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.