Twitter Speech

December 3, 2008

I really don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon, or worse–someone who just doesn’t get what’s so great about Twitter. I get that there’s a lot great about it. Journalists use it to find and break stories. Organizers use it to coordinate actions. Election 2008 debate viewers used it  to shape national coverage. As reported by Chana Joffey-Walt in a playful story for Marketplace back when Twitter was new, we all use it to feed our bottomless appetites for feeling and being a certain kind of “in touch” with friends and other followees. 

But scanning lists and lists of tweets (mostly by reading over the shoulders of physically present friends), I can’t help but notice something–a thing about language. There’s this sociocultural theorist named Lev Vygotsky who comes to mind. His big idea–totally counter-intuitive in his day–was that a person’s individual psychology is always profoundly social. We don’t learn to connect interpersonally. We start out that way, as babies, and only eventually do we internalize concepts that we learn through social interaction so that we don’t have to do and say everything out loud. In other words, we develop a capacity for what Vygotsky calls “inner speech.” That’s the stream of communication that runs silently inside our heads. Vygotsky says it’s a key cognitive achievement, this shift from outer to inner speech.

I feel like at least some of what gets communicated through Twitter reads to me like inner speech. The mechanism of Twitter seems to draw what might otherwise have stayed inner back into the uttered world. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe that’s part of the fascination–to feel like we’ve got a line into the running thoughts, observations, commentaries, and discoveries of an eclectic crowd, fragments of discourse that might otherwise never crystalize in language. But I also wonder if there’s anything lost with this urge to push it out as soon as a thought springs to mind. In his 1934 book, Vygotsky defines thought as “a cloud shedding a shower of words.” Does it make a difference for that thought–its quality, nuance, depth–if it’s immediately let go?



New Media Literacy Resource

November 19, 2008

Check out the Media Education Lab for a whole bunch of media literacy resources on topics not always covered in the standard curriculum offerings–in particular, a focus on copyright and fair use. The site provides useful (necessary!) guidelines for educators who want to work within the rules, and it also charts a generative content area in its own right to discuss and debate with students.

I haven’t done an exhaustive exploration of the site yet, but it looks rich. In collaboration with a list of partners, these folks have created a code for legal and ethical guidelines surrounding educators’ use of media that seeks to answer many of the questions we face in developing lessons and syllabi. It’s especially interesting for those of us who work as both producers and educators (often in the same project) to consider the code as it relates to the practices we follow when we’re co-creating original content for broadcast/publication.

In introducing this resource to students, it might be useful to have them initially brainstorm the tacit codes they follow in their creative and intellectual practices (making music, doing assignments) when it comes to fair use, and compare those practices with the ones identified here and enforced by copyright and intellectual property law.

Election 2008: Who hits publish

November 10, 2008

Youth Radio’s newsroom is still decompressing from the election last week–and still delivering stories to our outlets. Six election-related pieces have already aired on NPR:

1. Post-election reactions to Obama’s historic win (All Things Considered).

2. A conversation between father and son about the civil rights implications of Obama’s candidacy (Day to Day).

3. A commentary from a young man making sense of Obama’s victory on the same day that California voters passed a ban on same-sex marriage (Weekend Edition Sunday).

4. Reflections on Obama’s message of hope (Morning Edition).

5. A glimpse into partisan battles breaking out at a school in Colorado (Weekend Edition Sunday).

6. Three voices on how the economic crisis–a cornerstone election issue and the new administration’s top priority–is affecting young people’s lives (Day to Day).

In addition to these stories (and more are in the works), Youth Radio produced live coverage of the election with more than 30 correspondents (ages 15 to 27) filing 50-plus online stories from every region across the US. We heard from young people at the polls in Pennsylvania, about the antiquated voting system in Georgia, a Michigan-based Republican’s predictions for the ripple effects of an Obama Presidency, a student view of swing-state North Carolina, analysis of Republican voting trends from a young political junkie in Tennessee, a comedic take on campaigning and President Obama from California, and snapshots from DC and New York.

Our Oakland-based producers curated music and videos with election themes, and we resurrected our 2008 election show, Face the Race, which ran all day on iTunes and streamed audio and video through ustream on our website.

The coverage was part of Youth Radio’s strategy as a youth-driven media outlet that combines the user-generation of youtube, the community participation of wikipedia, and the credibility of the New York Times.

With that magic combo in mind, one of the trickiest questions we faced in planning for election day and beyond was: who in this dispersed production team would be authorized to hit “publish,” and with that co-create our site’s front page? Our new site is designed for contributors to be able to upload text, video, audio, photos, and other media, and decide where their story belongs in the existing line-up.

In the end, for election day, we erred on the side of opening it up. Young people who had log ins and passwords–and, crucially, the time, know-how (including legal and ethical considerations), tech access, and connectivity–could execute every step in their own coverage, from creation to publication. For those who preferred just emailing us a couple paragraphs, or even dictating over the phone, that was fine, too.

Now that election day is behind us, our next step is to translate this methodology we applied to an intense, one-day, high stakes, national story, and adapt it into a modus operandi for our youth media newsroom.

Youth Media Flames

October 27, 2008

Youth Radio’s been inviting comments on our stories for some time, both through our own site and those of our outlets. Check out this especially heated comment stream ensuing from our July feature, Sex Without a Condom is the New Engagement Ring, which aired on NPR and then spread from there.

And even before the advent of the social media comment phenomenon, Youth Radio was used to handling the listener responses that have always come in the old fashioned, terrestrial radio way—through call-ins and emails, sometimes read on the air. But our redesigned site (launched a couple weeks ago) gives comments new visibility. So we need a policy for dealing with ones that are over-the-top hateful.

It’s an especially challenging question, I think, for youth media.

On the one hand, we tout the merits of media engagement as a crucial dimension of citizenship in today’s world. Comments are a way for young people who would otherwise be relegated to the position of consumers to help shape the conversation surrounding the media they care about. That’s the social justice argument. There’s also the more business-minded consideration. For any youth media initiative to gain traction, it’s got to enable audiences to participate in both making and judging the content. Youth media producers simply can’t get by anymore just pushing out completed work. Whether through online comments or other means, they need to ignite cultures of participation around the content they create.

On the other hand, the “positive youth development” orientation of our field makes it difficult–if not dangerous–to live with comments that are personally or socially hateful. The stakes are especially high for us, given that those comments will be permanently available both to the young producer who comes under attack and anyone else who happens upon the story. Especially tough to call are the comments that sit just on the edge–the ones that land in the “does this one cross the line?” category.

Our editorial team has considered various options. Boingboing came up with an intriguing strategy, which they describe in response to the hypothetical question:

Q. All the vowels have disappeared from a paragraph I wrote! What’s going on?

A. We did it. Someone (a moderator, one of the Boingers) was expressing displeasure at your remarks. The technique is called disemvowelling. It deprecates but does not delete the remark. With work, the disemvowelled text should still be readable.

Inspired by this concept of deprecation without deletion, we thought maybe we’d play off this idea and remove all or most of the comment’s consonants, thus rendering the flame “inconsonant.” Trouble is, inconsonant comments end up indecipherable, which defeats the purpose.

Our online editor, Kara Andrade, then came up with the idea to cut all references to “you.” Having spent several years of grad school studying linguistics and critical discourse analysis, I love this idea. There’s something incredibly disorienting and disarming about removing the pronoun of direct address, when the whole point of the comment is to express a hateful personal attack. Maybe a system of “you-removal” can diffuse and disperse the hate without shutting down the possibility that the digital community will engage with it in a meaningful and ultimately useful way.

“Link journalism” and the future of youth media

October 20, 2008

Two articles appearing in the last few weeks in the New York Times got me thinking about youth media and its particular place in digital culture. The first was announcing the launch of Tina Brown’s new site, The Daily Beast, which the Times describes as:

an aggregation of the trivial and the momentous, the original and the borrowed… [w]ith a slogan splashed across its home page promising rigorous editing of the culture for complicated times…

When Brown was asked what makes her site different and worth reading, she answered, “Sensibility, darling,” managing in those two words to hint at the very thing she was describing–a certain vibe, attitude, voice, and rapport with her reader.

The second article in the Times I’m thinking about announced the arrival of “link journalism” in newsrooms that have until now not wanted to give away traffic (which converts to advertising dollars) by embedding links to other sites, even competitors. Seems like those days of digital protectionism are over:

“[T]he use of blogs by news organizations has helped newsroom managers accept that filtering the Web for visitors is a valuable editorial function.”

So what does any of this have to do with youth media? The idea of selective aggregation as an editorial function is nothing new for youth media sites (here meaning both physical places and web destinations). The young people we work with everyday routinely turn to friends and other trusted sources to provide referral services to original content and directions (in the form of a link) to anywhere else where they might find something interesting. But what these two articles got me thinking about in a new way is what all this emphasis on curatorial “sensibility” will mean for youth producers and audiences–especially those not well served or represented by mainstream news and culture outlets.

To the extent that sensibility is really another way of talking about taste, we know from sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu that taste creates distinctions among us and operates as a kind of cultural capital. In this sense, taste is produced and reproduced in the everyday, often unexamined dispositions and judgments we bring to every situation–what we just like and dislike, without always being able to explain why. As media in general and journalism in particular become increasingly driven by sensibility or taste, it becomes even more important for those of us who work with emerging professionals in these fields to keep checking in–with ourselves, our colleagues, our students–about just what set of “tastes” we’re producing and promoting in our media products, who by virtue of these elusive qualities is included and engaged, and who is left out.

Youth Radio launches redesigned site!

October 13, 2008

Good news! This week, Youth Radio rolled out its new website. Same address and content, totally different look and experience! Please click around and let us know what you think. The whole point of the redesign is to make Youth Radio a place where you can engage with the content–get excited about it, argue with it, respond to it, share it, add your own. It’s part of a transformation that started years back, when our fabulous former web editor, Hong, introduced the concept of “converged media,” and from that point on we were always pushing ourselves to move beyond audio and the old broadcast models for shaping and disseminating content. We’ve gotten more serious about creating a culture of participation through our What’s the New What? series, 2008 election coverage, and the launch of our youth-driven production company, Youth Media International.

As you’ll see, we’re still in the process of migrating our archive over from the old site. You can find everything through a link on the new site–including Teach Youth Radio, where our latest post highlighted two stories from Youth Radio’s convention coverage, and the one before that featured a powerful commentary from a young Bay Area teacher writing about the Monday after a student in her school had been shot. The next TYR post will offer lesson ideas related to the current economic crisis, with links to a series of stories from our archives dealing with youth, money, jobs, and class in America.

More soon!

June 19, 2008

A couple weeks ago, I worked with three Youth Radio reporters–Ankitha Bharadwaj, Nico Savidge, and Pendarvis Harshaw–and media scholar danah boyd to produce a panel on youth media for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s board retreat. Our mandate was to characterize how digital culture and technology are transforming the ways in which young people consume, use, and produce media.

In coming up with an approach to that sprawling topic, we couldn’t help but think about Youth Radio’s latest converged media initiative–a weekly national series with NPR’s Day to Day called, “What’s the New What?” Young reporters and commentators use every technology at their disposal to show how youth culture is changing and its ripple effects across our connected and divided worlds.  

So the question we posed for this gathering of broadcasters was: “What’s the new public in a digital media world?” We wanted to revisit some of the original principles of public broadcasting in its early days, and hear what young people have to say about where they’re finding–and how they’re forging–new kinds of “publics” online. There’s some really interesting research on networked publics that was hugely relevant here. Each of the young producers took a stab at answering this over-arching question, “What’s the new public?”…

But before focusing on production, they started with the question of changes in media consumption. They approached that topic by creating a composite picture of a day in their digital lives. 

Check out what they had to say here: yr-cpb-panel-2008-part-one1 (you have to look at the notes section to see what folks had to say)



Teach Youth Radio updates

May 8, 2008

Check out two new Teach Youth Radio curriculum resources that offer lesson ideas building on youth-produced stories (as mentioned this weekend on NPR!).

1. Guerra Everywhere

Youth Radio LA’s Evelyn Martinez explores how her mother’s memories of guerillas in El Salvador intersect with her own reality of night time gunshots, helicopters, and sirens at home in East Los Angeles.

“My mom tells me that she fled that war only to find herself in between feuding gangs and police shooting at each other in our Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights.”

During the 1980’s and 90’s, over one million Salvadorans fled the civil war in their country and settled in the United States. Over fifty percent of those who arrived in this country decided to make Los Angeles their home. Evelyn is a product of this history. Her story provides a powerful way for educators to explore several themes, including transnational identity, the relationship between storytelling and healing, the notion of history unfolding in the present, and the ripple effects of violence for individuals, communities, and nations.

Here’s the full curriculum resource for Guerra Everywhere.

2. The Wire

Youth Radio’s Orlando Campbell memorializes the hit HBO program, The Wire, which aired its final episode in spring of 2008. Are you a fan of The Wire? This News Break integrates the show’s themes into classroom work. But we’ve been careful to develop lesson ideas that do not require prior familiarity with the show. The commentator, Orlando Campbell, and other young folks at Youth Radio have convinced us that the topics explored in The Wire, as well as its distinctive storytelling style, will inspire profound discussion, and creative work among youth who do and do not watch the show, and for those who live within and outside cities like Baltimore, the show’s home base. This News Break has been co-developed with Orlando and other young people who’ve been watching The Wire season after season, and who feel deeply invested in the themes and characters the show explores.

While Orlando’s commentary highlights the show’s positive impact, other viewers have raised serious concerns. Some from within Baltimore say The Wire creates a sensationalized view of the violence in their own city and glorifies the drug trade, gang involvement, and corruption for youth around the country. What do your students think about how to tell stories that involve violence and crime without demonizing whole communities of people? Take up this and other provocative questions using this News Break as a point of departure.

Here’s the full curriculum resource for The Wire: Our Sopranos

More Thoughts on Interviewing

April 9, 2008

Last week, I posted some insights from a print and radio reporter who provided a great workshop to Youth Radio’s emerging journalists. I wanted to continue drawing from his insights, with a focus here on interviewing. I first learned to interview as an academic research assistant, my first year out of college. My boss at the time played the role of a caricatured nightmare interview subject and made each of us on the research team run through a ridiculous but instructive mock phone interview before she would let us start doing the real thing (we were interviewing non-profit arts leaders).

After that, I did a whole bunch of interviews as part of my own dissertation research, this time talking to teenagers about language and learning in the arts. Listening back to those recorded conversations was pure torture. I sounded like such an ass–all formal and stiff, like I might be wearing a white lab coat, but then at turns cringily phony and fawning (which is not only embarrassing but also methodologically problematic). I learned to lose the fakitude and just look this person in the eye and let myself get curious about their story, like I would a friend, but still interviews were never my shining research moments. 


Then I really had to rethink the whole undertaking when I started working in media production–when the goal of an interview wasn’t so much to collect empirical data for a scholarly thesis, but to draw out characters and unexpected moments of candor and compelling stories (while, of course, also getting the facts and gathering clean sound). I was still learning how to interview like a journalist (rather than a scholar), and I also had to teach these skills to the young reporters I was collaborating with on their stories. At Youth Radio, we’ve gone back and forth endlessly about how much our students should script their interviews in advance, developing detailed lists of questions. The benefit of the question list: we as editors can help young folks craft questions that are thoughtful, unbiased, relevant, and cover the scope of the story. The downside: listening back to the tape, I’ve heard warm, spontaneous, curious and creative young people transform into robots, reading mechanically from lists, sounding as if they’re not listening at all, not engaging or responding or building on the stories their interviewees share. 


A couple posts ago, I shared our Interview Tips from Youth Radio’s newsroom. Here, some added thoughts from a talented and seasoned (but still young himself!) journalist on the art of interviewing: 

A) Interviewing isn’t about questions and answers, it’s a relationship.  It’s like being on a date.  You’re not building rapport with someone so that you can get a better interview, that rapport IS the interview. 

B) You can and should train someone to be a better interview subject.  The first 20 minutes or so of an interview, I ask questions that seem on topic, but are actually irrelevant to my piece.  I don’t care about the answers.  The whole point is to help the interview subject understand the kind of answers I need once the questions do matter.  For instance, I’ll ask someone to describe a particular day for me.  When they say, “I got up,” I’ll interrupt and ask them how many times they hit snooze, whether the alarm beeps or plays music, if the floor is cold, what they have on their walls, whether their room is messy and if so what’s on the floor.  I’ll laugh extra hard if they say anything funny, because most interview subjects subconsciously want to please their interviewer, so laughing extra hard will encourage them to relax and be funny.  Once they’re giving me the kind of thoughtful, detailed, revealing answers I want — once they’re in a storytelling frame of mind — then I gradually start asking questions that matter.  And then I tend not to interrupt much, unless I have to.  It means my interviews run long, but I learn things I wouldn’t have known to ask about.

C) Everyone is an expert, everyone has more things to teach you then you could ever have time to learn.  And spending time with people is a privilege.  It’s important to remember nobody owes you their time, or their answers.  Make a person understand that, and they’ll feel powerful when you stick a mic on their face, not intimidated.  People who feel powerful give better interviews. 

D) Trust your curiosity.  If someone says something interesting that you didn’t expect, forget about the questions you meant to ask, and see where the conversation takes you. You can always circle back.




Thoughts on writing

April 2, 2008

I recently hooked up with a terrific magazine reporter and radio journalist, who shared some really useful ideas about his creative process. I wanted to document some of his ruminations and tips here, in a few posts, starting today. First, there’s the importance of reading your stuff out loud. We stress this all the time with young people at Youth Radio, but that’s kind of obvious right? Of course you need to practice reciting your script in a conversational way when the story will be spoken. But this writer says he goes through a pretty elaborate reading-aloud ritual even for his print articles:

“For a magazine piece, I wait until I’ve finished a draft, then I read all the way through and mark up the draft. I actually print it out, put the draft on a clip board, and then walk around my neighborhood, reading out loud, rewriting longhand in the margins as I walk, and generally looking like a crazy person. (I get bored if I stay at my desk, and if I get bored, I’ll get lazy in my editing.) Then I punch in my changes, and do it again, five or six times, usually. (My first editor told me if you can still stand to look at a piece, you haven’t worked hard enough on it yet, and it’s good advice.) I often change the font between edits to remind myself to look at the page as if I’ve never seen it before.”

I guess you’ve got to be willing to look a little crazy to do your best work!