Book Preview

February 4, 2008

Vivian Chavez and I are finally almost done with our co-authored manuscript that shares this blog’s name. Here’s a little bit of a sneak peek, still in progress and bound to change: 


Think of this book like you would a radio story, with this introduction as its opening scene.  Drop that Knowledge is composed of stories about young people making media while creating new relationships of power with adults as colleagues.  It is the story of teaching and learning to produce high impact narratives for massive audiences.  The text comes alive through memories, experiences and analyses in the youth media field dating back to the late seventies.  It builds on a series of conversations between young producers and adult leaders working in video, radio, print, and performance. The book focuses on a single organization where youth and adults drop that knowledge. The organization is Youth Radio, a national youth development organization and independent media production company based in Oakland, California, where young people produce award-winning stories for local, national and international outlets. Lessons gleaned from this one site hold relevance for any place where young people find, frame, articulate, and spread stories they feel a pressing need to tell. Our goal is for readers to experience and apply Youth Radio methods and sense its vibe, a feeling connecting people with technology, knowledge, production, and most of all, with one another.

The choice in metaphor for the book’s title comes from a line in a Youth Radio feature story that aired on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered (2005).  In it, reporter Brandon McFarland interviews friends and family on the subject of “sagging,” a style of wearing pants far below the waist. A longtime sagger, Brandon finally gets fed up and decides to resist the trend and tighten his belt. He goes on a mission to convince others to do the same, including his friend and Youth Radio colleague, Gerald (Whiz) Ward II, who compares sagging to speaking “Oaklandese.” 

Whiz: It’s like code switching when you speak. I speak Oaklandese when I’m speaking to other folks that are from the town, and when I’m not, I might switch into a more universal language or lexicon. Same thing with my pants. I might sag in certain areas and in the other areas I’ll pull them up so I can infiltrate the system.


Brandon writes off this clip with the line, “That’s my man Gerald, dropping that knowledge.”  His words offer a window into the world of youth media, a field where drop that knowledge can be interpreted as the value and recognition of informal wisdom that comes from lived experience and grounded analysis. Casually and with an inner smile, Brandon conveys the fact that he’s impressed by what his friend is talking about and wants the world to know.  Whiz insists he was being somewhat facetious in this line, but clearly, the implications of his words stretch beyond youth fashion. He is presenting a snippet of social analysis from Oakland, a city with rich cultural and artistic heritage, internationally known civil rights activism, and local public schools that lose 50% of students before graduation: a complicated place governed by a dizzying mix of codes. When Whiz describes Oaklandese, he connects an everyday practice to larger cultural, economic, and political narratives, all without taking himself too seriously; he is, after all, talking about how he wears his pants.

Drop that knowledge is not a rhetorical call to celebrate “youth voice.”  On the contrary, it challenges youth to hear and get in touch with what they think, see, and experience in their communities. With a sense of urgency, youth can drop that knowledge and honor the subjective as legitimate, while exploring, examining, and interrogating other points of view.  There is, however, a very specific adult-oriented mandate embedded in the book’s title.  Drop that knowledge is the imperative for adults to drop that expert posture for which we often get rewarded–a stance of distance and authority. The imperative is especially pressing in education.  Despite never-ending cycles of innovation in teaching methodology, traditional education tends not to foster collegiality between students and their teachers. “Expert” knowledge unilaterally handed down to learners reproduces existing societal power relationships through both its methods and content.  The expression, drop that knowledge urges adults to work on changing hierarchical relationships and establish a setting that fosters an open and free exchange of ideas.  In essence, the double meaning of drop that knowledge calls for youth to step up and for adults to let go of assumptions about what passes as truth about youth, education, success and failure, struggles and conditions young people face.  

To be continued…  

Youth Radio in the SF Chronicle

June 4, 2007

Check it out! Youth Radio’s move to downtown Oakland made the paper:

“Early last month, having outgrown its shabby birthplace in Berkeley, Youth Radio packed up and moved to a space four times as large, and light-years ahead technologically, on Broadway in downtown Oakland.

But Youth Radio executives say in spite of the organization’s plans to double the number of young people it serves and vastly increase its audience in coming years, the organization’s core mission will remain youth development.”

Last week, the production department got our first introduction to the new studio set up, and Youth Radio graduate/associate producer Reina Gonzales recorded our first commentary in the space, which feels truly star-trekky, compared to our old spot. Tomorrow we’ll gather in our old digs to say a final goodbye.

The work continues…

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.

Youth Media Survey: FREE custom CD

March 15, 2007

There are lots of statistics out there about how young people use media–what and how they consume and produce, and how their habits have changed in the last couple years.

But there are some questions we haven’t been able to find answers to, so I hooked up with Youth Radio graduate Leah Chapple Stingley to design a survey of our own.

If you’re between the ages of 14-24, or you work with folks in that age group, take a few minutes to fill it out, won’t you? Return the survey by email to:

The completed survey automatically enters you in a raffle. The winner gets to design a customized Youth Radio CD. Pick as many stories from our archives as we can fit on a disk! We’ll notify the winner by email.

Meanwhile, if you’ve got any feedback on the survey (maybe you think we’re asking all the wrong questions?), let us know!

Youth Media Survey

You Call This Youth Radio?

February 11, 2007

I’ve been talking with members of the Youth Radio web department and production company about where this conversation belongs. Should it live alongside the youth-produced content in the Youth Radio Flows section of our website? That placement is a little weird, because the whole point of Youth Radio and other youth media groups is to showcase young people’s perspectives, not offer a platform for yet another adult writing about youth culture.

The other option would be to put Drop That Knowledge in the Teach Youth Radio section of the website. That’s where we house materials designed to encourage educators, organizers, artists, producers etc. to integrate youth-produced content into their own projects. But that placement is a little weird, too. Why should this conversation get its own special position, isolated from youth colleagues on Youth Radio Flows?

In the end, for now at least, we decided to publish Drop that Knowledge in both places.

But the whole question of where to put an adult’s thoughts about youth media on a website devoted to young people’s own thoughts about themselves and the world reveals a larger tension underlying youth media practice: where, if anywhere, do adults belong? The Spotlight blog has recently taken up the question, and we talk about it at Youth Radio all the time, especially around the never simple editorial process that kicks in when we prepare a story for national broadcast.

At Youth Radio, we practice “collegial pedagogy.” I’ve written about that in a recent article, co-authored with Vivian Chavez. Vivian and I are writing a book (coming soon with UC Press!), with a whole chapter about collegial pedagogy. And I’ll write more about it here.

Where’s this Conversation Coming From?

February 10, 2007

I’m coming at this from two perspectives:

1. As a producer at Youth Radio, where I collaborate with young people on stories for outlets ranging from local radio stations and NPR to iTunes and MySpace; and
2. As a media scholar trying to understand the relationship between youth media culture and learning. Two recent efforts: Youth Radio and the Pedagogy of Collegiality (with Vivian Chavez), Youthscapes (with Sunaina Maira).

What’s the Blog

February 6, 2007

In a story he did for NPR a couple years ago, my Youth Radio colleague Brandon McFarland came off an especially thoughtful clip saying, “That’s my man Gerald, dropping that knowledge.”

While I make it a policy not to appropriate the phrases I hear tossed around Youth Radio’s newsroom, this one I couldn’t resist. Drop that Knowledge seems the perfect title for this effort—to get conversations going about youth media stories.

I’m especially interested in projects spearheaded by young people who’ve been marginalized from digital media production—how they make media to make meaning, change, and sometimes money.

• What stories do young people tell?
• What activities do they design for themselves, or do adult producers organize with them, to generate powerful stories?
• Who’s learning what through youth media production, and how?
• How are young producers making money?
• How are they transforming old media editorial guidelines in the new media environment?

These are the kinds of questions I’ll be taking up here.