The media production process looks different depending on the product as well as other factors, like topic, audience, timeframe, technology access, and point of view. But you can’t make a story that reaches an audience without moving through the tasks marking each of these phases (not necessarily in this order, as elaborated in the next post!).
During pre-production at Youth Radio, young people identify story topics, characters, sounds, and scenes. They prepare a 3-4 sentence “pitch” for their stories to present at an editorial meeting attended by peers and adult producers. To get clarity on their own investments in the topics they’ve selected, they often free-write on their story ideas. Research in this phase goes beyond web searches; having actual conversations usually leads to new angles and ideas. Young producers set up interviews, come up with questions, and prep and practice with their equipment until they’re ready to start gathering tape.
During production, students interview characters and analysts. They record ambience (naturally occurring sound) as well as scenes where something meaningful happens, advancing rather than simply illustrating the story. Sometimes producers collect “found audio” (e.g., voicemail messages, clips from home videos) and create or download music that resonates with the themes they’re exploring in their stories, to add texture and mood.
In post-production, young people log all recordings—the interviews, scenes, beds of ambient sound, even the music. With guidance from peer educators and adult producers, they comb through logs to “pick their best clips,” and then arrange those elements in an order that makes sense logically and narratively. Next, they simply “write around the clips”—in other words, compose their own narration in such a way that introduces each character and scene, makes transitions, fills in missing information, and draws the story to conclusion. Once the script is written, critiqued, and approved, young people record their narration (a process called “tracking”) and then “dump” all the audio elements into a digital editing computer program. They use that system to “mix” their stories, arranging and layering the audio bits to match the script.
Youth Radio stories air on various local and national outlets, as well as through online channels including our own website, MySpace, podcasting, and iTunes radio. Particularly with national outlets like NPR, with its audiences that number in the tens of millions, getting a Youth Radio story on the air can entail several rounds of editing with the outlet’s show producers. It’s not easy to get stories on national radio. And yet, significant audiences (27 million for public radio nationally) can motivate and intensify learning, and through public release young people can influence pressing social, cultural, and policy-level debates. That said, today’s media landscape offers a proliferating array of distribution options: for example, social networking and peer-to-peer websites, blogs, public access stations, the school newspaper, and community events. A key dimension of distribution entails preparing for and handling audience response, repurposing material for multiple outlets, and priming stories for “extended use” (e.g., when policy-makers, advocates, educators, health providers, and peers apply youth-produced content to their own agendas).