Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth Summary

Experts from our good friends at Carnegie Mellon University discuss how digital media can engage youth.

In a recent episode of Aeroplan: Golden Gate, Ockh thanked the folks at CivicTV, a storytelling and learning programming company, for their support in his teen months. “I felt very loved and cared for during my teen years,” he said.

So, how do we foster that kind of relationship with our media in the digital age? Ockh’s response echoed the advice my colleague Blaise Barman and I gave last spring to Bay Area, California-based students for an Aeroplan: Golden Gate podcast episode. We told them: don’t waste time staying “immune to media,” don’t seek out your media on your own, and bring your sense of community to online interactions with peers.

When it comes to civic life, our first obligation is to engaging others in civic conversations. On civic television, that includes providing educational opportunities to groups that are otherwise underrepresented on the air.

We’ve observed that many of the thousands of people in our audience for Ockh’s Teen Stories program are in the most challenged neighborhoods of San Francisco, such as Bernal Heights and Tenderloin. Our goal is to broaden the dynamics of communications within and between neighborhoods.

The CivicTV website is full of pages about Ockh’s Teen Stories, each with beautiful photos and a short original story. Each series is catered to the ages of two different audiences, with a goal of reaching viewers that might not have much access to radio or television of any kind. In addition to storytelling, the episodes feature informational (and educational) subjects, such as local history and education.

The launch of our newest Teen Stories launch on the CivicTV website in October was well received by our audiences. In less than a week, more than 1,000 people had listened to the new episode, which featured a look at Ockh’s experiences in Central Park and the park’s Science of Sounds program, in which students study iconic sounds in San Francisco neighborhoods.

We’ve begun to see that civic engagement often begins in these terms: with the personal story of someone who is different from us or finds out that something of significance is happening in our city. Our San Francisco neighbors are as diverse in their vision of civic life as they are in their community histories. That’s the beauty of music and television; it helps people connect.

CivicTV is cultivating connections between students, teachers, and their communities with the promise of creative storytelling. While the original Teen Stories series is focused on young people, the overall mission of CivicTV is to engage more people with public television.

Media production, civic outreach, and editing are interwoven throughout our work. I love making arts and storytelling stories, but when I got to this career I knew I had to be able to write and edit. Because I’m a young person and I’m constantly in my community, it’s really inspiring to be able to collaborate with others on content that isn’t often discussed or discussed openly. The coverage of the 2020 Census is well under way, and we’re spending a great deal of time with educators to prepare their students to participate. We’re not teaching them to do news. We’re teaching them to ask questions, to be curious, and to make connections to their everyday lives. And we have a mission that’s really important to them: to raise awareness, and foster civic engagement, for civic engagement.

Listening to these stories, you just have to say: “Wow.” A conversation about citizenship can take place in many different ways, and we want to provide opportunities to engage with every possible part of those conversations, including the unexpected conversation. If you ask me: “How can civic education continue to grow and improve in the digital age?” I’ll tell you how one of the first ways I responded when I started this job was to look for opportunities for an engaged civic discussion every day—and I think the digital age makes that possible.

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