This post is part of a series of interviews highlighting leaders in the field of New Learning (what we call “NLI at Inquiry”). Recently, we interviewed Elisabeth Soep — research director and senior producer at Youth Radio — on subjects including Youth Radio’s peer and adult collaborative teaching methods, how the organization has helped participants in other areas of their lives, the importance of audience, and the shift in the type of media produced by participants, as well as how media drives student interest. Here, in the second and final part of the interview, she discusses audience and how Youth Radio contributes in a unique way to young people’s media production.
Listen to the full interview here.
Why is media production an alluring entry point for young people? Why and how do they come to Youth Radio? What are they looking for there that they are not getting at school or at home?
Something interesting about that question is that I think we would have answered it differently prior to the onset of social media. Because there was a time when kids came to Youth Radio because they wanted to reach audiences with their expression; and there was a time when they would have needed a place like Youth Radio to do that. And of course that’s no longer the case, in a very simple or straightforward way, in the sense that young people obviously have enormously more access to self-publishing or self-broadcasting.
That being said, very often the audiences that they can reach singlehandedly or independently don’t come anywhere near the millions or tens of millions of viewers or listeners or readers that they can get access to through connecting up with a collective like Youth Radio. And also they have an opportunity to forge these face-to-face relationships with peers and with professional colleagues in order to be a part of a critical mass of content production that can be targeting specific issues or areas of interest where they can really make an impact.
It also should be said that it’s not always hard-hitting journalism that is going to drive kids to come in the doors. We do music production, video production, app development — so, very often, any one of those points of entry can be a hook. Then, from there, they get exposed to storytelling, reporting, and other forms of inquiry.
Why is it important for Youth Radio's young people to know that their work has an audience and that the audience might even be national (through NPR or other national outlets)?
It’s interesting because, as I said, Youth Radio’s core business has been producing youth voices for National Public Radio or public media — not just NPR but various public media outlets. So, we’ve been the youth desk for public media for some time, and we hear from young people, again and again, how important that role is for them, and the idea that their stories are reaching those kinds of audiences. We see what it means to reach those audiences because those audiences increasingly talk back. So now we see, in comment streams, the way stories get linked to in Twitter and professional media platforms; [we see] that the stories then move and migrate, take on stories of their own in some cases. Audiences get their hands on the material and can use it and apply it to whatever interest they have in the media that young people have produced.
That being said, a big effort that Youth Radio has made in the last several years has been to reach audiences where young people can reach other youth with their content. That’s its own challenge, really, because single outlets don’t exist where they can reliably reach peers. It becomes a distribution process itself, a negotiation of different social graphs and social networks, and finding the right sites for content that is going to reach the audiences that young people aspire to for their work. It’s an ongoing process, defining who the target audience is for the work that young people are generating and then reaching those audiences, looking at analytics, and noticing how we can better optimize our approaches to reaching the audiences that young people want and need for their stories.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Last year, Youth Radio launched its Mobile Action Lab, and that was a way to build on Youth Radio’s core competency and history of generating content by young people for mass audiences. The Mobile Action Lab allows young people not only to populate existing tools or platforms with their stories, but to be the ones designing and programming those tools and platforms. So the Mobile Action Lab is young people partnering with pro developers and designers to create mobile apps that serve community needs.
The lab was launched with support from the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative, the competition that they run every year. We’ve also got support from the National Science Foundation. So it’s a new phase of work out of Youth Radio’s production company, where the same model applies of peer education, mixed with collegial partnerships between youth and professionals; but in this case, the young people are actually designing technology tools that serve needs that they deem important in their communities. It’s a really steep learning curve and an exciting time to be rolling out those new products, so stay tuned.
We’d like to extend a special thanks to Lissa Soep for taking the time to talk with us.