Meet the New Newsmakers — The Under Age

In a media industry that seems increasingly unstable, one program in Melbourne is encouraging and equipping secondary students to enter the world of journalism. REBECCA HARKINS-CROSS, project coordinator of online news publication The Under Age, has found that enthusiasm for this crucial vocation remains strong.

Photo courtesy of Theresa HarrisonWhen the Kony 2012 campaign launched on 5 March this year, it was teenagers across the world who were its most vocal proponents. Created by Invisible Children, an American charity that crusades against human rights offences in Uganda, the campaign urged the Western world to take a stand against Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. The video quickly went viral — it has since been viewed over 90 million times on YouTube, largely as a result of teenagers reposting it through social media channels — and the campagn became page one news across the world. But despite a wealth of mainstream media coverage, the teenagers who had helped ‘Make Kony Famous’ were not the voices being heard in these outlets.

Unsurprisingly, Kony 2012 quickly became the predominant topic of discussion in editorial meetings at The Under Age, an online news publication written by and for high school students, that I have been overseeing this year. What was surprising, however, were these young journalists’ attitudes towards the campaign. Already savvy media consumers, they were suspicious of Invisible Children’s message from the start, and exasperated by the way it had been conveyed. ‘It treats audiences like they’re all five-year-olds,’ they complained. ‘It simplifies problems in Uganda. Invisible Children’s research is years out of date.’ ‘So write about it,’ I urged them. ‘The Under Age can provide a forum for those voices that are being overlooked.’

These young writers’ analysis of why Kony 2012 eventually failed was more incisive than much commentary provided by mainstream media. In her first contribution for The Under Age, 16-year-old Bethan Williamson wrote an opinion piece about what she described as a ‘frivolous, fickle movement’, arguing that the self-satisfaction of the world’s armchair activists became more important than the human rights abuses suffered by the Ugandan people. ‘When we look back on 2012, we won’t think of Joseph Kony and the atrocities he has committed in Uganda,’ she wrote powerfully. ‘We will recall the disrespectful viral message from Invisible Children and the way it reflected our society.’

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Commencing in 2011, The Under Age is an iniative of Melbourne newspaper The Age and young writers’ organisation Express Media. Its fundamental aim is to produce a fortnightly online publication by young people and for young people. The project’s editorial focus is therefore on youth issues, with writers taking fresh angles on stories currently circulating in the media, or unearthing new stories within their own communities. But more than this, The Under Age is an intensive skills-development program where teenage journalists get to spend a year practicing their craft while receiving ongoing advice from more experienced practitioners. The project aims to offer an environment where young writers feel supported while building their confidence and skills, and to provide a platform for voices that don’t normally get heard in traditional media outlets

Published in Screen Education, Issue 67, Spring 2012. Want to read more? Find out where to purchase Screen Education here.

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