth, businesspeople, educators, and the general public to experience youth media and discover its relevance and significance for their own lives. By doing so, youth media acts as a link to join the local community, building the strength of Baltimore and placing young people on the map. Youth media organizations across the U.S. do not have to rely on distributing media on national networks or on-line resources. They can step onto the street and find that the local community is a ripe terrain for youth media visibility and engagement, as well as honest artistic discourse.
Gin Ferrara is the Executive Director of Wide Angle Youth Media, a Baltimore nonprofit dedicated to helping young people develop leadership skills, using media as the catalyst for self-exploration, personal growth, and community engagement. She is also an educator, writer, technophile, and knitter.
[1] Audience Data Collected by Wide Angle Youth Media 2001-2008.
[2] Baltimore Youth Media Festival Evaluation Report, Deborah Edleman, DrPH, Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health, 2006.
[3] “EVERYBODY HAS A STORY TO TELL”- Advocacy and Evaluation of The Who Are You? Youth Media Festival, Esha Janssens-Sannon, MA in Community Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art, 2007.
[4] The 3rd Annual Who Are You? Youth Media Festival Audience Survey, Wide Angle Youth Media, 2008.
[5] Interviews with Youth Festival Committee Members, Wide Angle Youth Media, 2008.

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.