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February 10 2012


Still shaping the way people think about news innovation? A few reflections on the new KNC 2.0

As someone who probably has spent more time thinking about the Knight News Challenge than anyone outside of Knight Foundation headquarters — doing a dissertation on the subject will do that to you! — I can’t help but follow its evolution, even after my major research ended in 2010. And evolve it has: from an initial focus on citizen journalism and bloggy kinds of initiatives (all the rage circa 2007, right?) to a later emphasis on business models, visualizations, and data-focused projects (like this one) — among a whole host of other projects including news games, SMS tools for the developing world, crowdsourcing applications, and more.

Now, after five years and $27 million in its first incarnation, Knight News Challenge 2.0 has been announced for 2012, emphasizing speed and agility (three contests a year, eight-week turnarounds on entries) and a new topical focus (the first round is focused on leveraging existing networks). While more information will be coming ahead of the February 27 launch, here are three questions to chew on now.

Does the Knight News Challenge still dominate this space?

The short answer is yes (and I’m not just saying that because, full disclosure, the Knight Foundation is a financial supporter of the Lab). As I’ve argued before, in the news innovation scene, at this crossroads of journalism and technology communities, the KNC has served an agenda-setting kind of function — perhaps not telling news hipsters what to think regarding the future of journalism, but rather telling them what to think about. So while folks might disagree on the Next Big Thing for News, there’s little question that the KNC has helped to shape the substance and culture of the debate and the parameters in which it occurs.

Some evidence for this comes from the contest itself: Whatever theme/trend got funded one year would trigger a wave of repetitive proposals the next. (As Knight said yesterday: “Our concern is that once we describe what we think we might see, we receive proposals crafted to meet our preconception.”)

And yet the longer answer to this question is slightly more nuanced. When the KNC began in 2006, with the first winners named in 2007, it truly was the only game in town — a forum for showing “what news innovation looks like” unlike any other. Nowadays, a flourishing ecosystem of websites (ahem, like this one), aggregators (like MediaGazer), and social media platforms is making the storyline of journalism’s reboot all the more apparent. It’s easier than ever to track who’s trying what, which experiments are working, and so on — and seemingly in real time, as opposed to a once-a-year unveiling. Hence the Knight Foundation’s move to three quick-fire contests a year, “as we try to bring our work closer to Internet speed.”

How should we define the “news” in News Challenge?

One of the striking things I found in my research (discussed in a previous Lab post) was that Knight, in its overall emphasis, has pivoted away from focusing mostly on journalism professionalism (questions like “how do we train/educate better journalists?”) and moved toward a broader concern for “information.” This entails far less regard for who’s doing the creating, filtering, or distributing — rather, it’s more about ensuring that people are informed at the local community level. This shift from journalism to information, reflected in the Knight Foundation’s own transformation and its efforts to shape the field, can be seen, perhaps, like worrying less about doctors (the means) and more about public health (the ends) — even if this pursuit of health outcomes sometimes sidesteps doctors and traditional medicine along the way.

This is not to say that Knight doesn’t care about journalism. Not at all. It still pours millions upon millions of dollars into clearly “newsy” projects — including investigative reporting, the grist of shoe-leather journalism. Rather, this is about Knight trying to rejigger the boundaries of journalism: opening them up to let other fields, actors, and ideas inside.

So, how should you define “news” in your application? My suggestion: broadly.

What will be the defining ethos of KNC 2.0?

This is the big, open, and most interesting question to me. My research on the first two years of KNC 1.0, using a regression analysis, found that contest submissions emphasizing participation and distributed knowledge (like crowdsourcing) were more likely to advance, all things being equal. My followup interviews with KNC winners confirmed this widely shared desire for participation — a feeling that the news process not only could be shared with users, but in fact should be.

I called this an “ethic of participation,” a founding doctrine of news innovation that challenges journalism’s traditional norm of professional control. But perhaps, to some extent, that was a function of the times, during the roughly 2007-2010 heyday of citizen media, with the attendant buzz around user-generated content as the hot early-adopter thing in news — even if news organizations then, as now, struggled to reconcile and incorporate a participatory audience. Even while participation has become more mainstream in journalism, there are still frequent flare-ups, like this week’s flap over breaking news on Twitter, revealing enduring tensions at the “collision of two worlds — when a hierarchical media system in the hands of the few collides with a networked media system open to all,” as Alfred Hermida wrote.

So what about this time around? Perhaps KNC 2.0 will have an underlying emphasis on Big Data, algorithms, news apps, and other things bubbling up at the growing intersection of computer science and journalism. It’s true that Knight is already underwriting a significant push in this area through the (also just-revised) Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project (formerly called the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership — which Nikki Usher and I have written about for the Lab). To what extent is there overlap or synergy here? OpenNews, for 2012, is trying to build on the burgeoning “community around code” in journalism — leveraging the momentum of Hacks/Hackers, NICAR, and ONA with hackfests, code-swapping, and online learning. KNC 2.0, meanwhile, talks about embracing The Hacker Way described by Mark Zuckerberg — but at the same time backs away a bit from its previous emphasis on open source as a prerequisite. It’ll be interesting to see how computational journalism — explained well in this forthcoming paper (PDF here) by Terry Flew et al. in Journalism Practice — figures into KNC 2.0.

Regardless, the Knight News Challenge is worth watching for what it reveals about the way people — journalists and technologists, organizations and individuals, everybody working in this space — talk about and make sense of “news innovation”: what it means, where it’s taking us, and why that matters for the future of journalism.

July 25 2011


Talk on the promise and practice of participatory journalism

During my trip to Australia, I was invited to deliver a keynote at the Screen Futures conference in Melbourne.

In the talk, I explored the promise and practice of participatory journalism.

It draws on the data from my co-authored book, Participatory Journalism: Guarding Open Gates at Online Newspapers.

We found that journalists are navigating uncharted waters – figuring out how to bring in the audience into the professional process of producing journalism at a time when the practice of what we called “journalism” tries to retain its structure and integrity, its rules and roles, its organizations and its traditions.

Here are the slides from the talk.

Sponsored post

July 22 2010


An Ethical Argument for Transparency in Journalism

In a recent post on my website I examined an ethical argument for transparency. I will continue this internal dialogue with the caveat that I am not a journalism academic. I do not prescribe my beliefs to anyone but myself. This is a disgustingly theoretical post (I promise the next one will be practical up the wahzoo). I should also note the inspiration behind these two posts was a discussion at FOO Camp: Philosophy and Technology - Tim O'Reilly and Damon Horowitz.

The First Chapter

The first post on this topic hinged on the idea that transparency is necessary for public participation in journalism.

This Wikipedia quote puts it bluntly. The argument for transparency then isn't ethical so much as practical. It's a second order argument. The process of journalism must be transparent if we expect people to participate in a meaningful way. This assumes, however, that we want people to participate.

If we can reason that participation in journalism is ethical and transparency is necessary for participation to occur, it follows that there is an ethical argument for transparency.

Which means the next step is to examine the base of this syllogism: There is an ethical argument for participation in journalism.

The Goal of Journalism

What is the purpose or goal of journalism? In philosophy I might pose this as, what is journalism's Telos -- its purpose, aim, end and/or design.

The reason this question (and blog post) is important is that if you look at the current understanding of ethics in journalism you can see that it is more along the lines of a professional code than an ethical debate or analysis. Public accountability is mentioned in many of the existing code of ethics. As is the rightful dissemination of information to the public. But in almost all of these cannons of journalism the public is acted upon and is rarely an actor.

When I ask what is the goal of journalism I am not interested in the journalism industry or a journalism company. The goal for both of which would be the same for any industry (protecting itself as an economic good) or company (increasing revenue).

The tagline for my blog is "journalism is a process, not a product," and that continues to be my rallying cry. Too often our ethics, ideas of success and end goals are determined by journalism as a product, industry or company. I am more interested in the process of journalism. What is the end goal for an act of journalism?

Now here I have to posit a question: If an act of journalism is committed but never published, is it an act of journalism?

Many people don't know this, but I used to be a musician. I've actually recorded at least two albums. But I never promoted my work. So if a work of art is not shared, is it art? What is the distinction between art and hobby? Related: If an act of reporting occurs but is not shared, is it journalism? What is the distinction between journalism and journaling?

I ask this question because it gives me the platform to pose a possible end goal of journalism -- to inform. Journalism, which is a tricky thing to define, is the process of collecting, filtering and distributing information that has meaning. One caveat of course is that the information is non-fiction (true and accurate).

If we take away the "distributing" of information we no longer have the process of journalism. It is the final step in the process because it is the final Telos of journalism -- to inform our fellow human beings. Size of the audience aside, journalism is fundamentally a process of education. But when we look at the conversation about journalism, those two words are most often coupled around journalism education (journalism schools) and rarely about how the two endeavors are intimately tied.

Informing is Participatory

So the goal of journalism is to inform people about events in the world. This is fundamentally a social act and would remain the goal of journalism if we lived in a democracy, republic or any other kind of society.

Historically speaking, the "participation" of journalism consumers was to consume. That is a form of participation, but not necessarily the kind that I wan to justify. If it were, this blog post could have been much shorter: "We can justify transparency in journalism because people need to be able to read it!"

The kind of participation that I want to argue for is more engaging. Members of the public are not participating by the sheer act of be informed, but they are self-informing. It's the difference between roads that make public transportation possible and roads that make all forms of transportation possible.

Why Individual Participation is Ethical

And herein lies the base of this whole thought process. It comes down to the individual. It is the individual, as part of a collective, that journalism seeks to inform. The individual should be actively participating in the dissemination of information for several reasons:

1. On a utilitarian level, they will become more informed and help inform more people. If the good of journalism is to inform, then letting more people participate will inform more people. Similarly, the mission of roads is to enable travel/transportation, not to safeguard public transportation. (There could be unintended consequences, of source, such as pollution.) The mission of journalism is to inform, not to safeguard journalism companies. A network has infinity more connections and that requires active participation and self-informed informants.

2. They have a moral right as an individual to participate to the extent that they do not hinder others from participating. (See individualism).


So, to review:

  • Transparency is required for well-informed participation to happen.
  • Participation is needed because....
  • Journalism's end goal is to inform other people.
  • More people participating in the process of journalism means more people being informed.
  • Combine this with individual rights and ...

The journalism industry has a moral obligation to make the practices and processes of journalism more transparent so that the larger citizenry can participate.

Behind the lack of climax

Perhaps I could have shortened this blog post. I made every attempt to go step-by-step and lay out my line or reasoning.


Too often our discussion of participatory journalism, citizen journalism, etc takes an industry or company view. Either citizen journalism is good or bad because of its relationship to a bottom line.

Slighter better arguments are that participatory journalism is good/bad because of its quality (or lack of).

What I'm suggesting is that participation in the media is a net positive because of its intrinsic value.

July 09 2010


Rethinking the Role of the Journalist in the Participatory Age

news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

Students who dream of a career in journalism are entering the profession at a time when the question of who is a journalist, and even what is journalism, is open to interpretation. The function of journalism is still to provide independent, reliable and accurate information considered vital to a vibrant democracy. But defining who is a journalist is much harder.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a journalist as "a person who writes for newspapers or magazines or prepares news or features to be broadcast on radio or television." The definition is less about what a journalist actually does and more about whom they work for. It reflects how the profession of journalism developed in a mass media system, based on the production of news by paid professionals who decided what the public needs to know, when it needs to know it and how it will know it.

The media industry is going through a profound transformation that is disrupting just about every aspect of the business. Journalists are at the center of a transformation that is challenging norms and routines that have remained, until now, highly consistent. It all amounts to, in the words of media scholar Mark Deuze, "one of the biggest challenges facing journalism studies and education in the 21st century."

The new journalist needs to learn and understand how news and information works in a digital world, instead of simply applying established norms and practices that may no longer be effective.

New Technologies, New Mindset

Studies show that journalists have been reluctant to give up their traditional gatekeeping role. BBC News executive Peter Horrocks has described this mindset as fortress journalism (PDF) -- seeing the profession as a practice to be defended. As a result, journalism as a profession largely considers the media environment to be the same as before, only now more technologized.

New media technologies do not just offer journalists new ways of doing their old job. A newspaper online is not the same as a newspaper in print. On paper, the newspaper delivers a bundle of stories, ads and amusements, such as the crossword puzzle. On the web, the newspaper package is unbundled into individual fragments. The stable, hierarchy of information in the printed newspaper falls apart online.


Scholars Colin Lankshear and Michelle Knobel have researched what they describe as the shift from a physical-industrial mindset to a cyberspatial, post-industrial mindset. They write that "the world is being changed in some quite fundamental ways as a result of people imagining and exploring new ways of doing things and new ways of being that are made possible by new tools and techniques."

Literacy has traditionally been described as the ability to read and write. New literacies generally refer to new forms of literacy made possible by digital technologies, such as blogging, uploading photos or sharing videos. According to new literacies, media is collaborative, distributed, and participatory nature.

Participatory and Collaborative Journalism

Let's look at one of the ways this applies to journalism. Traditionally, journalism has been about producing finished products by designated individuals and teams, based on individual expertise and intelligence, operating in a shared physical space. However, new literacies research suggests that the changes taking place challenge fundamental norms, conventions, and routines of journalism.

One example is the ability of the audience to report and distribute the news in photographs, videos, and text, which undermines the monopoly on reporting that journalists traditionally enjoyed. Anyone can do an act of journalism, from sending a tweet about a G20 protest to uploading a photo of police and demonstrators.

tom-rosenstiel.jpgSeen through the lens of new literacies research, digital media is more participatory, collaborative and distributed, and less finalized, individualized and author-centric than previous forms of media. The journalist still matters. But as Tom Rosenstiel has suggested, they shift from being the gatekeeper to being an authenticator of information, a sense-maker to derive meaning, a navigator to help orient audiences and a community leader to engage audiences.

Both those taking their first steps into journalism and those who have already followed a well-trodden path need to figure out where they fit in. The role of the journalist is being determined by the complex interplay between media technologies, professional practices, and societal factors.

Journalism developed as a relatively closed culture for the production of knowledge, based on a system of editorial control. Yet new media are characterized by their connected and collaborative nature. The challenge for journalism, and the journalist, is to find a place along the continuum between control and connection, and between a closed and a collaborative media culture.

This piece is adapted from a chapter appearing in The New Journalist: Roles, Skills, and Critical Thinking, a new textbook for journalism students.

Alfred Hermida is an online news pioneer and journalism educator. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.

news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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June 30 2010


Spot.Us Lessons: Journalists Work in, and For, the Public

In a previous post I introduced the most significant findings from my recent case study of Spot.Us, a crowdfunding platform for journalism. In this post I discuss what my findings mean for journalism, and for the role and the work of a journalist.

Renegotiating the Role of a Journalist

A crowdfunded journalistic process brings a new element to a journalist's job: Pitching in public. Traditionally, a journalist pitches his or her story directly to an editor. The journalist doesn't need to think about marketing the story to the readers.

In a crowdfunded model, a journalist has to be willing to raise awareness about the pitch in order to attract donations. That means they have to assume responsibility for the marketing of the pitch by convincing the community of the significance of the story topic.

However, Spot.Us reporters expressed discomfort with pitching their stories in public and with asking for donations. To this end, the element of pitching in public brings new requirements and shifts the nature of the journalist's role.

Similar shifts are occurring in creative industries as brands and institutions such as record labels and media institutions lose power. According to Mark Deuze, an associate professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, creativity and commerce in cultural work are increasingly coming together.

This development presumes that creative workers see their skills, ideas and talent in commercial terms. Traditionally, journalists have embraced creative autonomy and peer review rather than market appeal. In crowdfunded journalism, however, market appeal and readers' opinions become more important than peer review.

These new requirements challenge the traditional journalist's self-perception as that of an independent creative worker whose story topics are first and foremost accepted by colleagues, rather than by the public.

Participatory Culture Motivates Journalists

On Spot.Us, a participatory culture manifests itself in many ways: Community members (readers and donors) can donate money or talent for a pitch, they can leave a comment, submit a tip, or take on an assignment that a reporter has assigned to the readers.

These options for participation -- particularly reader donations for a story -- have a strong, positive impact on a journalist's motivation to work. One of the Spot.Us reporters I interviewed said it was "beyond professionally motivating" the see that the public is willing to support her work by donating money.

From the journalist's perspective, the act of donation creates a strong connection between the donor and reporter. Reporters find it rewarding to have a direct link to readers. This connectedness also creates a strong sense of responsibility for the story.

Typically, though, donors prefer to participate solely by donating; they are not eager to leave comments or submit tips, nor do they get engaged in the story process to the extent that they closely follow any story updates. For the most part, donors feel that they've done their part by offering up money.

Spot.Us: A Journalist's Personal R&D Lab

For Spot.Us reporters, this platform is more than just a way to finance their work; they see it as an opportunity to experiment with new methods of journalism, for example in reader engagement.

The reporters also see Spot.Us as an opportunity to experiment with tools such as video and infographics. The site gives them the freedom to experiment that they seem to have been longing for. They feel there is a lack of opportunity to try new things when working for traditional news operations.

Reporters also consider Spot.Us as a good way to find partners for collaboration.

Donating for a Better Society

spotusdonor.jpgDonors don't seem to be contributing to a specific journalistic piece as much as they are donating for the common good. Donors rarely follow up with the stories they help fund, and they might not even check up on the finished story.

For them, it's not about the story; they want their donation to be a catalyst for change in society. They're hoping the story helps make this happen.

This notion provokes a question about journalism's role in society. Is the role of journalism only to inform people about issues and problems? Or should journalism also give the public a chance to make a difference, to attempt to solve a problem? If the latter is valid, then perhaps advocacy, cause-driven, or problem-solving journalism is more meaningful for the community than neutral, objective journalism that provides information but not the means to solve problems.

An example of problem-solving journalism is Huffington Post Impact, where journalism is married to causes. The stories on Huffington Post Impact report on issues like hunger at schools, or the misery of a family that lost a home in a flood. At the end of the story, the reader is given a chance to donate to a non-profit organization that can help alleviate the problem.

Based on my findings, at least some people consider journalism to be a means for contributing to social change. Therefore, journalism organizations should embed tools similar to SeeClickFix or new Knight News Challenge winner CitySeed, which allow the public to contribute to the betterment of the community with one click. Readers want constructive ways to participate, and journalism should give them the tools.

Journalism Aligned With Cause Marketing

Because the public donates for a cause, and not necessarily for journalism, the pitches on crowdfunded journalistic platforms such as Spot.Us should be more aligned with the features of cause marketing, a term applied to marketing efforts by non-profits working for social change.

In this era of declining media conglomerates, journalism organizations should have a clear message to readers as to why their stories matter, and how a reader can make a difference in society. It is important to note, though, that the strategy of cause-marketing works only for certain types of topics and journalism, such as the field of investigative reporting.

Participation as a Tool for Identity Building

In crowdfunded journalism, people share more than just the actual story -- they share the story of their participation in the process by tweeting and Facebooking. This act of participation binds people together. As one donor put it: "I felt I belonged to a community when I donated."

When Spot.Us donors spread news of their donation, they are also building their own identity. It says something about them, and they want to share that. That's a significant result and benefit for donors. As a result, journalists should think of how they can provide the public with ways to link identity and causes to reporting.

For more information about the study, please contact me at tanja.aitamurto at gmail.com, or on Twitter @tanjaaita

Tanja Aitamurto is a journalist and a Ph.D. student studying collective intelligence in journalism. She has studied innovation journalism at Stanford, and has degrees in journalism, social sciences, and linguistics. Tanja advises media companies and non-profit organizations about the changes in the field of communication. As a journalist, she specializes in business and technology. She contributes mainly to the Huffington Post and to the Helsingin Sanomat, the leading daily newspaper in Finland, as well as to the Finnish Broadcasting Company. Tanja splits her time between San Francisco and Finland, her home country.

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April 24 2010


Study shows comments fail to raise level of debate

One of the final presentations at ISOJ looked at the content of comments.

The study, Comments in News, Democracy Booster or Journalistic Nightmare (PDF), analysed comments on newspaper websites in Catalunya in Spain

David Domingo, Universitat Rovira i Virgilli (Tarragona, explained that the analysis was based on Habermas: were comments an expression of a democratic debate, expressing logical and coherent arguments.

Most users only left one comment in a debate. Domingo said this showed us that people were not following the conversation.

“They drop in, leave a comment and never come back,” he said.

Domingo said participants never articulate an argument. Rather they expressed feelings about an issue.

There were, he noted, a diversity of viewpoints. But many users expressed disdain about other comments.

There were very few instances of users saying they valued the contribution of other commenters.

The evidence suggests that comments are not adding to a democratic debate.

Domingo said that the rules for participation set by newspapers set the groundwork for a democratic debate. But the news sites did not set the necessary measures to ensure these principles were followed by users.

Rather comments were motivated by economics – to increase traffic and reader loyalty.

The study found two approaches. Hands-off moderation that allowed users to rant. But there was not a higher level of debate on the sites with strict moderation.

Domingo concluded that newspapers incorporated comments as a business decision, rather than as a way of fostering democratic debate online.

January 21 2010


Why Youth Media Projects Should Link Up with Public Media

"The issues that we tackle in our films are very powerful," said youth filmmaker Lenah Perez in a newsletter from the New York-based youth media organization, Global Action Project. "I should say the way we tackle the issues is powerful, the issues are important -- to look at the world as the big picture and to fight for this world."

As Perez's quote suggests, there is often tremendous overlap between youth media and Public Media 2.0 projects. While we describe public media's core function as "generating publics around problems," youth media projects often accomplish the same goal by addressing issues such as social justice, civic engagement, and media reform. But, too often, these sectors are not linked. Is this a missed opportunity?

There are over 100 youth media organizations in the United States, and they have a diverse range of priorities. According to the State of the Youth Media Field, a report written by Ingrid Hu Dahl, editor-in-chief of Youth Media Reporter and program officer of youth media at the Academy for Educational Development:

Youth media neighbors other fields -- including youth development, media arts, and public interest journalism -- and has looser ties with civic engagement, youth organizing/activism, and service-learning. But youth media is distinct in that it uses media as a tool and strategy for young people to examine themselves, their communities, and the world at large. One of the greatest qualities of youth media is its potential to reach large audiences while offering young people a thoughtful, mediated process.

Powerful Youth Media Examples

Below are just a few of the many powerful youth media projects that span different platforms with varied goals and approaches, including journalism, career training, and social justice activism. They are participatory, grassroots efforts that take full advantage of Public Media 2.0 tools in order to generate the kind of engagement that spurs community development and social change.

Global Action Project
Since 1991, Global Action Project has provided media training for underserved youth in New York City and beyond. Global Action Project runs several programs, including Urban Voices, which combines social issue media production, college prep, leadership and critical thinking skills; and Media in Action, which provides support for community campaigns with "targeted, cross-generational trainings in capacity-building through creative youth engagement, media production, and strategizing."

Additionally, their Global Voices program links youth producers with regional organizations in order to produce and screen videos all around the world. With the help of partner organizations, Global Action Project's productions are screened for over 250,000 people per year. Films are for sale on their website, and many are also available on Global Action Project's YouTube Channel. Below is "What's Justice?" a video about how the Youth Leadership Project of CAAAV (also known as also known as Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) is organizing for justice and community healing in the Bronx:

The Lower East Side Girls Club
It connects media production training, hyper-local journalism, intercultural understanding and community activism for girls aged eight to 18. The organization's website includes podcasts (check out this one about two young women who refused to serve in the Israeli Army), blogs, girl-produced videos, and girl-produced citizen journalism, including an extensive multimedia hyper-local journalism project. In addition to media training, the Lower East Side Girls Club runs a diverse array of programs, ranging from health to the environment to international field trips. For more information on the Lower East Side Girls Club, see the video below:

Youth Radio/Youth Media International
Founded in 1990, Youth Radio provides underserved youth with free media training. Each year, Youth Radio trains 1,300 young people in broadcast journalism, multimedia skills training and career preparation. Youth Radio has achieved tremendous success in terms of distribution -- over 300 Youth Radio reports are broadcast annually, on outlets including NPR, CNN.com and iTunes. According to Youth Radio's website, "an estimated 27 million people hear and read the often overlooked perspectives of young people through Youth Radio's work each year." Read Youth Radio blogs here, listen to programs live here, or explore the archives here. Also, be sure to check out this youth-produced journalism collaboration with KQED.

Challenges Facing the Youth Media Field

While youth are often at an advantage in terms of social media fluency and knowledge of contemporary culture, the youth media field faces major challenges in supporting training, production and distribution, especially for resource-intensive broadcast platforms. Perhaps the most pressing issue is funding. According to the State of the Youth Media Field report:

Veteran funders are making fewer and smaller grants, and new funders are not inclining toward the kind of small, youth development-oriented organizations that populate the youth media field. Despite this funding landscape, youth media organizations and their funding partners acknowledge that the field has great potential to address large issues like poverty, education, war/conflict resolution, and HIV/AIDs. Funders in these areas tend to make long-term investments with short-term deliverables -- a combination that would seem perfect for youth media, which routinely produces short, powerful, convincing, provocative, and extremely innovative pieces that have the potential to change society.

Along with difficulties in securing funding, practitioners in the youth media field sometimes struggle to uphold production values that match professionally produced media. While a particular youth media production may tell a great story that has the potential to ignite social change, many people will disregard it based on production values alone. Additionally, youth producers are not always taken seriously, or seen as even remotely authoritative. And in some school-based youth media programs, students can find their freedom of speech restricted.

According to Christine Newkirk of Youth Media Reporter, as a culture we are especially uninterested in the opinions and concerns of socially marginalized young people: "We see young people as consumers. We want their engagement in terms of buying things from us, but not in terms of listening to what they have to say."

Another issue facing the youth media field is visibility. There are hundreds of youth media organizations in the United States and abroad, but individual projects are often grassroots and local, and lack access to widespread distribution. The field is in need of a centralized distribution hub in order to create the kind of awareness that makes adults sit up and listen. For example, Youth Radio has had great success in broadcasting youth-produced pieces on national media outlets. The potential for public engagement and social change increases exponentially when the audience is widened. Newkirk noted that exposure to youth productions can lead adults to develop "a newfound respect for youth citizenship and participation."

As Dahl pointed out, youth media has too much potential to be ignored. And, much like public media, "youth media has the potential to create lasting, sustainable, major shifts in the culture we know today."

The youth media field must continue to generate engagement while expanding its reach into new audiences -- including adult communities. And stakeholders in both fields must continue to nurture the areas in which youth media and public media overlap.

Katie Donnelly is a research fellow at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media. With a background in media literacy education, Katie previously worked as a Research Associate at Temple University's Media Education Lab in Philadelphia. When she's not researching media, Katie spends her time working in the environmental field and blogging about food.

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