When I met Samuel Lovett, from Student Journals, at the BFI for the 2014 Youth Media Summit on Wednesday, I asked him what the youth of today now require from the media. “We want instant answers,” he said.
It seems fair then, to give fellow delegate and spoken word artist Samuel King, just six seconds to explain why 400 young media entrepreneurs were coming together for the first time.
The digital revolution has given rise to a growing youth media sector in the UK; the 200 platforms at the Youth Media Summit had a combined audience of almost 4 million. With a new Ofcom study showing that 16- to 24-year-olds now use communications for an average of 14 hours and seven minutes a day, we asked them what youth media can teach the mainstream. Here are the six lessons we learned.
1. Hearing ‘youth’ and thinking ‘gangs’ is not big or clever
Some young people don’t wear hoodies or take drugs; others even have jobs. It might seem obvious but in 2008 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child singled out England as the only country in 193 signatories to have promoted negative perceptions of its youth. It recommended immediate action be taken “to address the intolerance and inappropriate characterisation of adolescents within society, including the media”. It prompted Susana Giner to found the Youth Media Agency in 2011. When she did, she started to receive phone calls from interested media outlets; some ringing to try and get access to young gangsters. She was less than impressed.
2. Spoken word is a big deal
There were no thankyous, praises or welcoming words in the opening speech at this conference. Instead, Samuel King took to the stage and delivered Fatherless Britain, an unforgiving spoken piece word piece accusing the government of treating Britain’s youth like an absent father.
King is one of the many spoken word artists who feature on YouTube project Word on the Curb. “Spoken word is the art form of the underdogs and the marginalised. It is the offspring of poetry, rap and hip-hop, but it has only broken through into the mainstream on a few occasions,” said its founder, 22-year-old Hayel Wartemberg. He named George the Poet, born on a London estate and now at Cambridge University and signed to Island Records, as one such inspiration. He said his success is reminiscent of Linton Kwesi Johnson, the first black poet to be published in Penguin’s Modern Classics. “But the spoken word scene is much bigger than that. Many people are using it to talk about struggle – from young black women to middle-aged white men.” He named Dean Atta,Deanna Rogers and “If I Told You”, Anthony Anaxagorou’s poem about neglected history, as further inspiration.
3. Print is not dead
With children now operating smartphones and tablets before they are able to talk, you would be forgiven for thinking that youth media was purely digital – but more than a quarter of the platforms at the Youth Media Summit publish print editions. “There has been a massive resurgence in quarterlies,” said Naomi Brown from the youth communications agency, Livity. Amor magazine is a lifestyle quarterly for young women, set up by Ruby Mae Moore when she was 19. It distributes 10,000 copies and although it is free, it makes profit through advertising and sponsorship. “Amor is not just a magazine; it’s a brand and a movement for female empowerment,” said beauty editor Patricia Obaro Odje. Its aim is to appeal to women of all ethnicities; “if we publish an article about tanning, we publish another that is as relevant to young black women.” The company has also made money by releasing its own clothing line and running an AQA accredited course in publishing, which it is paid by Southwark council to deliver.
4. You don’t need an expensive journalism MA
You don’t need a job at a newspaper or magazine either. An increasing number of young people are creating their own platforms to great success; and many outside the safe space of university campuses. Some have monetised their projects enough to create their own jobs too; the goal for many is self-employment not a newspaper career. “Most people can’t afford a qualification and you don’t need one so long as you’re not afraid to ask for help,” said Matteo Bergamini. He runs Shout Out UK, which he calls “Britain’s fastest growing alternative news network”. After a year, it now receives 60,000 unique users a month. He is 22 and has no journalism qualifications; he taught himself media law, has taken advice from freelance journalists, and has no interest in a mainstream job.
5. Youth media can access people the mainstream can’t
On the fourth day of the London riots in 2011, 19 young people from affected London communities came together in anger against the way they felt they were being portrayed in the mainstream media. They created Riot from Wrong, a documentary that has since been screened across Europe, from the Houses of Parliament and Oxford’s Christ Church College to further afield in Belfast and Austria. The media outlet, Fully Focused, has since grown from this success, creating a short film on knife crime for the BBC. On Wednesday, it launched its YouTube channel, Million Youth Media, which shows short films that challenges stereotypical perceptions of drugs, stop and search, prison and deaths in police custody. Fully Focused member Adenan Nasri put its success down to its ability to speak to young people. “Lots of young people don’t want to talk to a big camera from a big news organisation,” he said. “But they will talk to us because we are the same age and on the same level as them.”
6. Good news sells
Fully Focused were not the only people at the Youth Media Summit who felt the impact of the riots. For Louis John, now 24, it was personal. “It was a really depressing time. We were all put into the same category as violent looters.” After a year cutting his teeth at the enterprise academy of Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones, the experience prompted him to startWhat’s Good?, a positive news platform for 16- to 25-year-olds. He has one rule – to never focus on the negatives. Eighteen months on, it has close to 20,000 Twitter followers and he works as a consultant. “Newspapers love bad headlines but young people look for something to inspire them; someone to look up to,” he said. “I have a lot of bad experiences and seen a lot of crime but met so many motivated people that I saw a new way of life. There are a lot of other young people out there who feel the same way.”