Youths Criticize Media On Coverage of Children
By DENNIS HEVESI
Published: Monday, November 19, 1990
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Citing headline words like "wolf pack," "hoodlums" and "thugs," about 1,000 young people berated a panel of newspaper and television representatives on Saturday for what the youths said was negative coverage of children.
"Why is it like a holiday when you write something positive about kids?" asked 16-year-old Malika Batchie after stepping up to the microphone in the auditorium of Martin Luther King Jr. High School on the West Side of Manhattan. "Why can't you do it all the time?" Ms. Batchie, a senior at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, wanted to know.
To the shouts and prolonged applause of the crowd, another young woman, who declined to be identified, told the panel: "We don't want you to just come around here and pacify us. You live like vultures off the oppression of black people. Put that in your paper!" At least 75 percent of the audience was black or Hispanic.
Panel members did not necessarily disagree. Paula Walker, an assistant news director at WNBC-TV, recounted how "a writer at my station, writing about the second Central Park jogger trial, used the phrase, 'savage attack,' when not long before that the second Bensonhurst trial was called 'a racial-murder trial.' " 'A Youth Empowerment Group'
The occasion was a "Bust the Stereotypes Speakout" that followed a daylong program of workshops and caucuses on children's issues sponsored by Youth Force, a group created by the Citizens Committee for New York City, a nonprofit advocacy agency.
"It's a youth empowerment group," said Fitzcarl Reid, 19, a volunteer at Youth Force. "The full conference was designed to give young people the motivation and resources to go home and start organizing to improve their homes, neighborhoods and schools."
The gathering was the third annual conference held by Youth Force. "Last year," Mr. Reid said, "young people who attended the caucuses decided to form their own congress, so that they could stay together. One of the first things they thought was pertinent was how youth are portrayed in the media. They called their group Youth Uprising."
And that is what the panel members may have thought they were confronting as soon as the program started, the lights dimmed and a slide show began flashing headlines like "Where Did the Rotten Kids Get Their Values?" and "Teens Armed and Dangerous," interspersed with a set of "challenges" to news organizations. More Positive Stories
Before the conference, Bonin Bough, 12, a member of Youth Uprising, recited some of the challenges, which included creating youth columns in major newspapers, financing literacy campaigns and student journalism programs in poor neighborhoods and making "at least 20 percent of the editorial boards, anchor people, production crews and administrative staff people of color by 1992."
To the demands that more positive stories about young people be aired, Henry Florsheim, assistant news director of WABC-TV, said that some of those complaining were only seeing their own interests. "There is a sense," Mr. Florsheim said, "that if my particular project is not covered, then there are no positive stories."
"How come the K.K.K. is not being called a wolf pack?" asked Paul Lipsey, 17, a junior at Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx.
Michel Marriott, an education reporter for The New York Times, agreed. "When armed suspects are kids of color, it is open season to use terms like 'wolf pack,' " he said.
But when the questioning became particularly heated and pointed, Mr. Marriott countered, "I have fire in my stomach, too. There are a lot of people in this business because they want to be agents of change. Instead of throwing stones at the wall, try rearranging the bricks."