The Power of "Collegial Pedagogy": An Interview with Youth Radio (Part Two)

What kinds of skills and knowledge are young people acquiring through their involvement with the production of youth radio? Response from Ayesha Walker, Online Project Associate. If you want to check out some of Walker's work for Youth Radio, try "Bathing Ape", Marketplace

and "From Blacksburg to Bay Area."

I unconfidently discovered radio my sophomore year of high school at El Cerrito's KECG station. I was determined to break through my introverted shell and find comfort behind

the microphone. Somehow in my senior year I was elected Director of Communications,

hosting my very own radio crew, playing my voice through every speaker in El Cerrito

high school. By the time my senior year came around, I fatefully stumbled across Youth

Radio. I studied all of the features and fell in love with web, photography and journalism.

As the new generation of technology users, today's young people are trained here at

Youth Radio in exactly what we need and want: proficiency through technologically

advanced equipment in media production. Therefore we advance in the skills that already

belong to us.

We learn to magnify our personality with confidence, creatively generating authentic

work through the components that YR offers:

News and commentaries: young people write stories for local and national radio,

iTunes, and our own website

Music: young people learn to produce their own music through industry standard

computer software and also program music shows featuring a range of artists and styles

for terrestrial and web radio

Web: young people learn to produce and design

Video: young people learn to create videos for outlets ranging from PBS to

Current TV to YouTube

After learning what we want, we learn what to do with the skills we've acquired through the program. We either move up or move out. Young people evolve into an essential part of staff, guiding other young people in the right direction. Or we find work outside Youth Radio, sometimes even outside converged media, using the professional skills gained here.

Youth Radio has helped shape the minds and personalities of many young people around the Bay Area, making the road to success much more visible.

Throughout my time here at Youth Radio, I've worked on a mob of commentaries. But there's one in particular I'm most proud of is called "Hood Sweet Hood." It hasn't aired on an outlet yet, but I'm proud of it because I feel I had the chance to clarify a few things that take place in the hood that most people outside of the ghetto wouldn't understand.

At Youth Radio, I've learned to swallow my people-fearing ways and express myself. I've learned to write creatively to a broad audience. By helping to maintain and produce, I've learned to take professional quality photographs, to network, and most importantly, to have fun. I've learned to think more deeply about my actions, whether it's buying from large corporations or just plain recycling. I've learned to speak properly on air. I've learned interviewing tactics--not from a book, even though I love books with all my mind, but from experience, which is the best teacher a student could ever have. Youth Radio has allowed me to sit in and help plan its future and my own.

And more on this question from Reina Gonzales, Youth Radio graduate and Associate

Producer. To sample Gonzales's work, see "Military Deserters in Canada."

I've been with Youth Radio since I was fifteen years old in a variety of roles. As a

student, I can say that the biggest impact Youth Radio had on me was that it gave me a

sense of direction. I learned what opportunities were out there for me and was then able

to decide what would bring me the most fulfillment.

As a peer teacher, I was surprised by how supportive and non- judgmental the students

were. In our weekly radio shows, I often saw the students struggle with writing or

on-air nerves, but in working together, they showed a sense of trust and mutual respect.

This was an experience completely opposite to the hostile environment I encountered in

high school.

As a youth reporter, I learned that writing ability on its own isn't enough to produce

media that matters. I had to develop a more holistic approach to the stories I worked

on--thinking about all the possible ways I could tell them and always trying to consider

different points of view.

As a radio and video producer, I've seen students learn to adapt to the always-changing

media landscape by using new technologies and producing their stories across formats.

They also think about new ways to market themselves and their work using social

networks--all of which suggests they're becoming just as good if not better than their

adult media professional counterparts.

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

Response from Senior Producer Rebecca Martin and Producer Brett Myers, Youth Radio's National Network/Curating Youth Voices Initiative. To see some of the work of the Curating Youth Voices Initiative, see "Leaving the Mountains," NPR

Youth Radio has grown into a hub for local, national and international converged media

production. We carry out this work through collaborations and partnerships with youth

correspondents, youth media groups, and youth organizations across the country and

around the globe. In addition to our bureaus in DC, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, we have an

extensive network of youth media partners whom we work with to co-produce content for

national and international audiences on a regular basis.

The bureaus and youth media partners in the U.S. are part of a unified editorial

structure at Youth Radio designed to represent diverse youth experiences and respond to

national news and issues in a comprehensive way that reflects the American landscape.

This structure also insures that our content meets the highest journalistic standards.

Our extensive youth correspondent network links individual young people across the

country and around the globe with adult professional editors and producers, and youth

peer editors at our headquarters in Oakland, California, who work with them remotely to

bring their stories to national and international audiences on the radio and the web.

Over the years, we've worked with young reporters and commentators in Afghanistan,

South Africa, Palestine, Israel, Mexico, Cuba, France and India.

We actively participate in conferences that bring together youth media producers (and

founded the Youth in Radio conference with the National Federation of Community

Broadcasters); regularly host international journalists; and do our best to provide

technical assistance and advice to newcomers in the youth media field. One initiative

that formalizes the latter effort is Teach Youth Radio, a free, online curriculum

resource we offer in monthly installments designed to encourage educators inside and

outside classrooms to integrate youth media content and methods into their work.

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.

Response from Lissa Soep, Research Director and Senior Producer

I was actually inspired to write a bit about this topic after we met at the 2007

National Media Education Conference in St. Louis. In your media literacy white paper,

you describe collective intelligence as a property of joint projects where "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 expose,

understand, and promote all the joint work that takes place behind all meaningful

productions, even those designated as "single author" works. Something I especially

love about the concept of collective intelligence is the way it embraces our fundamental

incompleteness outside the social contexts we make and re-make everyday.

That said, I'm wondering if there are ways that collective intelligence just might

sometimes work against youth producers...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. Sometimes young people can't afford to be anonymous

contributors, no matter how intelligent their collectives happen to be, if they are to

convert their media productions into concrete new opportunities in higher education

and/or living wage work.

When I raised this line of questioning with you in St. Louis, you offered a provocative

response that has stuck with me. You said it reminded you 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 I guess I hesitate to declare the death of the individual youth media maker at the very moment when young people need concrete, specific, and traceable acknowledgement of their work's value, not as a loosey-goosey self-esteem builder, but because that kind of recognition is sometimes necessary for them to leverage their work to transform the conditions of their lives.

Having said all this, I do realize that to some extent I'm conflating collective

authorship with collective intelligence. Collective intelligence isn't so much about

joint production as it is about shared knowledge, not so much about who deserves credit

for the outcome, but how various minds/bodies/imaginations inform and derive

"smarts" from the process. When I reflect on my own creative methods as both a

writer and producer, I can see how "intelligence" can be displaced from the people

in the room to the project underway, from separate minds to shared spaces that take

shape throughout the time it takes to complete a given piece of work. If that's true,

it makes me wonder what happens to that collective and perhaps temporary or contingent

intelligence once the group disbands or the project ends?

Which brings me to one final point. Our conversation in St. Louis also got

me thinking about how it can sometimes feel like projects never end anymore, as a result

of digital culture and its permanent, searchable, ongoing conversation, as dana boyd and

others have described. If youth media producers drop out of that conversation after

they've finished and broadcast/posted a final version of the story, they surrender the

right to keep shaping how the piece is received, interpreted, and re-purposed by other

producers. When Youth Radio stories air nationally, we often hear directly from

listeners, usually with admiration, but not always. Some especially controversial

stories from our recent archive include: when Brandon McFarland wrote about being

whooped as a child; when Cassandra Gonzalez described the first time her baby's

incarcerated father met his newborn daughter; when Clare Robbins talked about an

anti-racist group she joined for white people only. Stories like these get other people

talking, and our challenge as a media literacy organization and production company is to

teach young people that from now on, their work doesn't stop when they produce the

story; they need also to produce the conversation that (hopefully) continues in the

story's wake.

For further information, contact elisabeth soep