Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Davis Media Access: Empowering youths through media

Years ago, my job here was to recruit, train and manage studio production interns. I spent many nights with interns ranging from 16 to ageless, but most fell in the older teen-to-college student range. I loved that time in life because I got to experience daily the phenomenal energy and creativity of youth.

I’m doing my front-desk stint today, 4 p.m. on a Wednesday, and we have a high school convergence happening at Davis Media Access. What I’m seeing and hearing reminds me of my days with interns and makes me smile.

Exiting the studio is a group of six Davis High School students who have just finished recording an episode of “Scrambled” ( Arts, culture, politics, these young folks — several of whom interned with DMA before this — are taking it all on. The students are mentored and trained by DMA’s staff but drive the content decisions and productions themselves. Today, they’re bubbling over with energy as I listen to their excited chatter about plans to interview our congressman.

As they leave, DMA Production Manager Jeff Shaw is bringing another dozen students, these mostly from Da Vinci Charter Academy — who are with The World Spectra Project ( They already publish a digital magazine devoted to multiculturalism. They’ve come to us to get training on and access to video equipment to continue developing their project.

DMA devotes considerable resources to supporting youth-led projects, and recently I was asked why. There are many great reasons, including teaching critical thinking and building self-confidence, but for me it boils down to this: Youths are digital natives and they live in a super-saturated media atmosphere. Yet so much of that is really not about them, it’s just aimed at them.

In this country, youth ages 12-19 spend an average of 19 hours per week watching television — and that doesn’t include their time spent with texting and chat, video games and the like. And yet, the media frequently portray these same youths as suspect (violent, corrupt, dishonest), lazy and uncaring, not to mention hyper-sexualized and dumb. Much of what they watch doesn’t support their growth and well-being, but it does a great job of shaping them as a consumer demographic.

At DMA, we believe in putting youths in the driver’s seat. We provide them with tools and training to be able to understand how media is aimed at them, and how they can aim back. We teach media as a tool for both self-empowerment and community development. Students seek DMA’s help because while literacy in media and digital technology are critically needed 21st-century skills, by and large, schools can’t support the kinds of training and equipment they need.

DMA offers a comprehensive production internship opportunity to high school students, running about 20 kids through the program each year. They assist staff in recording 62 local school-based events each year, including sports, graduations and performing arts. A number of teens who are not production interns regularly crew for our in-house studio productions, or assist via other specialty internships: digital archiving, radio operations, PSA creation, production assistance.

Many of these interns return and serve as paid assistants for workshops and youth media camps, and create programming of their own. Additionally, many have used the skills here to help get them into film schools and community development programs. Others have jumped straight to jobs in the industry, including post-production in Los Angeles and commercial television production in Palm Springs, recently.

Finally, we offer two Kid Vid Production camps and two Animation camps each summer ( and there are still some slots open.

Here’s to our youth!

—Autumn Labbé-Renault is executive director of Davis Media Access, an organization providing access to, and advocacy for, local media. She writes this column monthly. Find out more about DMA at, “like” the organization on Facebook or follow her tweets at @davismediaccess

Autumn Labbe-Renault


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