Lots of media producers and scholars are trying to figure out how digital culture has reorganized the public-private divide for young people and the rest of us. Social networking sites and virtual universes like Second Life raise some thorny new questions about disclosure, identity, and safety inside and outside digital worlds.
But I want to flash back to an earlier project where young people converted private archives into public media. One of the stories that put Youth Radio on the national news map back in the late 90s was Emails from Kosovo, a series Finnigan Hamill, a Berkeley High School student at the time, put together from his email correspondence with a 16 year old Albanian girl witnessing an escalating war from her apartment balcony. The series ran on NPR’s Morning Edition, and President Bill Clinton specifically quoted Finny’s correspondence in his radio address announcing U.S. participation in NATO’s bombing campaign.
When Emails from Kosovo drew so much attention, the news reporter became the news story, and that wasn’t easy. Neither was figuring out where to draw the line between reporting a story and intervening on behalf of a friend’s well being. Youth Radio came up with a pseudonym, Adona, for Finny’s friend, and had to verify her identity and experiences without compromising her safety. But then, People Magazine picked up the story on its cover, and CNN followed, exposing Adona’s real name. Previously private correspondence between two teenagers was now national news and leveraged by the public relations and speech writing machinery behind a U.S. President’s foreign policy.
Talk about “convergence culture”…