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Media has always been a critical part of the ecosystem that can drive—or impede—youth civic engagement. Starting in 2020, we began zooming in even closer on the relationship between media and election participation among young people. This project is an intersection of three fundamental goals of our work:

  • Diverse Representation: In our representative democracy, the electorate should be as diverse as the country itself. We must find more ways to improve diverse youth representation in our democracy and the issues of access to information that hinder youth participation. 
  • Media as a Civic Influencer: Exposure to and engagement with media helps to build one's own perspectives and understanding of our roles in democracy. Efforts to teach media literacy for elections must include this explicit connection, and media coverage of youth can and should more accurately represent young people’s participation and their experiences. How can many local stakeholders support positive civic influences through a local election ecosystem that includes visible, diverse young people in media?
  • Growing Voters: Making sure we start this work early enables us to Grow Voters and active community members, preparing young people for participation even before they reach voting age. 

This project is called Rep Us, because representation is key to democracy and representation matters to engagement. As a result, throughout 2020 and into 2021, we have undertaken collaborative inquiry with a wide range of partners, catalyzing conversations and encouraging both youth media creation and inclusion of diverse youth voices in conversations about the 2020 election and about civic and political engagement beyond election cycles. Some of the questions we are pursuing include: How can youth media engagement and media creation expand the youth electorate? How can more diverse representations of youth engagement in elections within media affect youth engagement? Can it also influence the audiences for local media outlets?

What the Research Says

We've put together a comprehensive literature review summarizing much of this scholarly evidence about young people's engagement with the media, including youth media creation. We hope it may serve as a reference for other researchers and for practitioners who are interested in the connections between young people, the media, and civic participation.

Join Us and Support This Work

For Everyone
  • Sign up to get updates on our conversations, research, and examples of efforts at the intersection of media and civic engagement from across the country.
  • Catalyze conversations in your area, using these and other examples of practice and timely research, about the civic application of media literacy and maximizing the positive role of youth-created media—and youth representation in media—toward increased and more equitable youth engagement.
  • Support or amplify examples of media created by young people about elections and voting, or of how diverse young people engaged in the 2020 election and are engaged in civic life more broadly.
  • Highlight opportunities for you or others to further elevate a diverse range of youth voices and perspectives in your community’s public (virtual and physical) spaces and in local media coverage.
  • Find and share resources to support youth media creation, especially in educational contexts in which media literacy can be one outcome.
For Educators
  • Use articles, books, or videos that highlight stories of young people who are engaged in the civic life of their communities, and teach media literacy as students examine and analyze these sources.
  • Encourage students to formulate and share their opinions on current events at a local or national scale, with one another or more broadly.
  • Facilitate activities from our Toolkit for Youth Media-Making, a series of lesson plans designed to elicit students’ perspectives on civic issues through making memes, GIFs, photo series, videos, and more.
  • Don’t just grade student work; publish it. Submit students’ civic-related content to local news stations, newspapers, or blogs.
  • Invite members of the media into your classroom to teach students about how their industry or platform works, how to get published, or how to bring attention to student-organized events or campaigns.

Check out these resources from across the web to support you in media-making with young people:

  • Adobe Education Exchange: Access online courses and curricula to deepen your media-making skills and tap into your creativity, from learning about digital publishing to poster-making, Photoshop to storytelling, all using Adobe tools (free as well as paid).
  • Commonsense Education: Educators can find free lessons for teaching students (K-12)  Digital Citizenship and building young peoples' capacities as thoughtful media creators and consumers, as well as Commonsense Education's picks of the best tech-creation tools out there.
  • Facing History and Ourselves: With this pairing of a documentary film and video watching guide, help students to explore the changing landscape of journalism in the digital age and to consider their roles as creators and consumers of news.
  • KQED: Nonprofit public media station KQED shares a range of resources for helping middle and high school students create media, including KQED Learn (which offers a forum and structured way for students to engage with one another in critical discussion on a range of topics), online courses (related to video storytelling and podcast creation), and a Media Literacy Educator certification.
  • PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs: From the experts in youth media creation comes a series of lesson plans that covers the basics of local community journalism, storytelling, scripting and video editing, and a toolkit for encouraging student journalism during the 2020 election cycle.
  • The Teaching Channel: This blog post, by the Civic Engagement Research Group, outlines the importance of and suggests ideas and resources for integrating civic media into media literacy education in schools. 
  • YouthLearn: YouthLearn’s Media Literacy Toolbox includes activities, handouts, and curricular resources to support media literacy education and youth media creation in a variety of settings—classroom or afterschool program, low-tech or high-tech, children or teens—as well as examples of youth-created media.
For Journalists
  • Seek out and elevate the voices and stories of young people as you research and publish your stories, especially young people typically underrepresented in mainstream media coverage.
  • Recognize and highlight the diversity of young peoples’ perspectives and experiences; don’t succumb to painting a picture of youth as one homogeneous entity.
  • Create a regular platform, like an ongoing series or column, to publish youth voices, and spread the word about the opportunity to young people, schools, and community groups.
  • Use social media to reach young people where they are; don’t wait for them to find their way to your platform.
  • During elections, assess what issues are being covered and if any of these are aimed at an under-30 audience and address what young people in your area care about. If not, challenge candidates to speak and act on those issues.
For Young People
  • Share your perspectives and create media for outlets to lift up: write letters to the editor or op-eds, make audio submissions for radio or podcasts, share photos or video from your unique vantage point.
  • Follow local news outlets and journalists on social media, subscribe to their newsletters, or even subscribe to the print edition of your local paper.
  • Help journalists and youth-serving organizations understand what they’re missing about the youth perspective. Tweet responses to their published work or comment on online articles to voice your experiences, or share recommendations for what issues media outlets should cover and how to approach those issues
  • Celebrate the energy and engagement of your peers. Help change the popular narrative that young people are apathetic by showcasing real stories you witness of youth playing an active role in improving their communities.
  • Encourage organizations and campaigns you care about to pay attention to young people and offer ideas for how they can make that happen.

Youth Advisory Group

We've convened an advisory group of young people who are passionate about the connections between youth in media and their civic participation. We're grateful for their insights and support.

Madison Hall - Age 17 - Baltimore, MD

Madison Hall is a senior at Bard High School Early College Baltimore, but after graduating with their associate’s degree and high school diploma, they will be attending NYU. Their goal is to diversify media and tell stories that matter about people who feel like they don’t. Madison was a 22x20 fellow in 2018 and now is part of a collaborative with WNYC’s Radio Rookies called 18-29 Now. While the story was originally to be about the election, it is now about education during COVID19.

Madison brings an open-mindedness that will be useful when talking about sensitive topics. They have strong critical thinking, problem solving, writing, and time management skills that they have gained over the years. These skills will contribute to a productive culture and quality work. Madison will bring passion, integrity, and experience, too. Their passion for the tasks is what drives them, even when the task is hard. Through their experience, they have learned a lot about persevering and taking initiative to complete projects without much day to day assistance.

Raven Johnson - Age 19 - Tulsa, OK

Raven Johnson is a sophomore at Hendrix College studying political science. Raven was a fellow in the 22x20 program; they used their event budget and resources to organize and host a round table discussion with teens in the surrounding area and a few local legislators. Last summer, they attended ACLU Advanced Advocacy program in D.C., which was an eye-opening experience for them. In high school, Raven was the founder of Youth and Government, which is a club encouraging participants to take part in mock legislative sessions.

Raven is incredibly passionate about finding avenues to enable others to have their voice heard, especially those who we don’t hear a lot from. They are a natural leader and enjoy organizing events. While Raven is unsure of what they want to do with their life, they know they want to help people in any way they can. They are also devoted to staying educated and diversifying their own thoughts. Raven loves conversing and listening with/to people who they do or do not agree with because it’s super important for growth and understanding.

Atticus Phinney-Anderson - Age 17 - Westford, VT 

Atticus Phinney-Anderson was born and raised in Westford, Vermont, and is a 12th grader at Essex High School. Essex High School is a consolidated high school across three communities with Westford being the most rural community. At Essex, Atticus is a member of the Arts and Global Leadership Academics. They have a passion for the outdoors, specifically trail running and skiing. Currently, Atticus is looking at studying film and photography in college, possibly photojournalism. As a rural young person, they have become very aware of the political diversity within their community and how those perspectives don’t receive equal coverage.

One of the main things that Atticus brings is a rural perspective. As part of their internship, Atticus wrote a photo essay that focused on their experience. It is part of a three-part project where Atticus will also look at “ Story of Us and Now” (capturing community voices). This project has made Atticus aware of how valuable listening is in our world. We live in such a polarized time and a goal of Atticus is always to try and bridge between different perspectives. Atticus attempts to do this by having a range of friends with incredibly diverse points of view.

Alessandra (Ally) Mohar - Age 16 - Oakland, CA

Alessandra (Ally) Mohar is a junior at Oakland School for the Arts. They are an Oakland Youth Advisory Commissioner and an intern at Filipino Advocates for Justice and API Legal Outreach. Ally is from Oakland, California where the passion for change and equality is deeply rooted. They advocate for youth voice to ensure we make change now and in the years ahead. As an Asian-American, Ally stands with fellow communities of color to ensure the betterment of all of our people in our communities. They strive to be a part of the movement and make an impact.

Some skills Ally offers are public speaking and outreaching, creativity when making flyers, and a great work ethic. They have demonstrated public speaking skills during presentations about domestic violence at APILO and Ally constantly reaches out to youth and organizations about events and campaigns they should know about. Ally has contacted many Oakland youth when 500 letters needed to be sent to City Council supporting the Oakland Youth Vote. They have also made flyers for workshops at FAJ that initiate a space for youth to learn and grow. Lastly, Ally is passionate to support the people around them and build community.

Caitlyn Gardiner - Age 18 - Maryland 

Cait Gardiner is a senior at Emmanuel College where they are majoring in political science with a concentration in American government and politics and a minor in philosophy. They are passionate about finding ways to decrease affective political polarization through cross-cutting civil discourse, particularly in the context of the urban-rural divide. In the last few years, they have done many projects related to this, including organizing workshops through Maryland 4-H as part of a capstone project, hosting the One Maryland Summit to bring young leaders together to discuss ways to establish unity and equity across the state, and working on undergraduate research papers related to this topic. After completing undergrad, Cait plans to pursue a PhD in political science. 

As a member of the Rep Us Advisory Group, Cait contributes analytical skills, communication skills, and enthusiasm for increasing youth civic engagement. Their experiences with coordinating various events, researching various aspects of youth civic engagement, and serving as the Vice President of the Emmanuel Votes coalition have given them practical experience in increasing youth civic engagement and the data to continue to improve their strategies. Cait looks forward to using these skills and experiences to foster a productive environment on this team.