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…

Closed Eyed Stories

September 18, 2007

Okay, so maybe I’m just looking for excuses to explain my week-long lapse in posting, but here’s the thing. I really wanted to write something about this powerful montage my Youth Radio colleague Brandon McFarland cut together using excerpts from a series of stories we produced featuring the voices of young troops returning from Iraq, under which Brandon laid a track of his stirring original beats. It’s good stuff, and it raised some provocative editorial and creative questions for us, and highlighted how much has changed in both youth media and U.S. political culture since the “shock and awe” phase of the Iraq war. But I can’t for the life of me figure out how to upload audio onto this blog.

When I try to upload a file here using WordPress–one of the leading blog platforms–the only options I see are jpg, jpeg, png, gif, pdf, doc, and ppt. Now I am for sure not the most tech savvy individual, and there may be a very simple way to create an audio link (please let me know if I’m just being an idiot!). But still… it got me thinking… what is the value of sound-only storytelling in a video-crazed era, in an image-saturated culture, in a digital world where audio is, as I’ve been told more than once by my digerati friends, so yesterday?

I don’t want to get all ahistorical here, or to start invoking Walter Benjamin–although I am kinda tempted. But I do really want to figure out what it means that more and more audio producers are now experimenting with adding video to sound stories after the fact, so we can play the converged media game. I wonder what might get lost if the seduction, ease and power of capturing and distributing video makes audio seem tired, when sound is so often what makes me feel, for a few fleeting moments at least, wide awake with my eyes closed.

Ethnographic Media Revisited

September 7, 2007

I thought I’d go ahead and post an updated version of my syllabus for the course I’m teaching on ethnographic methods at UC Berkeley’s Grad School of Education–this one includes some opening thoughts, the semester’s assignments, and some new texts based on feedback so far (including some offered here–so thank you!). Already in our first discussion, we touched on some potentially provocative ways to integrate youth media production into “data collection” within participatory action research projects. One of the weeks I’m most looking forward to is when my Youth Radio colleague Patrick Johnson will come talk with students about ethnographic categories applied to “urban youth” in popular culture and media. Here’s the latest:

Course Description

Ethnography asks big questions. How do people create identities, intimacies and antagonisms? How do we celebrate and punish, forget and remember, dwell and migrate, labor and exchange? How do we learn, classify, and label? What stories do we tell?

To pursue big questions like these, ethnographers make much of small situations—a meal, a furtive text message exchange, a pattern of gaze aversion during circle time by one student in a second grade classroom…. The challenge is often to find what’s significant in the apparently unremarkable, to discover cultural organization in the messiness of everyday life, and to reveal the contradictions that social order hides.

In this course, we will explore the theoretical underpinnings, uses, and abuses of qualitative research methods, with emphasis on participant observation, interview, and ethnography of communication. Over the course of the semester, you will: frame a research question; identify and move through study sites; carry out field work; analyze and theorize data, and “write up” your research story. Building technique—actually doing fieldwork—is only one intention for the course. The other is for us to conceptualize and critique various methodological traditions, by examining their shifting ethics, politics, epistemologies, and social impacts.

This work requires reflexivity on our part, and so the semester’s readings begin at a moment of heightened reflexivity in anthropology itself—with a series of essays where ethnographers started worrying a lot about how they were constructing, not just reporting, partial truths in their texts, how they were complicit characters, not distant narrators, in their own cultural scenes. It’s perhaps a weird place to begin, in the recent past rather than with ethnography’s origins, but my hope is that starting with reflexivity will keep us in that state of mind throughout the semester and beyond.


Reading Presentation/Facilitation: Twice during the semester, I will ask you to work in pairs to present one week’s worth of readings and facilitate discussion about those texts. Deploy your pedagogical know-how to engage us! You might use small group activities, role play, free writing, media clips, or any other strategies you can think of to deepen our understanding of the texts as they relate to our individual and shared work as qualitative researchers.

The Study: A major focus of the class will be to carry out a small-scale qualitative research study. Toward that end, at regular intervals over the course of the semester, you will turn in:

Topic statement: What do you know and not know about a topic in education that sparks your intellectual passion? Why is this topic important and for whom? What stake do you personally have in this topic? In what way does it lend itself to qualitative study? DUE: Week 2
Problem statement: Present your topic as a problem (to be explained), offering a conceptual framework (to be explained) and identifying three possible research questions. Be sure to consider how both you and your study “subjects” are agents in your research. DUE: Week 4
Sites statement: Describe two possible multi-sited “geographies” (to be explained) for exploring your problem and pursuing your questions. DUE: Week 6
Fieldwork and analysis statement: Outline your study design, specifying how you will use participant observation and interviews in your research. Include one interview protocol. Articulate your “decision rules” (to be explained) and plans for analysis. DUE: Week 8
Field documents: Three sets of fieldnotes and one interview transcript. DUE: Weeks 5, 7, 12 (fieldnotes) & Week 11 (interview transcript)
Conceptual memo: Draw from your data to begin forming a preliminary argument. DUE: Week 13
Final work in progress paper: Compilation of all of the above (rest assured, we’ll agree on clear guidelines and criteria for evaluation well before the paper is due, and we will definitely consider this a preliminary, exploratory, emerging text to be further developed through semester two). DUE: Week 15

Attendance and Participation: Preparedness, willingness to contribute, willingness to struggle with the ideas and materials, active listening, and constructive attitude. For the course to function as a seminar, it is of course required that everyone read all the assigned texts and arrive to class ready to dig in.

Assessment: I see evaluation as an important opportunity for communication. I’ll make sure there’s plenty of opportunity before any assignment is due to clarify the criteria I will use to evaluate each of the course requirements. Please feel free to raise questions during class if the evaluation procedures seem unclear at any point, either in the full group, or with me individually. Late assignments will be accepted only if prior arrangements have been made with me.

Discussion Facilitations: 15%
Research Statements, Records, and Memo: 45%
Final Paper: 15%
Attendance and Participation: 25%

Sequence of Topics and Texts

Week 1:

Arrival Scenes: What Are We Getting Ourselves Into?

Syllabus Review
Peer-to-Peer Interview

Week 2:

Spinning at the Mirror: Reflexivity and Ethnographic “Turns”

Gupta, A. & Ferguson, J. 1997. Anthropological locations: Boundaries and grounds of a field science. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1-46.

Tedlock, D. & Mannheim, B. 1995. The dialogic emergence of culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 1-32.

Ferguson, A. 2001. “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Field Trip.” Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 1-27.

Limon, J. 1994. “The Native Dances.” Dancing with the Devil: Society and cultural poetics in Mexican American South Texas. 141-167.

Foley, D. 2002. Critical Ethnography: The Reflexive Turn. International
Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 15(4), 469-490.

DUE: Topic Statement (two page max)

Week 3:

The Never-Ending Conversation: Writing Subjects

Clifford, J. & Marcus, G. 1986. Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1-26.

Behar, R. & Gordon, D. 1995. Women writing culture. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1-29, 49-64.

Visweswaran, K. 1994. Fictions in feminist ethnography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1-39.

Steedman, C. 1987. “Death of a Good Woman,” “Stories,” and “The Weaver’s Daughter.” Landscape for a Good Woman. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. 1-47.

Week 4:

Discovering What We Don’t Know: Getting Started

Berg, Bruce. Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. 5th edition. Pearson. 1-52.

Maxwell, Joseph. Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach. 33-78.

Athaneses, S. and Heath, S. B. 1995. Ethnography in the study of the teaching and learning of English. Research in the Teaching of English. 29(3), 263-286.

Becker, H. 1998. Tricks of the Trade: How to Think About Your Research
While You’re Doing It. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 10-66.

DUE: Problem Statement (two page max)

Week 5:

“What Doing Ethnography Is”…and What it’s For?

Geertz, C. 1973. Thick Description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. 3-30.

Andrade, J. A. 2006. Utilizing carino in the development of research methodologies. In J. Kinchelo (Ed.), The Praeger Handbook of Urban Education (451-460). Greenwood Press.

Glesne, C. & Peshkin, A. 1992. Being There: Developing Understanding through Participant Observation. Becoming Qualitative Researchers. New York: Longman.

Eisenhart, Margaret. 2001. “Educational Ethnography Past, Present, and Future: Ideas to Think With” Educational Researcher. Vol. 30, no. 8. pp. 16-27.

DUE: Fieldnotes #1

Week 6:

In and Out of Sites

Pratt, M. L. Linguistic Utopias. In N. Fabb, D. Attridge, A. Durant, and C. McCabe (Eds) The Linguistics of Writing (48-66). New York: Methuen.

Dimitriadis, G. & Weis, L. 2006. Multisited ethnographic approaches in urban education today. In J. Kinchelo (Ed.), The Praeger Handbook of Urban Education (470-481). Greenwood Press.

Marcus, G. 1998. Ethnography Through Thick and Thin. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 57-78.

Hymes, D. 1962. The ethnography of speaking. In T. Gladwin & W. Sturtevant (Eds.), Anthropology and Human Behavior. Anthropological Society of Washington.


Urciuoli, B. 1991. The political topography of Spanish and English: The view from a New York Puerto Rican neighborhood. American Ethnologist, 18(2), 295-310.

Gutierrez, K., Rymes, B., and Larson, J. 1995. Script, counterscript, and underlife in the classroom: James Brown versus Brown v. Board of Education. Harvard Educational Review. 65 (3), 445-471.

Lee, C. 2006. ‘Every good-bye ain’t gone’: Analyzing the cultural underpinnings of classroom talk. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 19(3), 305-327.

DUE: Sites Statement (two page max)

Week 7:

Perpetual Writing: Field Notes

Emerson, R., Fretz, R. & Shaw, L. 1995. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1-65.

Cintron, R. 1997. Angels’ Town: Chero ways, gang life, and rhetorics of everyday life. Boston: Beacon Press. Chapter 1 (Starting Places, 1-14) and Chapter 4 (A Boy and His Wall, 98-129).

Valenzuela, A. 1999. Subtractive schooling: U.S.-Mexican youth and the politics of caring. Albany: SUNY Press. 61-113, 273-289.

Sanjek, R. (Ed.). 1990. “A Vocabulary for Fieldnotes” and “The Secret Life of Fieldnotes”. In Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology. Ithaca: Cornell.

DUE: Fieldnotes #2

Week 8:

Beyond Qualitative Righteousness: Ethics Part 1

Scheper-Hughes, N. 2000. Ire in Ireland. Ethnography 1(1), 117-140.

Starn, O. 1986. Engineering internment: Anthropologists and the war relocation authority. American Ethnologist, 13(4), 700-720.

Kelley, R. 1998. Introduction. Yo Mama’s disFUNKtional! Fighting the culture wars in urban America. Boston: Beacon Press. 1-13.

Caplan, P. 2003. Ethics of Anthropology: Debates and Dilemmas. New York: Routledge. 133-154.

Fine, Gary Alan. Ten Lies of Ethnography: Moral Dilemmas of Field Research Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Vol. 22, No. 3. October 1993. 267-294.

DUE: Fieldwork and Analysis Statement (three page max, including interview protocol)

Week 9:

Human Subjects and IRB: Ethics Part II

Timmermans, Stefan. 1995. Cui Bono? Institutional Review Board Ethics and Ethnographic Research. Studies in Symbolic Interaction. Volume 19, p. 153-173.

Wax, M. 1980. Paradoxes of ‘Consent’ to the practice of fieldwork. Social Problems. Volume 27, No. 3. February. 272-283.

Cohen, P. February 28, 2007. As Ethics Panels Expand, No Research Field Is Exempt. New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2007 at: http://select.nytimes.com/search/restricted/article?res=F30613FD345A0C7B8EDDAB0894DF404482.

AAA code of ethics: http://www.aaanet.org/committees/ethics/ethicscode.pdf.

Visit and read over UCB’s Committee on the Protection of Human Subjects website: http://cphs.berkeley.edu:7006/.

GUEST: Representative from UCB IRB

ON YOUR OWN: Independent fieldwork, human subjects proposal prep

Week 10:

Always Asking: Learning How to Listen

Briggs, C. 1986. Learning How to Ask. The Role of the Interview in Social Science Research. Cambridge University Press. 1-60.

McDermott, R. 1995. On the necessity of collusion in conversation. In D. Tedlock & B. Mannheim (Eds.), Dialogic Emergence of Culture (218-236). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Hill, J. & Zepeda, O. 1992. Mrs. Patricio’s trouble: The distribution of responsibility in an account of personal experience. In J. Hill & J. Irvine (Eds.) Responsibility and evidence in oral discourse (197-225). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Seidman, Irving. 1998. Chapters Six, Seven and Eight. Interviewing as Qualitative Research. New York: Teachers College Press.

Weiss, Robert S. 1994. Learning from Strangers: The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies. New York: Free Press. 1-33, 61-83.

ON YOUR OWN: Independent fieldwork, revision of interview protocol

Week 11:

Observant Participation

Fine, M. & Torres, M. 2006. Researching and resisting: Democratic policy research by and for youth. In S. Ginwright, P. Noguera, & J. Cammarota (Eds.), Beyond resistance: Youth activism and community change (269-286). New York: Routledge.

Dressman, M. 2006. Teacher, teach thyself. Ethnography 7(3), 329-356.

Morrell, E. 2006. Youth-initiated research as a tool for advocacy and change in urban schools. In S. Ginwright, P. Noguera, & J. Cammarota (Eds.), Beyond resistance: Youth activism and community change (111-128). New York: Routledge.

Tupuola, A. 2006. Participatory research, culture and youth identities: An exploration of indigenous, cross-cultural and trans-national methods. Children, Youth and Environments, 16(2). 291-316. Retrieved August 16, 2007 from http://www.colorado.edu/journals/cye.

Clips from School Colors, a documentary about race, tracking, discipline and achievement at Berkeley High

DUE: Interview transcript

Week 12:

Tackling the Towering Pile: Analysis

LeCompte, M. & Preissle, J. 2003. Ethnography and qualitative design in educational research. San Diego: Academic Press. 234-278.

Glesne, Corrine and Peshkin, Alan. 1992. Finding Your Story: Data Analysis. Becoming Qualitative Researchers. New York: Longman.

Miles, M. & Huberman. A. M. Drawing Valid Meaning from Qualitative Data: Toward a Shared Craft. Educational Researcher.

McDermott, R., Gospodinoff, K., Aron, J. 1978. Criteria for an ethnographically adequate description of activities and their context. Semiotica 24: 245-275.

Katz, Jack. 1997. On Ethnographic Warrants. Sociological Methods and Research, 25(4), 391- 423.

Ochs, E. 1979. Transcription as theory. In E. Ochs & B. Scheffelin (Eds). Developmental Pragmatics. Academic Press.

Valli, L. & Chambliss, M. 2007. Creating classroom cultures: One teacher, two lessons, and a high-stakes test. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 38(1), 57-75.

ON YOUR OWN: Discuss questions and preliminary analysis with research participants

DUE: Fieldnotes #3

Week 13:

Ethnographic Categories: Lads, Ear’oles, Hallway Hangers, Brothers, Troublemakers, Schoolboys…

Willis, P. 1977. Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs. New York: Columbia University Press. Excerpt.

MacLeod, J. 1995. Ain’t No Makin’ It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low Income Neighborhood. Boulder: Westview Press. 25-60.

McDermott, R. & Varenne, H. (1998). Adam, Adam, Adam, and Adam: The cultural construction of a learning disability. In H. Varenne & R. McDermott (Eds.), Successful failure: The school America builds (25-44). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Lee, S. 2001. More than ‘model minorities’ or ‘delinquents’: A look at Hmong American high school students. Harvard Educational Review. 71(3), 505-527.

Clips from The Wire, Stoop Kids and Corner Kids

GUEST: Patrick Johnson, Youth Radio

DUE: Conceptual Memo

Week 14:

Just When You Thought You Had it Right… Analysis of Analysis

Wacquant, Loïc. 2002. “Scrutinizing the Street: Poverty, Morality, and the Pitfalls of Urban Ethnography.” American Journal of Sociology 107-6 (May): 1468-1532.

Anderson, E. 1990. Streetwise: Race, class, and change in an urban community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Newmann, K. 1999. No shame in my game: The working poor in the inner city. New York: Vintage Books.

Burawoy, M. 2003. “Revisits: An Outline of a Theory of Reflexive Ethnography.” American Sociological Review 68-5 (October): 645-679.

Fordham, S. & Ogbu, J. 1986. Black students’ school success: Coping with the “‘burden of ‘acting white.’” Urban Review. 18(3).

Denzin, N., Lincoln, Y., Giardina, M. 2006. Disciplining qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education. 19(6), 769-782.

DUE: Come to class prepared to present and discuss preliminary/emergent findings

Week 15:


Okabe, Daisuke and Mizuko Ito. 2006. “Everyday Contexts of Camera Phone Use: Steps Toward Technosocial Ethnographic Frameworks.” In Joachim Höflich and Maren Hartmann Ed., Mobile Communication in Everyday Life. Berlin: Frank & Timme.

Pascoe, C.J. 2007. What if a guy hits on you? Intersections of gender, sexuality, and age in fieldwork with adolescents. In A. Best (Ed.), Representing Youth: Methodological Issues in Critical Youth Studies. New York: New York University Press.

Maira, S. 2005. The intimate and the imperial: South Asian Muslim immigrant youth after 9/11. In S. Maira & E. Soep (Eds.) Youthscapes: The popular, the national, the global (64-81). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

boyd, d. (in press) “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked
al Life.” MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning, Identity Volume (ed.
David Buckingham).

Ethical Decision Making and Internet Research, retrieved on August 23, 2007 from: http://www.aoir.org/reports/ethics.pdf.

DUE: Final Paper

Youth Radio on Henry Jenkins’ Acafan

August 18, 2007

When my Youth Radio colleague Ayesha Walker and I went to the National Media Education Conference in St. Louis awhile back, we chit chatted with Henry Jenkins about some of the big ideas he’s been rolling out in his recent digital media writing. Okay, I’ll be honest, I’ve been following and citing his work for years, so I stalked him on his way out of the dining room, dragging Ayesha behind me.

The good news for us was, at the end of our conversation, he said he’d like to publish an interview with Youth Radio on his Acafan site. Here are some of the questions he sent our way.

How would you define the mission of Youth Radio? What are you trying to accomplish?

What roles do youth play in your production process? What roles do adults play?

What do you see as the continued value of broadcast radio as a medium in an era of blogs and podcasts?

I noticed that you are making your broadcast content available via iTunes. How did that come about and how successful do you think this approach has been at broadening who listens to youth radio?

What kinds of skills and knowledge are young people acquiring through their involvement with the production of youth radio?

What relationship does your group have with other youth radio producers around the world?

When we met in Saint Louis, we had an interesting exchange about the value of individual authorship as opposed to collective intelligence. I wondered if you might be willing to share your perspective on this topic here.

There’s been a general trend suggesting that contemporary youth are less likely than previous generations to seek out information from traditional news channels. What insights do you have about why young people might be turned off by news?

There’s been a general trend suggesting that contemporary youth are less likely than previous generations to seek out information from traditional news channels. What insights do you have about why young people might be turned off by news?

For our answers, check out Confessions of an Acafan sometime next week. Here’s an excerpt from the answer Pendarvis (Dru) Harshaw, Youth Radio reporter and commentator, supplied for Henry’s last question:

The difference between Youth Radio and a MySpace or a YouTube or any new site which allows a person to produce themselves is … media literacy. Youth Radio does what MySpace would hate us to do: Teach us why sites like MySpace work—the advertisements, the conglomerates, and how all of this relates to them getting our money. Instead of blindly posting our videos and pictures on a website owned by a round table of old farts, Youth Radio teaches us the process of broadcasting, the mechanics of production, and the influence of media—not from the mouth of an old fart, but from the mouths of young people who have also gone through this program, young people who are literate in the power of media, and the power we have in producing the media.

If you want to hear more from Dru, here’s a story called N-Bomb he recently did for NPR.

Rationalizing Exuberance in Youth Media Education

July 19, 2007


Some thoughts that will be developed more fully in my forthcoming book, with Vivian Chavez, called Drop That Knowledge, about youth, learning, and media culture:

It is an especially exuberant moment in 2007 with so many new digital outlets for youth voices and citizen journalists contributing to and shaping public debate in seemingly unprecedented ways. Until recently, much of the research on young people’s relationship to media focused on their patterns of consumption, with media literacy pitched to prepare young people to analyze and critique adult-manufactured news, entertainment, and advertising. Even when scholars have taken pains to frame consumption as a creative act, still the emphasis has traditionally centered on how young people digest, interpret, and subvert other people’s creative output, not on their own. More recently, the balance has shifted, as communications and cultural studies scholars in particular are enthusiastically tracking the impact of dramatic transformations in digital culture and technology and the advent of Web 2.0. Mobile devices; wireless access; sites for user-created content, comment, and distribution; and cheap production tools have launched an explosion of youth-made media. Through offerings including blogs, fan fic, mix tapes, and digital videos, young people write, picture, and game themselves into being.

Traditionally, non-profit organizations like Youth Radio have acted as gatekeepers for young people to high-cost equipment, professional expertise, and distribution outlets (Buckingham, Burn, & Willett, 2005). If young people working on their own can now find cheap tools, professional production values, and significant audiences, what’s the point of youth media organizations? Should adults just get out of the way?

Youth media organizations remain crucial for a number of reasons. They provide a platform for collective activity that builds and broadcasts a critical mass of youth voices. They offer opportunities for sustained youth involvement, with escalating opportunities for leadership and advanced skill-building. They act as advocates and allies for young people and liaisons to networks of opportunity for broadcast, policy impact, jobs and higher education. Perhaps most importantly, they engage young people who are otherwise marginalized from digital privilege. Young people whose perspectives are distorted, neglected, sensationalized, or outright ignored by mainstream media find themselves on the wrong side of what Henry Jenkins (2006) calls digital media’s “participation gap.” Digitally marginalized youths bear the brunt of today’s acute challenges, even in a time of exuberance: pressures within the education system that box out any pursuit that doesn’t translate into standardized measurement; a heavily re-regulated and rapidly consolidating mainstream media restricted more and more by corporate interests and government sanctions (Klinenberg, 2007); and significant obstacles that make it very difficult for young producers to convert media savvy into concrete opportunities in education or employment.

Never has it been easier nor harder for young people to reach audiences. Never have non-commercial outlets experienced more pressure and threats to their survival—including the very digital platforms many of us regard as promising spaces for independent expression and collective social action. Never has there been a greater need for young people to have a say in the public debates and decisions affecting their lives and social worlds. And never has there been a stronger imperative to make sure that young people can connect to the kinds of tools, networks, and experiences they need to formulate and disseminate something worthwhile to say.

What about Credit in Collective Intelligence?

June 28, 2007

One of the most striking ideas from the National Media Education Conference for me was Henry Jenkins’ notion of “collective intelligence,” a concept he develops in his white paper that’s been making the rounds in youth media circles. Building on Levy, Jenkins says collective intelligence kicks in when…

“Like-minded individuals gather online to embrace common enterprises, which often involve access and processing information. In such a world… everyone knows something, nobody knows everything, and what any one person knows can be tapped by the group as a whole.”

This notion of collective intelligence resonates for me in lots of ways. My own personal youth media practice and research have always centered on learning environments that leverage collaborative thinking and making, and I often find myself trying to pull back the veil on individual accomplishment or exceptionality to expose all the joint work that takes place behind any meaningful production–whether through peer critique or collegial pedagogy or conversational production.

That said, I’m wondering if there are ways that “collective intelligence,” if embraced unequivocally (and certainly no one’s saying it should be, but you know how that can happen anyway…), just might sometimes work against youth producers… Jenkins used the model of Wikipedia to talk about the amazing potential of joint authorship and knowledge production, saying that Wikipedia culture allows “many different minds operating in many different contexts to work together to solve problems that are more challenging than any of them could master as individuals.” Can’t argue with the greatness of that.

But here’s one possible glitch. I find that some of the most important work we do at Youth Radio, even within our hyper-collaborative production method, is to secure individual on air credit for the organization and our youth reporters and artists. We take those radio “back announces” (when the host credits the contributor you just heard) extremely seriously. Lots of digital media scholars say the wisdom of crowds can prevail despite anonymity (and certainly the academic convention of peer review places a whole lot of stock in the freedom that comes with the absence of identification). But it seems like young people can’t always afford to be just part of a crowd, no matter how intelligent that collective happens to be, if they are to convert their media productions into concrete new opportunities in higher education and/or living wage work.

Jenkins offered a provocative response to this line of questioning. He said it reminded him of the observation that scholars started proclaiming the “death of the author” at the very moment when women and people of color started getting traction in academic departments and publishing.

So perhaps the issue I’m drilling down to here is: in youth media, how do we negotiate questions of credit in the spirit of collective intelligence?

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 digg.com, 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.

Lowdowns and Uploads

March 6, 2007

Last week, I traveled to the east coast with two Youth Radio colleagues, Nishat Kurwa and Pendarvis (Dru) Harshaw, to speak on a panel at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Askwith Education Forum. The event, offered in conjunction with the HGSE Alumni of Color Conference, was called, “Educators at the Crossroads of Youth and Media.” That’s right where we live.

Conference organizers posed the question, “How has digital media culture transformed opportunities and created new challenges for youth and communities of color?” We focused not so much on the shift from consumption to production, but more specifically on what it takes for young people to move back and forth between, and sometimes combine, old and new media production.

Three themes organized the talk:

1. The stakes young media producers face are intensifying,
2. Their outlets are proliferating, and as a result…
3. They are redefining what “media literacy” means and entails.

After giving some background on Youth Radio, I talked about the impact of today’s permanent searchable digital archive on the ethics and editorial standards governing youth media. As educators, we face new responsibilities to facilitate a process whereby young people forecast 5, 10, 15 years down the line to determine intended and unintended outcomes of making their stories public. As researchers, this process opens a window into a kind of “projected ethics.” Young people need to hinge their present-day decisions on an imagined future for their work, its potential to create harm and/or do good. Given Youth Radio’s methodology of collegial pedagogy, it’s never our approach to dictate for young people what they should and shouldn’t say, nor to make decisions on their behalf. But our collective jobs have gotten a whole lot more challenging–as well as interesting–now that a radio story no longer “evaporates into the ether,” as our boss Ellin O’Leary puts it, as soon as it airs.

Nishat spoke next about the fact that new media outlets aren’t only repositories for our students’ work, they’re also new distribution platforms with vast if unwieldy audiences. She elaborated here on Youth Radio Associate Producer King Anyi Howell’s series on racial profiling, which he wrote about in the Winter 2007 issue of AIRspace. Anyi’s collection of stories and community events, which went out in various versions on MySpace, iTunes, KPFA, and NPR, shows the range of new outlets young people can leverage to reach audiences of peers and adults. That said, Nishat talked about the new compromises and questions that come along with digital media’s options and “freedoms.”

Dru built on this discussion by presenting the back-story behind his commentary, N Word, which aired on Morning Edition as one of the day’s top ten emailed stories on NPR. When Youth Radio pitched Dru’s story to NPR, they said they wanted it, but it sat on the shelf for awhile, because there wasn’t a news peg or headline that made it seem like the right time to put it on the air. Then… Michael Richards went off on a racist tirade captured on someone’s camera phone at a comedy club and uploaded to YouTube. NPR played Dru’s commentary within days.

Converged Literacy
Which brought us to our final point. Dru’s ability to seize a moment like the one kicked off by Michael Richards’ YouTube rant and turn it into an opening for the story Dru himself wanted to tell represents a new mandate for how we think about media literacy. In the old days, media literacy used to focus on teaching critical consumption; when young people did get to make media, it was often in the spirit of celebrating “youth voice,” without necessarily examining underlying politics or expecting those products to achieve particularly high quality, distribution, or social impact. Now, we think about converged literacy as having three dimensions:

1. Converged literacy is an ability to make and understand boundary-crossing and convention-breaking texts.
2. Converged literacy means knowing how to draw and leverage public interest in the stories you want to tell.
3. Converged literacy entails the material and imaginative resources to claim and exercise your right to use media to promote justice, variously defined—a right still denied young people marginalized from full citizenship as producers of media culture.

For more thoughts on “youth voice,” by the way, check out my essay in the 2006 McGill Journal of Education–Beyond Literacy and Voice in Youth Media Production.