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Children and young adults are groomed to be submissive consumers of
media, responsive to its lucrative markets, and not lively, thoughtful
makers of their own images.
Mass media rarely makes room for the voices and viewpoints of young
people, despite its profound influence on their lives. By the time
a student turns eighteen, he or she will have watched an average of
25,000 hours of TV-more time than was spent in the classroom-and seen
nearly a million advertisements.
But that's changing.
Youth media organizations like the Global Action Project, (G.A.P.)
Inc. in New York City are offering young people the chance to turn
that equation on its head by giving them the tools to produce their
own media, and reach audiences with messages of their own devising.
Youth media (video, radio, Web sites, and television) puts young people
between the age of 12 and 21 at the center of public discourse; it
insists that their voices and perspectives are essential to the vitality
of American democracy; and it gives them the means to reach audiences
with whatever they have to say. Youth-produced media also has the
potential of building social awareness and leadership skills and encouraging
G.A.P. offers a range of workshops in New York and abroad, including
Urban Voices; Voices and Visions of Refugee Immigrant Youth; Media
Education with Young Women; as well as projects in Northern Ireland,
Croatia, Guatemala, and the Middle East for Palestinian and Israeli
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Youth media offers funders the chance to see their dollars making
a difference on a number of fronts. Participants come together to
work with others of diverse backgrounds; to talk about issues vital
to their lives and their communities; to work with media artists to
develop their own artistic expression; to hone critical thinking skills;
and to discover and exercise their own capacities for leadership and
civic activism. Youth media projects are likely to reach out to poor
and working-class youngsters, kids of color, lesbian and gay youth,
refugees, and young women-young people who are often subject to offensive
images of themselves in the mass media. Youth media gives them the
tools and the support to begin to speak up.
"Young people's perspectives are fresh and interesting,"
says Erlin Ibreak, Director of the Youth Initiatives Program for the
Open Society Institute, which funds G.A.P. and other youth media projects.
"They are producing images we've never seen before and stories
we haven't heard until now. And they are deconstructing the mass media
and its negative effect on them. It's been really exciting to learn
about this field and to get involved in it."
Today there are eighty organizations working with young people to
produce videos, radio, and Web sites and to write for newspapers and
magazines. With experience under their belts, and allies in the funding
world, some organizations are beginning to create national and international
networks for distribution, discourse, and the sharing of best practices.
Not surprisingly, the Internet plays a crucial role in this trend.
"It all converges on the Web," says Ibreak. "The ability
to distribute is there; it is accessible to people anywhere in the
world. The expansion of technology has had a huge impact on this field.
Kids grew up with TV, video, the Web. It's amazing to watch them think
up fresh news ways to use the medium."
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