In the last post, I shared some production tips from Youth Radio graduate Belia Mayeno. Belia shows up again here–with a draft book chapter she and I have been working on with our colleague Nishat Kurwa, Youth Radio’s news director. It’s an essay we wrote for a forthcoming book edited by Bill Ayers, Therese Quinn, and David Stovall about social justice education (Lawrence Erlbaum, Publishers). We took up an especially challenging story the three of us all worked on in 2004, highlighting responses from young U.S. Marines to the torture at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. First, an exerpt, and then a link to the full draft chapter, then a link to the audio story. Comments welcome–it’s still a work in progress!
Excerpt from Social Justice Youth Media, 2007
We focus here on a single Youth Radio story produced in 2004, called Picturing War, reported by Belia Mayeno. In the story, young U.S. Marines respond to reports that detainees were being tortured at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The reports featured photographs from the prison that pictured male Iraqi detainees, many naked, simulating sex acts, piled on top of one another, and attached to leashes and wires, with U.S. soldiers looking on, sometimes posing, sometimes with cameras. At the time, debates in the U.S. raged over who deserved blame for the acts pictured in those photographs—young prison guards or their higher-ups. It seemed like an ideal Youth Radio story—especially because we had already developed relationships with several young vets through our ongoing Reflections on Return from Iraq series, exploring the experiences of young military personnel adjusting to life back home. National Public Radio’s Morning Edition aired Picturing War in April of 2004.
In this chapter, Belia Mayeno, the story’s reporter, is joined by two Youth Radio producers, News Director Nishat Kurwa, and Education Director/Senior Producer Elisabeth (Lissa) Soep. Belia and Nishat are both Youth Radio graduates who participated as high school students, and Lissa started working at the organization as a doctoral student in 1999. Through our positions in Youth Radio’s newsroom, we mentor young people through every stage of story production, and there’s one bit of advice we give again and again. Express yourself conversationally. Don’t write the story like an English class essay. Tell it like you’re talking to a friend. In this chapter, we aim to follow our own advice. We offer this story about the relationship between youth media production and social justice as a conversation among the three of us. Two years after Picturing War aired, we dug out the old interview logs, booked our own studio, and recorded our reflections on what it was like to co-produce that story. We discussed moments that stood out to us as especially challenging and important, and we considered how this story relates to Youth Radio’s larger mission and model.
Why This Story?
There are stories in Youth Radio’s archive that have a much more straightforward relationship to social justice than Picturing War. A young man describes his deportation to Mexico immediately upon release from a U.S. prison. Young producers use slam poetry and street-corner interviews to comment on the effects of Oakland’s rising homicide rate. A high school senior contemplates whether to grow out her wavy hair or get it locked before heading off to a predominantly white college.
Each of these stories would seem a perfect candidate for a chapter like this one, examining how young people and adults practice social justice by making media. And yet stories like these make it too easy for us to side-step some uncomfortable but critical questions that reveal why social justice education is so hard. And so we chose a story that continues to challenge us, two years after broadcast. As the world struggled to make sense of the prison abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, Youth Radio sought out perspectives from young people who had lived and fought their way through the war in Iraq. But the views they shared were disturbing and difficult to hear. What does it take, this story made us ask, to engage “youth voice” in a meaningful way, when some youth voices are shaped by structures and policies that destroy young people’s lives?
And now, you can listen to Picturing War.