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Throughout history the media has primarily been produced by adults, for adults, about adults. Increasingly, children have become a matter of high priority in the modern media society, and as they have, they have also become the subject of much concern. From debates in Congress about the detrimental effects of movies, comic books, and video games over the last century to efforts to court children as media consumers, there is a clear recognition that the media are not now and probably never were purely adult fare. Their impact on children is at issue.
The contributors to this important work all study or work in the world of children's media. They analyze such concerns as the need for more educational programming for children on commercial television, media research groups devoted to studying issues that affect children, how children are covered by major newspapers and network news, and media organizations that utilize children as reporters, journalists, and editors. Also included in this volume are insights from various members of the entertainment, scholarly, and political communities, including Senator Paul Simon, Harvard professor Gerald Lesser, television personality Fred Rogers, and Representative Patricia Schroeder.
Children and the Media goes beyond predictable debates over children and media. The contributors consider various interest goups, from consumer to producer, with the intention of stimulating more disciplined intelligence on the topic, thus leading to continuing creative efforts to address an often neglected part of the human community. This book will be invaluable to media studies specialists, child psychologists, educators, and parents.
Preface Introduction Part I Overview 1. Symposium I Jana Eisenberg In the first of four “symposia” of short observations on the intersection of children and media compiled by New York free-lancer Jana Eisenberg, six preeminent commentators share their thoughts: U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, Vivian Horner of Bell Atlantic, Ernest Boyer of the Carnegie Foundation, Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois and entertainers Shari Lewis and Art Linkletter.
2. The Moment of Truth Reed Hundt Who better to reflect on the future of children and the media than the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission? “Why focus on connecting our children to the potential of the communications revolution?” he asks in outlining his goals in this area. “Because any concept of a well-ordered society depends on raising our children to participate in public discourse, and that discourse will increasingly be through electronic means.” 3. “As I Told the FCC . . .” Yet Another Modest Proposal for Children’s Television Peggy Charren After a quarter-century, the founder of Action for Children’s Television is anything but shy about telling the FCC what’s wrong with commercial broadcasting for children. “The record of those 25 years shows that in large part, commercial television has abdicated its educational responsibility and concentrated on its ability to amuse,” she says. “Part of the reason we keep having this discussion is that the commercial TV industry does not know how—or does not care—to obey the law.” 4. Why Kids Hate Educational TV Patricia Aufderheide “You don’t have to get up early too many Saturday mornings with the kids before you’re convinced that there’s not much educational and informational programming for children on commercial broadcast television,” observes a media researcher and communication professor at the American University in Washington. “And, by and large, what is there isn’t very inspiring. What was Newton Minow’s line? The Vast Wasteland is perhaps vastest on Saturday mornings.” 5. Electronic Childhood Ellen Wartella “My children are living an electronic childhood,” writes the dean of the College of Communication at the University of Texas-Austin. “As parents, teachers and television producers observe our children in this electronic world, we are both awed by their agility with media that sometimes intimidate us and fearful of the ways those new media are changing the nature of children’s lives and the society in which they grow up.” Part II Covering Children 6. Symposium II Jana Eisenberg Opening this section are reflections from six more commentators with vast experience writing, researching, entertaining and thinking about kids: author and journalist Alex Kotlowitz, Harvard scholar Gerald Lesser, Linda Ellerbee of “Nick News,” kidpaper publisher Adam Linter, children’s entertainer Raffi and Columbia University’s Samuel Freedman.
7. From Unseen and Unheard to Kidsbeat Cathy Trost “For years, the children’s beat was the Rodney Dangerfield of American newsrooms,” reflects the director of the Casey Journalism Center for Children and Families at the University of Maryland, “it got no respect.” “Covering politics or City Hall was the journalist’s dream job, and few wanted to get sidetracked into the low-status, soft-news backwater of kids.” But that’s changing.
8. How the News Media “See” Kids Dale Kunkel The author, a University of California-Santa Barbara communication professor, reports on his study of how kids are covered by major U.S.
newspapers and the network news. The result: a picture of coverage that is uneven and spotty at best. “By serving as gatekeepers of the messages the public receives about the condition of children in American society,” he points out, “the press plays a pivotal role in influencing awareness of child-related issues.” 9. Children Like Me—Where Do We Fit In? María Elena Gutiérrez The author, a child development expert in the Alameda, Calif., elementary schools, worries about how the kids she works with in an increasingly ethnically diverse school system pattern their behavior toward one another.
“American television’s perception of what is beautiful, desirable, ‘cool’ is not where the U.S. population is heading,” she argues. “But we and our children still learn from the images television projects, lessons that conform less and less to the world around us.” Part III The Child Audience 10. Symposium III Jana Eisenberg Setting the scene for this section are five more experts with wide experience in kid audiences—Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” University of California-Berkeley sociologist and media scholar Todd Gitlin, Rep. Patricia Schroeder of Colorado, Craig Neff, managing editor of Sports Illustrated for Kids, and mass communication scholar Jane D.
Brown of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
11. By the Numbers—What Kids Watch Larry McGill “Amidst all the concern about children’s exposure to potentially harmful TV, surprisingly little attention has been paid to what kids actually watch,” writes The Freedom Forum Media Studies Center’s director for research and administration in reporting on his own study of child viewing patterns.
“While kids do flock to cartoons, PBS and Nickelodeon, data suggest these sources represent less than half of what kids spend their time watching.” 12. Six Myths About Television and Children Milton Chen “A curious mythology has grown up around television and its effects on children,” observes the director of the Center for Education and Lifelong Learning at KQED in San Francisco, as he sets about debunking those myths. “Together, they would have us believe that TV is single-handedly turning kids into couch potatoes, frying their brains, shortening their attention spans and lowering their academic abilities.” This is much too simplistic of you, he argues.
13. “Ask Beth” Elizabeth C. Winship “Kids used to write me about acne, bras, long hair (boys’), short hair (girls’), nylons, tube tops, ‘Mom makes me come home at 9:30!’ and ‘Should I kiss a boy on the first date?’” reminisces the author of a syndicated column since 1963. Times have changed for kids and how they use her newspaper-mediated advice. “Now they write me about venereal warts and condoms and suicide and drug addiction.” 14. “Sesame Street” and Children in Poverty Keith W. Mielke Since the late 1960s, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Oscar the Grouch and the rest of the residents of “Sesame Street” have been using TV to teach kids—especially those who need it most, observes the author, senior researcher at the Children’s Television Workshop. “‘Sesame Street’ is reaching and helping low-income children who have a narrower range of educational opportunities in the critical preschool years—important elements in a national strategy for reaching our educational goals for the year 2000,” he suggests.
15. Teaching Media Literacy—Yo! Are You Hip to This? Renée Hobbs “Media literacy is not a new subject area, and it is not just about television—it is literacy for the information age,” writes the director of the Harvard Institute on Media Education, a media-literacy program. “Media literacy advocates often refuse to line up with those who have a more traditional perspective on children’s TV, who intone the merits of public broadcasting and the evils of popular, mass audience fare, championing ‘good’ shows and decrying the ‘bad.’ It may not be so important what you watch, but how you watch it.” 16. Growing Media Smarts—The New Mexico Project Kate Moody Travel to Las Cruces, N.M., and you’ll find the first statewide media literacy project in the country. The author, a children’s media expert from Hunter College in New York, made that trip. “One seed for growing a more medialiterate, adaptable, employable, responsible and knowledgeable citizenry has started to sprout in the sands of New Mexico,” she reports. “Here schools are preparing tomorrow’s citizens for life in a nation where they’ll receive most of their news and entertainment from television.” Part IV Kids Making Media 17. Symposium IV Jana Eisenberg This final roundtable session of journalists, scholars and media owners discusses the ultimate question concerning kids and the media—how to help them make their own. We convene two 13-year-old magazine writers from Duluth, Minn., Erin and Julia Hart; Newsday’s special projects editor Bill Zimmerman; Yale child psychologist Edward Zigler; Christopher Dahl, president of the Minneapolis-based kids’ radio network Radio AAHS; and Allen Francis, a 19-year-old journalist from Marymount Manhattan College.
18. A Voice and the Courage to Use It Robert Clampitt and Stephen Silha “If news media really want to cover communities effectively, they will need to rethink dramatically how they cover children and children’s issues,” write two leaders of Children’s Express, a Washington-based organization for kids’ own journalism. “A powerful way for media to ‘mediate’ the future is to invite children to become part of the journalistic enterprise—both as vital subjects and as reporters and editors.” They explain how that works and what lessons “adult journalism” can learn from it.
19. News Advisory—Listen to the Children Susan Herr and Dennis Sykes “However worthy its intentions, the quality of most journalism that examines the lives of inner-city children is compromised because editors and reporters suffer from what we call ‘paternal journalism,’ the notion that media can provide readers with ‘detailed knowledge’ about people’s lives without including the voices of those people,” argue the authors, directors for Youth Communication, a Chicago kids and media organization.
Their solution? Let young people speak for themselves.
20. Our Own Voices, Please Marjani Coffey The author, a 16-year-old Chicago high school junior and a reporter for New Expression, a monthly newspaper written for and by teens, offers a view of “paternal journalism” from the receiving end. “An auto mechanic wouldn’t be asked to report on nuclear physics,” she writes.
“Why should an adult report on teens without experience on being a teen in the 1990s?” 21. Harlem Snapshot—Schooling in New Technologies Josiah Brown On 123rd Street in Harlem, an innovative program at PS 125 is demonstrating the power and potential the promised new technologies can have on the lives of kids everywhere. At the Ralph Bunche School for Science and Technology, computers and interactivity are attracting growing numbers of young people, as the author, a former Freedom Forum Media Studies Center staff member, reports: “What the students experience are not just the wonders of technology, but also the consequences if their benefits are not widely available.” 22. Coming Up Next . . . A Brighter Tomorrow for Kids’ TV Karen W. Jaffe “Even though the riches embedded in children’s TV have driven some programmers to new lows,” observes the executive director of KIDSNET, “there are bright spots to report.” The FCC still has not enacted regulations to enforce the Children’s Television Act of 1990, she points out, although she remains optimistic that technology and bureaucracy—together— will combine to revolutionize kids’ television.
Part V Books and Organizations 23. Smarter Than We Think—Kids, Passivity and the Media Katharine E. Heintz “The relationship between children and electronic media worries parents, educators and the general public,” observes a University of Washington communication professor in her critical review of six key books in the field of children and media. “But this comes as no surprise, since historically every new medium has been followed by widespread concern about its potential effects on children.” 24. The Guardians of Growing Up—A User’s Guide to Children and Media Research Groups Dirk Smillie “The landscape of groups devoted to children and the media is filled with far more than advocates and activists,” reports The Freedom Forum Media Studies Center’s descriptive survey of selected institutes and study centers grappling with issues affecting kids in the information age.
For Further Reading Index