Monday, September 12, 2011

YJI To HuffPost: Leave Those Kids Alone

Journalism has always been a field with lousy pay, crummy hours and miserable bosses. But even so, what The Huffington Post and Patch are planning is unusually sinister even by the standards of the news industry.

HuffPost High School is planning to open the doors for bloggers as young as 13 to prattle on in a particularly iffy section of The Huffington Post without editorial guidance and, of course, without pay.

They’re no doubt supposed to deliver a younger audience to the online monster so it can bolster its bottom line by peddling a few extra advertisements. In return, the kids get to see their precious words in print, unaware that they’re also getting the shaft from a company only too happy to exploit them mercilessly.

This is especially alarming to Youth Journalism International and, no doubt, other nonprofits and organizations that have spent years crafting systems to mentor young writers.  We edit carefully. We teach. We try to learn about our students and to develop relations that foster their spirits as well as their talents. They are students who, when they grow up, often become friends.

What’s the difference from what we do and what The Huffington Post and Patch are aiming for?

We don’t exploit our students. There’s no profit at Youth Journalism International. Heck, there’s hardly any money at all. We just work thousands of hours a year to make sure students who participate experience the joy of publishing news, columns, pictures, comics and more that meet our high standards.

Our students get the same thrill of publication that any HuffPost High School blogger might feel with the added bonus that they know what they’re sharing with the world has been vetted by professionals, crafted with care and treated with respect.

There’s honor in that, for us and for our students.

We can’t accept that a major corporation – AOL – would create a system that mercilessly takes advantage of young people.  Young writers deserve a helping hand, not just a platform. They deserve to have their voices heard, but they also deserve to be taught. They deserve to have caring adults looking out for their best interest.

Obviously, Youth Journalism International believes that young people should have a voice. But it shouldn’t be harnessed in servitude to big business.

3 comments:

Mariah Pulver said...

I didn't even know this was going on! It's a shame because Arianna Huffington came to my school last year and she seemed like a really nice person. But that is definitely not how you teach kids how to write. Thankfully YJI knows the right way to encourage young journalists!

Marsh said...

You are missing the point. The Huffington Post is giving young writers (including my son) an opportunity to expose their work on the big stage. This is not servitude. It's providing a great opportunity for the kids to have their work distributed to a large audience. Maybe a writer will use this as a vehicle to get a summer internship or a paying summer job. Maybe they will use this to put on their resume for college. And maybe it will encourage more writing to help them with their college essay. Leave the kids alone. They can make their own choices. Yes even a 13 year old. If they want to spend their time writing, let them. It's time well spent, and certainly better than playing video games, watching TV or chatting online.

Youth Journalism International said...

Marsh -- Yes, it's potentially a big stage. But it's exactly like sending any kid out on the stage of a big Broadway theater without rehearsals, a director or any clue what to do out there. A few, the real naturals, will shine anyway. But most will be embarrassing flops.
That's not what we do to kids in a civilized society. Instead, we provide education and guidance. We protect them from themselves sometimes. And we prepare them for a life where their words really matter.
Huffington Post is just a stage. It's nothing else. And it's making money off the rants and ridicule of what goes on inside.
At Youth Journalism International, we've seen lots of wonderful writers come our way. We've helped make many of them better and given them a boost so they can make their way more clearly.
The last thing the world needs are more teenagers convinced of their own greatness spouting off however they like about whatever they want. They need an editor -- something even Ernest Hemingway or Hunter Thompson knew.
I hope your son soars at the Huffington Post. I hope he's a star who can prove his mettle. I really do.
But most of what gets printed there is self-indulgent junk that may well harm students who deserve better.
Providing a voice for youth is what YJI is all about. But the adults here actually care about the students who come to us.