Youth News helps girls of color broadcast their views

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It could also help change the news establishment

At age 17, Nissan Brown isn’t sure what she wants to do in her adult life, but she is sure that whatever direction she goes, she wants to be heard. KFAI radio gave her a first taste of broadcasting her voice and her ideas on public airways through their unique program, Youth News, when Brown presented a news story that she wrote and hosted herself.

As a 2007 Youth News intern, Brown reported on living in the inner city of Minneapolis while bussing to the suburban school district of Edina as part of The Choice Is Yours program. Through The Choice is Yours, qualifying families who enroll receive priority placement at the schools they choose, including magnet schools in the city as well as suburban schools.

Youth News, begun in 2003 by KFAI Executive Director Janis Lane-Ewart with research help from a VISTA volunteer, serves teenaged girls of color, providing them with an opportunity to express themselves in the public media. Through this annual program, participants develop their skills in research, reporting, creative writing, voice training, producing, and digital recording and editing in radio production and broadcasting.

“It really builds their confidence and self-esteem,” says Lauretta Dawolo, KFAI news director and co-leader of the program. It’s also a part of KFAI’s mission statement, says Dawolo, which is to provide an opportunity for people “ignored or misrepresented by mainstream media” to be heard.

The program is supported by three sources: KFAI operating support, funding from the Women’s Foundation, and through a General Mills Celebrating Communities of Color grant.

Brown happened across the internship opportunity with her 30-year-old sister. “Summer had already started, and we found it on-line,” says Brown. She applied and was accepted.

Beyond the experience gained, Brown was also paid a minimum wage stipend for her work, Lane-Ewart explains. “It’s a training opportunity and also often a first opportunity at employment.”

Just as importantly, says Lane-Ewart, “I think that this is not only an academic pursuit, but an ability to change the news establishment. Statistics tell us that women and people of color are very rarely in position of determining what makes the news.” This program gives them the chance to assert themselves in a public format.

“Producing audio and writing a news script, well, it’s not easy for anyone,” Dawolo explains. “Youth News” gives the girls a chance to explore something that at they are passionate about. Many teens, let alone teens of color, have not been challenged that way.”

“In researching what was available for young people of color,” says Lane-Ewart, “we found a lack of skills-based training and opportunity.” Although KBEM (88.5 FM), a radio station owned and operated by Minneapolis Public Schools, does provide extensive radio experience to youth, KFAI’s program takes a different approach.

“While ‘Jazz 88’ is an exemplary program, the focus is different in that they are not reporting on news items,” explains Lane-Ewart. “[Youth News] helps students to identify issues, gather facts, write the story, and then edit it to a three-to-five-minute story.”

Production work begins early in the summer with the participants working together as a group. They learn basic journalism terms and progress from there. The shows produced by the interns air throughout the fall.

These skills need not be confined to radio work, however. Dawolo says, “Unlike our grandparents, we will not be working at one job and retiring that way, but moving about in our careers, and it’s important to gain skill-base very early so that we’re always marketable.”

In fact, even after Brown’s positive experience with Youth News — “My friends were shocked and surprised; everyone thinks I should go into journalism” — Brown has not transformed herself into a radio journalist wannabe. “It depends on how much money there is in it,” Brown said. Brown thinks she may be more “the business type; there’s more money.”

Even so, Brown feels the program served her well: “Since I was able to choose that topic and speak on it from my own point of view, I know I want to be able to speak out and have a voice that’s heard in any job I hold in the future.”

For further information about Youth News, which this year will start the week before June 4, see www.kfai.org/news/youth, or call 612-341-3144 and ask for Lauretta Dawolo. The programs will air beginning in fall 2008.

Susan Budig welcomes reader responses to tomandsusan@juno.com.

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