The Media Awareness Network (MNet)
National Youth-In-Care Network
Canada. The consultation and workshop sessions for this project were done with urban-based national organizations and at conferences drawing participants from both urban and rural areas.
The mainstream media often portray youth in a negative light. Positive portrayals of youth, especially minority youth, are often unfairly ignored in favour of angry, violent or sexual images. This can undermine a young person's sense of self-esteem, and erode cultural values. This happens despite recent statistics showing that youth crime is actually on the decline and that volunteerism rates among youth have doubled in Canada over the past decade.
The following are quotations from young people participating in MNet's 'Speak Out' online discussion group for youth. "Teenagers are rarely portrayed fairly by the media, especially minority teenagers."
"I think that people our age are portrayed by the media as violent, lazy and uneducated. I myself have held down two jobs, am going to high school full-time and take high school classes on the Internet. I would like to see, for once, something put forward to the public to let them know we are not lazy people."
"I'm saying that I feel that I'm being let down by the media. They have no grasp of reality, and even worse, they're not even trying to improve. Maybe I'll just stop reading magazines and watching TV."
"Why does the media flock to [cover] negative things before good things? They will so very quickly put a 'teenage murderer' in the front-page news before they would put a 'teenage scholar'. It seems to me that society has a two-faced view of us as young people. They claim we are the future, but still they portray us as out-of-control maniacs with no sense of direction."
Aims and objectives
Firstly, to acquaint young people with the news media - what makes the news, what drives the news, and why stereotyping is used so often by print and especially TV journalists. Then to help youth get involved in using media to further their aims as active citizens who have the right to fair and accurate media portrayals, and a public voice on issues affecting youth.
To provide youth with their own resource with which to raise awareness of, and address, negative stereotyping, so that youth and youth-serving organizations can begin to access the media themselves, build relationships with those in the media and, hopefully, improve news coverage of youth by encouraging reporters to report on the positive as well as the negative.
Media Toolkit for Youth was developed, tested, distributed and promoted in collaboration with several national youth-based organizations. Our partners for the Toolkit were:
National Youth-in-Care Network
Teenagers and young adults aged 13-20.
Media educators and community workers working with youth.
Young people, youth-based organizations, youth-serving organizations, educators, community workers, crime prevention and law-enforcement professionals.
Involvement of children
Our partners, National Youth-In-Care Network, YouCAN!, and Youth Action Network were involved in the development of the Toolkit content. They helped MNet to develop workshops based on the Toolkit which were presented to young people at their national conferences. A shorter version of the Toolkit (a mini-toolkit) was included in resources produced for these conferences and in a community resource guide for youth in care developed by National Youth-In-Care Network.
Summary of project
Consultations with youth-based organizations to develop the Toolkit content.
Development of the web-based Toolkit.
Workshop sessions for Toolkit at youth conferences.
What are the end products?
The Toolkit is an online resource in two parts: Understanding the Media and Accessing the Media.
Understanding the Media is an educational component designed to:
define and identify stereotyping in the media;
educate youth about the problems resulting from negative stereotyping;
provide young people with an understanding of the news media and the business of news.
This section of the Toolkit:
looks at the problem of stereotyping and negative portrayals of youth in the media, particularly in news;
answers the question 'What is news?', emphasizing that news is business, not a public service;
examines the techniques of newsgathering;
looks at the journalists' constraints, such as time (deadlines), simplicity (length or duration of story) and bias, and how these constraints can lead to inaccuracies, stereotyping, oversimplification and exploitation.
Accessing the Media examines ways in which youth and youth-serving organizations can work to improve local news coverage of youth. This section covers the following topics:
knowing the media outlets in your own backyard, knowing the right reporters to contact;
building relationships with media people;
maintaining your media presence;
knowing your rights;
communications planning: how to plan for an event or an announcement of an activity that you want the media to notice;
handling a media interview.
Accessing Community Media
Getting involved with community TV stations and radio stations.
Writing for local community papers.
Getting involved with online community media, like Young Peoples' Press.
Daily newspapers with sections written for and by youth.
Using the Internet as a communications tool
How to build and promote an effective website.
Communicating your message on the Internet, using newsgroups, listserves, email.
The Media Toolkit for Youth is available in French from Autumn 2002.
See Project partners above.
The cost, including consultations, preparation of materials and outreach and conferencing activities was approximately US $30,000.
Strengths of project
This is a unique project which encourages a positive, proactive approach to media education. Once young people have actively dealt with the news media themselves, they will better understand the news media they consume daily. We have received international praise from educators who tell us there is nothing else like the Toolkit available elsewhere - online or off.
The most difficult challenge is finding additional funding to expand the scope of the Toolkit (such as adding video and audio streaming) and to promote the resource.
We have monitored through online statistics, measuring the number of times the Toolkit is visited, as well as our online Feedback and Guest Book entries. We are also currently reviewing options, contingent on funding, to present an online survey, which will give us an immediate evaluation tool for online users.
Consultations with young people greatly enrich the development of any materials intended for young people.
We hope that by providing this education tool online, many young people will have the experience of being proactive vis à vis the media.
The Toolkit was promoted on the Media-L listserve (the premier listserve for media educators in the United States of America) by Elizabeth Thoman, Executive Director of the Center for Media Literacy. She wrote: "What a fabulous website!! And what a great service not only for kids but their teachers and parents, too. Even though you focus on Canadian media/contacts, there's a wealth of info for everyone around the world. I'm definitely adding this site to our CML Links page. And thanks to all of you there for developing such a terrific resource."