Youth Media Flames

October 27, 2008

Youth Radio’s been inviting comments on our stories for some time, both through our own site and those of our outlets. Check out this especially heated comment stream ensuing from our July feature, Sex Without a Condom is the New Engagement Ring, which aired on NPR and then spread from there.

And even before the advent of the social media comment phenomenon, Youth Radio was used to handling the listener responses that have always come in the old fashioned, terrestrial radio way—through call-ins and emails, sometimes read on the air. But our redesigned site (launched a couple weeks ago) gives comments new visibility. So we need a policy for dealing with ones that are over-the-top hateful.

It’s an especially challenging question, I think, for youth media.

On the one hand, we tout the merits of media engagement as a crucial dimension of citizenship in today’s world. Comments are a way for young people who would otherwise be relegated to the position of consumers to help shape the conversation surrounding the media they care about. That’s the social justice argument. There’s also the more business-minded consideration. For any youth media initiative to gain traction, it’s got to enable audiences to participate in both making and judging the content. Youth media producers simply can’t get by anymore just pushing out completed work. Whether through online comments or other means, they need to ignite cultures of participation around the content they create.

On the other hand, the “positive youth development” orientation of our field makes it difficult–if not dangerous–to live with comments that are personally or socially hateful. The stakes are especially high for us, given that those comments will be permanently available both to the young producer who comes under attack and anyone else who happens upon the story. Especially tough to call are the comments that sit just on the edge–the ones that land in the “does this one cross the line?” category.

Our editorial team has considered various options. Boingboing came up with an intriguing strategy, which they describe in response to the hypothetical question:

Q. All the vowels have disappeared from a paragraph I wrote! What’s going on?

A. We did it. Someone (a moderator, one of the Boingers) was expressing displeasure at your remarks. The technique is called disemvowelling. It deprecates but does not delete the remark. With work, the disemvowelled text should still be readable.

Inspired by this concept of deprecation without deletion, we thought maybe we’d play off this idea and remove all or most of the comment’s consonants, thus rendering the flame “inconsonant.” Trouble is, inconsonant comments end up indecipherable, which defeats the purpose.

Our online editor, Kara Andrade, then came up with the idea to cut all references to “you.” Having spent several years of grad school studying linguistics and critical discourse analysis, I love this idea. There’s something incredibly disorienting and disarming about removing the pronoun of direct address, when the whole point of the comment is to express a hateful personal attack. Maybe a system of “you-removal” can diffuse and disperse the hate without shutting down the possibility that the digital community will engage with it in a meaningful and ultimately useful way.

“Link journalism” and the future of youth media

October 20, 2008

Two articles appearing in the last few weeks in the New York Times got me thinking about youth media and its particular place in digital culture. The first was announcing the launch of Tina Brown’s new site, The Daily Beast, which the Times describes as:

an aggregation of the trivial and the momentous, the original and the borrowed… [w]ith a slogan splashed across its home page promising rigorous editing of the culture for complicated times…

When Brown was asked what makes her site different and worth reading, she answered, “Sensibility, darling,” managing in those two words to hint at the very thing she was describing–a certain vibe, attitude, voice, and rapport with her reader.

The second article in the Times I’m thinking about announced the arrival of “link journalism” in newsrooms that have until now not wanted to give away traffic (which converts to advertising dollars) by embedding links to other sites, even competitors. Seems like those days of digital protectionism are over:

“[T]he use of blogs by news organizations has helped newsroom managers accept that filtering the Web for visitors is a valuable editorial function.”

So what does any of this have to do with youth media? The idea of selective aggregation as an editorial function is nothing new for youth media sites (here meaning both physical places and web destinations). The young people we work with everyday routinely turn to friends and other trusted sources to provide referral services to original content and directions (in the form of a link) to anywhere else where they might find something interesting. But what these two articles got me thinking about in a new way is what all this emphasis on curatorial “sensibility” will mean for youth producers and audiences–especially those not well served or represented by mainstream news and culture outlets.

To the extent that sensibility is really another way of talking about taste, we know from sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu that taste creates distinctions among us and operates as a kind of cultural capital. In this sense, taste is produced and reproduced in the everyday, often unexamined dispositions and judgments we bring to every situation–what we just like and dislike, without always being able to explain why. As media in general and journalism in particular become increasingly driven by sensibility or taste, it becomes even more important for those of us who work with emerging professionals in these fields to keep checking in–with ourselves, our colleagues, our students–about just what set of “tastes” we’re producing and promoting in our media products, who by virtue of these elusive qualities is included and engaged, and who is left out.

Youth Radio launches redesigned site!

October 13, 2008

Good news! This week, Youth Radio rolled out its new website. Same address and content, totally different look and experience! Please click around and let us know what you think. The whole point of the redesign is to make Youth Radio a place where you can engage with the content–get excited about it, argue with it, respond to it, share it, add your own. It’s part of a transformation that started years back, when our fabulous former web editor, Hong, introduced the concept of “converged media,” and from that point on we were always pushing ourselves to move beyond audio and the old broadcast models for shaping and disseminating content. We’ve gotten more serious about creating a culture of participation through our What’s the New What? series, 2008 election coverage, and the launch of our youth-driven production company, Youth Media International.

As you’ll see, we’re still in the process of migrating our archive over from the old site. You can find everything through a link on the new site–including Teach Youth Radio, where our latest post highlighted two stories from Youth Radio’s convention coverage, and the one before that featured a powerful commentary from a young Bay Area teacher writing about the Monday after a student in her school had been shot. The next TYR post will offer lesson ideas related to the current economic crisis, with links to a series of stories from our archives dealing with youth, money, jobs, and class in America.

More soon!