Outsiders’ voices making inroads at PBS
“There are a lot of marginalized communities that really need to be involved in this struggle,” insists a young woman from the People of Color Working Group of Occupy Wall Street.
Another organizer reflects, “Marginalized communities from New York City, particularly oppressed people, people of color…were totally underrepresented, and it was unclear if that was going to change. But it has. It really, really has.”
These critiques of Occupy Wall Street, by some of the young people shaping and propelling the growing protest, are not typical stories you see on websites and broadcasts of major news outlets. Even as Occupy Wall Street has gained legitimacy as a news event in the corporate press, the coverage, like that of most populist dissent, spans a narrow spectrum. Ranging from dismissive stories of oddball protesters lacking a uniform message to graphic accounts of police-protester confrontations, much of the reporting offers little understanding of who is actually in Liberty Plaza demonstrating.
However, through a partnership between a community-based nonprofit news organization and the educational division of the PBS NewsHour, an opportunity to listen closely to youth organizers and activists of Occupy Wall Street now exists in corporate media.
People’s Production House (PPH), a media training and journalism institute working with immigrants, low-income communities and youth, recently produced stories through an arrangement with Student Reporting Lab—a part of NewsHour Extra, the NewsHour’s educational division, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—to run on the NewsHour Extra website.
The partnership began after NewsHour correspondents and staff, familiar with PPH’s youth program Radio Rootz, approached PPH in 2010 to collaborate on bringing underrepresented youth into the powerful role of reporter.
The initial stories were produced through a project-based workshop in which PPH educators trained youth in both New York City and Washington, D.C., in video production and journalism. The young reporters interviewed their peers, student organizers and teachers critical of the Department of Education’s system of shuttering low-performing schools with little public input. Their stories highlighted the unfairness of a zero-tolerance approach, particularly to schools with new immigrants and predominantly English-language learners.
Both stories were featured on the Student Reporting Lab website, but the story produced from New York was selected to run on the NewsHour August 10 broadcast—giving a national platform to voices rarely heard in a news culture that favors punditry over the perspective of those most affected.
Following up on this successful production partnership, NewsHour Extra contacted PPH in August with a request to produce for the website short videos of youth and their reflections on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks (8/31/11). And then, shortly after the October 5 rally and march in New York that turned out labor and social justice groups in support of Occupy Wall Street, NewsHour Extra reached out again to PPH to gather sounds and images of youth from Liberty Plaza (10/18/11).
For this project, PPH worked along with reporters from Newsmotion, an independent global news organization, and photographer Kyle Cassidy, who has been taking portraits of Occupy Wall Street activists. In Liberty Plaza, they spoke with Tammuz, an 11-year-old from Brooklyn who works for his school newspaper and was drawn to the “journalistic moment.” They interviewed Charla, a student from an impoverished region of Appalachia who came to represent her community, and Yotam, an Occupy Wall Street organizer who has been involved since the first General Assembly. They also spoke with Erin and Michelle, members of the People of Color Outreach Subgroup, working for ethnic diversity in the development and processes of this growing protest.
When journalism includes the perspectives of people living the reality that experts may only see as an abstract issue, the reporting can provide a deeper understanding of the connections between policy and people’s everyday lives. It is encouraging that public broadcasting has provided an opening for the grassroots reporting of PPH to bring historically underrepresented voices to the fore.
Carlos Pareja is training & policy director for People’s Production House.