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

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

Digital Media This November encompasses activities in print, online, and educational platforms that share how technology is transforming civic life. But focusing only on one aspect of our rapidly evolving media sector is, in my view, an incomplete approach. On this digital installment of Civic Life: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth, I want to share how both citizen engagement and information provision are transformed in this new media landscape.

Innovation and shift

“Innovation and shift is how we should think about civic media,” states an editorial on the homepage of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Marillyn Hewson, CEO of Lockheed Martin, sees media as transformative and reinventing itself throughout media. She’s right: Youth are consuming media and increasingly using technology in new ways to speak their thoughts, create art, and influence discourse. Media is undergoing many of the same changes as traditional print and broadcast media, but in a nonlinear fashion: it can be accessed from the cellular phone, the newspaper, and even the toilet.”

Adapting to the mobile-first world is one way that media can remain relevant to 21st-century youth. Embracing the mobile experience enables civic-minded publications to gain access to youth in entirely new ways. Another way that media has become relevant to youth is through the power of digital-first technologies, including social media platforms. As Jennifer Taylor, executive director of Georgia’s Center for Youth Development, states, “Social media is a hub and a megaphone for youth, speaking on behalf of their communities and their interests in ways that radio and television could never do in previous generations.”

Citizen engagement

Technology offers youth a multifaceted, new form of media not available in previous generations. The interaction between digital and traditional media is particularly interesting, since citizen and media are often counterintuitive. Nevertheless, new technologies can have significant impact on civic discourse and youth engagement in education and media. For example, The Miami Herald through its coverage of Hurricane Irma and the Trump administration has used digital media to learn and engage, and to generate discourse, ideas, and organizing around a range of complex issues.

Citizen journalism and citizen engagement have gained in popularity as a result of the explosion of new citizen media. The Boston Globe, for example, has been a leader in creating citizen journalism and engaging its young readers with digital experiences. During the 2016 election, the newspaper partnered with the Arab American National Museum and MIT Media Lab to host a portal designed to provide daily events and updates about the presidential election. The portal encouraged youth to share their thoughts about the election using social media and to organize their own events in real time. While digital engagement doesn’t always require new technology, it can be enhanced with it. The Boston Globe, for example, uses OpenStreetMap for accessing the website. This website, developed by an MIT media lab team, is accessible to anyone and relies on crowdsourcing. This Wikipedia-like page has all sorts of information and tools, from quick maps to historical events, taught through “crowded knowledge” and a variety of articles. Information about unique areas of the world is still gathered from the experts with better technology. Media’s democratization of information and citizen-powered information helps to remind youth that they have the ability to shape the conversation and to be active participants in new media.

A multitude of ways to engage youth

In line with this shift in the media landscape, other media outlets—such as The Source and Teen Vogue—are focusing on the integration of digital media and youth. Other high-profile youth-oriented publications include Teen Vogue and Teen Vogue, Out magazine, and Complex. Their reporting and reviews emphasize the connections between media and youth and the ways that their interests and ideas are influencing media. For example, The Source focuses on telling the stories of “black, brown, queer, and transgender New Yorkers and the influential events and individuals who are disrupting the status quo.” Out magazine publishes interviews and stories about LGBTQ youth in a modern, positive, and authentic voice. Similarly, Complex’s content not only engages users in its video-heavy platform, but it also reports on events and plays a role in allowing its audience to be active participants in the creation of youth-focused media.

A handful of youth-oriented print publications continue to play an important role. Guardian US, The Verge, HuffPost, and New Republic are among those that contribute to the dialogue through their print publications. Innovative media platforms can provide millennials—and even those of older generations—with opportunities to exercise their voices as citizen journalists, while facilitating meaningful news coverage and editorial. Therefore, it is important for educational and mainstream media outlets to be innovative in order to remain relevant to audiences today and in the future.

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