Participants in the Summer Youth Media Mentoring Project, in a poorly lit phone photo.

Sometimes when you’re an educator, you learn more than you teach. I had a summer like that.

Thanks to the University of Denver’s Center for Civic Engagement and Service Learning, my colleagues in the Graduate School of Social Work, along with me and some students from the Media, Film & Journalism Studies department and the Open Media Foundation, worked with junior high students on what was the first step in a year-long leadership development program. Ten students were selected because they have strong leadership potential. They’re part of the University’s Bridge Project, which offers academic tutoring and mentoring for young people in grades K-12. The Bridge Project is a partnership between the University of Denver and the Denver Housing Authority, as there are four Bridge sites located in four neighborhoods of publicly subsidized housing serving around 600+ young people each year.

There are a lot of youth media and arts programs around the country; one study suggests that there are probably about 700 of them. Most are in urban areas, and while they vary in size, more than half operate on less than $100K a year, according to the only authoritative study I could find on the topic. In designing our summer project, borrowed a lot from existing efforts, like confronting different experiences of privilege and holding the space for young people to learn and develop media expertise, growing into leaders while we follow their lead. But there are a few things that may be unique about this particular project.

  1. It’s not a “one-off.”
    1. Those 10 students will work as peer leaders for the rest of the year with about 80 of their fellow junior highers. It’s part of a longer-term youth voice project, otherwise known as a Youth Participatory Action Research Project, that has involved junior highers for the past year in identifying what they’d like to change in their communities. This effort will involve them over the next year in creating plans for them to lead their peers as they work with policymakers to make their voices heard and to participate in the change they want to see in their communities.
    2. We’ll do another media project in a few months, moving the students from personal stories to stories focused on the changes they wish to see in their communities. In other words, they’ll be working on what’s been called Solutions Journalism.
  2. It’s intergenerational. The storytellers were all in junior high, and the mentors ranged in age from high school to middle age plus. Senior educator/mentors mentored and learned from more junior educator/mentors, while they in turn mentored and learned from high school, college, and junior high school students.
  3. It’s interdisciplinary. As a collaboration between a media program and a social work program, we learned from each other about the benefits of developing trusting relationships with youth and their caregivers as we all developed a more sophisticated sense of media representations, the ways that they are interpreted in relation to various publics, and the role of distribution systems like Facebook in getting such stories shared (or not).

I’m working on writing up the report for the summer, and would love to hear from others who have worked in similar settings as we figure out how to communicate what we’ve learned so far, and how we should think about this work moving forward!

After every session, we had dinner together, which was often as much fun as being in the editing lab!


Young people use a variety of strategies for verifying news and put little trust in traditional legacy journalism outlets, according to a new study by Data & Society and the Knight Foundation. The study is titled How Youth Navigate the News Landscape, and is based on analysis of interviews conducted with 6 focus groups with 52 teens and young adults from 3 U.S. cities. The authors write, “In an age of smartphones and social media, young people don’t follow the news as much as it follows them.”  This leads them to think of the news industries as somewhat inevitable parts of their everyday lives that, due to the pervasiveness of the advertising that supports news, will permeate all aspects of their lives.

The study found that many of those interviewed were aware of the need to carefully assess the news that did come their way, and were concerned about bias in the news they read.

As we found in our study of youth and news, all of this meant that young people are defining news in a way that includes but also extends beyond the journalistic outlets that have long been the venue for information about current events.

Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart and Claire Fountaine authored the study.

UN/Rick Bajornas from the UN News Centre

First, the bad news:

1. Between 2009 and 2010, the number of U.S. young people who watched television news dropped 12%. (Pew Research Ctr for People & the Press 2010)

2. Most people under 40 consider news to be impractical, inconvenient, environmentally unfriendly and boring. (Shorenstein Ctr on the Press, Politics & Public Policy 2007)

3. Some 85% of U.S. young people aged 18-24 said that they posted little or no political information on a social network site in advance of the 2012 elections, and only one third of those surveyed recalled seeing any news at all on a social network site within the previous day (Pew Internet Project 2012)

4. Half of people surveyed say that they consider themselves “news grazers” who check news occasionally but not according to any particular pattern (Pew Ctr for People & the Press 2010)

5. It could be that young people are reluctant to share politically oriented news on social network sites (Thorson 2014)

And then, the good news:


1. More than ever before, schools, community, and even public international organizations like the United Nations are seeing the value in establishing and maintaining youth programs that work to ensure media competence (including the ability to both critique and to create media).

2. Popular culture such as music, satire television, fictional films, documentaries, games, and viral videos continue to provide openings for young people to consider, become interested in, and engage with the political issues that touch their lives (Barnhurst 1998; Bennett 2007; Jenkins 2006; Jones 2010; van Zoonen 2005).

3. Youth are involved in numerous political protests around the world and at least some young people in Hong Kong, Spain, Greece, and the United States are demonstrating as part of a desire for more participation in democratic governance.

4. Community organizations are in some places filling the gaps left as for-profit journalism struggles more than ever before to reach the growing majority-minority communities with information they need for participation in self-governance.

In some ways, today’s information-rich and often opinion-driven media landscape looks a lot more like that of the late 19th century than that of the late 20th.

Penny Magazine


In other ways, today’s media industries are more centralized and concentrated than ever before.

There is little doubt that our ideas of community, information, and value are all undergoing change. What kinds of digital media competence are needed to navigate this environment? How can young people learn to be critics and participants in the forms of storytelling that are emerging?  How can young people whose communities have often felt underserved by profit-driven news media find ways to connect with one another, using social media resources to become members of publics and counter-publics that can effect the positive changes they wish to see in the world?


Photo from Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat

Students in Jefferson County, Colorado are learning first-hand about dissent and political action.  They’re also learning, inadvertently, about how the political process of voting matters, and why the news media, too, matter.

Because voters in Jefferson County tend to be older and more conservative, a conservative school board was elected last November.  But students and their parents tend to be younger, more diverse, and more progressive – and unfortunately, less likely to vote.  This means that those most affected by the School Board are now being faced with decisions that they don’t support, and in turn, the School Board isn’t listening to the publics they serve.  Result = protests, which garner media attention, and put young people in the news.

Here’s today’s story in Chalkbeat, a news outlet dedicated to covering education issues in Colorado.

 Time mag’s review of Aaron’s suicide. 

Lessig discusses the suicide on Huffington Post

Slate’s story on the #pdftribute hashtag

Prosecutor as bully

Alex Stamos’ The Truth about Aaron’s ‘crime’

Aaron Swartz was a technology activist who believed that information should be freely available to everyone. He helped to create RSS, contributed to the creation of Creative Commons, and also helped develop Reddit.  He began the movement that led to the stopping of the Congressional bill that would have censored the Internet (SOPA).

If journalists believe that all people need access to information and expression, then it’s easy to see someone like Aaron as an important ally.  The pro-journalism organization Free Press saw him that way.

Hi. Thanks for visiting! I’m Lynn, and I’m an Associate Professor in Media, Film, and Journalism Studies. I hope this blog will generate some good conversation. Or, if you’re reading this from most to least recent, I hope you found some things of interest here and that you’ll come back to comment, question, and point me in the right direction.

This is a new blog, but it’s part of a project I’ve been working on and interested in for a long time. The question I’m interested in is this: How do young people come to be interested in news?

Now usually when I raise this question, people (especially journalists) are quick to point out that young people really aren’t all that interested in news.

But I’ve come to realize that they answer this way because of how we as a society tend think about what “news” is.

If we think of news as the thing that comes to us in the newspaper or (as it does for me) as a list of linked headlines on my google home page, then yes, most young people really aren’t that interested.

But what if we think about “news” from the perspective of young people themselves? Then, the answers might be surprising.

I know I was surprised a few years ago when I started asking high schoolers about where they got their news. “Facebook,” several replied. No, they didn’t mean that they read New York Times content on Facebook, or read the stories from news organizations that were forwarded to them. They read the status updates their friends wrote. That was the news that they needed to know. A few talked about reading the high school newspaper, or checking sports scores online. Some confessed to watching celebrity news on tv, especially when they were between activities.

But is all of that “news”?

And if it is, how does it relate to the news that we in the 40+ age group read?

Are today’s young people truly becoming less interested in that current events kind of news than were the young people of the past, as David Mindich has argued?

Or are only some young people today interested in that kind of news – and perhaps it’s always been thus? Maybe it’s the fault of the news industries as David Buckingham has argued. They don’t see teens and college students as lucrative and regular consumers, and thus “news” is not created for them in a way that speaks to their interests.

There are important related questions, of course. Will the bulk of today’s young people become consumers of the products of the professional news industry when they get older? Or do today’s new media represent a fundamental shift in a new direction?

Moreover, thanks to the Internet and the inexpensive tools of cultural production, now anyone can write and disseminate “news,” or can be called upon to serve a journalistic role in telling an important and timely story.

And, as a media historian, I wonder: what are the precedents from the past? Who among the young of 100 or more years ago were the newsmakers, the news disseminators, the opinion leaders? How did they relate to the fast-changing media landscape of the mid to late 19th century?

I’m hoping that this blog will help me to sort out the questions as well as an approach to addressing them. Feel free to write with suggestions and point me in the direction of your work or the work of others. Thanks!