In a sea of information and perspectives, where news sources increasingly come in the form of tweets and friend recommendations, it is often difficult for youth to recognize the issues that matter most. Systemic global crises rarely rise to the top of "most viewed" or "most e-mailed" lists. Yet these are precisely the issues that affect our environment, our health, our security, our economy, and our future.
Given this paradoxical overabundance of information yet lack of quality information rising to the top, as educators, we need to work harder than ever to increase youth's understanding of these issues as well as their connection to them. Technology has contributed to the challenge, but technology can also help us solve it. The question is, how?
We haven't found the answer, but we have found some powerful ways to use technology to amplify the global reporting we do at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and to connect youth with the global issues that shape the future. Through Global Gateway, our educational outreach program, we use new media platforms to link students with manifestations of crisis—and hope—in countries they might not have heard of before, as well as in their own communities.
The goal of our educational work is twofold: to provide students with information on global affairs, and to inspire students to join the conversation, transforming passive interest in the world into active participatory engagement.
About the Pulitzer Center and Online Gateways
The Pulitzer Center was founded in 2006 with the primary mission of supporting international reporting that traditional media outlets are increasingly unable to undertake. We focus on systemic global crises that are under-reported, telling stories that otherwise would go untold.
We want to put the Carteret Islands and Guinea-Bissau on the map; to show that floating school boats in Bangladesh are related to droughts in South Africa; to find commonalities between former child soldiers in Liberia and former indentured servant girls in Nepal, and between sick mothers in Southern Mexico and Ethiopia. Above all, we want the American public to see that these stories are relevant to their own lives.
Global Gateway arose as a natural extension of our work; one of journalism's core functions, after all, is to inform the public. And creating an appetite for quality international news among the next generation is critical to fostering a healthy media landscape in the future. If we do not offer quality global reporting to youth, we cannot expect young people to have an interest in the news nor seek, question or create their own. As adult journalists and allies, when we present underreported stories to youth in the context of the broader media landscape, we hope to inspire them to think critically about both news production and consumption.
A quick video about the Global Gateway program:
Our online Pulitzer Gateways serve as entry points for students to explore multimedia reporting projects from around the world grouped by cross-cutting issues: food insecurity, climate change, fragile states, water access and sanitation issues, women and children in crisis, HIV/AIDS and stigma in the Caribbean, and maternal mortality. The Gateways are available for anyone to use and teachers in a diverse range of settings—teaching across age groups—have found creative ways to take advantage of them: as an introduction to the issues on a semester long exploration in a history class; creating cross-regional comparisons of the topic; exploring which media types are most effective at conveying different types of information; as a platform for showcasing relevant student work.
The Gateways also function as hubs of content-based interaction. After learning about the global issues, students can meet the journalists whose projects they have studied, by watching video clips of the journalists discussing their work, participating in online Q & A forums, Skype videoconferences, and even speaking in person when we take our journalists into classrooms around the country. We have also facilitated interaction with students in subject countries through posted video interviews and Q & A exchanges, giving students a direct window into what life is like in other parts of the globe. For example, youth in St. Louis had the opportunity to connect with youth in Nepal, Iraq, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, posting questions and receiving questions in turn:
There are a number of organizations around the country doing amazing work around youth media reporting. Our intent is to compliment the work already being done by these groups by acting as a bridge between the fields of youth media and professional journalism. Increasingly, we are partnering with media educators on programs where youth are already producing media in order to introduce our global topics, the journalists that cover them, and offer a platform where students can share local stories on these critical issues.
Our model allows us to act as an intermediary between the journalists we support and youth learning how to tell their own stories, and as an intermediary between global awareness and local investigation. Pulitzer Center journalists and staff members can provide insight into the reporting on a global scale and serve as mentors to youth throughout their own reporting process, including how to amplify their work through social media (a key component of our own outreach on the reporting projects we support).
With the Share Your Story feature on the Gateways, youth can upload their own videos and essays, responding to the reporting they've investigated and sharing local implications. Their work is published in the same space as reports we've sponsored in outlets like PBS NewsHour and TIME.com, offering a new perspective that makes the professional journalism resonate more and highlights the global nature of these systemic issues. This platform also allows youth to witness the viewpoints and experiences of others their own age, which often differ—and resemble—as much within one city as they do across borders.
Students are already "connected;" we hope to inspire them to take advantage of those connections to educate their peers on issues that deserve greater attention through their own connected world. Our global reporting provides a departure point, technology then helps us connect that journalism to the youth's own stories and a global conversation.
Insights from Case Studies
In our experience, this combination of technological skills and content-based learning seems to be an effective model for engaging students on the issues. In a DC high school's video production class, groups of students explored the Gateway topics, researched a global issue that resonated with them, and found a connection to the DC community.
One group looked at our work on water issues, from Peru to China to Kenya, then investigated pollution in DC's Chesapeake Bay. They visited the offices of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the DC Water and Sewage Authority to interview officials and see firsthand how local water is treated for pollution. Producing video packages from their footage and featuring the finished product on our website allowed students to share the global-local connection that they found on this critical issue with a broader audience.
As one DC student, David, reflected, "One of the things that struck me was how much power we had to control what information was heard and what information was not…It makes you realize how much power the media has on our knowledge base and therefore our point of views and decisions." By using technology to draw students into the process of producing news media, they emerge with a fuller understanding of how to navigate the world of information.
Similarly, we partnered with Free Spirit Media in Chicago to hold a six-week intensive program, with teams of students producing their own short documentaries on our global stories' implications in Chicago. Using our food insecurity Gateway as a jumping-off point, one team examined the cost of healthy eating choices in Chicago; another reported on women and children in crisis in their hometown, focusing on the foster care system; and, the third group found that homophobic stigma, which we've reported on in Jamaica, affects youth in Chicago as well.
The group exploring homophobia were so touched by the stories from the LGBT youth they encountered that they concluded their video with the statement, "It's not a lifestyle–it's their life." One member of the food insecurity group, DaMari, said he was changing his eating habits as a result of their research, demonstrating how a project like this can move from the global through the local to reach the personal.
In a program that connected St. Louis students to youth in Nepal, one young Nepalese indentured servant asked, "Is there a practice of sending children by their own parents to work as child laborers in your country?" These connections help spark debates on issues we may think of as distant, yet rarely are.
We believe that it is in these kinds of exchanges that we can best see our impact and how technology is contributing to our mission. Of course, measuring impact in education and media is an ongoing challenge. Many funders have, understandably, focused largely on numerical metrics because these provided data that could be easily quantified. And while numerical metrics can show us how many students we reach, the amount of traffic a slideshow receives on our website, or the number of "fans" who "like" an article we post on Facebook, numbers do not tell the whole story. In our view, the most valuable metric is the qualitative responses we have seen from youth who engage in the program, but how do you measure that? This is a question we are exploring and hope to learn more about from our peers in the community. One positive development at least in the larger web metrics landscape, is a movement to focus on the length of time one spends on a site versus the sheer number of hits. If advertisers, with far more resources at their disposal to measure "ROI," have figured out that depth of engagement is a critical indicator, it should tell us that the quality of the engagement deserves our attention too. Exactly how much and how to measure it, of course, also deserves our attention. But sometimes one anecdotal experience captures the spirit of the work in a way numbers never could.
During one visit in an inner city Chicago school, one of our journalists was discussing his work on civilian casualties in Afghanistan. A connection was sparked and one student said to the journalist "So the soldiers are fighting with their guns, but you, you're fighting with your camera." Indeed, technology can be a weapon against ignorance.
In a St. Louis school that we visited with our journalists, one fifteen-year-old suggested that news organizations channel reporting through cartoons or video games; not one of those "boring educational" ones, he clarified, but "something like Grand Theft Auto."
While the Pulitzer Center is probably not bound for the video game market any time soon, he had a point. When students perceive no need to navigate the information surrounding them—and either take what is most readily available or ignore it all—we must find new ways to capture their interest.
When engaging youth with technology it might be easy to get carried away by digital bells and whistles (or, rather widgets and algorithms); but in our work, the most effective use of technology we have found is when it is built around quality content—stories that need to be heard but are too often drowned out by sensational headlines—be it from our professional reporters or participating youth.
New media technologies have a unique ability to crystallize connections between global issues and youth's own experiences. Students deserve access to quality information on critical global issues and a place to share their distinct vision in that conversation. Using new media to emphasize global-local connections makes issues more relevant and relatable to youth, and can motivate them to take action by seeking—and producing—quality information on their own. And new media allows us to provide youth with a platform to distribute their media, so their stories can become part of an active, informed, and global dialogue, where their voice can shine.
We are eager to collaborate with youth media educators interested in making connections between global and local stories, and with our journalists. We hope we can be a resource that bridges the divide between professional and youth media reporting and in the process enriches all of our understanding of just how connected we are to the global stories we too rarely hear about.
See this story as featured in Youth Media Reporter