By Mary Lou Fulton
Since joining The California Endowment, I have become a believer in the potential of youth media to become valuable contributors to local journalism. However, one of my critiques of youth media has been that great stories and pictures sit unseen on web sites because little effort is invested in promoting and distributing the work.
Now, thanks to a new $255,000 grant from the Knight Foundation’s Community Information Challenge, we’ll be able to experiment with a new approach to youth media in five California neighborhoods. The idea here is to empower young people not just as storytellers, but as media entrepreneurs who will size up their local information scene and figure out the best approaches for telling stories about life in their neighborhood, as well as how to communicate a fuller view of their lives and concerns to the larger community. This could mean web, print, broadcast, church newsletters, mobile, a multilingual format, partnerships with existing media – whatever combination of media that gets the job done in each place.
This grant is part of The Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities strategy focused on community health – the idea that our neighborhoods play a profound role in determining our chances to live a healthy and productive life. We are funding youth media outlets in three of our targeted neighborhoods in Richmond, Coachella and Fresno. With Knight’s support, we’ll be expanding to two more places: Long Beach and South Kern County. The development of these outlets will be led by our longtime partners at New America Media, which today is best known as the nation’s largest ethnic media network but whose roots are in youth media with publications such as YO! Youth Outlook and The Beat Within that gives a voice to incarcerated youth.
I’m a longtime admirer of the Knight Foundation, and not just because of the support of our youth media proposal (although I’m very grateful for that!) The Knight Foundation has its roots in the newspaper industry, and for many years focused on supporting traditional journalism as well as civic life in the cities where the Knight company formerly operated newspapers. But a few years ago, Knight’s path started diverging from that of newspapers and from an exclusive focus on the Knight communities. With the Knight News Challenge, the foundation sought ideas for local news and information projects from any and all sources. Then Knight started the Community Information Challenge, which offers matching grants to community foundations that proposed new ways to meet local information needs.
In addition to promoting the importance of local information, Knight is increasingly interested in civic engagement and understanding what makes communities tick. The Soul of the Community polling initiative conducted in partnership with Gallup is breaking new ground in understanding what attracts people to a community, and what makes them decide to build a life there. And its new Technology for Engagement strategy is exploring how games, social networks and crowdsourcing can advance local activism and problem solving.
This collection of approaches may seem disconnected, but I think that depends on how you look at media in the first place. I have worked primarily in local media, which I have always seen as an expression of community life. Civic engagement and media engagement go hand in hand, and I’m glad to be part of the Knight Foundation family of grantees that is exploring new ways to improve our communities by offering more and better local information sources.