You want to face a tough audience? Try talking about reporting in Detroit with a dozen middle- and high-school students.
I recently was a guest speaker at Youth Neighborhood News, a team of Metro Detroit-area students learning news-gathering basics to become broadcast journalists. My part was to talk about this blog; their part was to rake me over the red-hot coals. Let me tell you, there are some future Dan Rathers out there.
Every question was good, but one student in particular had me on the run. My favorites: “How do you know people in Detroit are reading the blog?” and “Shouldn't someone from Detroit be writing it?”
Uhhhhhhhhhh…long pause as Reporter Girl tries to gather her thoughts. Answer No.1: We have statistics for that. They're out there. Answer No. 2: Yes.
But nothing's that easy. There's always a Middle Man, a Go-Between. There is a line between media and the people, despite the best intentions on both sides. News people are filters for reality; thus, we never truly capture reality. Ideally, you would have a neighborhood activist or resident writing a Detroit blog. But those kind of people tend to be busy living; a blog is probably the last thing on their mind. But blogs are growing, they are accessible to anyone and they are a great medium for telling the news. (This was the best answer I could muster.)
To solve that problem, Youth Neighborhood News was created – their job during the project is to create high-quality news content based on what they see and experience in and around Detroit. They come from communities including Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck, and their ages range from 11 to 17. Many of them want to become reporters; others were there because they are interested in acting or writing.
They see what most of us cannot. They notice when their high-school installs metal detectors at what is supposed to be the city's best high school. They also taken note when those same machines break and are never fixed. It's hard to feel safe when there's nothing between you and the kid who decides that today is a good day to bring a gun or knife to school.
They wonder what their neighbors are supposed to do when they cannot find a job. When is it okay to sell drugs or steal? And how do you break that cycle? What can you do about all of the robberies on the street he lives on?
They also want to know what people really think about Detroit. Do they understand what it is like to live here -- good and bad?
Oh, and they notice when their high-school newspapers refuse to publish their observations. As adults, it's easy to shake off these questions, to trust these truly inquiring minds. The harder part is trying to answer their questions, to give them an outlet for their frustrations, insights and aspirations.
Youth Neighborhood News is housed at Detroit's YouthVille, a place where Detroit-area students can come to learn the digital media arts in high-tech studios. This particular program is being taught by local journalists who are mentors as well. (Cheers to program director and new friend Vanessa Denha Garmo, co-founder and Editor in Chief of the Chaldean News.)
Locally, our public television station has pledged to show the students' reports as they prepare them. I cannot wait to see what they develop. I'm amazed at their heart – if even a few of them truly become reporters, Detroit possibly could become a better place.
Hopefully, we can showcase some of their work on the Blog. I've invited them to submit essays we'll publish here as well. More to come!