The future of mass media in the United States is a bright and positive one. Now, I know that flies in the face of all the mainstream reports about the death of newspapers (long live the P-I) and the absence of popularity for television news. But folks, I’m here to say that there is a great hope mingling among us. This morning I was reading an article in last month’s Fast Company mag called “Will NPR Save the News? ” It easily extolled the virtues of NPR’s “digital smarts, nonprofit structure, and good old-fashioned shoe leather” and their hyper-successful podcast, blog, an open platform that allows listeners to mix their own podcasts, and an iPhone app. All this had led NPR to become the leading media outlet in the US, and they’re growing rapidly. Goody – because I’m a fan.
But there’s something else happening here that I don’t hear being talked about. Out there across America today there is a raging underground energy running frenetically throughout the media/activist community, and that energy is the power of youth voice. 100s of organizations across the country host youth-led media making programs today. I have found a few . These programs are actively engaging young people in creating newspapers, websites, podcasts, television programs and all sorts of new media. They are reporting on issues affecting their communities, their world and themselves.
Embedded within these programs is a notion of connectivity: when young people become media makers they most certainly become more effective media consumers, and in turn tie in closer with their neighborhoods, cities and cultures. What does that mean for NPR? Well, a major differentiating factor between NPR and other forms of mainstream media is the profit motive: where others are driven by pumping dividends back to their boards, NPR is striving to make enough money to sustain and re-invest their programs. Mainstream media clearly lost that motivation, and that’s why they’re dieing. Youth-led media programs are going to prove essential to New Media because youth-led media represents both “new” and “media” – interactive, responsive, and personalized. To a lesser extent, because of their exposure to nonprofit organizations through these programs, young people will also be better mentally prepared to donate their time and money to supporting the delivery of quality media in the future.
Programmers and youth workers alike need to recognize the awesome burden on the shoulders of media today as it goes through its transition. While their model is dieing traditional media needs to realize that young people are more than the future of their business: they are the present, creating massively important, massively relevant and massively poignant media that will shape, encourage, and drive the future of democracy in the United States.