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Chapter 8: A Voice of Their Own: Youth Media

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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 civic involvement.

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 teenagers.
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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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