Many arts and humanities programs claim to help young people develop their “voice.” But at Youth Radio, an award-winning youth media training and production organization headquartered in Oakland, California, that claim is quite literal. The distinctive voices of Youth Radio’s young investigative reporters and commentators can be heard locally on Bay-area radio stations and across the country through National Public Radio (NPR). The voices and views of Youth Radio’s reporters and writers are also increasingly available online, through a variety of news, information, and social media sites.
Youth Radio’s free media training program is open to 14- to 24-year-olds, many of whom come from lower-income, inner-city neighborhoods and under-resourced public schools. After completing a six-month after-school program that provides a thorough grounding in journalism and media-production techniques, participants can apply for competitive paid internships. Such opportunities enable the teens to work closely with seasoned reporters and producers, to create content for the organization’s media partners.
Many of the young people’s stories reflect concerns close to their lives, such as employment, education, and neighborhood violence. The stories benefit not only from these reporters’ unique perspective, but also from their access to younger sources. For example, Youth Radio’s investigation into the sex trafficking of minors in Oakland was told through in-depth interviews with two sexually exploited minors. That piece aired on NPR in 2010 and won both Peabody and Edward R. Murrow awards.
Youth Radio’s reporters are also adept at spotting emerging trends in youth culture and in their communities. In another story for NPR, reporter Nishat Kurwa explored the growing popularity of novels aimed at adolescent Latinas and the “rock star” status achieved by Malin Alegria, Mexican-American author of Estrella’s Quinceañera.
Along with preparing students for roles in broadcasting, Youth Radio also seeks to equip young people to operate in the fast-changing world of new and converging media. Youth Radio trainees create text and multi-media reports for its online digital syndication service, Turnstyle News. Students can also fill engineering and deejaying slots with the online radio station, AllDayPlay.fm, which features eclectic/urban music.
The intensive training that Youth Radio provides in both traditional and new media not only teaches participants that their voices matter, but prepares them to become future leaders in a world of rapidly evolving media and technology choices, as well.
Our mandate is to prepare young people to maintain and reinvent journalism’s best principles so that they can deploy today’s new tools and platforms to speak truth to power, to cultivate credible sources, to tell the story no one else is telling, and to create art and report on emerging trends and cultures.Ellin O’Leary President/Chief Content Officer, Youth Radio, in Drop That Knowledge: Youth Radio Stories