New Media Literacy Resource

November 19, 2008

Check out the Media Education Lab for a whole bunch of media literacy resources on topics not always covered in the standard curriculum offerings–in particular, a focus on copyright and fair use. The site provides useful (necessary!) guidelines for educators who want to work within the rules, and it also charts a generative content area in its own right to discuss and debate with students.

I haven’t done an exhaustive exploration of the site yet, but it looks rich. In collaboration with a list of partners, these folks have created a code for legal and ethical guidelines surrounding educators’ use of media that seeks to answer many of the questions we face in developing lessons and syllabi. It’s especially interesting for those of us who work as both producers and educators (often in the same project) to consider the code as it relates to the practices we follow when we’re co-creating original content for broadcast/publication.

In introducing this resource to students, it might be useful to have them initially brainstorm the tacit codes they follow in their creative and intellectual practices (making music, doing assignments) when it comes to fair use, and compare those practices with the ones identified here and enforced by copyright and intellectual property law.

June 19, 2008

A couple weeks ago, I worked with three Youth Radio reporters–Ankitha Bharadwaj, Nico Savidge, and Pendarvis Harshaw–and media scholar danah boyd to produce a panel on youth media for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s board retreat. Our mandate was to characterize how digital culture and technology are transforming the ways in which young people consume, use, and produce media.

In coming up with an approach to that sprawling topic, we couldn’t help but think about Youth Radio’s latest converged media initiative–a weekly national series with NPR’s Day to Day called, “What’s the New What?” Young reporters and commentators use every technology at their disposal to show how youth culture is changing and its ripple effects across our connected and divided worlds.  

So the question we posed for this gathering of broadcasters was: “What’s the new public in a digital media world?” We wanted to revisit some of the original principles of public broadcasting in its early days, and hear what young people have to say about where they’re finding–and how they’re forging–new kinds of “publics” online. There’s some really interesting research on networked publics that was hugely relevant here. Each of the young producers took a stab at answering this over-arching question, “What’s the new public?”…

But before focusing on production, they started with the question of changes in media consumption. They approached that topic by creating a composite picture of a day in their digital lives. 

Check out what they had to say here: yr-cpb-panel-2008-part-one1 (you have to look at the notes section to see what folks had to say)



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…

Hearing the Street

December 14, 2007

My research methods course at UC Berkeley just finished up. For one of our last sessions, we read a series of texts that got me thinking about youth-produced media stories in new ways.

In 2002, Sociologist Loic Wacquant published a scathing essay called, “Scrutinizing the Street: Poverty, Morality, and the Pitfalls of Urban Ethnography.” In the essay, Wacquant takes on three highly influential fellow sociologists for their characterization of U.S. cities and the families who live there. Wacquant says a lot in his burningly critical article–far too much to summarize here–but the gist of it is essentially (in Wacquant’s words):

“All three authors put forth truncated and distorted accounts of their object due to their abiding wish to articulate and even celebrate the fundamental goodness–honesty, decency, frugality–of America’s urban poor.”

In so doing, Wacquant says the authors sanitize and glamorize poverty, reinforce stereotypes, indulge condescending moralism, and obscure rather than expose brutal policies that promote class- and race-based inequalities.

What’s all this got to do with youth-made media? Young people from U.S. cities who produce original media stories about their lives and the conditions they observe in their communities explore many of the same themes as urban ethnographers carrying out research from university campuses. I find it really helpful, as I collaborate with young media producers to make these stories, to think about how we are positioning ourselves with respect to the critiques of urban ethnographic traditions, since we are, at least to a certain extent, swimming in the same waters.

So I thought I’d include here a series of links to some stories from Youth Radio’s archives exploring themes relevant to urban America, as a way to encourage myself and others to read Wacquant’s critique and the texts he takes on with the words of young media makers still ringing in our ears.

Hood Sweet Hood, by Ayesha Walker

Oakland Scenes, by Gerald Ward II, Ise Lyfe, and Bianca Yarborough

A Scourge in the Hood, by King Anyi Howell

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?

Youth Media Citizenship

May 18, 2007

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.

Youth Voice and Media Justice

May 18, 2007

With our book deadline rapidly approaching, I’ve been working on a chapter where we talk about what it means, and what it takes, for young people to develop a “point of voice” through media production. Here are some thoughts…

Point of Voice

Point of voice combines two phrases—point of view and youth voice—that youth media practitioners, policy-makers, and theorists invoke all the time. The idea of claiming a point of view acknowledges the value of young people’s particular and diverse perspectives, while recognizing that everything they—and all of us—see is shaped, enabled, and constrained by the specific vantage point we occupy. Without abandoning principles of rigorous reporting, espousing a point of view suggests that a detached perspective is not always the best nor even a possible way to get to the truth. Truth itself, once revealed, has a point that can cut through silences, misunderstandings and lies and sharpen focus on new insights and actions.

In media production, though, claiming a point of view is not enough. Making media means translating a vision into a statement, hence our shift from view to voice, from seeing to expressing, from taking in the world to speaking out the word (or the picture, or the sound). By invoking voice, we find ourselves in tricky territory. Youth voice is both a highly useful and hugely problematic reference, almost unavoidable to describe youth media work, and yet sometimes misleading in its implications. The trouble starts with a spirit of celebration many of us who work with teenagers tend to bring to youth voice—a surprising impulse, given that the broader public persistently regards youth with fear if not thinly veiled disdain, framing young people as criminal, pathological, apathetic, chaotic, disappointing. Perhaps in reaction to this view, adults who want to align ourselves with young people can sometimes overplay their all-goodness and power. Youth voice no doubt holds serious potential as a site for solutions, and certainly we are among the first to insist that young people need a voice in policy-making procedures, public debates, cultural narratives, and in community organizing. The problem is, many of us rush to youth voice as an answer instead of a starting point that raises a slew of new questions, none simple.

What happens when young people and their adult collaborators—the latter often also gatekeepers to resources and influential others—don’t see eye-to-eye about what’s “best” for youth? How can young people who exercise their voices through media maximize the impact of their stories, given massive changes in the media landscape as it relates to business, politics, education, and culture? What are the potential consequences for young people whose stories never go away—as a result of today’s permanent searchable digital archive—even if their “points of voice” radically change? And what opportunities are available—and not available—for young people to build on their one-off media stories in ways that actually transform their own personal trajectories as well as the cultural narratives and social institutions that structure their lives? What is the relationship, in other words, between youth media expression, social action, and justice? These are the questions raised, not answered, when young people assert a public point of voice.

Commentary Guidelines

April 16, 2007

A commentary is usually one to two minutes long, which translates to no more than one full single-spaced page. Starting with a commentary is a way for you to get your own thoughts and opinions down, to explore why the topic interested you in the first place, and to shape something of a narrative arc that may or may not turn out to frame a fuller story with multiple voices and scenes. Often the commentary stands alone as a strong piece for publication or broadcast.

Commentators share experiences that are personally meaningful, perhaps counter-intuitive, and resonant with larger social themes. Commentaries don’t have to be “objective,” but they are reality-based and should take into account opposing points of view (the contested issue of “objectivity” can be a provocative subject of discussion for teachers and students doing commentaries for the first time). The best commentaries aren’t political rants or personal diatribes, nor do they stick to generic observations. Through commentaries, young people articulate perspectives grounded in compelling evidence, which might come in the form of lived experiences, references to research, or bits of dialogue with people they’ve encountered in their everyday worlds.

1. Write about issues that inspire passion in you. Draw on your own experience to bring new insight to an issue people are struggling to understand, or think they already do. Youth Radio’s Emily Schmooker wrote a commentary about body image by describing how a comment meant as praise actually hurt her feelings…and made her mad…and changed her life:

“I just wanted to thank you for going up there and doing what you’re doing…and showing that us fat people can dance.” 

That comment was supposed to be a compliment from the middle aged audience member who approached me after a performance when I was 15. But to me, he was just an older man watching my body, telling me who I was, and molding me into something that I didn’t want to be. 

Of course all teenagers have insecurities, but up until that moment I never considered myself a spokesperson for fat people… just someone who loved to dance and act. As a matter of fact, I had never even considered myself a fat girl. Now, I had the weight of all fat people on my shoulders.

2. Use concrete examples, images, and stories in your writing. If you are talking about getting along with your parents, describe specific incidents or arguments when your communication worked or broke down. One young soldier returned from the Iraq war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and he talked about going to all the welcome home barbeques “numbed out…like you’re watching a black and white TV, you’re just not there.” In a commentary about her struggles with depression, Belia Mayeno filled her narrative with detailed images that draw listeners inside a deeply personal and sometimes chaotic “war inside her brain”:

I remember the first time I really started to feel out of control. I had a strong urge to translate the opening passage of a Raymond Chandler novel into Theban script and transcribe it all onto my closet door in multi-colored soap. I still remember the satisfaction I felt when I saw the rainbow of nonsensical characters zig-zagging all over my walls. But just like all the other times to come, like when I bought 5 identical dresses…or spent hours in a train station staring at the ground because it looked like the floor was breathing…when I tried to silence my mind by obeying its wild demands- I didn’t feel better for long. And even worse, all of my beautifully dreamed plans didn’t even make sense to me a few days or weeks later. Amazingly, I didn’t even know I had a problem. It never occurred to me that other people don’t live like that.

But I recognized the dark mood that always came after my sprees wasn’t right. When I was 15, I had terrible insomnia for months. I couldn’t sleep, eat or concentrate. I filled my bed with kitchen knives to scare away the sadness- but it wasn’t quite as comforting as I thought it would be. So I started mixing gin and pain-killers squirreled away from my parents’ cabinets. It was the only way to rest and get a break from myself. I wasn’t suicidal. I just wanted to go into a “mild” coma so that maybe one day I could just wake up and the tumult inside of me would be over.

3. Express yourself conversationally. Write like you speak, and read your scripts aloud as you write. Don’t just mouth the words. Say it out loud. On your first try, you might sit with someone who can listen to you tell your story and type it out for you to be sure it’s conversational. Think about the rhythm and pacing. Vary sentence length. If you write poetry or make music, give your commentaries a lyrical sensibility. At the same time, think about your audience, and if you want your story to reach a wide audience outside your immediate community, consider how to introduce colloquial expressions in ways that enrich your narrative. Youth Radio’s Anyi Howell has a special knack for finding that balance:

As far back as I can remember, my grandmother, a retired Oakland High cafeteria manager, has gone all out during the holidays to decorate her home in East Oakland…Santa’s sleigh and his reindeer were on the roof, along with carolers. Inside, a miniature Christmas town, complete with an ice skating rink, sat in the front window for neighborhood to see. Together, my grandparents put days into the details, placement, and positioning of the Christmas statues, lights, and decorations. When they plugged everything in, thousands of lights would illuminate the scene – leaving me in awe… People would say, “That’s YOUR grandmother? Yeah, I know that house – I always bring my kids by there.” Nothing could make me more proud.

But this year, for the first time in my life, there will be no decorations. My Grandmother decided to quit because spineless chumps from the neighborhood steal her displays right off the front lawn and damage her crafts. Because of its reputation for violence and homicide, some proudly call my grandmother’s neighborhood the Murder Dubs.
The vandalism has taken a toll on her spirit.

As a young black man, I know life is hard out here. Some of us are hungry and poor, and we face aggressive racism on a regular basis. I understand the anger in the hearts of my people, but why take it out on my grandmother?… What these youngstas don’t realize is that the folks they’re hurting, are the same ones who understand them and what they’re going through best. When the police go upside the heads of one of these young brothas, it’s these seniors and long-time homeowners…who organize and attend rallies to support these fellas.

There was a time when a common sense of respect and consideration existed among all of us, even hustlers and street criminals. Today it’s gone – either because it is no longer given, or it is no longer demanded. When this mutual honor and respect is restored, the Christmas spirit will return to the Dubs. And Santa Will Dance again in my grandmother’s yard.

4. Don’t be afraid to use humor and show attitude. That’s Youth Radio’s Quincy Mosby’s trademark—but the best is when humor mixes with substance, as in Quincy’s commentary about rappers breaking into the movie business. In just over two minutes, he moves from light pop culture observation to a deeper cultural critique. A select few MCs make great films, Quincy says, but they’re definitely the exceptions. And the damage isn’t limited to the box office:

Most of these films have the same clichéd and regurgitated scenes of toilet humor and pointless sex that don’t advance the plot in any way. And they create an image of African Americans as overly promiscuous marijuana addicts and criminals. 

The dialogue in these bombs is stereotypical and just plain offensive. “Yo dogg, wassup!” It’s like the screenwriters think those are the only words hip hop artists know. Do they think if a rapper utters words with more than one syllable, his brain will implode? I can’t promise that won’t happen, but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to. What’s really demoralizing about these films is they’re often either “hood movies” with a rapper co-starring as the jive-talking friend, or, like Eminem’s 8 Mile, loose biographies about a struggling hip-hop artist trying to make it big, but being pulled down by the streets. Honestly, how hard is it to pretend to be yourself? 

Believe me, I do love hip-hop and my black brothers and sisters. And everyone has a right to express themselves artistically. 

But where’s the personal pride?

5. Fact check! Just because commentaries are first-person and can be opinion-based, you still need to verify sources and the information you report. When commentator Dru Harshaw said that “the N word” originated in U.S. slavery, Youth Radio got verification in writing from a university professor. When one student wrote a commentary stating that cutbacks in municipal transportation funding doubled her commute time to school, an unhappy representative from the transit office called the next day to ask specifically what bus line the student rode, gathering evidence in hopes of refuting her claim. Incidentally, working with young people to notice and analyze which facts, claims, and sources of authority editors do and do not trust can itself serve as a provocative exercise in critical media literacy.

The commentary is a great place to start the narrative process, because it doesn’t require a whole lot of advanced work. Come up with an idea, and start writing.

Drop that Knowledge Book: Table of Contents

April 12, 2007

Check it out: Vivian Chavez and I have written up the latest version of our Table of Contents for our book with UC Press. While we’re closing in on our deadline for a completed manuscript (May!), we’re totally open to feedback and eager to make changes that will improve the work, so bring it on…please.

Drop That Knowledge: Youth Radio, Learning, and Media Culture

by Elisabeth Soep and Vivian Chavez

Chapter 1. Introduction:

We begin with a first-person narrative introducing Youth Radio and the book’s themes through the eyes of one of the program’s first graduates, Vivian Chavez. Vivian reflects on her own involvement with the nascent youth media movement in the 1980s and draws out implications for today, laying out some key themes and questions explored throughout the book. She explains why we chose “drop that knowledge”—a line from a Youth Radio story—as the book’s title. Among other things, the phrase expresses the imperative for young people to produce and share knowledge for themselves. Vivian uses this space to describe the flow of the book, which follows the structure of a radio feature. After the intro, we move to the “lede”—the story’s opening lines, designed to hook audiences and reveal its main point. Next comes the story itself, its narrative arc, and finally a “back-announce” that brings conclusion by broadening the story’s impact. Throughout the book we interweave “playlists” containing youth-produced scripts, with “bonus tracks” at the very end.

Playlist 1: A collection of scripts from Youth Radio’s earliest days

Chapter 2. Unbury the Lede

One of the toughest challenges radio producers face is writing a strong lede. If you don’t engage listeners within the first line or two of your story, they are likely to turn the channel. “Burying the lede” means waiting too long to get to the story’s point. We use the concept of unburying the lede as a metaphor and mandate for our aim in this book. Here, we dig down to what really matters in the relationship between youth learning and culture—the conditions that enable young people to tell stories that transform their own lives as well as the institutions that determine their futures. When radio reporters bury the lede, they lose readers. When educators bury the lede, young people are the ones who lose out, and too often get lost. In this chapter, we locate Youth Radio within the youth media movement at this historic “digital” moment, which attaches new stakes, opportunities, and challenges to young people’s stories. We outline our project’s distinct dialogic and participatory methodology that uncovers how young reporters and their adult producers create stories reaching 27 million listeners through broadcasts on the nation’s top outlets. We describe our own varied involvements with Youth Radio and forecast the book’s three primary interventions: 1. To reimagine youth media learning as converged literacy; 2. To redefine teaching as collegial pedagogy; and 3. To reposition media advocacy as a process of finding and articulating a point of voice. The book’s final chapter, Drop that Knowledge, offers concrete methods educators, researchers and journalists can use to collaborate with young people to tell powerful stories.

Playlist 2: Bullets and Babies, Mixed Race, N-Bomb, Litter

Chapter 3: Converged Literacy

This chapter articulates a new approach to understanding and promoting youth media learning: converged literacy. Convergence, in the media world, describes portable content expressed through a range of technologies—a website, for example, that features audio, graphics, digital photos, and video clips, which you can access on a computer, iPod, or mobile phone. Literacy, the second key term, is a process of making, reading, understanding, and critiquing texts, and in today’s world those texts increasingly transcend words on a page. We bring together these two concepts, convergence and literacy, to articulate what it takes for young people to claim a right to participate as citizens of the world, and agents in their own lives. Converged literacy entails an ability to: 1. Make and understand boundary-crossing and convention-breaking texts; 2. Draw and leverage public interest in the stories they want to tell; and 3. Claim and exercise their right to use media to promote justice, variously defined—a right still denied young people marginalized from full citizenship as producers of media culture.

Playlist 3: Emails from Kosovo, Core Class, Oakland Scenes, Picturing War

Chapter 4: Collegial Pedagogy

In this chapter, we develop the concept of collegial pedagogy as a crucial and largely overlooked dynamic for teaching and learning. In collegial pedagogy, emerging and established producers jointly create original work for public release, engaging a process that holds significant potential to deepen the learning experience for both parties, and to enrich the media product distributed to the world. We situate this process against the backdrop of learning theory, identify the conditions that bring young people and adults into productive as well as fraught collaborative relationships, and explore collegial pedagogy’s contributions and vulnerabilities as a way to organize teaching and learning. The structure of the chapter follows the production cycle itself, glimpsing a series of Youth Radio stories at key moments of framing, gathering tape, scripting, editing, broadcasting, and living in the aftermath of a story’s release. Collegial pedagogy depends on three necessary conditions: 1. An ongoing process of collaborative framing; 2. An insistence on youth-led inquiry; and 3. A joint orientation toward public accountability.

Playlist 4: Abstinence, Military Marriage Benefits, Opting Out, Free Speech in School, New SAT, My Public Service Announcement.

Chapter 5: Point of Voice

Unlike the other chapters in the book, this one takes a single event–and its fall out–as a point of departure. In 2005, some police officers outside an Oakland subway station wrongfully accused Youth Radio’s Anyi Howell of driving a stolen vehicle. Anyi converted this experience–hardly his first–with racial profiling into a series of media stories for outlets ranging from MySpace to iTunes to NPR to a face-to-face community forum between youth and police. His point was to transform and not only represent lives—storytelling for social justice. In this chapter, we describe what it takes for young people to move from a “point of view,” which suggests a way of seeing, to a “point of voice,” which demands strategic expression and action. The chapter challenges the celebratory politics often associated with “youth voice” as a site of freedom, which assumes: 1. That young people speak in counter-narratives; 2. That youth expression in and of itself brings enduring benefits; 3. That young people enjoy a privileged “cosmopolitan” citizenship; 4. That digital culture equals progress in the lives of youth.

Playlist 5: No Shield Law, DNA of the Black Experience, Youth-Police Forum, Victim of Racial Profiling

Chapter 6: Drop that Knowledge

In this chapter, we present a series of concrete methods for engaging youth people in media production across a range of settings. We begin with an overview of the cycles of production any media producer goes through to create a story, with observations about how digital culture and industry have disrupted linear progression from pre-production through production and post-production to distribution. Next come some ideas for how young people and their adult collaborators can work through the ethical dilemmas that invariably arise when young people define their own story topics and reach significant audiences. The chapter then advances through a range of genres—the commentary, the interview, the feature—offering specific strategies for introducing young producers to these narrative forms, and revealing some of the distinct opportunities and challenges each presents for young people and audiences. We end by drawing out implications of these practices not only for educators who work with teenagers, but also for university professors, ethnographic researchers, and professional journalists eager to integrate youth media into their practices and products.

Playlist 6: Phatty Girl, Map of My Mind, Holidon’t, Stay in the Booth, Deportation Story, Sagging, Hunger’s Diary, Single Moms Need a Break

Chapter 7: Back-Announce

Drop that Knowledge does not map the youth media field. Others have already documented that topography. The book does not present a neat list of youth media’s best practices. Countless versions of that line-up also already exist. What we have done here is look deeply within a single pioneering youth media project to draw out stories, lessons, implications, and new questions for the movement, for learning, and for media culture. In the spirit of collegial practice, with this final chapter, we bring our own perspectives into conversation with young people and adults from several leading youth media organizations, from rural Whitesburg, Kentucky to lower Manhattan. Twenty years after her introduction to youth media as a sixteen year old high school student, Vivian Chavez delves into the hundred-plus years of combined experience contained in this final chapter to reveal a set of hard-earned insights that will inform anyone’s efforts to bring youth media alive, and set it to work.

Playlist 7: Bonus tracks containing one youth-produced script from every youth media organization featured in Chapter Seven.

So what else is new…about digital media learning?

March 10, 2007

The other day, a mentor from my first job out of college observed that digital media research is hard, because so much of what people are saying isn’t all that new.

The comment got me thinking about what really is new in this work, and I came up with three contenders:

The permanent, searchable digital archive: While folks have been writing about this for some time, I’m not sure we understand the “projected ethics” young people engage, as they imagine a future for their present work and forecast its potential to cause harm and/or do good. Through today’s public feedback loops (e.g., blogs comments, listener responses, sites like, the effects of search engine optimization), young people get some immediate data about what their work does in the world. But that’s only the beginning…
$: Sure, media commercialization has been around forever, and there’s nothing new about young people seeking to profit directly from their creativity. But the media landscape, as well as young producers’ attitudes and efforts related to making money, seem to be changing. While many young people condemn the effects of corporate interests on journalism and the music industry, they want to earn money, even a living, off their media projects. And that seems perhaps more possible today, given public appetites for consumer-generated and especially youth-produced and distributed content. But it’s also less possible in light of industry consolidation and persistent inequalities in terms of access to equipment, networks, and means to participate as producers. These developments definitely affect media literacy in a major way. It’s no longer enough–if it ever was–to understand how commercial interests shape what we see and hear and read; now, do we need to prepare young people to understand how $ circulates through the media business (down to CPMs and ad avails) so they can themselves launch enterprises? Where does all this leave “social justice” as a core youth media goal? Depends on whom you ask. One youth newspaper publisher who’s been at this for more than 30 years sees a “fatal conflict” between the entrepreneurial approach and the social justice approach. I’m interested in looking more deeply into that conflict.
Youth media, politics, and government: If media literacy is, as Henry Jenkins says, a form of citizenship, there are some distinct features of today’s political environment that invite and suppress full-blown youth engagement in civic affairs. Government and journalistic scandals as well as politicians’ uses of digital messaging have transformed the politics of media production and the media’s role in politics. Youth Radio’s response in the run-up to the US presidential election is to use digital technology to report on politics while also covering the impact of these technologies on political campaigns locally, nationally, and around the world.

For one recent example, check out Youth Radio’s coverage of Ron Dellum’s inauguration as Oakland’s mayor. Youth Radio filed the only national radio story about this historic event.