Drop That Knowledge: Teaching and Learning from a Youth-Driven Newsroom

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…Young people can use media to learn about places close to home and far away. The connections they form seem to shrink the physical distance that separates citizens around the world, even as they can reveal disparate experiences and inequalities that young reporters examine through their media stories.

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We’ve all heard the stories of major news organizations struggling in the digital age of new media. If there’s a silver lining to the decline of the media behemoths, it’s the emergence of more opportunities for diverse perspectives in reporting. For more than 15 years, Youth Radio has been helping under-served young people develop strong leadership, journalism, and media production skills. The National Geographic Education Foundation has supported Youth Radio’s work fostering story-telling and civic engagement around local and global issues through grant contributions to the organization. Now, we are excited to join Youth Radio in celebrating the release of a new book about the success of their empowering, educational programs.

There’s nothing like a newsroom to make the world feel big and small at the same time. Put young people in charge, and the effect can be even more extreme. At Youth Radio, a Peabody Award-winning, youth-driven production company headquartered in Oakland, California, young people produce stories distributed through global broadcast and digital outlets including National Public Radio, The Huffington Post, iTunes, and YouTube. At a single editorial meeting at Youth Radio, young people and their adult producers might pitch stories on the effects of budget cuts inside local Oakland schools, young soldiers returning from the Iraq war, healthcare reform in a rural Kentucky town, and the transnational Korean musical genre known as K-POP. Inside these freewheeling discussions are recurring teachable moments through which young people can use media to learn about places close to home and far away. The connections they form seem to shrink the physical distance that separates citizens around the world, even as they can reveal disparate experiences and inequalities that young reporters examine through their media stories.

In my new book, Drop That Knowledge: Youth Radio Stories, Vivian Chávez and I take readers behind the scenes at Youth Radio, inside meetings and stories like the ones I’ve just described. In each chapter, we present a series of Youth Radio media features, detail the negotiations and inquiries that supported their production, and then highlight implications for learning, teaching, journalism, and media justice efforts.



  • Literacy as Citizenship: We argue for a view of literacy as a property of active citizenship that enables young people to draw and leverage public interest in nuanced texts.

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  • Collegial Pedagogy: We offer an approach to teaching as “collegial pedagogy,” a collaborative practice in which emerging and established producers jointly create original work for multiple, high-stakes audiences.
  • Beyond “Youth Voice”: We contend that having a “point of view” isn’t enough; it takes a “point of voice” for young people to advance their stories beyond boundaries, to reveal buried truths, and to create positive change.

There’s a chapter that compiles methods and tools educators can use to produce media with youth, and another containing full scripts of some of Youth Radio’s most influential and provocative stories. In the appendix, you’ll find a collection of lesson ideas linked to stories from Youth Radio’s archive–a sample from our standards-aligned Teach Youth Radio curriculum resource published on the organization’s website, http://www.youthradio.org.

Consider, for example, Border Story, which aired on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered in 2004. It explores the subject of borders through the eyes of Elena Alvarez-Huerta and Viry Martino Ruiz. At the time of their reporting, Elena and Viry lived on the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Baja California. In the story, the border emerges as both a concrete barrier and an imagined space. Highlighting the girls’ voices, as well as conversations, scenes, sounds, and songs, Border Story opens a window into the construction of transnational identities. The girls talk about the borders that exist within Mexico as well: between families who live on congested streets and those dwelling in “privadas,” or gated communities; between those who cross at will into the U.S., and those who can’t. With the U.S.-Mexico border very much in the news today, this story provides a prompt to investigate what remains the same and how things have changed since Elena and Viry produced their piece.

A teacher might use a story like this one to explore a range of topics, including critical analysis of border journalism, an exploration of personal borders, and study of various histories of immigration into and out of the United States. In one lesson idea Teach Youth Radio offers for this story, educators would investigate how sound can powerfully evoke a sense of place:

Hearing Home: Viry and Elena’s story is an exploration of home. The reporters consider what it means to have access to one place, the United States, but feel as if they are really from another place, Mexico. They also convey an image of what each of their homes is like within Mexico, with Elena’s scene of her mother preparing tacos as an example of a moment that is composed partially through the sound of fish immersed in bubbling oil. Home is never a simple idea, perhaps especially for those who have multiple homes, or who live away or apart from the place they consider home, or who have been denied a sense of home, or whose home is a space of struggle. Here are some questions for your students to ponder: What does your home sound like? Create a sound portrait of your home. What voices do you hear? What noises? Is it loud or quiet or silent? How does it sound different, depending on the moment? If you had to pick a musical soundtrack to accompany your sense of home, what would it be and why?

To go one step further, students can use some of the same techniques Elena and Viry deployed to create their own Border Stories (also check out Youth Radio’s Production Tips).

If You Had the Microphone: As we have seen, a border isn’t necessarily a concrete wall. It can be a metaphor, a line that demarcates separation, and also the possibility of crossing. In this sense, a border story could as easily be set in a tiny rural town, a space of suburban sprawl, an inner-city neighborhood, or even a bedroom, apartment building, or playground. For students: What questions would you want to raise in your border story? Who would you interview? What sounds would you gather? How would you put the story together? Describe the most important audience for your story. What would you want your listeners to learn?

Drop That Knowledge highlights a range of stories like this one. Our hope is to use these stories, and the production processes behind them, to provoke new thinking and action among those working on the front lines of education and journalism, at a time when both are fighting for their futures.

“The truth is, I did not come to Youth Radio to find my voice,” says Belia Mayeno Saavedra in the book, “I was not missing the ability or desire to speak. I was missing a community of people who let me know that they wanted to listen.”

Educators are some of the most important listeners and interlocutors in youth communities. Among our greatest aspirations for the book is to help teachers and students use media to launch and sustain new and transformative conversations.

Elisabeth (Lissa) Soep, PhD, Senior Producer and Research Director at
Youth Radio, is the author (with Vivian Chávez) of a new book about the organization and the youth media movement. Drop That Knowledge: Youth Radio Stories is now available from the University of California Press.

My Wonderful World encourages educators to delve deeper into Border Story and the Teach Youth Radio curriculum resource. Try incorporating a couple lesson plans into your classroom this fall and share your stories of learning through media here on the blog.

Are there other ways you are supporting students to share their “Points of Voice”? We want to hear about it! Post a comment to this story or email Sarah Jane: scaban@ngs.org.

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2 responses to “Drop That Knowledge: Teaching and Learning from a Youth-Driven Newsroom

  1. Hi!
    It’s funny, I just happened to have googled myself for curiosity and came across this blog. As you can probably tell from my name, I am one of the girls that worked on Border Story back in 2004. This brought me back to wonderful memories!
    I did not know about this book, but I am very glad to see that my story can be part of a learning experience. This is fantastic!
    I’d love to know more about it, and perhaps get involved in some way. Feel free to contact me :). Thanks so much!!

  2. Some time before, I needed to buy a good house for my organization but I didn’t earn enough cash and couldn’t buy anything. Thank heaven my comrade adviced to try to take the loan at trustworthy bank. Hence, I acted that and was satisfied with my credit loan.

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