Michael Hoechsmann

To cite this article, use the following information:
Hoechsmann, M. (2008). From the Classroom to the Newsroom: Teaching Media Writing. New Literacies: A Professional Development Wiki for Educators. Developed under the aegis of the Improving Teacher Quality Project (ITQP), a federally funded partnership between Montclair State University and East Orange School District, New Jersey.
Available from: http://newlits.wikispaces.com/Teaching+Media+Writing
Michael Hoechsmann: http://www.mcgill.ca/edu-integrated/directory/#Hoechsmann



Introduction


These days young people are often vilified and misrepresented in the news media. How many stories about youth focus on violence, drug abuse, or apathy? Negative incidents are plastered across headlines, and scores of "experts" are consulted to reflect upon the various problems with this generation of young people.

There’s something wrong with this picture. The biggest problem is that the people talking about youth issues are almost all adults. Young people themselves must be recognized as legitimate sources of authoritative, expert insight into the conditions they face today. Interviews and quotes from youth should not be merely token afterthoughts to stories written by older reporters about issues affecting young people. Young writers need access to the media (p. 55).

YPP works to increase youth media literacy. We try to remove the “smoke and mirrors” that make the media – whether newspapers, TV, Internet, or other forms – seem like an unapproachable, “all-knowing” machine. The truth is that all stories in the media are written by people.

YPP wants to educate you about basic journalism, and show you that it’s totally possible for you to get published. Serve as one of the people who write the news…not years from now, but today! One more youth voice in the media = a healthier society.

By exposing young people’s work to society at large, YPP (Young People’s Press) gives adults a chance to read important stories they wouldn’t otherwise encounter. Even more importantly, youth journalism connects young people, giving us the chance to relate and share experiences that are a part of growing up at the onset of the new millennium (p. 2).


-YPP Writers’ Guide (Young People’s Press, 2000).

Written in 1999 and launched in 2000, the YPP Writers’ Guide already feels anachronistic. The developments afforded by new media tools and Web 2.0 platforms have enabled youth to produce sophisticated media and share it with a potentially worldwide audience. While much attention is given to multimodal genres and forms, the written word, too, has triumphantly claimed a space in the circuits and venues of contemporary youth expression. The resurgence of the literate imagination on the part of young people is accompanied by new genres and styles, most notably the networked knowledge production afforded by hypertext links and instant messaging’s abbreviated language usage. Interestingly, this resurgence of interest in the written word also extends and retrieves traditional forms of literacy. One of these forms is "op/ed" (i.e., opinion/editorial) journalism, which has found a robust new role for youth expression in the blogosphere. Op/ed journalism is a vehicle par excellence for youth voices, because it enables young people to address issues of immediate concern or interest to themselves, and to express an opinion, an argument and a point of view. This was one of the primary genres we nurtured and supported at Young People’s Press in the four years that I worked there as Director of Education (1998-2002). This is a strategy and a story I will share here in this article.

The anachronism I feel when I review the YPP Writers’ Guide less than ten years since its publication relates to rapid developments in the dissemination affordances of Web 2.0 applications online. At YPP we worked with the early Web (alongside our work with newspapers and news syndicates), publishing a number of e-zines (electronic magazines). The key word here is publishing. We hosted a series of electronic venues where youth could disseminate their written work to a wider audience, and we also provided youth-written texts to a wide network of newspapers and syndicates. This was during the waning era of editorial control, when newspaper, magazine and book publishers still called the shots and directed traffic in the print media. What YPP provided young people with was a helping hand to develop journalistic skills and to secure publishing venues. We supported youth in developing the capacities to write effectively in a number of styles and genres, and, significantly, to find an audience for their ideas and points of view. Having access to a wide audience motivated a number of young people to go the extra distance in developing their written prose and it became clear that this access provoked a very serious engagement on the part of these writers, all of whom wrote eloquently on issues of central concern in their lives.


History of the Young People's Press Writers' Guide

Established in the mid-nineties, the mandate of YPP was to give “voice” to youth. This involved primarily offering workshops and editorial assistance to fledgling young writers—with a specific emphasis on youth from historically marginalized groups—and by attempting to place articles written by youth in the mainstream press and in a number of YPP social-justice oriented e-zines. While the tendency in the Canadian print media at the time was towards increasing control over editorial content, YPP copy was published in over 200 Canadian daily and weekly newspapers and appeared regularly in major newspapers such as the Halifax Chronicle-Herald and the Toronto Star.

Youth represent roughly 27% of the Canadian population, but too often their voices are not registered in the public domain. Youth “as problem” are the focus of a great deal of public debate (i.e., youth violence, crime, drug abuse, education standards, etc.), but, ironically, these very stakeholders are hardly consulted on issues that directly affect them. The YPP project aimed at correcting this imbalance as well as tat empowering youth, developing literacy skills, and generally providing meaningful experiences for youth in a non-patronizing manner. The “reach” that these articles had was unequalled by any other similar youth media project. YPP was the only youth/literacy/media project in Canada that operated as a news agency, publishing young writers on a consistent basis in large mainstream newspapers.

The period in which YPP was in existence predated the newest innovations in Web communication that have gone on to spur the development of a blogosphere and the participatory Web 2.0 where youth can have a voice by contributing content or simply tagging it for aggregation, sharing and retrieval purposes, or linking to it via their blog etc. It was, for all intents and purposes, the eve of a genuine revolution in communication, although the architects of Young People’s Press were not aware of what was to come. YPP had a Web presence, both a main Website (now defunct) and a number of electronic magazines, but the primary vehicle for youth voice in this project was the conventional print news media and, ultimately, a non-conventional intervention, the publishing of ‘amateur’ youth-written copy. Given that the participants of the YPP project were the same generation that would soon be called “Generation Net” (Tapscott & Williams, 2006), but without the souped-up new Web, this experiment in youth advocacy journalism is revealing for the continuities it displays across communicational media. As much as scholars and theorists wish to emphasize the change that the technological developments have enabled (Jenkins, 2006; Lankshear & Knobel, 2006; Tapscott & Williams, 2006), youth were quite willing, when given a wide audience, to express themselves freely and forcefully. In other words, the new technologies and participatory domains that have followed the increased accessibility of the internet and of generating and posting user content may be little more than audience machines. Of course, we know that they are much more than that, these hybrid, multi-modal, globalizing vehicles of communication. But if they do harness and express a type of youthful energy, we should be wary to ascribe too much determining power to the technologies and recognize that they channel a power that is in many ways already present.


Youth Writing

Having worked and consulted with YPP over a six-year period, I had the opportunity to work closely with more than one thousand young people and to see many of them publish articles in the various newspapers to which YPP provided copy and in the e-zines it produced. With a wide-open mandate for youth to articulate what was on their minds, certain themes emerged time and time again: body image (self), anti-racism (culture and society), media (pop culture), education and jobs (economy), relationships with friends, family and lovers (others), and—what shouldn’t come as a surprise—a generalized bias against youth on the part of parents, teachers, government, employers, and the media (generational bias). In regards to the latter, every good story requires a villain, and this one is no different. Youth appear profoundly misunderstood by older generations who they see as anchored to traditions, holier-than-thou, and hogging all the jobs. Issues of the day such as homelessness, global warming, warfare, racism and HIV/AIDS are to an extent the curses of the past, haunting those growing up in the present. The ambivalence of the adults’ gaze, adult mix of indifference to and bewilderment caused by the conditions and practices of youth and youth cultures often leaves young people feeling ignored and alienated. Of course, guaging youth consciousness is a fickle process at best. "Youth" is a transitory demographic, and is intersected by all of the same identity markers as the population at large, with the added contradiction of identities-in-process; the necessary ideational and symbolic “work” that young people undertake developing a sense of self in relation to others. Nonetheless, in taking seriously these thoughts and ideas in process, a picture emerges informed by the tropes of youth consciousness in this era of social, economic, cultural, and technological change.

Over a nearly two-year period spanning 1997–1999, YPP had an extraordinary platform in The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily circulation newspaper. This newspaper provided a space in its now-defunct, weekly “young street” section (Tuesdays) for copy produced by the news service. The “young street” experiment opened the door to hundreds of youth from all walks of life to add their “voice” to public discourse on the issues of the day and for other youth to read their views. It is a model for youth journalism and a window into youth consciousness in the closing years of the last century. Though the final editorial say rested with The Star, YPP was given a wide mandate to go into the community to find out what youth were thinking, saying, and doing, and to bring the resulting copy into the pages of this major daily. In order to attract not only youth writers but also youth readers, a balance was struck between social justice and pop culture reporting and opinion writing. Three columns that anchored a weekly feature and one or more soft news stories were developed by YPP in a weekly cycle. "Very Cool" was a listings column where movies, books, CDs, Web sites, writing contests, and youth events ranging from town hall meetings with the police to anti-racism conferences would be publicized. "Confidentially Yours" was a teen advice column written by and for youth that enabled young people to “just say know” about issues of sexuality, drugs, and relationships with parents and friends. "Youthbeat" was a weekly op/ed piece that usually combined personal experience and opinion writing. Youthbeat was the masthead of YPP and a news genre that afforded youth writers the opportunity to vent their opinions and to express their thoughts. While YPP trained its reporters in soft news and feature writing, op/ed writing is mobile and practical, something that could be crafted over time and written from a distance (it doesn’t require intensive on-site training). The YPP Writer’s Guide (see end of this article for a copy of the Guide) encouraged youth writers to articulate their views passionately and candidly:

Youthbeats are YPP's editorial bread and butter. It's your story, from your point of view. Tell it like it is. Youthbeats usually (but not always) combine personal experience(s) with opinion/analysis. You establish your credibility by speaking from personal experience, stating your opinion and substantiating your view (p. 5).

In order to write an opinion piece, or editorial, you need a strong opinion on a subject. There aren’t any rules set in stone about what kind of opinion is appropriate, but it shouldn’t be superficial. Along with the freedom to write what you think comes the responsibility to give your reader some thoughtful substance to chew on.

If you have an opinion that is important enough to write about, then don’t make small talk out of it, and don’t beat around the bush. Leave no doubt in your reader’s mind about what you are saying. An effective opinion piece isn’t supposed to make the reader smile politely for a moment and move on, unaffected.

The soul of the opinion piece, what will touch a reader and make them believe, is transmitted directly from your soul. Stretch your limits and access your deepest feelings; don’t hold back from boldly crafting the most potent piece of writing you can. A writer shouldn’t feel embarrassed to express their true feelings – that is the best gift you can offer an earnest reader.

To write like this you have to ask yourself how you truly feel. What's bugging you? What moves you? What makes you think so hard your brain spins? Go down deep into the guts of your emotion, whatever it is, and pour the details all over the page. (p. 16)


Publishing Youth

Over the 22-month period of direct collaboration with The Toronto Star, YPP managed to publish 297 articles written by youth in the “young street” section, this was in addition to the weekly Very Cool and Confidentially Yours columns. Youth came into the process with a direct sense of purpose: to be published and to let their voice be heard. Herein lies the key to motivating youth to write: given a broad audience, youth were mightily motivated to put pen to paper. And their output was expressive of a positive, public advocacy for change. A content analysis of the articles published in The Star over the almost two-year period in which this project ran reveals a tremendous sense of hope and desire for social change. Of the 255 articles which presented opinions about social conditions (the remaining 42 were neutral reportage of events), a full 221 carried within them the seeds of optimism and the potential and desire for social change. The 34 columns that were pessimistic or fatalistic reflected the values that are commonly attributed to young people: that they are shiftless slackers unwilling to step up to the plate to turn what is offered to them into a hit. The main themes raised by youth were activism and social change (60), body image (38), education (66), global and social consciousness (60), multiculturalism and diversity (59), peers and peer pressure (31), racism (57), sexuality (41), popular culture and mass media (45), voluntarism (31) and bias towards youth (63). Of course, there is some reported overlap between these categories, particularly in the social change/consciousness and diversity/racism themes. But the results are significant in their generalized focus on the negotiations of self and group identity between self (body image, sexuality, education and voluntarism) and other (social change/consciousness, diversity/racism, voluntarism and intergenerational bias). Another overarching theme is the role of media/pop culture, education, and intergenerational misunderstanding in overdetermining youth experience. The other themes that emerged, albeit in smaller numbers, were the familiar ones of adults’ chronicling of youth: crime/law (24), home/family (21), drugs (16), consumerism (17), low-income realities (19), work (15), and youth subcultures (19). That these themes were registered by youth is not surprising, but their lower prominence indicates that young people are aware of what is being said about them, but are not simply beholden to themes not of their own making.


YPP Outcomes

It is difficult to quantify the results of public education, but the “Young Street” writing experiment exposed literally millions of readers to youth views, and hundreds of youth were empowered to use newly developed literacy skills to actively participate in the discourses of the public sphere. With a paid weekday subscription rate of over 450,000, The Toronto Star has a reach of well over one million readers per day. Youth who had never dreamed they could publish a piece of writing in a major Canadian newspaper have done so and some have become empowered to pursue a life of writing. Like many non-profits, YPP organized its activities around funding opportunities from corporate and government agencies and foundations that normally focused on annual outcomes. This topsy-turvy way of administering an organization favored data-collection models predicated on publication output, not on writer empowerment. Unfortunately, the organization did not set up longitudinal forms of data mining that could monitor the activities of YPP writers once they had left the organization. Only anecdotal evidence remains of how this experience affected the lives of the participating youth writers. YPP has maintained contact with a number of participants spread across various sectors, some in journalism, some in other creative and educational endeavors. The capacity-building structured into the experience is one both of professional development in journalism and broader citizenship engagement in general. Of those who did not continue in the field of journalism, many left YPP with the knowledge that they could return to journalistic writing as occasional contributors.


Participating Youth

In order to make the representation of youth “voice” as inclusive as possible, tremendous effort was put into reaching out to racialized minority, Aboriginal, street, and LGBT youth. Most significant was the participation of youth representing Canada’s racial and cultural diversity. A full 47% of the bylines of youth-written columns published in The Toronto Star, for example, were for racialized minority and Aboriginal youth. While Canada’s news media is attempting to increase its diversity, a study of 41 newsrooms of daily newspapers commissioned by the Canadian Newspaper Association in 1994 revealed that only 2.6% of the staff was of racialized minority or Aboriginal background. A 2004 follow-up by the Ryerson Department of Journalism indicated very little had changed in a decade, with representation of minorities having risen by less than one percentage point to 3.4% (Diversity Watch, 2004). YPP’s achievements in this realm were, to an extent, the result of focused outreach, but they also demonstrate that young people are ready for social change: when given the chance to rock the status quo, they will take the opportunity. Many of the articles went far beyond simple platitudes of cross-cultural celebration; recurring themes included cultural hybridity, histories of race relations, and contradictions at the heart of Canadian multiculturalism. One series of articles that stands out in particular was a set of four day-in-the-life pieces—two by black Canadians and two by Aboriginals—that brought readers into the everyday lives of the young writers and featured the use of slang and vernacular common to these cultural groups. At the end of the day, YPP received Awards of Distinction from both the Harmony Movement (2000) and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (2001).

While some YPP participants were motivated by the dream of being a writer or a journalist and could spend countless hours enjoying the buzz of the office, many others were more singularly focused on the prospects of having a voice and making a difference by expressing their views in a large circulation daily newspaper. They came to YPP with not only an intellectual project, but an affective engagement; they came in anger and in joy, frustration and inspiration. In their edited collection, School’s Out (2002), Glynda Hull and Katherine Schultz have compiled accounts of a number of projects which mirror Young People’s Press’ engagement with literacy education outside of formal school contexts. They argue that it is in “out-of-school contexts, rather than in school-based ones, that many of the major theoretical advances in the study of literacy have been made in the past 25 years” (2002, p. 11). In setting an agenda for analyzing the use of literacy in out-of-school settings, they have been concerned by the incongruity between young people’s uses of literacy in their communities, versus their success, or lack thereof, in school-based settings. One of the authors in this collection, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, describes what motivated the young learners in a newspaper project she was involved in:

The old hands stressed that a newspaper ran on love... My future editors, photographers, layout artists, and advertising execs would need to love being on staff, to love the tradition of the paper itself, to love the responsibility, even to love just being in the newspaper office with its distinctive smells and purposeful clutter. Being part of the newspaper would have to fill deeper needs than the ostensible goals of learning to write, thinking critically, to practice effective design. Nothing else would motivate the long hours, the endless rewrites… (2002, p. 242)

For some YPP participants, this description would reflect their experience. Many of these young people had been seeking or dreaming of such a context or opportunity. Many others, however, were less interested in becoming part of a team. They just wanted to use the organization’s expertise and capacities to express themselves. These young people would briefly stop by the YPP office, or send in copy electronically. Another large constituency of writers were those who needed encouragement to even consider getting involved with Young People’s Press, let alone write an article. For these three distinct groups of young writers, YPP had to flexibly adapt its pedagogy and outreach strategies. What follows are some of the strategies and approaches employed by YPP.


Young People's Press Strategies and Approaches

YPP relied on senior editors who played both an editorial and educational role, but broad decisions in regards to editorial content—what counts as “news” and how youth are represented within it—were most often made by the youth participants themselves. The concerns mobilized in the project were essentially those of the young writers, although experienced facilitators are in place to enable the work to realize its potential (in this case, publication in major newspapers). To fulfil this objective, YPP staff developed alternative pedagogies in the area of language and literacy education. Drawing on the principles of rhetoric and composition theory, popular education techniques, critical media theory, and the basic tenets of news writing, these workshops provided youth with an alternative view of the writing process, one which empowered them to use literacy as a tool which can enact change in their lives. This innovative approach to writing pedagogy impacted the young writers with whom YPP worked. For example, a significant number of these youth writers came into the process feeling they lacked the requisite writing skills. To break down their fear of failure, inculcated by many years of red ink and report cards at school, required, in part, a “deschooling” of youth literacy practices. The editors at YPP recognized the need to teach writing as a communicative practice, and to consciously not teach writing as a set of rules (which can be used to identify "failure" to write "well"). So doing empowered young people to view writing as a simple extension of everyday human communication. For example, the YPP Writing guide emphasized that:

To affect other people through writing, your ideas have to be clearly conceptualized and communicated. That’s why YPP is here, to help you “re-present” your thoughts and concerns in writing. We serve you by working with you as you learn, try, and succeed in getting your ideas across. No matter what your experience as a writer, our editors will work with you on your ideas and your story. Then we will to help you to publish it (YPP Writers' Guide p. 1).

The primary innovation used by YPP was the emphasis on writing as storytelling, a form of communication basic to human cultures across history and geography. In YPP workshops, youth were empowered to recognize their capacity as storytellers; to first emphasize what they wished to communicate and then to work out how they would do so. This approach reflected the writing process as defined by Aristotle, and demonstrated the resiliency of oral narrative in our literate—or post-literate—times. It emphasized invention (the idea) and arrangement (how to structure that idea), as well as style (grammar, usage, etc.).

If you don’t already know this, you soon will: writing isn’t always a straightforward process. In fact, it can be downright mysterious at times. Aristotle, one of the grandparents of Western intellectual life, divided the process of composition into five elements: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory and Delivery. Take his ideas on Invention to heart and you will have a powerful ally to grow with as a writer. For those who dread actually sitting down to write, check this out: Aristotle considered thinking part of the writing process. So you can work on your writing while you’re in the shower, on your bike, or sitting on the bus! (YPP Writers' Guide p. 6).

By emphasizing the importance of invention for storytelling and news writing, young writers were empowered to recognize the value of what they have to say before being taught how to do so. This approach valorizes youth “voice” over writing competency. Unlike many school writing exercises, the strength of a piece lies in what it has to say, not in how it is composed. The key is motivation; inspiring young learners to go the extra distance when confronted with the more constrained aspects of arrangement—specifically in relation to journalistic practices—and style. The newspapers involved in the YPP project were interested in “teen voices,” so a great deal of energy was put into working, in particular, with the 17–19 year-old age group. YPP editors were looking for writing that was publishable, not just well composed. Journalistic writing brings together forms of logic, but also storytelling—how to spin a good yarn, how to tell a compelling story. Often those with the best and most compelling stories were those with the least experience in writing. A theme that was repeated in various writing contests was the “school of hard knocks.” Submissions that were received in this category were typically poorly composed but powerful testimonies of the struggles of growing up in varying difficult circumstances. Here “voice” trumped scholastic fluency, “story” trumped polished writing. This was recognized explicitly in the YPP Writers' Guide, too. for example,

YPP editors are here to give youth writers any assistance they need. Maybe you’ve never really thought of yourself as a writer before, or you could already be on your way to journalism school… whatever your previous experience, wherever you’re coming from, YPP can use your story. If you don’t know what to write about we’ll help you find a story idea, encourage you to tackle the challenge of writing it, and stick by you through the sometimes-tricky process of finding publication. Having published hundreds of young writers, YPP knows that every dedicated young person has the power to write a successful story. We’ll give you the skills and opportunity to find your voice, seize your chance, and say something! YPP wants to affect the "bigger picture" by helping young writers express their views and opinions in the public domain. As you probably know, the voices of youth are too often ignored or dismissed. This is tragic, because the freshest eyes on the planet often see the truth about where we are right now and where we need to go. Our brains are as capable of good, critical thought as anyone’s. It’s time we use them to claim our rights to express ourselves. Let’s see what we can achieve by stretching the uses and limits of free speech (p. 2).

Editing with writers took primarily two forms, face-to-face and via email. When working via email, YPP editors would rework the structure of a submitted text if necessary. A common issue encountered across many of the submissions was the “buried lead.” The "lead" is an evocative bit of text that works well to introduce an article, but the YPP editors found that this introductory text often appeared too "late" in the text, and typically moved the elad to a more prominent position. YPP editors did not consider the reorganization of the text to be an intrusion. That element of rhetorical composition that Aristotle had called “arrangement” often calls for an experienced mentor/editor to intervene. Over time, writers who worked with YPP developed a greater capacity to follow journalistic conventions of composition. The other key element of editing submitted texts was to embed questions and comments in capital letters before sending the text back to the writer. Participants were asked to elaborate on ideas, change wordings, and add important details, but were normally asked not to play with the structure. The challenge for the editors was to remain really sensitive to a writer’s voice during this process. This was always a delicate balancing act. The goal was to work towards guiding the writer to fit generic characteristics of journalistic writing, without losing the particularity of the author’s style, the images evoked, their own turns of phrase, and so on. YPP editors tried to impart to youth writers the notion that writing in non-school circumstances is a collaborative process. They had to work to break down youth assumptions that the help of an editor constitutes some kind of cheating. Youth participants were encouraged to understand that in real work situations writers do not just come up with works of genius, but, rather, they develop a draft, get feedback on it, and return to completing the task. In regards to learning on the part of the youth participants, YPP editors were able to identify certain "take-off" points. Young writers, usually by age fifteen, were clearly more able than younger cohorts to write at an abstract level and utilize sophisticated grammar and diction. By age seventeen, many accomplished young writers are using more complex reasoning and demonstrating higher level thinking (e.g., markers of this are: the ability to grasp several strands of an argument and integrate them, as opposed to the unifocal argumentation seen in younger writers).

News writing is both familiar and strange. On the one hand, it shares with school writing the emphasis on a thesis statement and arguments that support it. On the other, it shares conventions with conversation and personal diary writing. It is a form of storytelling that requires attentiveness to actor, scene, and agency. The writer is the eyes and the ears of the reader and must transmit elements of a context that enable a reader to see and feel it. In this sense, it is much closer to everyday oral discourse than is the impersonal academic essay. Writers provide thick descriptions referred to as "color" in journalistic parlance. Providing "color" involves imparting image-rich text, the need to appeal to and engage the eyes and ears of the reader.

Journalists are storytellers by trade. And at the heart of the trade are gripping stories, rich in imagery and detail.

One common piece of advice for writers is to “show, not tell.” You have to show the reader the world where your story takes place. A journalist must be the reader’s eyes and ears… and every other sense as well!

When you just tell the reader what you think they need to know, it can come across as a list of dull, dry information. As a journalist you can use some techniques of literary writing. Try to provide the reader with vibrant details so they can conjure up their own mental pictures (YPP Writers' Guide p. 7).
In addition to providing an affective and visual referent, a journalistic writer must tell a story that flows. Unlike academic writing, where a point can be left for future elucidation, a journalistic piece must flow from one sentence to the next. News writing proceeds like walking down a path. In terms of the arguments that are developed, one moves from point to point. The key here is transitions: words and sentences that weave together narrative bits. While on a conceptual level there is a potential for repetition, on a narrative level there is not. A well-crafted story goes full circle. It ends where it began.

Even though each story should have a single dominant theme, there are many different facts that need attention. Ideas flow smoothly and coherently when paragraphs are linked by transitions. Using transitions effectively can make important connections obvious to the reader, so there’s no doubt about how the components all fit together to build a complete story (YPP Writers' Guide p. 15).

Teaching in a news room environment is of necessity constrained or determined by outside deadlines and demands. In a face-to-face editing context with an impending copy deadline, YPP editors tried to explain structures of news writing to the young writer with the intent that each participant master generic conventions over time. But if the copy had to go out that afternoon and the writer had left things to the last minute, there were real time constraints that affected the teaching and learning relationship. YPP editors let the young writer have the final opinion on certain changes and made space for them to speak their minds about the way a piece was developing, but a looming deadline was not a moment where there was a lot of active engagement on the part of the learner. To some extent, in these moments, it is like watching a mechanic fix a car and listening to explanations as to why s/he is making certain decisions and choices. But, ultimately, the conventions and formulas of news writing are less complicated than the workings of a car engine, at least for YPP participants who usually self-identified as writers before getting involved. For them, it was a matter of just opening the box and providing a formula. They were taught to read news writing for structure and not just content. Most youth writers began to "get it" after a short time and their writing matured quickly.

In addition to various strategies of outreach, YPP offered structured instruction, too, using three different models. First was the one-time workshop, mainly offered in high school classes, but also offered at community centers and drop-in centers. Here the goal was to teach some basic principles of news writing. however, the primary focus of these one-day workshops was on exploring issues of the day and embodying YPP’s mantra: writing about “what’s on your mind.” Participants were asked what they would do if they were given the chance tomorrow to take over a whole page of a newspaper to express their ideas. They were invited to speculate on what the issues of the day should be, not to prove they had the "knowledge" to back up their opinions, but just to express themselves on issues that mattered to them.

The other two structured outreach approaches were similar in intention, but broader in scope. They comprised a two-session Writers' Institute and a five-session writers' Circle. Both of these models involved some initiative on the part of the participants. Participants would sign up for sessions and then show up on their own accord. The two-session Writers' Institute was run in groups of thirty and was conducted in a classroom-like setting. The Institute facilitators would cover the differences between soft and hard news writing, and between feature writing and opinion writing. They also explained how to conduct and report an interview. All these different genres of news writing were dealt with in more detail than could be done in a one-session workshop. The five-session Writers’ Circle was limited to 15 participants at a time. Here the goal was to create a safe space for participants to develop ideas in conjunction with some peer intervention, and each session involved the presentation of a new area of news writing so that the young writers could become increasingly sophisticated in their news writing. The YPP Writer’s Guide (see below) was produced with the Writers’ Circles in mind. It comprises five carefully ordered modules that corresponded to the five sessions of the Circle. The Guide was developed as a youth-friendly document, and aimed at being accessible and less intimidating than a standard journalism textbook.

The entire document is included here, and is used with permission from the original authors. Please note that YPP continues today only on a special project basis. Teachers interested in using the Writers' Guide will be on their own tin terms of facilitating questions and securing publication for their student writers. Of course, the ease of developing a website, or of submitting pieces to various sites in the flourishing blogosphere, this publishing challenge is no longer an impediment. As we used to say at YPP: Write on!


YPP Writers' Guide PDF Downloads

Citation: Ezra Houser, Brian McDonald and Michael Hoechsmann (2000). YPP Writers’ Guide. Toronto: Young People's Press.

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Works cited

  • Diversity Watch. (2004). Who is telling the news? Race and gender in Canada’s daily newsrooms. Retrieved on Sept. 14, 2007, from http://www.diversitywatch.ryerson.ca/home_miller_2004report.htm.
  • Eidman-Aaadahl, Elyse. 2002. “Got Some Time, Got a Place, Got a Word.” In G. Hull, Glynda & K. Schultz (Eds.). School’s Out! Bridging Out-of-School Literacies with Classroom Practice. NY: Teachers College Press.
  • Hull, Glynda & Schultz, Katherine (Eds.). 2002. School’s Out! Bridging Out-of-School Literacies with Classroom Practice. NY: Teachers College Press.
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