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Unseen, Unheard, Unwritten

In this editorial post concluding the blog theme "Children & Youth in Journalism", blog co-editor Yasmin Daniel explores the conceptions of journalism and news for children and youth, with the belief that it is worthwhile to investigate the implications of what this young demographic understands and imbibes about the domain.




Children and youth, as categories of the population, are rarely ever considered in adult-dominated spaces. They are considered as too young and uninformed to have legitimate opinions and worldviews of their own. Their voices are often validated only by the backing of an adult, or an authority, and are not taken into account by themselves. In this broad generalization that children are to be seen and not heard, as the old saying goes, one risks much. One potential shortcoming is that with the assumption that children do not hold their own opinions, one does not pay care and attention to the environmental factors that a child grows up in, which actually may influence their opinion. That is, with the misunderstanding that children are too young to pay attention to the news, adults may neglect the care that is necessary to prevent misconceptions about social, political, or cultural problems that biased or yellow journalism may endorse; alternatively, a child or young adolescent may imbibe inappropriate or inaccurate assumptions and values about journalism itself. In other words, by trivializing children's perceptions and opinion-forming capacities, one loses time in which they can help the child learn about journalism. They may thus not be sensitized to social, economic and political dynamics until a much later age, by which time inherent biases from their social conditioning may have already set in. In thinking that children do not have opinions, we make the mistake of not being careful about what children actually absorb into their lives.


Another pitfall is the rejection and dismissal of authentic perspectives from children and youth. An adolescent's understanding of conflict goes a long way in identifying impacts, causes, and future implications of the crisis. It may reveal the failings of adults in many ways as they neglect their young subjects and audience. For example, one paper by William Bird and Mike Rahfaldt on children’s participation in media in South Africa points out that there are very few direct quotes from children in the news, even in reportage about them. Their representation in the news is restricted to a few roles - a Media Monitoring Africa study in 2010 found that 18% of children featured in the news were portrayed as victims (Bird & Rahfaldt, p55, 2010/2011). The paper also discusses ethical principles concerning children which include giving children their own voice, protecting their rights by shielding their identities, and the harmful gender stereotypes and misrepresentation that the media propagates. An example provided is that children are ‘commonly non-descript or described as victims of war, abuse or poverty.’ This is an oversimplification of children’s agencies and their roles as members of the population.


An important distinction must be made between journalism and media. As G. Stuart Adam says, “The term “media” blends (and blurs) concepts of culture and technology. When used as a synonym for journalism, the term “media” pushes technology into the foreground and conceals the fact that “journalism” is one thing and “media” is another.” (Stuart, 2008) By his definition, media is “technologies of various effects and uses.” Media carries a connotation of both audio and visual forms of communication, including movies, songs, and print media. This is a vast domain, with several sub-institutions that all possess their own specific adultist practices and structures. Adam maintains that media involves technology - media encompasses information and entertainment in its ambit as well, not only news. Journalism, despite being a subset of media, is a topic that has many contours and avenues that could be investigated and explored, in regards to children and youth. Adam describes journalism as a “cultural practice”, a “form of expression or brain work that includes making news judgments, gathering evidence, constructing narratives and making sense of things.” Children and youth, as individuals making entries into the cultural and intellectual stream of society, thus also perform the activity of constructing narratives and making sense of things.


If one considers that journalism is the reportage of facts and events, then this itself opens up certain questions. What counts as news to children? Who defines the news - is it from an adultist perspective that neglects the needs and rights of children? How do children and youth perceive news and reporting? A related aspect is children and youth featuring in the news. This leads us to further considerations: how are these individuals portrayed? Are they viewed as disempowered, victimized people or are they given more positive portrayals? How do children's voices feature in the news, and who brings their stories to the fore? What is the nature of journalistic agencies' reportage on children and youth? The present scenario is quite bleak, with children’s and youth’s perspectives being almost nonexistent in their own representation and rights; this has led the Indian civil society group Concerned for Working Children (CWC) to formulate a media code that includes: ‘Consultation with children in the programming of children’s media results in children having a say in deciding how they are represented and the representation of their issues and realities the way children perceive them.’ among other provisions. (The Concerned for Working Children, 2007) Bringing in the aspects of agency and choice, we may think of the choices in consumption of journalism that children and youth have today. It is here that the digital domain features predominantly, both in consumption and production of journalism. Journalism has evolved with the internet's advent, and new forms such as explainer videos, podcasts, photo essays and dedicated YouTube channels. The internet provides accessibility to this diversity of journalistic content.


However, the internet has also convoluted matters for children and youth by perpetuating new and inaccurate versions of themselves, compounded by algorithms creating echo chambers. A 2009 study that examined children and the internet found that the media framed issues in particular ways. They present representations and provide references that give cues on how to perceive children and the internet. These are, of course, skewed and biased representations. The study’s findings showed that the media had disproportionate coverage on internet risks, which created moral panics. (Ponte et al., 2009, 1-14) Although the internet does allow a large degree of freedom to its users, it can also lead to one-sided depictions of its demographics. Nevertheless, it provides opportunities for children and youth to transcend adultist barriers and make efforts to produce journalistic content themselves, providing authenticity to their voices, perspectives, and concerns. One need not enter a newsroom to present their stories, nor do they have to concern themselves with censorship and regulation. With the accessibility offered by podcasting, a relatively new form of media, children and youth can easily acquaint themselves with how to convey their messages.


It is indeed fruitful for children to engage in their own pursuits of journalism, as it allows them to define what is newsworthy to them, and helps clarify how they would like to react to such topics. Dalit Sangh provides proof of this with the children’s newspaper Phool Jaise - Bacho Ki Pahel, which was designed by children and carried information and news stories written by them. Two significant examples of youth in journalism are People's Archive of Rural India (PARI), and The Print's Campus Voice initiative. These endeavors encourage student reporting and empower young individuals to redefine the conventions of journalism. Ultimately, children and youth become legal adults at some point. As individuals grow older, their principles, priorities, and convictions change. No child is untouched by societal factors and conditioning, no youth left entirely unbothered by political and economic changes. The potential of these age groups in all the spaces that they will eventually inhabit becomes, therefore, something that can be impacted by the choices and values that they internalize. Journalism is a space that cannot be devoid of principles. It is a domain that requires its practitioners to be sensible and sensitive, to observe and critique, to understand and empathize. Such values are worth imbuing into individuals at a young age. It is worth considering what children and youth bring, now and in the future, to the grand table of journalism.


References

Bird, W., & Rahfaldt, M. (2010/2011). Children and the media: Voices worth hearing? http://www.ci.uct.ac.za/sites/default/files/image_tool/images/367/Child_Gauge/South_African_Child_Gauge_20102011/sa_child_gauge_2010-11_media.pdf

The Concerned for Working Children. (2007). Giving Children a Voice in the Media. UNICEF Communication Initiative and Partnership Network. https://www.comminit.com/unicef/content/giving-children-voice-media

Ponte, C., Mascheroni, G., & Bauwens, J. (2009). Children and the internet in the news: agency, voices and agendas. EU Kids Online. http://dx.doi.org/10.1332/policypress/9781847424396.003.0013

Stuart, G. (2008, December 30). Thinking Ahead: The Difference between Journalism and Media. Poynter. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://www.poynter.org/archive/2008/thinking-ahead-the-difference-between-journalism-and-media/


 


Yasmin Rosammal Daniel is a second-year undergraduate student at St. Joseph’s College (Autonomous), Bengaluru, pursuing a degree in journalism and political science. Her interests lie in poetry, world cinema, the politics of social justice, and the dynamics of power. Her work has been published on The Open Dosa and the CCYSC's Feature Essays Project. She is always up for coffee and chatter.

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