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Student Reporting Labs Teach Youth to Report News About Community Issues

Student Reporting Labs: Young man operates videocam on tripod while other youth, trailing earpiece wires, holds up clipboard.

Smoky Mountain Youth Media Facebook page

Smoky Mountain Youth Media in Knoxville, Tenn., is one of 130 student reporting labs connected with PBS NewsHour.

When PBS NewsHour aired last week, the show included a story about Mighty Greens, a youth-led gardening cooperative in Washington, D.C. Not only did the story feature young people, it was produced by young people.

In fact, an 18-year-old student at Frederick Douglass High School, Kevin Broome, narrated the piece.

The story was a project of PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs, 130 sites around the nation that train more than 2,500 young video producers a year to produce news stories in their communities.

Most labs are in schools, with students working during class. However, some are in after-school clubs or independent youth media organizations, ranging from the Alaska Teen Media Institute in Anchorage, Alaska, to Smoky Mountain Youth Media in Knoxville, Tenn.

At Smoky Mountain Youth Media, seven students from three high schools met two afternoons a week last year, said William Isom, who leads the group. He is community outreach director for East Tennessee PBS, which sponsors Smoky Mountain Youth Media.

“They generally produce about six stories a year,” he said.

They reported last year about an internet service called HollerNet, which is connecting underserved rural areas. Students also produced a piece examining the difference between real and fake news, and covered a local student walkout after the Parkland school shooting.

In producing the videos, students find their voices, Isom said. “They become more confident in communicating with people and articulating ideas,” he said.

He’s expanding the program this year into Campbell County, north of Knoxville, and will work with an additional seven students there.

Students send story pitches, rough cuts and the final video to Student Reporting Labs’ program managers in Washington, said Elis Estrada, director of Student Reporting Labs. The program managers provide feedback and mentoring, she said.

Stories may be distributed online on the PBS NewsHour website or on local sites or broadcasts.

Student Reporting Labs provides a curriculum to teachers and youth group leaders. Students learn the technical side of video production, gain the communication skills needed to report a story and explore the role of the journalism in the nation, according to the organization.

Two broad topics this year are “Turning Out: The Youth Vote in America” and “Opportunity in America,” Estrada said.

“Students are going to be involved in conversations about what it means to vote,” she said. They’ll be questioning why young voter turnout is low and asking about issues in the community that are important to young voters. They’ll also explore economic mobility and the barriers that many young people face.

Schools and organizations can apply online to join Student Reporting Labs. Underserved communities are encouraged to apply, Estrada said. The program provides stipends to some and also has “starter kits,” she said.

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