Youth Media Reporter article extended abstract

January 14, 2008

Youth Media Reporter is coming out with a print issue, and I’ll be contributing a chapter called, Jumping for Joy, Wracking our Brains, Searching our Souls: Youth Media and its Digital Contradictions. Below are the first six paragraphs. I’ll update here when the full version is out.

In the old days of a few years ago, youth media organizations were among the sole gatekeepers connecting young people to production tools, distribution outlets, and mass audiences. The world doesn’t work that way anymore. Now, teen producers can pick up ten-dollar digital cameras at the local corner store or use their cell phones to upload clips for free to massively trafficked websites online. It’s never been easier for young people to contribute to the endless flow of content circulating among media makers, users, and audiences—categories that are themselves rapidly losing clear distinctions.

These developments have brought about a contradictory moment in the youth media movement marked by a mix of exuberance and angst. The excitement stems from the proliferation of cheap equipment, user-generated outlets, and growing public appetite for youth-made content. These innovations are cause for celebration for young producers and their adult mentors in youth media organizations around the country. One of our main goals is to tear down obstacles blocking young people from participating as producers in personal expression and public discourse. Our jobs just got a whole lot easier.

Or have they? If young people today can find their own affordable tools and distribution outlets, and if the current aesthetic seems to favor raw production values over highly polished pieces, we’ve got to ask ourselves—what’s the point of what we do? Hence the angst.

Compounding that angsty feeling is an education system obsessed with standardized measurement; a re-regulated mainstream media (Klinenberg, 2007); disparities in digital participation that map to class, race, geography, and family educational background (DeBell & Chapman, 2006); and significant obstacles that can prevent young producers from converting media savvy and even momentary notoriety into concrete opportunities in education or living wage employment. While the free access, feedback loops, and community ratings systems that mark so many social media sites offer amazing opportunities for young people to post and share their stories, lots of good stuff on these sites gets buried, as it needs to compete with the sensational, the silly, and the not always transparently sponsored.

In this essay, I draw insight from a single organization, Youth Radio, where I serve as Senior Producer and Research Director, against the backdrop of research I’ve carried out over ten years, in the spirit of a new mandate: to sharpen our understanding of how our field’s “signature pedagogies” (Faber, 2007) can work in tandem with emerging technologies and media innovations to better serve young people. Youth media organizations remain crucial for a number of reasons, including:

• They organize youth-adult collaboration linking young people to networks of opportunity for advanced skill-building, policy impact, jobs and higher education. I discuss this function as a property of collegial pedagogy.
• They provide a platform for collective activity that builds and broadcasts a critical mass of youth voices strategically reaching a range of audiences. This function leverages the youth media field’s access to multiple outlets.
• They engage young people who are otherwise marginalized from digital privilege—those on the wrong side of what Henry Jenkins (2006) calls media literacy’s “participation gap.” This function enables young people to exercise applied agency and build citizenship in our connected, divided world.

To be continued…

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Teach Youth Radio update

January 9, 2008

The January Teach Youth Radio curriculum will post any minute now on Youth Radio’s site, but here are some updates on the latest offerings.

News Break, January 2008
In our first Teach Youth Radio story for 2008, Quincy Mosby describes a huge physical transformation he’s recently undergone that has had major emotional effects. In the last year, Quincy dropped half his body weight—a total of 145 pounds. He says he’s happy about his dramatic weight loss. But the process has been more complicated than Quincy had expected, in part because of the way his family members and friends have responded to the change.

“At first, my mother was very supportive…But it seemed the closer I got to my weight-loss goal, the more annoyed my family… became with me. ‘What can you eat?’ my mother and sister would say when I wouldn’t touch the Chinese food we ordered every Friday…”

• Language Arts: Use Quincy’s commentary to inspire students to write about personal transformation and family relationships, to experiment with metaphors, to think creatively about how to open and end their first-person narratives, and to reflect on the editorial process writers go through in forming and reshaping original stories for varied audiences.

• Health/Science: Quincy’s commentary adds personal urgency to discussions of obesity, diabetes, adolescent body image, and inequalities among U.S. communities in access to healthy food and physical education.

• Critical Media Literacy: Celebrity Fit ClubThe Biggest Loser… Super models dressing up in fat suits… Reality TV shows have made public dieting a spectator sport. The media has always held major sway over what body shapes are considered beautiful, and which are scorned. This Youth Radio commentary can help your students analyze these media phenomena through the lens of Quincy’s experience and their own.

News Break, November/December 2007
In case you missed last months News Break, check out our story from commentator Natasha Watts, who’s with Appalachian Media Institute in Eastern Kentucky. Natasha lives in a coal-mining community, where rates of addiction to painkilling drugs have been rising at alarming rates, with devastating effects.

Check out this News Break if…
You are a high school teacher interested in new ways to inspire student writing, or if you are exploring any combination of the following issues in your classroom:

• Language Arts: Natasha shares intimate experiences faced by people close to her—but she’s careful not to tell other people’s secrets “in a place where you don’t air your dirty laundry.” Find lesson ideas that allow students to express where they come from without violating their loved ones’ trust.

• Health/Science: Teachers can use this News Break to explore how environmental conditions, industrial patterns, economic disparities, and drugs affect the body. These lesson ideas will also encourage discussions about coal—how this resource is used to produce energy, and at what human and environmental cost.

• Economics: How do you put a price tag on human suffering and death? Natasha’s story will push students to analyze who’s responsible when the public is given misinformation about a product’s safety, and what the appropriate consequences should be.

• Critical Media Literacy: Raise awareness about class issues and dialogue about the similarities and differences between illegal and legal drugs.

Go to Teach Youth Radio to find these resources and more…