This is Our Generation: Sierra Leonean Youth Views through Film

Independent media and artistic expression are crucial cornerstones upon which devastated countries can build a peaceful future. Around the world, youth programs focusing on the arts provide a platform for communication that helps young people from varied backgrounds to understand and appreciate each other. These programs help unlock the inherent creativity of young minds—giving them confidence in their own talents and their contributions to the localities they inhabit.
A program called “WeOwnTV” has been nurturing a new generation of young media makers in the war torn West African country of Sierra Leone. WeOwnTV (which means “Our Own TV” in the local language of Krio) is a free media education program founded on the guiding principles that no one is more qualified to tell Sierra Leone’s story than Sierra Leoneans themselves; and, that media can help an underrepresented group, especially youth, define their generation.
WeOwnTV represents what is possible when a team of dedicated young leaders witness the role media can play in building communities and transforming lives, combined with support of grassroots organizers, youth media organizations, and committed funders. Smart partnerships and hard work continue to make a lasting difference in the lives of the Sierra Leonean youth who, every day, expand the reach and impact of our youth-centered organization.
Planting the WeOwnTV Seed
In 2002, two first time filmmakers Banker White—a multidisciplinary artist from the Bay Area—and Zach Niles began working on the award-winning documentary “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.” Banker and Zach spent nearly four years traveling back and forth to the region while producing the film, adding the necessary depth and humanity that lacked in foreign media representation of the country’s decade long civil war. The transformative experience created a long-standing relationship with the people and provided a space for Sierra Leoneans to tell their own story.
While Banker and Zach witnessed the impact of their film on the Sierra Leoneans whose stories were told by the film, musician Alhaji Jeffery Kamara (a.k.a. Black Nature)—the young star of the film—was deeply influenced by the opportunity to tell his story to the world. As Black Nature traveled around the globe with the film and the band doing interviews, he was forced to dig deeper into his past and become accustomed to answering very personal and painful questions about the loss of his family and his experiences as a refugee. He witnessed the inspiring effect that his story had on audiences.

When Black Nature began to understand the healing and confidence that can result from honest self-expression, he started brainstorming with Banker on various ways to help other Sierra Leoneans have similar cathartic experiences. Black Nature had taken to film very quickly and adeptly during the production of the documentary film—his open interview style uncovered honesty and depth that Banker and Zach, as foreigners, could never have matched.
Drawing from this experience, it was clear that with the support of their team, Banker, Zach and Black Nature would move forward in building a program that would put cameras and storytelling skills into the hands of Sierra Leonean youth.

Backstory of Sierra Leone:
What most people in the West know about Sierra Leone is wrapped up in international media reports and Hollywood interpretations of the country’s darkest hour—a 10-year civil war (1991-2001) that was marked by extreme violence against civilians, struggle for control of the country’s diamond mines (the infamous blood diamonds), and forced recruitment of child soldiers. The war claimed more than 50,000 civilian lives, and the number of persons raped, mutilated or tortured is much higher. Women and girls suffered uniquely throughout the conflict, and children were singled out for unconscionable abuses. The scars of the war run deep and are reflected not only in the way the outside world sees the country, but in the way many Sierra Leoneans have come to view themselves. By giving young people the tools to explore their world and express themselves, WeOwnTV enables them to share their stories and creative voice with the world—and reawaken their imaginations to the possibility of positive change.

Our Own TV: Global Support Helps Sierra Leoneans Tell their Own Story
In 2008, with a grant from Creative Capital, “WeOwnTV” launched a three-year filmmaking collaboration. The team expanded to include Sierra Leonean media makers and community leaders—Lansana Mansaray (a.k.a. Barmmy Boy) and Arthur Pratt, in addition to involving humanitarian partners, including the IRC (International Rescue Committee).

In addition, the San Francisco-based Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) made a significant difference in the future of WeOwnTV through its support for the program. Impressed by the vision feuling WeOwnTV, BAVC offered a fiscal sponsorship agreement and a Media Maker Award of in-kind technical support. Moreover, BAVC welcomed Black Nature (who was living in the Bay Area at the time) into the Elements Program—a digital media-training program for at-risk young people that provides 150 hours of industry-standard training in media production as well as an additional 150 hours of job skills development. Black Nature quickly excelled in the program and was honored as BAVC member of the month during his graduation. Following this training, Black Nature traveled back with WeOwnTV team as a mentor for the first workshop in Sierra Leone, and has been an instrumental ambassador of the program ever since.
Video: “A Workshop Changes Everything”

Providing Creative Space for a Future to Be Realized
In August 2010, with the support of individual donors and a foundational grant from Freedom to Create, WeOwnTV: Sierra Leone Media Center was affixed to the side of a newly refurbished building in the heart of Freetown. Along with a team of volunteers and alumni students, Banker and Arthur had officially opened the media center’s doors, conducting mentor-training classes for returning students.

The center now offers classes in computer skills, film and television production, social networking, journalism and scriptwriting. The WeOwnTV student filmmakers have access to production and post-production equipment and studio space in order to produce their own films, television journalism, music videos, commercials and public service announcements.

The goal of WeOwnTV is to not only use the very personal aspects of artistic self-expression for individual growth but to have WeOwnTV graduates be a part of a new media industry in Sierra Leone—creating jobs and opportunities to legitimate youth dreams of success. Whether or not the graduates continue on in the field of media production, the WeOwnTV team hopes that each student takes away a renewed sense of self and understanding of the possibilities for the future.
Lessons Learned: Leveling the Playing Field and Building a Sustainable Program
1. Grounding courses in self-expression skills rather than media production skills created an inclusive and fun environment for participants.
Because so few young people in Sierra Leone had prior experience with new media technologies, early workshops focused on storytelling and creativity rather than technical skill. Creativity, at its root, is a form of self-expression, and through a series of improvisational exercises the workshop asked the students to simply “play” with a camera in their hand, starting them down a road they’d never been encouraged to take before. This sense of play, with no right or wrong ways of doing things, eliminated the fear inherent to the learning process and allowed students to learn technology through direct experience and trust their instincts as they interacted with the world around them in new ways.
From this foundation of trust, WeOwnTV then incorporated a variety of group creative exercises focused on encouraging collaboration, mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s ideas. Basic technical skills were constantly being built upon, but the open environment created at the outset of the workshop was crucial in helping the budding filmmakers to progressively expand on their ideas and explore new methods of expressing themselves in their work.
Video: “Creativity Flowing from Day One”

2. Approaching the workshops as teacher trainings and designing a replicable curriculum increased the self-reliance of participants and long-term sustainability of the program.
At the end of the month-long workshop, students had produced an impressive array of personal video diaries, short documentaries, and a series of short-narrative films based on collective experiences. The workshop graduates surpassed all expectations with their personal growth, their initial skill level, and it became clear that these graduates were well suited to become mentors and instructors for other young Sierra Leonean filmmakers. Drawing on the WeOwnTV staff and students’ firsthand experience of the workshop, the team has begun to develop a new, easily replicable, curriculum that can be marketed to other organizations working around Sierra Leone and Africa.
The “training trainers” approach of developing local leaders aims to build on a spirit of self-reliance as more young men and women are given the opportunity to explore their own creativity. The ongoing free education will continue to be supported by the US-based team; however, the goal is to move the center quickly to a level of sustainability where instructors will start earning a salary (supporting the daily activities of the center) and graduates will gain project income through freelance work administered by the production arm of the organization, WeOwnTV Productions.
Video: “To Create Our Own Space”

Changing the Media Culture
As in many African countries, there is ample political rhetoric to suggest a focus on what is universally called “youth voice” but the reality as experienced in Sierra Leone is that these voices are never given priority by the entrenched powers.
Outlets for alternative television and film are extremely limited despite an active and fairly free press in Sierra Leone, with numerous daily and weekly independent news publications. There is only one nationally-run television station—the state-owned, Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC)—and the film industry is rife with piracy, consisting mostly of Nigerian or U.S. produced films.
Particularly in post-conflict nations like Sierra Leone, youth media has the opportunity to transform the national media dialogue and therefore transform the future of the nation. It is only through the determination of young artists and the influence of the country’s diaspora that young people are beginning to use the tools of modern media to communicate among each other and to the outside world. With this as inspiration, WeOwnTV hopes to grow this organic interest in new media into an industry that gives a legitimate outlet to the voices of Sierra Leone’s youth.
Appreciating the independent, unfiltered voices that have the opportunity to be amplified through film, Paula Cavagnaro is a committed contributor—as a supporter and consultant—to independent film festivals and international film projects. Paula is a creative marketing and public relations professional with more than 15 years marketing experience established on a well-rounded background managing complicated marketing programs including promotional launches, event production, artist development and aggressive public relations campaigns.
Zach Niles is the co-director and producer of the award-winning documentary Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. He is the associate producer of the film Peepers and for the television series Live at the Fillmore. Zach recently served as acting director for Ciné Institute, a film school in Jacmel Haiti. He also manages the band Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars and works producing and promoting music tours by artists such as Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, George Michael and Madonna.
Emilie Reiser is a technology educator in New York City, working with youth in public schools and community-based organizations to develop creative media projects. Most recently, as director of programs at Vision Education, she led professional development workshops for educators, taught multi-media student programs and developed curriculum for innovative uses of creative technology in the classroom. Emilie has also worked teaching creative media production with youth internationally in Africa, Brazil and Haiti.
Banker White is a multi-disciplinary artist based in the Bay Area. In a perpetual state of creation and collaboration, recent work in film-video and the fine arts has been awarded and supported by Creative Capital, Freedom to Create, the California Council for Humanities and the Bay Area Video Coalition. Banker co-directed and produced the award-winning documentary Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. He is a graduate of Middlebury College (BA 1996) and California College of the Arts (MFA 2000).

A Web 2.0 Toolkit for Educators

It is important for school teachers to learn new technology, even if, typically, a school district’s first line of defense regarding Internet use is to close the school network to much of it. It takes courage for a school to open up communication with the Internet and incorporate social media and Web 2.0 into their curriculum and professional development. When students and faculty are taught how to harness the technology they can mindfully connect with an expanded world.
Until I sat in on several digital tools sessions at a Curriculum 21 conference held mid-July in Saratoga Springs, New York, I had little idea of the recent crop of education friendly digital tools. The gems I picked up blew me away. My mind whirred with the possibilities each resource held and envisioning my students’ enhanced learning experience using new technology. But, like any educator my greatest hurdle is time. In the course of a few hours spread out over several days, I had to catch a quick volley of best practices for social networking and utilizing Web 2.0 tools in the curriculum.
After attending the conference, I found that a couple of places to begin learning how to use new technology resources are Twitter and eduTecher. Check out the #edchat topic on Twitter, and from there you can follow other education and technology related topics or specific Tweeters. eduTecher has video tutorials on using certain Web 2.0 tools and a listing of education and technology conferences. This article provides educators new and free technology tips and sources to improve programs and teaching.
Here’s a quick snapshot of what I found in my search:
Digital Tools
Cool Tools for Schools – (free) teacher-created repertoire of digital tools
Curriculum 21 Clearinghouse – (free) repertoire of digital tools
EasyBib – (free) online citation creator
eduTecher – (free) repertoire of digital tools and related conferences
Facebook group page – (free, registration req’d) social networking site; comments, photos, videos can be collaboratively shared and moderated
Google Docs – (free, registration req’d) share text, spreadsheet, and presentation documents to surveys to quizzes generated and stored online
iMovie – (Mac bundled software; purchase may be req’d) create digital movies on a Mac
Jottit – (free) wiki web page creator
KeepVid – (free) download YouTube videos for educational use
LiveBinders – (free, registration req’d) an online portfolio and resource management tool
MedMyst – (free) online interactive scientific video games
Moodle – (free, registration, req’d) course management site
Neat Chat – (free) real-time multiple-user comments
Ning – (yearly fees range from $20-$200 depending on usage) a social networking site mainly used by professionals – (free, registration req’d) free software for creating text, spreadsheet, and presentation documents
Photo Story – (free) create digital movies on a PC
Poll Everywhere – (free to $50 and up, registration req’d) quick polling via cell phone text messaging
Prezi – (basic level is free though only web-based, registration req’d) a zooming presentation tool
Skype – (free peer-to-peer, registration req’d) video/audio conferencing anywhere in the world
The Way Back Machine – (free) archive of websites
TodaysMeet – (free) real-time multiple-user comments
Twitter – (free, registration req’d) a mass communication tool
Wikispaces for Educators – (free, registration req’d) a collaborative website
WolframAlpha – (free) a computation search engine
Wordle – (free) generate word cloud graphic from written work
WordPress – (free, registration req’d) blog publishing
Xtranormal – (free, registration req’d) web-based text-to-movie editor
Specifically, if you are looking to integrate Web 2.0 tools within after-school programs and youth media projects or in the classroom, you might check out the following technology.
If you don’t have a Mac:
Photo Story for PC is free where students without Macs (iMovie) can reflect their thoughts about the world around them through digital storytelling. The digital stories can be created with scanned and digital photos, video clips, and music and the spoken word.
If you don’t have equipment and need a text to movie generator:
Xtranormal, a web-based text-to-movie generator, offers a choice of avatars for students to animate by typing in directions for movement and speech. Xtranormal movies require no additional resources than an Internet connected PC/Mac, writing skills, and the imagination.
If you want to gauge the audience response:
Practitioners and youth producers can gauge audience response to films or digital stories with Poll Everywhere. And, anyone with a cell phone can send in a Likert-scale type response to any preset question(s).
If you need to illustrate statistics:
Infographics are a novel way to illustrate statistics that are relevant to the youth. Take the idea of the percentage of students that use a social media site such as Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, or Plurk and turn it into a graphic with images that looks like a poster. Here’s an infographic of what people are doing online and how many participate by age group from BusinessWeek. Certainly a different way to see quotidian percentages that most gloss over.
A few more general tips:
Avoiding plagarism and improving the information search:
Apathy for plagiarizing work is rising, most recently highlighted in the New York Times article “Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age.” Search and citations tools are relevant now as library card catalogs once were to finding good sources and citing them. In “Teaching Zack to Think,” Alan November, an education and technology consultant, explains how to teach students to search smarter and filter out websites created by individuals. Google search modifiers let users search in specific sites such as .edu or .gov to filter out less reliable sources, and AltaVista lets users search within a country code. The Way Back Machine can trace the history of a website or bring up information on a current broken link. Once the student has determined the validity of the source EasyBib takes the url and formats it as an MLA citation.
Making presentations more interesting:
Prezi, an online zooming presentation editing program, helps both youth and educators to create a catchy presentation at conferences, to funders, staff, etc. The software requires users to lay out the main idea and major points and sub-points before adding in images, music, and videos, which as a finished product zooms and skims seamlessly.
Think of backchanneling as an alternate information route. The first route is typically between two people while others listen. With backchanneling, all participants can be heard. The teacher books a “room” via a url and the class opens the url and begins typing questions, comments, and responses to an open chat forum such as TodaysMeet or Neat Chat to a live lesson or presentation.
Creating a quick website:
If you need students/youth to create a quick web or wiki site, try Jottit, which is basically a text box that turns the inputted information into a simple website.
Using Facebook:
Teaching students appropriate use of social media sites like Facebook ties in to developing social and emotional learning skills. For example, students should experience what it is like to hear something said in a happy or sad tone with facial expressions versus how it sounds as text devoid of live emotional expression, and how much easier it is to say something off the cuff to a web page than to the person directly.
Working together:
If you use any of these tools and would like to showcase the product, please share your students’ or organizations’ work, and feedback from youths engaging with these tools and social media. Ongoing best practices and curricula for teaching in the Digital Age are best developed collaboratively.
Next Steps
Integrating technology into curriculum is not about the bells and whistles, but to aid developing academic skills and critical thinking. This generation and others following are growing up interfacing through text, audio, and video online. They learn how to use the technology from their peers, including what is considered appropriate and where the boundaries are, which are not well defined. It is on us, classroom teachers, after-school program educators, and education practitioners, to teach through social media and Web 2.0 resources. It is my hope that readers find the web tools captured in this article useful additions to their educator knapsack, whether in the school classroom, in after-school programs, or to improve the visibility of one’s program, organization or cause.
Sara Panag is a coordinator with the NYC Department of Education. Her work involves developing school capacity for social and emotional learning to support instruction and create a healthier learning environment for children and adults. She holds licenses in special education and school building leadership, and she has taught high school English and co-taught high school humanities, math, and science for five years.

News Literacy: A News Lens for Youth Media

University journalism departments across the country are getting involved with a new trend: teaching news literacy as an elective, seminars and/or mandatory courses for all incoming students. Most young people aren’t familiar with the phrase, but what is becoming familiar is an adult journalist visiting their high school classroom asking where they get their news.
It seems that news literacy training is creeping into the lives of the youth with whom we—as youth media educators—work but is there a place for it in youth media programming? What is news literacy and what does it bring to the youth media field?
In its essence, news literacy is an initiative to:
• educate people to distinguish legitimate news sources from propaganda and sensationalism; and,
• engage people in the conversation about the role of a free press in a democracy.
I have been working in youth media, mostly in a print setting, for 15 years and I know how passionate and effective we are in getting young people to actively create and contribute to media (1).
Cross-Over Benefits: News Literacy and Youth Media
Currently most of my youth media work takes place in New York City public high schools where I freelance as the newspaper adviser for two high schools. I also co-direct the NYC High School Journalism Collaborative, an initiative at Baruch College, to provide support, training and opportunities for high school newspaper teachers and students. Because my work focuses on journalism skills training, I am by default teaching news literacy, which leaves me uniquely positioned to see the crossover benefits.
What I see in schools is that there is so much “information” easily available and students do not have the skills to sort through it. As a result, students search on Google but do not know how to sort through the 14-pages of links that result.
Think about how you researched papers or looked up information when you were in high school. For example, I remember filling out my financial aid form for college as a teen and one of the questions was: “How many people live in your community?” I had no idea nor did my mother. It was 9 p.m. on a weeknight, the library was closed and the form had to be post-marked the next day. I made up a number that was probably ridiculously low. I remember feeling completely isolated from information about my community.
Fast forward to the present and students can easily bring up and find that Shelby Township, Mich. had a population of 65,159 in 2000. But, if they landed a Google search on, they would find that my hometown has only 3,951 residents; another search, to puts the figure at 69,812–which is 4,653 more than the Census. Which one is right?
News literacy helps students understand that the question really is, “Which source is most legitimate?” The personal example I use has real world implications. There is so much information that is readily available that it is hard to know what to trust. For student journalists, this as part of their training; they learn how to research, identify legitimate sources of information, consult independent experts and provide context. In the youth media context, news literacy practices provide a framework for due diligence in our teaching.
For example, years ago I was working with a group of young people on a story about homelessness. Homes for the Homeless stated on its website that the average age of a homeless person was 9 years old—a powerful statistic for a youth media piece that wants to grab adults’ attention. But, as a youth media educator, I wouldn’t let the youth reporters use it until they got the whole story from the nonprofit. The students called the NGO and after several hand-offs were eventually told how that statistic was determined. They decided it was legitimate research and so the statistic went into the article. It did not change the outcome, but the students learned when and how to question information presented as fact and to take ownership over the material found in their work. Youth media practitioners must encourage students to identify “real” news and information.
“The process of making media is a window into news literacy,” said Janet Liao, a journalism program officer at McCormick Foundation (2). When we teach young people how to make media, we have the perfect opportunity to teach them how to do it well, because in the process of making media young people run into the problem of finding reliable material for their productions. This process provides a space to talk about the necessity for using the stringent standards of knowledge production that are the foundation of professional media work.
And in the eyes of John Nichols and Robert McChesney, who are spearheading a media reform movement (, the opportunity to train young people about good journalism is also chance to save democracy. “What should be done about the disconnect between young people and journalism?” asked Nichols and McChesney in The Nation. “We need to get young people accustomed to producing journalism and to appreciating what differentiates good journalism from the other stuff”(3). Even outside the youth media field, professionals are drawing a connection between youth creating media and understanding the importance of a high quality, independent press. If those outside the youth media field can see it, we should too.
Youth Media as Citizen Journalism
As youth media practitioners, if we teach young people that every news article or blog entry they comment on and every Facebook post or tweet they write is a permanent part of the information landscape on the web, then we are taking part in journalism and news literacy practices. We just do not make that distinction enough, nor, do we typically compare the work done in youth media to the practices of investigative journalism.
Professor Geanne Rosenberg (4) at Baruch College sees news literacy as an essential part of primary education because so many young people are active as citizen journalists, whether they know it or not. She explains, “There’s an increasing role for the public to contribute to news gathering. If we can teach our students how to contribute high quality, factual information, that is good for students and for society.” Rosenberg, who is the founding chair of the Department of Journalism and the Writing Professions, is developing curricula that she hopes will reach the college’s 1,400 incoming freshman.
In a combined effort to bring understanding of these elements outside the newspaper classroom, Rosenberg and I are organizing a High School News Literacy Summit at Baruch College in November 2010—a day of workshops and speakers that will serve 250 high school government students and teachers in New York City (5). “Because news is fragmented across the Internet and mixed with opinion, propaganda and misinformation, students need to be empowered to inform themselves,” said Rosenberg. The summit—the first of its kind—will provide workshops hosted by The News Literacy Project, Stony Brook University, The Pulitzer Center, New York Community Media Alliance and The LAMP.
In addition to teaching students that whatever they do online can follow them around for the rest of their lives, we also want to teach them that they are adding information to what’s out there and they have a responsibility to make sure they support their claims. Accreditation of facts and reliable sources are things I talk a lot about in my youth journalism classes and high school newspaper trainings; however, the point of news literacy is that there is a large social value to teaching these skills outside of traditional journalism environments. “The better informed they are, the better decisions they make about community,” said Liao.
An important aspect of news literacy is teaching how to “to judge the reliability and credibility of news reports and news sources,” according to Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy. We can incorporate this in our youth media programs during the research phase of their projects. When students talk about getting news online, as educators, have a conversation about what the sources are. If youth producers say they saw it on Yahoo, it is important to share that Yahoo News rarely does original reporting. When youth producers see AP (Associated Press), do they know what that means? If not, it is our responsibility to point it out as a teaching opportunity.
This form of fact checking is not new; it is inherent in the world of journalism. However, this attention to detail will help young people be more critical in their own work and in their own lives. Whether they are reading their favorite sneaker blog or producing a documentary on undocumented youth, they need to be able to distinguish fact from opinion and to understand the value of independent research and reporting. “News literacy is an essential skill as how [young people] are going to operate in the world,” said Katherine Fry, Ph.D. Fry the co-founder (along with DC Vito) of The LAMP, a New York-based media literacy organization that served 700 people (mostly youth) last year. Through The LAMP’s media producing workshops, participants learn to understand “how information is put together,” which Fry considers a crucial element to news literacy.
As Megan Garber (6) put it in the Columbia Journalism Review (7), “News literacy…is fundamentally about distinguishing—and appreciating—excellence.”(8) Fry said these skills will make them better prepared to handle college and the professional world when they leave our doors. It will also make their media pieces stronger, more believable and professional.
Lifelong Learners
News literacy advocates see the field as an audience-building technique—once you teach students why independently reported journalism is crucial to democracy and you give them the skills to evaluate the source of information, they will create a permanent place in their lives for quality media. The goal is to create a “community of people who are interested and take part in civic life,” Garber writes. This holds true in the youth media world as well—if we teach youth producers to pay close attention to the media in their lives, and help them express themselves and inform others through the media they produce.
In a previous YMR article, Lisa Lucas of the Tribeca Film Festival argued that “We cannot encourage students to think outside of the box without showing them what actually is outside of the box.”(9) True, but if they have never taken a close look of what is inside the box, then they won’t know the importance of branching out.
In my years in youth media, I have heard many arguments from practitioners who deliberately reject mainstream media, in their own lives and in the programs they run. Through my experience, I have seen that the practitioners who broaden their perspectives on the mainstream media better serve the young people in their programs. We have to help young people understand all media—not just alternative press.
Without a critical audience we are heading for information anarchy—an environment that will devour youth media. Just like a parent needs to train a palate to enjoy real food versus processed items from a box, we need to teach our students to consume quality media.It is our job to help young people understand the world of news and information that they are immersed in every day 24/7. It is not enough for us to help them create more news and more information; we need to show them how to make sense of what is available to them now.
Katina Paron is a journalism educator with 15 years of youth media experience. She is the co-director of the NYC High School Journalism Collaborative at Baruch College, where she is also an adjunct lecturer. She is the founding newspaper adviser for Achievement First Crown Heights High School and the Business of Sports School. She is an instructor with the Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative, par t of the Bronx News Network. As the co-founder and former Managing Director of the youth news agency, Children’s PressLine, she has worked with thousands of students to develop professional quality media that has been published in the Daily News, Newsday, Metro, Minneapolis Star-Tribune and, among other places. She is a professional journalist who has focused on health, literary arts and youth media. Her work has been recognized by NY1 as “New Yorker of the Week” and by WCBS-TV as a “Hometown Hero.” Ms. Paron received her B.S. in journalism from Boston University.
Where can you learn more about news literacy?
(1) Specifically, Teen Voices magazine in Boston, Children’s Express (RIP: 1975-2001) in New York and Children’s PressLine in New York.
(2) McCormick is an active supporter of youth media (including projects run by the author and is underwriting this issue of YMR) and is beginning to explore its news literacy involvement.
(3) “The Death and Life of the Great American Newspaper,” The Nation, April 6, 2009,
(4) Geanne Rosenberg co-directs the NYC High School Journalism Collaborative and teaches at Baruch College.
(5) We may have some room for NYC-based youth media programs. Please contact me for more information:
(6) Garber is a staff writer at the Columbia Journalism Review. She has covered the coverage of education, culture, the 2008 presidential campaign, and, most recently, news innovation for the magazine and its Web site,
(7) Columbia Journalism Review is a non-profit industry publication published by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
(8) “Leap of Faith” by Megan Garber; July/August 2009.
(9) “Building the Critical Lens of a Captive Youth Audience,” by Lisa Lucas; Youth Media Reporter. April 15, 2008.

2008 Youth Media Blog-o-Thon: Interview

The 2008 Youth Media Blog-o-Thon, created by YO! Youth Outlook/New American Media and Wire Tap Magazine in San Francisco, CA has had two episodes focused on the Election. Early October, YMR interviewed Jamilah King of WireTap Magazine and Eming Piansay of YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia/New American Media to gain key insights in their vision for the Blog-o-Thon, partnership, and next steps.
About the Interviewees:
Jamilah King, 23, is the associate editor for Wiretap Magazine. Born and raised in San Francisco, her writing focuses mainly on race, arts and issues that affecting young communities of color. She’s working as a labor organizer in California and New York. Her writing has also appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and Pop and Politics.
Eming Piansay, 22, is a student at San Francisco State University Journalism Department. She is a multimedia producer and blog editor for YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia and contributes to Asian Week/Beyond Borders.

YMR: What initiated the partnership between Wire Tap Magazine and Youth Outlook to start the Youth Media Blog-o-Thon?
Jamilah King: As two San Francisco-based Youth Media outlets, we felt like it was sensible and necessary partnership to make. The blog-a-thon was originally Neela Banerjee’s idea. As Managing Editor for YO!, her work focuses mostly on Bay Area youth issues. Both of our organizations put considerable effort into developing young bloggers, writers and journalists. Since WireTap has a national audience that tends to be a few years older, we felt that together we could gather a diverse collection of young writers whose issues were both local and national in scope.
[We chose] blogs [because they] have the potential to be democratic spaces. They are usually free [and] a little less intimidating than professional publications [such as] online and print. That’s not to say that problems don’t arise—bloggers of color routinely have their opinions attacked, and the internet is plagued by the same systemic barriers that exist in society. [Overall, blogs] are tremendously empowering to publish your words and stories, and have readers relate and comment on them.
YMR: You wanted to bridge youth media orgs across the field to dialogue around specific issues. Was this youth-driven? Was it successful in inserting youth voice in the national agenda?
King: The organizers of the blog-a-thon are all relatively young. Kristina Rizga and Neela Banerjee are both in the early thirties; Eming Pinsay, who was also instrumental is getting the blog-a-thon off the ground, and I are around 22-years-old. Initially, both Eming and I did a lot of outreach to our personal networks. For our first blog-a-thon, young bloggers like 24-year-old Atlanta-based organizer Kori Chen ( participated, as well as Colin Ehara, a 25-year-old grad student, activist and musician (
We’re still measuring the results. With each blog-a-thon, the number of participants grows. Most of our topics—elections, sex, money, violence—are closely aligned with the national youth agenda, which was crafted by members of GenVote (, of which WireTap is a member. The Youth Agenda asks for explicit action to issues that directly effect young people like access to healthcare and comprehensive sex education? [These] examples show that the issues we’re concerned with don’t exist in a vacuum; they are national issues that should be made national priorities.
YMR: In February 2008, you launched the Election 2008 topic. What drove the conversation and what were youth contributors saying?
King: Our first blog-a-thon began with a discussion about the presidential elections. Among the issues we discussed were the viability of candidates and the primacy of race and gender in our country. Are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton examples of how far we’ve come in addressing racial and gender barriers, or are they merely exceptions to the rule? Both Eming and I contributed, as well as 25-year-old spoken word artist Adriel Luis, who wrote an Open Letter to Hillary Clinton and Eugene from Boston Progress Radio who tackled the silence surrounding issues of immigration and detention.
For a more comprehensive look at what we discussed, please check out the following links:
Calling All Youth Media Bloggers (YO!)
Elections Blog-a-thon update (WireTap)
YMR: One YO! blogger states: “I’m standing at the peak of an election process that has been propelled forward by the young generation of voters.” It seems that the youth media field is also standing at this peak—can this blog effectively propel the opinions and youth generated media onto the radar of policy and decision makers?
King: Definitely. Youth media is part of a broader youth movement that recognizes the potential and responsibility that young folks have to shape their futures.
On a more basic level, the media landscape is changing. The internet in general, and blogs, in particular, yield a tremendous amount of power to affect people’s perspectives. They make our access to information quicker and more opinionated. Since young folks have grown up in a digital age, we tend to be more intuitive when it comes to the internet. Thanks to grassroots-led movements in hip-hop and student organizing, we’re learning how to use our internet savvy with practical political methods that effect change.
An example of this would be in San Francisco, where students at June Jordan School for Equity staged a walk-out and peace rally to protest gun violence (see more: They were able to mobilize their teachers, parents, community members and classmates and hold a tremendous rally that got lots of media attention and will hopefully have a tremendous effect on the upcoming November elections where Prop 6 (the Runner Initiative), a dangerous anti-youth ballot initiative.
YMR: Oct 22-Oct 29 you are launching another Election 2008 blog-o-thon for youth producers in and out of the field to amplify their words nationally. But this time, you specifically want to reach decision makers. How are you going about this?
Eming Piansay: With the current state of the economy, health care, the war in Iraq these issues, though they were brought to light in our February [blog-o-thon], are still very much relevant now. The youth population is about to head into four years of a new administration and these issues are the ones that are going to make or break their relationship with the incoming administration. [It] is important that young people have the opportunity to have a discussion about these issues because at some point, [young people] will [have] to deal with them.
King: Our first blog-a-thon on elections was focused more on the presidential primaries. Of course, presidential politics is a theme we’ll continue to explore this time around, but we’re also trying to focus on more local issues that have a direct and immediate impact on youth.
We have timed this blog-a-thon to happen a couple weeks before elections to infuse a youth perspective into what has become a very divisive media discussion of the candidates. We’re trying to focus more on issues—healthcare, immigration, education—as a way of putting pressure on the next president to not only use our willpower to win office, but to address our community’s needs.
It’s a process. Really, we’re building off of the momentum created by the excitement of this election. We targeted youth media makers primarily because we’re all doing very important work in our communities. WireTap is part of GenVote, which is pushing the Youth Agenda and Vote Hip Hop ( GenVote ( is a national alliance of 18 national organizations that do work around issues that effect young people, so the agenda points came from our collective experiences and common interests. We’re pushing for the next president to see our potential, see how many folks are behind us, and realize that it’s in the nation’s interests to tackle youth issues.
YMR: What role does youth media organizations & specifically, youth generated media, play on having voting and electoral power?
Eming: YO! and youth media organizations aim to educate young people on important voter issues that are not major issues discussed by the main stream media. By doing so, it is our hope to impart knowledge and enlighten young voters on issues they may not have been aware of before.
King: We can play a tremendous role. First off, if we’re old enough to vote, we can take our beliefs into the polls in November. We also have the power to influence our parents and communities. It’s also incredibly important to infuse a youth perspective before elections in order to show that we have opinions and are organized. [We] are the future, and whether it’s now or ten years from now, our experiences will shape the destiny of our country.
YMR: What role does youth media organizations & specifically, youth generated media, play in weighing in the vote/having electoral power—and to stay on the radar of decision makers so that the youth vote momentum continues post Nov 5?
Eming: Reaching out to the youth vote is a very important tool for all persons in government. By reaching out to young people/youth media decision makers would be able to get a perspective that they wouldn’t normally get. By going to schools and actually talking to young people face to face they would essentially help themselves but also give young people a better sense of who is running their government.
King: Recently, GenVote released the Youth Agenda. We’re working together, as well as with other coalitions, to map out practical plans for impacting the next administration. Obviously, a lot depends on who’s elected, but either way, we want to make sure that we have a set agenda. Young people have played a tremendous role in this election, from The League of Young Voters registering thousands of new voters, or the University of California Student Association registering over 40,000 new voters, to the 24-year-old founder of Facebook leading the Obama campaign’s online strategy. We have the technological saavy and political insight to earn the ear of the next president.
Concretely, there are several participants in this edition of the blog-a-thon who are involved in direct voter outreach. This month, we’ve included participants from Trick or Vote (, a national non-partisan costume canvass. They’ve been working to register new voters through the Bus Project ( Khmer Girls in Action (, a community organization based in Long Beach, CA is also a participant in this month’s blog-a-thon. The organization is made up mainly of young Asian Pacific Islander women, and they’ve banded together to make PSA’s in opposition to California’s proposition 8, which would require parental notification for underage abortions.
These are just our initial steps toward bridging youth media, grassroots organizing and electoral politics. You can’t have one without the other, and I think the youth movement—which includes media and organizing—has done a great job recently of coming together and forming a common vision. Whether it’s rallying around Green Collar Jobs, Tuition Relief, or more grassroots efforts, [we have] become organized enough to win concrete changes no matter who gets elected to the White House in November.
YMR: Would you say that blogging is paramount for the youth media field (both young people and practitioners) to dialogue with one another across the U.S. and around the globe?
King: I would say that blogging is one step in the fight for social change, but it can only go so far. Ideally, it has to be supplemented by on-the-ground organizing on all levels— grassroots, student and electoral-based. Your message will only travel as far as you promote it, and then it’s up to individuals and communities to take action, and fight against issues that affect them. With the recent student walk out in San Francisco, online tools—such as YouTube and Web 2.0 media—played a huge role. But at the end of the day, it was folks getting out into the streets and making their voices heard that made their actions so powerful.
Of course, technology allows us to communicate with people around the globe at the click of a button. So we can share our victories, strategies and experiences with people around the globe and build stronger movements. The battles we’re waging are situated in a global economic system, so this type of worldwide access is crucial.
[It is] crucial for youth producers and adult practitioners to help more young people gain access [and] develop the skills to [produce] media that can accompany grassroots movements. [Blogging is] a great alternative for producing news that affects us. Often in the mainstream media, young people, particularly young folks of color, are criminalized. So this kind of do-it-yourself media allows young folks to create positive images and tell stories that matter.
Of course, there are challenges. Blogging takes time and resources that very busy young folks, organizers and staff don’t have. We’re currently working to develop a new layout for the blog-a-thon’s that centralizes it in one place so it will be easier to navigate.
YMR: How might other youth media orgs learn from your partnership between YO! and Wiretap? What are the outcomes? Successes? Challenges?
Eming: Collaborations between youth media is a gold mine of information. By sharing resources, we have doubled our efforts in something that on our own might have been harder to achieve. With the success of our prior blog-a-thons we have generated a lot of healthy, interesting discussions that can be expanded into our topics for blog-a-thons. By gathering together different youth writers we have created a web of communication that we personally haven’t seen in cross/web/blogging communication.
King: We’re really grateful to have a great partnership with Youth Outlook. First, we have very open dialogue and similar missions. It also helps that we’re located blocks away from each other. There aren’t any egos and we’re very clear about our mission: YO! works primarily with Bay Area-based high school-aged youth. WireTap works primarily with folks across the country who tend to be college age and older. We both bring tremendous resources to the table—YO! brings their strong local networks, they awesome reporters and editors and their connections to local schools and community groups. I think we at WireTap bring in regional diversity and our own political networks.
The challenges: both of our organizations have limited capacity and resources. We do a great job at making the best of what we have, but it’s often challenging to do practical things, like build a stronger infrastructure for the blog-a-thon, recruit younger writers in schools and spend the time to manage the blog-a-thon on top of our daily work routine.
As for what others can learn—it’s easy! There’s no reason other youth media organizations shouldn’t be reaching out and working with one another more often. I think the first bit hurdle is to do it. We’re often busy working with our content, trying to develop our content and our writers, that we often overlook partnerships as an essential tool in strengthening our staff, membership base, content and the broader movement toward social justice. As youth organizations, we can always use more resources, and I think the partnership between WireTap and YO! is an example of how easy and useful such partnerships can be.
Last Wednesday, we kicked off the fifth youth media blog-a-thon. This months topic is elections—both on the national and local levels. So far we’ve gotten a good number of responses, ranging from Khmer Girls in Action speaking out against California’s latest attempt to make it harder for young women to get abortions, to why political geeks are back in style and how the Obama campaign has reinvigorated community organizers.
For a full list of what’s been said so far, check out the stories below. Read, comment, respond and feel free to pass them along:
Khmer Girls in Action (Video): No on Prop 4
Becoming a Man (Steven Liang, WireTap): Grappling with manhood, homophobia, and gay marriage in my parents home country.
From Cynicism to Hope (Lynne Nguyen, Washington Community Action Network): This election demonstrates the potential for grassroots community organizing.
Our Next Prez on Latin America (April Aguirre, Chi Remezcla)
Why I’m Voting for Obama (El Guante): He’s not perfect, but he’s a step in the right direction.
Political Geeks Rule (Alex Berke, The Bus Project): From doorknocking to voter registration, political nerdery is the new chic.
Obama: Not Enough to End Racism in America (April Joy Damian, Young People For)
Best of the Worst (Silvano Pontoniere, Youth Outlook)
Senate Candidate Launches Campus Tour (Sarah Burris, WireTap): Kansas Senate candidate hosts week long youth tour on college tax credit.
Politically Unplugged (Eming Piansay, Youth Outlook)

Creating Empowering Environments in Youth Media Organizations

Renee Hobbs, Ed.D. and Jiwon Yoon, Ph.D. candidate, Temple University
How can we understand the differences between youth media programs? What are the characteristics of high-functioning programs? How can youth-serving organizations best provide meaningful learning experiences with media and technology, given the inevitable limitations of budget, time, staff, and other resources? Using a case study of a youth media organization which serves out-of-school youth, this paper presents a theoretical model designed to examine how certain programmatic and structural features of youth media organizations contribute to the quality of student learning, growth and development. The model emphasizes alignment between the following key elements: (1) program goals and outcomes, as articulated by leaders and staff; (2) the use of texts, tools, and technologies, (3) approaches to instruction and youth participation, including expectations of youth as learners; and (4) approaches to program management, including staff development and resource allocation. The model was generated from a case study of a struggling youth media program in a large metropolitan area that gives educational and vocational opportunities to out-of-school urban youth ages 17 – 21. After identifying how role confusion, staffing problems, and low expectations can combine with power relations issues among participants and program staff to the detriment of achieving learning outcomes, we identify four key elements of youth media programs, using data including interviews with program leaders, staff, and students; participant observation data; and analysis of staffing strategies. Youth media organizations should focus on strengthening student competence, confidence, character, connection, and contribution. However, media production instruction and youth participation in media and technology activities (by themselves) do not always guarantee that students develop these capacities. This paper argues that careful alignment between four key elements can help administrative leaders and educators in youth media programs to offer meaningful learning outcomes to program participants.
Download Renee Hobb’s and Jiwoon Yoon’s article here.