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?