21 April 2009

Youth Make the Media (and So Can You)

Citizen journalism, such as we read about in the task portion of this week’s reading, is an amazing opportunity for communities to engage—and for librarians to engage their communities.

The term “citizen journalism” is commonly used when referencing works of news reporting generated and distributed by non-professional journalists. Some citizen journalists are exceptionally talented and produce accurate, objective works; others are not. Some examples of citizen journalists are bloggers and contributors to community newspapers. The line is blurry; is a widely read blogger covering the Republican National Convention a reporter, or a layperson? Is I-Witness video, whose purpose is explicitly stated as using video to watchdog police activities (rather than journalism), acting as a reporting agency if they then broadcast those videos? Is an adolescent reporting for a video Web site any less credible than a reporter with a notepad?

And that’s where I think we come in. Children and teens are often put under journalists’ lenses, particularly when such hot-button topics as sexting and online predators pop up. But, aside from scattered quotes, we often don’t here the true voices of young people speaking for themselves.

I’m delighted to see new outlets like Youth Radio taking advantage of the shifting media paradigm. This might very well be the most exciting time in the history of public journalism. With inexpensive and easily accessible opportunities for any citizen to participate, more people are producing more reporting in more formats than ever before. And youth are readily positioned to take this and run with it.

Why this is important to librarians: More people are producing more reporting in more formats than ever before, for one thing. That means there’s a lot of chaff to sort through before people can find the particular nugget of truth they might be looking for. All that reportage—the videos, the blogposts, the news articles—has to be organized for access and preservation. It’ll take an army of librarians and skilled information-minded people to get this all into shape. And libraries are perfectly situated to encourage public journalists, through information, utilities like public computers, programming activities, and broad-minded collection policies that allow local productions entry into the catalog.

Taylor Willingham wrote an ALA blog post (reposted on her own blog) in response to Knight Citizen News Network, a sort of “you be the reporter” function of the gargantuan Knight-Ridder news corp. In it, she points out that the language used to tout the program echoed the text from library workshop fliers, encouraging citizens to learn to use digital media to improve their communities. “Wouldn’t that be a great thing to learn at your local library? Use technology to increase your ability to participate in your community and learn it at the library?” she asks. Why, yes. It would. And wouldn’t it be a great thing to start that for others?

Youth media specialists are even MORE perfectly situated to launch this kind of event—and they do, I think, in blogging workshops and web-design workshops. Imagine if we could join forces with school media programs to teach journalism AND production AND literacy AND preservation AND making media public, with all the responsibilities and pressures that accompany that!

One fabulous example of youth public journalism is the example of Y-Press. Y-Press is an American news service run by children, and does a really amazing job of getting children's issues and perspectives covered. Begun in Indianapolis in 1990, Y-Press produces a column that appears in The Indianapolis Star (324,000 circulation) bimonthly in editorial's Sunday Voices section and radio pieces that air on WFYI-FM (90.1). Stories and other media are researched, reported and written by reporters (ages 10-13) and editors (ages 14-18) for audiences of all ages. They've done some really incredible work, and have survived when such major newspapers as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain Post haven’t. That’s amazing. And here’s a kicker: at the 1976 Democratic National Convention they scooped all other news outlets in announcing Mondale as Carter's running mate--a story broken by a 13-year-old reporter. Pretty cool! (www.ypress.org)

Another program I’m awed by is Blunt Radio. Based in Portland, Blunt Youth Radio Project puts out a weekly call-in talk show on the Portland community radio station. “High school age youth from the Portland area, both free and incarcerated, staff the show,” the shows site says. I can’t even imagine how much of an impact an activity like this might have on a teen held in detention; if youth voices in general are overlooked, how often do we hear from teens who are literally hidden from sight? (http://www.bluntradio.org/).

Locally, you’ve probably heard about WILL’s Youth Media Workshop. This university-affiliated program gives African American youth in the Champaign and Urbana public schools a chance to learn radio production, research topics of interest to the community, and highlight voices that might not otherwise be aired. In addition to learning basic radio production techniques, the group has done some powerful in-depth interviews with members of the C-U community who experienced firsthand the desegregation of local schools. A little rough around the edges, but a local gem.
**Oh—and, if you’re interested in community engagement, or want to know more about assessment (as featured in this week’s tasks), WILL is currently tallying the data on the YMV program evaluation. Contact the Community Informatics Initiative office if you are local and want to know more.

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