Something needs to change. We have a plan.

Community-centered journalism, powered by youth, can be a vehicle for solutions.

A mural in Minneapolis at the corner of Portland Ave. and East Lake St. (Photo by Eric Ortiz)
A mural in Minneapolis at the corner of Portland Ave. and East Lake St. (Photo by Eric Ortiz)

Research shows that negativity is four to seven times more powerful than positivity. We are hardwired for negativity.

This negative bias is why we focus more on "bad things" to make sense of our lives and the world around us. The negative grabs our attention. Traumatic experiences stay with us. Negative information outweighs positive data. All this negativity influences our thoughts, feelings, and decisions. We have to fight these negative feelings. 

The news doesn't help.

Everywhere you turn, there is bad news, doomsday headlines, problems, complaints. Whether it's traditional news channels, social media, the internet, neighborhood conversations, or everyday interactions, it's hard to avoid Negativeville.

A few weeks ago, I started teaching a journalism class with middle school students as an after-school program at Ella Baker Global Studies and Humanities Magnet School in Minneapolis.

The students are in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. One of the seventh graders, a 13-year-old, has a lot of energy. He is a bright and talented kid, but sometimes his energy can be misguided.

At his first class, during our break, he asked if he could go outside and play basketball.

I said no, not this time. He didn't like that response and started grumbling about it.

When we got back to class, he started being disrespectful and disruptive, cussing and throwing papers around the room. I told him to stop.

That didn't work.

We had a guest speaker on Zoom scheduled, and he continued to be disruptive. This encouraged other students to be disruptive.

The class did not end well.

After all the disruptive students had left, one student remained. I know this student through our youth development program at the Strong Mind Strong Body Foundation. He is a great kid, and we have built a level of trust and mutual respect.

I asked him about the disruptive and disrespectful behavior. He said the disruptive and disrespectful behavior was normal. That's how it is with most students in every class every day.

After that class, I thought about how I could engage the disruptive student and get him to stop being disruptive in future classes.

The next time I saw him in class, I changed my approach.

It worked.

That student became a leader in our journalism class. With continued guidance and development, he can become a changemaker in the community.

It all started with listening. By listening, I learned how to channel the negative energy of a young student in a positive direction.

This is why we started a Youth Community Journalism Institute at the Strong Mind Strong Body Foundation, the youth and community development nonprofit where I am executive director.

The institute houses all of our journalism initiatives. Our first initiative was launching the community journalism program with middle school students at Ella Baker. As part of the program, we launched Ella Baker News, an online student newspaper for the school, and taught students the fundamentals of community-centered journalism. 

We want students to learn how to deliver news and information that meets the community's needs and use journalism as a tool to create solutions and positive change.

A student wrote a commentary on homelessness for Ella Baker News.

The article ran in the May Southwest Connector newspaper (page 5) and was also published on the Southwest Connector website.

The student wrote two more articles about homelessness for Ella Baker News.

What is the city doing about homelessness?

Please stop hurting the homeless

He wants to do more. 

This summer, the student will participate in our youth community journalism microinternship program. We are launching the program with Carmen Robles and Associates LLC. The program will take place at SPEAK MPLS, a community media center in Minneapolis and Strong Mind Strong Body Foundation partner organization. This program is for youth ages 12-17 and will teach the fundamentals of community journalism, including reporting, storytelling, interviewing, multimedia journalism, video production, field reporting, and live studio production. 

The youth community journalism program will culminate in a live news show produced by students in front of a live studio audience and broadcast on SPEAK MPLS cable TV channels.

As part of the microinternship, youth will get to participate in the Mercado Central Local Journalism Project, another initiative of the Youth Community Journalism Institute. 

The Mercado Central is a thriving Latino marketplace located in Minneapolis that is celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer. Our journalism project will explore the past, present, and future of Mercado Central, reframe the immigration narrative, and educate the public on how anyone can be an entrepreneur and asset-based community development can add value to any community.

It's time to flex our humanity with every issue viewed as a negative. 

This starts at home in our communities. Our goal is to get youth journalism programs in more middle schools across Minnesota and spark a nationwide Journalism for All movement.

With youth and a reimagination of journalism, we can turn any negative into a positive.

Eric Ortiz lives in the Wedge with his family. When he’s not bonding, he is community building with the Strong Mind Strong Body Foundation and writing bilingual children’s books with his kids. Their first book, “How the Zookalex Saved the Village,” is available in English and Spanish.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here