New Media Literacy Resource

November 19, 2008

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

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

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

More Thoughts on Interviewing

April 9, 2008

Last week, I posted some insights from a print and radio reporter who provided a great workshop to Youth Radio’s emerging journalists. I wanted to continue drawing from his insights, with a focus here on interviewing. I first learned to interview as an academic research assistant, my first year out of college. My boss at the time played the role of a caricatured nightmare interview subject and made each of us on the research team run through a ridiculous but instructive mock phone interview before she would let us start doing the real thing (we were interviewing non-profit arts leaders).

After that, I did a whole bunch of interviews as part of my own dissertation research, this time talking to teenagers about language and learning in the arts. Listening back to those recorded conversations was pure torture. I sounded like such an ass–all formal and stiff, like I might be wearing a white lab coat, but then at turns cringily phony and fawning (which is not only embarrassing but also methodologically problematic). I learned to lose the fakitude and just look this person in the eye and let myself get curious about their story, like I would a friend, but still interviews were never my shining research moments. 


Then I really had to rethink the whole undertaking when I started working in media production–when the goal of an interview wasn’t so much to collect empirical data for a scholarly thesis, but to draw out characters and unexpected moments of candor and compelling stories (while, of course, also getting the facts and gathering clean sound). I was still learning how to interview like a journalist (rather than a scholar), and I also had to teach these skills to the young reporters I was collaborating with on their stories. At Youth Radio, we’ve gone back and forth endlessly about how much our students should script their interviews in advance, developing detailed lists of questions. The benefit of the question list: we as editors can help young folks craft questions that are thoughtful, unbiased, relevant, and cover the scope of the story. The downside: listening back to the tape, I’ve heard warm, spontaneous, curious and creative young people transform into robots, reading mechanically from lists, sounding as if they’re not listening at all, not engaging or responding or building on the stories their interviewees share. 


A couple posts ago, I shared our Interview Tips from Youth Radio’s newsroom. Here, some added thoughts from a talented and seasoned (but still young himself!) journalist on the art of interviewing: 

A) Interviewing isn’t about questions and answers, it’s a relationship.  It’s like being on a date.  You’re not building rapport with someone so that you can get a better interview, that rapport IS the interview. 

B) You can and should train someone to be a better interview subject.  The first 20 minutes or so of an interview, I ask questions that seem on topic, but are actually irrelevant to my piece.  I don’t care about the answers.  The whole point is to help the interview subject understand the kind of answers I need once the questions do matter.  For instance, I’ll ask someone to describe a particular day for me.  When they say, “I got up,” I’ll interrupt and ask them how many times they hit snooze, whether the alarm beeps or plays music, if the floor is cold, what they have on their walls, whether their room is messy and if so what’s on the floor.  I’ll laugh extra hard if they say anything funny, because most interview subjects subconsciously want to please their interviewer, so laughing extra hard will encourage them to relax and be funny.  Once they’re giving me the kind of thoughtful, detailed, revealing answers I want — once they’re in a storytelling frame of mind — then I gradually start asking questions that matter.  And then I tend not to interrupt much, unless I have to.  It means my interviews run long, but I learn things I wouldn’t have known to ask about.

C) Everyone is an expert, everyone has more things to teach you then you could ever have time to learn.  And spending time with people is a privilege.  It’s important to remember nobody owes you their time, or their answers.  Make a person understand that, and they’ll feel powerful when you stick a mic on their face, not intimidated.  People who feel powerful give better interviews. 

D) Trust your curiosity.  If someone says something interesting that you didn’t expect, forget about the questions you meant to ask, and see where the conversation takes you. You can always circle back.




Thoughts on writing

April 2, 2008

I recently hooked up with a terrific magazine reporter and radio journalist, who shared some really useful ideas about his creative process. I wanted to document some of his ruminations and tips here, in a few posts, starting today. First, there’s the importance of reading your stuff out loud. We stress this all the time with young people at Youth Radio, but that’s kind of obvious right? Of course you need to practice reciting your script in a conversational way when the story will be spoken. But this writer says he goes through a pretty elaborate reading-aloud ritual even for his print articles:

“For a magazine piece, I wait until I’ve finished a draft, then I read all the way through and mark up the draft. I actually print it out, put the draft on a clip board, and then walk around my neighborhood, reading out loud, rewriting longhand in the margins as I walk, and generally looking like a crazy person. (I get bored if I stay at my desk, and if I get bored, I’ll get lazy in my editing.) Then I punch in my changes, and do it again, five or six times, usually. (My first editor told me if you can still stand to look at a piece, you haven’t worked hard enough on it yet, and it’s good advice.) I often change the font between edits to remind myself to look at the page as if I’ve never seen it before.”

I guess you’ve got to be willing to look a little crazy to do your best work!

Interview Tips from Youth Radio’s Newsroom

March 3, 2008

We’ve got our interview tips posted inside the Teach Youth Radio section of YR’s site, but they’re kinda buried there, so I thought I’d add them here as well. 

Interview Tips from Youth Radio’s Newsroom

When young people are given the chance to frame and pose interesting questions, they “flip the script” on old-school modes of education, in which students are, typically, the ones asked to answer questions, but not to raise them. Interviews also challenge young people to move beyond their assumptions about the topics they care about, and to analyze responses in ways that further their stories and honor their interviewees. Interviews are, essentially, exercises in intellectual curiosity through conversation. Here are some interview tips from Youth Radio reporters.

Getting started:1. Always remember to ask for name and age (where appropriate), and get permission to use your interviewees’ voices and names in your story.2. Start with “easy” questions—ones your subject should feel really comfortable answering, so you can build a rapport. It can be effective to start with general questions, then move to specifics.3. Let your interviewees know that you’d like to be able to use their answers without hearing your questions, so ask them to answer in full sentences. For example, if you ask, “At what age did you first meet your biological mother?” if they answer, “12,” ask them if they’ll repeat their answer in such a way that includes the question—i.e., “I met my bio mom for the first time when I was 12 years old.”4. Before you start the interview, make a checklist of the information you absolutely must get from your subject and bring that list with you.5. Brainstorm the kinds of things that make you feel inspired to disclose aspects of your own life, and try to create those conditions in your interview.Getting into it:1. Think about what you want to reveal about yourself—how you can make the interview feel like a real conversation, and not a grilling (but be careful about speaking “over” your subject—that can make it harder to use the tape).2. This one’s obvious, but easy to forget: avoid “yes/no” questions! Frame your probes in ways that elicit stories and vivid details. Don’t hesitate, at any point, to say, “Can you give me a specific example or memory of what you’re talking about?” or “That’s really interesting…Can you say a little bit more?” or even, “I’m not sure I understand—can you kind of bring me back to that moment…”3. Try not to “lead the witness”—in other words, asking questions that reveal your own biases, or making your interviewee feel pressured to answer in a certain way.4. Even if you have a detailed list of questions, make sure you really listen to your interviewees as they speak, and respond to what you hear, and not only what you came prepared to ask. Experiment with prepping a list of questions, but then jotting one-word cues for each question along the margin of the page, so you only have to glance down to remember what to ask, and that way you can stay engaged in a real conversation with your interviewee.5. Always a great follow-up question: “And then what happened?” Remember that the best tape comes from characters telling specific stories that bring you into the details of their lives, not articulating generalized positions or simplified points of view. Finishing up:1. Review your checklist of crucial information and make sure you covered everything before you say good-bye.2. At the end of the interview, ask subjects if they have anything to add (that question often yields the most interesting material!), and make sure to get their contact information and ask permission to get in touch again if anything further comes up.


Teach Youth Radio update

January 9, 2008

The January Teach Youth Radio curriculum will post any minute now on Youth Radio’s site, but here are some updates on the latest offerings.

News Break, January 2008
In our first Teach Youth Radio story for 2008, Quincy Mosby describes a huge physical transformation he’s recently undergone that has had major emotional effects. In the last year, Quincy dropped half his body weight—a total of 145 pounds. He says he’s happy about his dramatic weight loss. But the process has been more complicated than Quincy had expected, in part because of the way his family members and friends have responded to the change.

“At first, my mother was very supportive…But it seemed the closer I got to my weight-loss goal, the more annoyed my family… became with me. ‘What can you eat?’ my mother and sister would say when I wouldn’t touch the Chinese food we ordered every Friday…”

• Language Arts: Use Quincy’s commentary to inspire students to write about personal transformation and family relationships, to experiment with metaphors, to think creatively about how to open and end their first-person narratives, and to reflect on the editorial process writers go through in forming and reshaping original stories for varied audiences.

• Health/Science: Quincy’s commentary adds personal urgency to discussions of obesity, diabetes, adolescent body image, and inequalities among U.S. communities in access to healthy food and physical education.

• Critical Media Literacy: Celebrity Fit ClubThe Biggest Loser… Super models dressing up in fat suits… Reality TV shows have made public dieting a spectator sport. The media has always held major sway over what body shapes are considered beautiful, and which are scorned. This Youth Radio commentary can help your students analyze these media phenomena through the lens of Quincy’s experience and their own.

News Break, November/December 2007
In case you missed last months News Break, check out our story from commentator Natasha Watts, who’s with Appalachian Media Institute in Eastern Kentucky. Natasha lives in a coal-mining community, where rates of addiction to painkilling drugs have been rising at alarming rates, with devastating effects.

Check out this News Break if…
You are a high school teacher interested in new ways to inspire student writing, or if you are exploring any combination of the following issues in your classroom:

• Language Arts: Natasha shares intimate experiences faced by people close to her—but she’s careful not to tell other people’s secrets “in a place where you don’t air your dirty laundry.” Find lesson ideas that allow students to express where they come from without violating their loved ones’ trust.

• Health/Science: Teachers can use this News Break to explore how environmental conditions, industrial patterns, economic disparities, and drugs affect the body. These lesson ideas will also encourage discussions about coal—how this resource is used to produce energy, and at what human and environmental cost.

• Economics: How do you put a price tag on human suffering and death? Natasha’s story will push students to analyze who’s responsible when the public is given misinformation about a product’s safety, and what the appropriate consequences should be.

• Critical Media Literacy: Raise awareness about class issues and dialogue about the similarities and differences between illegal and legal drugs.

Go to Teach Youth Radio to find these resources and more…

Making “Verite”

November 8, 2007

Last week, I went to Chicago with some Youth Radio colleagues for the Third Coast International Audio Festival. It’s a gathering of audio folks–mostly radio producers and podcasters, but also artists and film people and university-affiliated types (not that those categories are mutually exclusive, of course!). I’ve attended the conference before and always hugely appreciate a chance to hear great stories (including some by incredible young producers) and to get inside the craft and ethics of engaging listeners with sound.

I took some notes on two sessions in particular that got me thinking about making radio and writing ethnography–two projects that emanate from very different fields, politics, intentions, and institutional contexts, but still hold much in common to the extent that both are about capturing and conveying meaning. Making a point or moving a public through narrative. Observing and participating and immersing yourself in a complex social world and keeping record of that process–and then repackaging the source material into a story.

So… about those two sessions…

The first was from Claire Schoen, a documentarian who works in radio and film. She was talking about “verite”–using real-life scenes to “show” rather than “tell” your story. Some points that struck me from her talk:

* Big Rig: Schoen says her audio gear is pretty massive–shotgun mic, big old headphones, chunky recorder, etc., and that’s partly because she wants the best quality sound, but it’s also because she wants people to know that she’s recording. That struck me as important, given the temption to hope that the folks in your story–whether for media or academic research–will kind of halfway forget what you’re there for, even if you technically asked their permission, so they’ll “act natural,” which might to some extent compromise the ethic of informed consent.

* Remix: Schoen was really open about how radio producers manipulate sound in order to create in impression that listeners just heard something “deeply real.” We layer “clean” takes of voice tracks, ambience, sound effects, scenes, etc., and then remix and “sweeten” those elements in post-production to make it all “sing.” But where do you draw the line with this kind of amplification of the real? Is it okay to ask your characters to do something they would normally do (like go shopping), but maybe not on that day, or in that specific store, because you need that scene for your story? Can you use one sound (shooting a squirt gun into a bucket) to represent another (milking a goat)? These were among the questions Schoen asked. I found myself trying to think about not only how I would answer those questions for radio, but what are the analogous questions in ethnographic research?

Seems like lots of the really tricky stuff comes up when you grapple with the way you as a reporter/researcher participate–or try not to–in the scenes you capture and re-present. One strategy Schoen talked about was “nodding to the mic,” meaning those moments–and we’ve all heard them–when someone in a documentary makes it obvious that they know they’re on tape, by referring directly to the recording process. I’ve used that device in my academic writing, too–to break from the conceit of “realism” by calling out the fact that the story is made, as in, created–and in this sense is always partial, positioned, and incomplete.

A second session made this issue of putting yourself into your story its central focus. Sean Coles, who files stories for Marketplace, Weekend America, and This American Life, did a workshop called “The Wonders of Narcissism,” where he touted the virtues of jumping right into your own narrative, abandoning the old “fly on the wall” stance. Sean’s advice:

* Refer to yourself in your story.

* Talk to your friends for your story–just make sure you’re honest about who they are (e.g., don’t do a story about the latest greatest garage band and fail to mention that the lead singer is your college roommate).

* Make yourself the guinea pig, he says–so if you’re doing a story about Twitter or hula hooping–two examples he played–then actually try those things out, and use that tape in your piece.

* Admit the fact that you exist (instead of using the old convention of referring to yourself in the third person as “this reporter,” which is almost always cringy).

* “If you see something, say something,” Sean recommended. What I took from that last comment was, when something happens while you’re recording that you have a real life genuine human response to–a response that maybe says something about the kind of person you are, even when you’re not “on the job”– put it out there. I really like that idea–especially when I think back on all these painfully awkward interviews I carried out for my dissertation, where I sounded like I was doing my best to approximate the cadences of a “real” social scientist–and I came off sounding stiff and fake, at least to me when I listened back. Wish I had followed Sean’s advice back then and known, in his words, “not to hide the madness.”

More questions to ask ourselves

June 23, 2007

In the previous post, I listed a few questions I often ask myself when I’m trying to decide how I feel about a media education project. Here are some more thoughts along those lines.

While young people produce powerful media in a range of learning environments, seems like there are certain conditions that especially engage young people in meaningful projects–and in many ways these features go beyond media-specific activities and apply to a range of contexts for production and storytelling. Young people engage their minds, imaginations, and passions when:

1. They participate in active learning and hands-on production.
2. They work towards real deadlines, with real audiences and outlets.
3. They know that their involvement in any given project doesn’t have to end when that project is complete, that they can stay involved, escalating their skills and intensifying their responsibilities.
4. They have final say over what they release into the world, but they have to listen, negotiate, and sometimes fight for their vision.
5. They find recognition for what they know and how they communicate, as ends in themselves and as means to engage with new conversations and discoveries.
6. Activities are industry relevant and linked to innovative formats and well-suited technologies.
7. Pedagogy balances peer teaching and youth-adult collaboration.
8. They can get where they need to be, their workplace is safe, and they’re not hungry.
9. Students and teachers connect their everyday work to goals related to equity and social impact.