Youth Media Citizenship

In a short paper posted on the Spotlight Blog, W. Lance Bennett assesses two paradigms related to youth citizenship. He says, based on measures like faith in the government and conventional public institutions, young people are trending downwards as “dutiful citizens”; but if you see evidence of civic engagement in informal, issue-specific, peer-to-peer mobilization efforts, “actualized” youth citizenship is on the rise.

That’s just one contradiction that comes up when you start looking into the status of civic engagement in youth culture, especially as it relates to media. Young people are casualties of media privatization, to the extent that they find themselves ever more alienated from media ownership and influence; and yet they comprise the single most coveted commercial market and in this sense wield considerable power to sway what gets on. Young people lead the world as media innovators, redefining how we form identities, find friends, play games, make decisions, and learn; and yet those marginalized from digital privilege struggle for access to meaningful roles and tools of media production. Powered in part by the advent of citizen journalism and online self-publishing venues like blogs, social networking sites, and user-curated outlets, young people have never had access to a richer array of options for telling their own stories and framing knowledge and the news. And yet what sociologist Eric Klinenberg describes as “re-regulation” by the FCC has enabled media conglomerates to take over local print, radio, and television outlets around the country at striking rates.

Pretty much everything Youth Radio does is motivated by an effort to engage and collaborate with young people as active citizens and producers of culture. A Youth Radio story that aired yesterday on the public radio show Marketplace is just one example. Alana Germany explores civic engagement in one of its conventional manifestations–youth interest and involvement in electoral politics. In the words of Youth Radio’s announcement about her story, Alana checked out U.S. presidential candidates’ MySpace sites, weeding through the good, the bad, and the plain embarrassing…to issue a critique of the job they’re doing trying to reach young voters through one of pop culture’s most potent portals.

4 Responses to Youth Media Citizenship

  1. Acumensch says:

    I think that analysis is correct. Youth are targeted by media and advertised to. Yet we are the ones who direct the media and give it ideas and innovation. We are marginalized by ourselves pretty much.

  2. Interesting point: “We are marginalized by ourselves pretty much.” I like the pretty much, because there do seem to be some pretty strong forces that keep young people from reaching decision-making audiences through their media production, despite all this newfound availability of relatively cheap technology and distribution channels. I’m curious how you see yourself using media (making it and consuming it) to exercise “citizenship”–how do you know when you’re having the impact you want?

  3. Lauren Silverman says:

    I completely agree with your point that youth today have access to a wide range of “self-publishing venues like blogs, social networking sites, and user-created outlets” – which to me is super exciting. The main hurdle now seems to be less getting youth to share their ideas, on websites such as MySpace, or in online journals, but to get the adult world to read them. So, while the outlets may exist, and many youth today are active citizens, their efforts go unnoticed by the older generation.

  4. So true… That’s one of the reasons we’ve really had to redesign how we teach media at Youth Radio, and it’s happening across the field. The tech, literacy, and storytelling skills are still central, of course, but if we’re not both teaching and learning from young people about ways to distribute this stuff with savvy, we’re not doing our jobs. I also wonder if the risk isn’t so much that youth-produced media will go “unnoticed,” or if adults are likely to take notice of only those stories that reinforce their preconceptions and/or sound the loudest alarms of panic about “youth today,” missing young producers’ strongest, subtlest and/or most challenging messages.

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