The other day, a mentor from my first job out of college observed that digital media research is hard, because so much of what people are saying isn’t all that new.
The comment got me thinking about what really is new in this work, and I came up with three contenders:
• The permanent, searchable digital archive: While folks have been writing about this for some time, I’m not sure we understand the “projected ethics” young people engage, as they imagine a future for their present work and forecast its potential to cause harm and/or do good. Through today’s public feedback loops (e.g., blogs comments, listener responses, sites like digg.com, the effects of search engine optimization), young people get some immediate data about what their work does in the world. But that’s only the beginning…
• $: Sure, media commercialization has been around forever, and there’s nothing new about young people seeking to profit directly from their creativity. But the media landscape, as well as young producers’ attitudes and efforts related to making money, seem to be changing. While many young people condemn the effects of corporate interests on journalism and the music industry, they want to earn money, even a living, off their media projects. And that seems perhaps more possible today, given public appetites for consumer-generated and especially youth-produced and distributed content. But it’s also less possible in light of industry consolidation and persistent inequalities in terms of access to equipment, networks, and means to participate as producers. These developments definitely affect media literacy in a major way. It’s no longer enough–if it ever was–to understand how commercial interests shape what we see and hear and read; now, do we need to prepare young people to understand how $ circulates through the media business (down to CPMs and ad avails) so they can themselves launch enterprises? Where does all this leave “social justice” as a core youth media goal? Depends on whom you ask. One youth newspaper publisher who’s been at this for more than 30 years sees a “fatal conflict” between the entrepreneurial approach and the social justice approach. I’m interested in looking more deeply into that conflict.
• Youth media, politics, and government: If media literacy is, as Henry Jenkins says, a form of citizenship, there are some distinct features of today’s political environment that invite and suppress full-blown youth engagement in civic affairs. Government and journalistic scandals as well as politicians’ uses of digital messaging have transformed the politics of media production and the media’s role in politics. Youth Radio’s response in the run-up to the US presidential election is to use digital technology to report on politics while also covering the impact of these technologies on political campaigns locally, nationally, and around the world.
For one recent example, check out Youth Radio’s coverage of Ron Dellum’s inauguration as Oakland’s mayor. Youth Radio filed the only national radio story about this historic event.