Youth Radio’s “What’s the New What”

October 23, 2007

Youth Radio’s production company has been busy with a new project: prepping to launch a youth-generated broadcast/web stream and curriculum called “What’s the New What.” The stream glimpses the future of youth culture and its ripple effects across politics, identity, industry, and education.

Failure is the New Success. Blog is the New Bathroom Wall. Profit is the New Non-Profit. Tech Toys are the New Textbooks. Young people will use provocations like these to generate media content (audio, video, graphic, text) that connects high and low, hopeful and troubling, transforming the way the public engages young citizens.

Youth Radio will develop What’s the New What by integrating electronic mechanisms (e.g., solicitations, uploads, ratings, comments) with human editorial oversight by youth curators.

We’re also planning to develop free, online curriculum resources linked to What’s the New What segments. The really exciting part of that project is, the curriculum will be co-created by young producers and veteran designers with participation from Youth Radio’s international teachers’ network and their thousands of students.

That’s the model we’re increasingly using in our Teach Youth Radio project, bringing the curriculum design process into alignment with our media production model, meaning young people themselves drive the vision and execution, in collaboration with adult professionals. Check out the latest Teach Youth Radio News Break, about Jena Six, produced by Youth Radio/UC Berkeley’s Dawn Williams, Ayesha Walker from Youth Radio’s web team, and Kai Crowder, Shantel Alicea, Cory Butler-Wilson and Akira Chin–all students from the hip-hop journalism class at B-Tech, Berkeley Unified School District’s continuation high school.

So What?

The nation cares about teenagers again. What’s more, we’re focusing for once on what young people know and can do—and on implications of their digital experiments for everything from learning environments to investment strategies.

And yet, young people are still constrained to narrow roles: savvy socializers, expert players, embodiments of authenticity. Missing from this line-up are enterprising young producers and curators of meaningful content as well as creators of transformative learning experiences. While young people can buy ten-dollar digital video cameras at the corner store, that access hardly translates into enduring roles as full participants in digital culture.

Through What’s the New What, young people otherwise marginalized from “digital privilege” emerge as media connoisseurs, prepared to find, co-create, and disseminate top-quality youth-made content. In so doing, they:

1. Cultivate the public’s appetite for substantive storytelling with an edge,
2. Shape learning experiences for other young people by co-designing online curricula, and
3. Develop entrepreneurship models that inform practice and ethics across the digital media field.

Any young people, or adults who work with them, interested in contributing to the series–the content stream or the curriculum–let me know. What’s your new what?

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Participant Action Research Meets Media Production

October 5, 2007

Maybe it’s because I’m teaching a course on research methods and working as a youth media producer at the same time, but I’m once again struck by another connection/overlap between these fields.

More and more researchers take interest in making their methods “collaborative.” Instead of regarding study participants as “subjects” (or objects) of analysis, scholars who want communities to benefit directly from both a project’s methods and outcomes seek ways to “partner” with young people and others as co-researchers. Check out Maria Torre and Michelle Fine’s essay on this topic, as well as Ernest Morrell’s Becoming Critical Researchers and Jeff Duncan Andrade’s Utilizing Carino.

All of these university-based researchers have worked with their students as inquiry partners to create videos and other media projects that hold merit on several levels: as art works, social archives, resources for advocacy, and–oh, this too–research documents. There’s a long history of researchers using media/technology for data gathering, but what I’m talking about is something different–a practice that’s not about an analyst getting better at accumulating data, but instead about community members exploiting media/technology to produce meanings and generate impact–to change the story so often told about them, in spite of them, or even, supposedly, on their behalf.

Predictably, researchers are already endlessly debating the merits, problems, and scandals associated with the idea that youth media production can function as research. But what maybe folks aren’t so much working on is the value and place for this stuff in the media world itself, on public, community-supported, user-generated, and commercial converged media outlets. Also, given that Participant Action Research (associated with education) and Community-Based Participatory Research (associated with public health) have been around for some time, how have these methods transformed as a result of (relatively) newly available appliances, platforms, and distribution channels as well as the normalization of near constant self-documentation and digital surveillance of young lives?