A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
‘Yobs’, ‘hoodies’, ‘feral youths’ are just some of the negative stereotypical words used to describe young people in the media and the use of these words ultimately leads to all young people being labelled into these categories before they have a chance to speak up and have their say.
When the word stereotype originates from the traditional process of printing newspapers and books; when metal plates were used to create a picture, how do young people, and we as youth workers, break this negative perception in the media?
One solution, which seems to have the greatest impact, is to give young people a voice, allowing them to shout about all of the positive things they are doing in their communities for others.
The Sounds Positive project does just that by helping young people engage with local newspapers and radio stations to promote a positive image of themselves in the media.
The project, funded by the Big Lottery and co-ordinated by The Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West, has now been operating for four years and within that time has given 706 young people media training from which 927 positive press mentions have been made throughout the South West.
The training enables young people to become Media Champions, in their local area, who then act on behalf of others raising issues and broadcasting all of the amazing activities they are involved in, turning negative stereotypes into positive perceptions.
Sounds Positive has created many opportunities for young people to engage with the media and in some local areas the newspapers and radio stations have welcomed young people’s input with open arms.
In Devon, the reception from young people, the local community and the media has been equally outstanding. The North Devon Journal has dedicated a whole page every month for the Sounds Positive media champions to write which has now been running for over two years. There is also a similar page in The Crediton Courier where young people’s articles are printed monthly. Youth columns can be found in The Wells Journal, The Western Gazette, The Somerset Standard and The Lyme Regis and Bridport News. A Sounds Positive blog can also be found on The Bournemouth Echo website where young people blog twice a month. There are many more papers and radio stations who have engaged with the project, throughout the four years, giving young people a voice within the media throughout the South West.
In May an evaluation was carried out on the project, by Rachel Henderson, to further understand the impact Sounds Positive has had on young people and the communities in which they live. The evaluation focused on six outcomes and under each are some responses given by young people, involved in the project, when asked these questions:
Outcome one: Do you have any examples of services young people have been able to influence?
‘After I completed my Sounds Positive Training I went to the local paper and gave an interview about cuts in the youth services in my area. This sparked debate in the paper, the Leader of the Council read it and got in touch and set up a meeting. The Leader came and spoke to a Youth Parliament meeting and we talked with him about the cuts. A few months later he announced he was going to ease the cuts. Whilst I am not definitely sure it was due to my column it can be argued it assisted in the changes’ Jake Pitt, 16, Somerset
Outcome two: Do you have any evidence to suggest that the work has increased understanding and improved community attitude to young people?
‘The community realises we are people that can discuss these things and can have a view on serious issues’ and ‘I can’t be sure but I think it has helped adults to realise that young people can be intelligent and sophisticated’ Michael Hulston, 19, Barnstaple
The young people also gave examples of how the media itself had changed due to their positive input:
‘I think that that media are more inclined to do positive stories as a result of our column, they often ask for my opinion when they are doing a story to get a young person’s perspective’ and significantly; ‘After the riots in London when young people were getting very negative press our paper wrote 2 pages about the UK Youth Parliament showing young people in a positive light. I’m sure this is because of our links’ Matthew Currie, 17, Plymouth
Outcome three: What are the local issues raised by young people, how do they feel it is making a difference?
‘I raised issues about young people’s unemployment. It changed people’s views from thinking that young people were lazy to understanding that getting a job can be difficult. In the current climate’ Leigh Pooley, 20, Crediton
Outcome four: As with outcome two, do you know the impact that the positive stories have on attitudes to young people?
‘It’s a broad group of young people [involved in the project], not just those you would expect and so it challenges held conceptions and views’ and ‘because I have met and worked with young people I wouldn’t usually meet I have broadened my views and see not all young people think the same’ Ellie Bond, 17, Barnstaple
Outcome five: What impact has making positive contribution to the community had on the confidence of the young people involved?
‘Without Sounds Positive I wouldn’t have had the courage to write anything. I never thought of myself as someone who could do this. It has given me a different outlook, because when you write something is different to when you speak, you have to think more carefully’ Jess Elms, 16, Poole
The overall results of the evaluation highlighted that the project is having a positive effect on young people, media outlets and local communities. Young people now feel they have an opportunity to stand up for what they believe in and have an influential say in local issues. As well as this the project has increased their self-esteem, enabled them to make new friends and improved their writing and public speaking skills.
The evaluation also gave an opportunity for young people to cite recommendations they felt would improve the project these included; having more than one youth worker, training more young people to become media champions and reaching a greater diversity of media than just newspapers and radio stations.
Another overwhelming finding was, the fact, that it is very difficult to measure the impact young people’s articles have had on the local community and whether or not the writing has changed their perceptions. Therefore a further recommendation would be to have a quantitative style questionnaire go out to the readers and listeners of media outlets before young people have started writing and broadcasting and the same questionnaire sent out a year later to compare the results.
Finally, it is clear that the project has been a success and this is due to the hard work and perseverance of the Media Champions which has blown us away, here at Sounds Positive. The reaction on their faces when they have seen their words in print is priceless and they always feel, deservedly, proud of themselves. So a big thank you and ‘well done’ needs to go to all of these young people who have given their free time to create a more positive image of all young people throughout the South West.
The Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West is now seeking funding to continue this fantastic project – all reasonable offers considered!
Learning South West