Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
Copyright
2002
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
Solutions
Resources
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News


Part 8:
What the Media Could Do

Individuals gain the knowledge on which they construct their social realities from four sources: personal experiences, significant others (peers, family, friends), other social groups and institutions (schools, unions, churches, government agencies), and the mass media. (Surette, 1998, p. 6)

Most of what Americans know about gangs is acquired through the mass media, not through personal experience, significant others, or other social groups or institutions (except for children attending public schools). Most of us learn about gangs by listening to reports of gang activity presented by news anchors and commentators on radio and television and by reading journalists' accounts in newspapers and magazines. To be sure, there are millions of Americans living and working in known gang neighborhoods who know about gang first hand, but most Americans don't live or work in those neighborhoods.

The responsibility for informing America about gang activity and youth violence falls upon the mass media as the most efficient, affordable, and likely distributor of information currently available. We've already found that what the media presents may not always be accurate. The way in which the media portrays gangs and youth violence is sometimes sensationalistic and, when it is, impedes a genuine understanding of these issues. Sensationalized media reports may paralyze community members and contribute to a climate of fear, panic, or denial. On the other hand, gang activity and youth violence do appear to be increasing and are a genuine concern to millions of people, many of them victims.

While bullies, gangs, weapons, and substance abuse all contribute to the fear experienced by many of today's students, violence in America's neighborhoods and communities cannot be overlooked. Notwithstanding the sometimes unfounded and over-generalized fear and apprehension about violence among children and adults, often fueled by the media, violence in America is a legitimate concern for everyone. Likewise, research and statistics regarding juvenile victimization cannot be entirely discounted as mere media sensationalism. (Arnette and Walslaben, 1998, page)

Paralyzing listeners, readers, and viewers with horror stories about gang initiations, gang fights, and gangland murders won't reduce their occurrence. It may sell newspapers, but it doesn't solve problems. A responsible press and responsible broadcast journalism are powerful tools for bringing about change in a community by providing accurate and useful information and by acting as a catalyst for those changes.  

Solutions 

The following are some of the ways in which the media could help reduce gang activity and youth violence.

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Involve High-Risk and Gang Youth in Creating Rap Music and Videos
The mission of "Create Now," is to change the lives of troubled children through creative arts mentoring. They serve institutionalized high-risk and at-risk children and youth ages 2 to 21, who have been abused, neglected, abandoned, are left homeless, runaways, or part of the juvenile justice system. You can email the program's staff for more information. "Create Now" was featured on the "NBC Nightly News" broadcast on November 21st, 2005.
 

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Providing trend data:
When reporting about gang activity or youth violence, the media should include information on whether its occurrence represents an increase or decrease in such behavior in the community. Every community will experience a certain level of crime. It is important to know whether incidents of that behavior are increasing, decreasing, or remaining stable over time. Effective social action depends upon having this kind of information.

Are females becoming more or less involved in these behaviors?  Are the children who are violent or joining gangs getting involved in such behavior at younger or older ages? This, and other trend data is helpful in community's effort to reduce gang activity and youth violence. If a community has programs in place to reduce gang activity and youth violence, trend data should show whether their efforts are effective or not.

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Providing comparative data and other comparative information:
Is the level of gang activity and youth violence the same in your community as it is in other communities of similar size in your State or in the country? When I speak to communities about their gang situations I compare the experience they are having to other communities of approximately the same size. Comparisons provide insights which are useful in determining what course of action should be taken.

What are other communities doing to reduce those behaviors among their youth? Are they doing that may work well in your community? This is important information and the media can bring it to a community and satisfy their own need for increasing viewer/readership at the same time.  

What are the social institutions in other communities doing which are proving to be successful in reducing youth violence and gang activity? Are their faith institutions or business community sponsoring effective programs in this regard? This way of educating the community represents a promising strategy for the media.  

Featuring real life stories about gang members:
When a gang member is apprehended and convicted, the media should provide a feature story on his or her life. All children begin life innocently. What went wrong? The media could then entertain that which may have prevented this tragedy. Real life stories alert the community to the precursors of delinquency and heighten residents' awareness of the need for social action and change.

Creating a weekly Spotlight on Youth which celebrates their positive accomplishments:
Most youths are assets to the communities in which they live. The media shouldn't overlook them in their reporting. If a child, adolescent, or youth group has done something that helped others or improved community life in some way, the media could report about it. Good kids are wonderful role models for other kids. 

Creating a companion Spotlight on Youth Agencies and Services: 
The media could have a significant impact on reducing gang activity and youth violence by providing information on where their adult audience may obtain help for their children or where children can seek help for themselves.

Writing a feature article on how a gang member changed his/her life for the better: 
There are gang members who want to get out of the gang life and others who have already accomplish that goal. The media should feature them as a means of communicating that there is hope for those in the community who are in gangs and want to get out.

Highlighting the impact of gang activity on victims:
The media could show concern and compassion for victims of gang and youth violence at least equal to the attention given offenders or suspects. Keeping good kids good means consistently reaffirming for them that there are consequences to acting badly. One of those consequences is the harm done to other people. Focusing only on the offender does little to teach a lesson. Incidents of inner-gang (within the same gang) violence draw attention to the fact that gangs don't necessarily "love" their fellow members - a myth some children believe is true.

Creating a focus group of youth in the community and share your findings:
The media could create groups of local youth which can be queried occasionally about their concerns, attitudes and values. They know a great deal about gangs and youth violence (i.e., what's happening at home, in the schools, at the mall, around town). They also have ideas about what it will take to reduce gang activity and youth violence. The media could give them a voice in the community by sharing their findings in print and by broadcasting them.

Focusing on the spigot, not the spill:
The media could encourage serious editorial exploration of youth problems and potential solutions to them. This increases public awareness of problems and acts as a catalyst for solutions.

Declaring an annual Week of the Child:
Local media could declare a Week of the Child during which time a series of programs/articles on local youth issues appear. Advertising campaigns for youth-related products make this a potentially profitable experience for the media and a rewarding experience for the community as it takes one week out of each year to focus attention on local youth.

Supporting neighborhood activities:
The media could support neighborhood activities with on-site broadcasts, neighborhood reports and updates, and specials on positive neighborhood developments. It could offer and publicize awards or honors for neighborhoods and residents of all ages who have made particularly meaningful contributions to their neighborhood. Building pride of place may insulate a neighborhood against gang activity and youth violence.

Adopting a youth-serving agency:
Media companies (newspapers, magazines, television, radio) could adopt a local youth-serving agency. Media companies could volunteer employees for a few hours a month or a week without docking their pay. They could sponsor fund raisers, bake sales, or other events which benefit the youth-serving agency and advertise for their company (or certain advertisers' products/services) at the same time. They could host annual community-wide garage sales, charge a one dollar entrance fee, and deposit the proceeds in a trust fund created to support one or more youth-serving agencies.

If local media businesses are not taking the steps necessary to reduce gang activity and youth violence then perhaps they should be encouraged to do so. Letters to and meetings with editors and station owners alert them to the public's interest in these issues and may result in a change in programming. Holding a well-publicized community forum will also draw attention to the issues and may result in valuable coverage in the media.

In Closing

The media play a critically important role in educating the community. If they are misinforming or only partially informing the public they serve regarding gang activity and youth violence, then the media has become a part of the problem. There are many steps the media could take to help reduce gang activity and youth violence in the communities they serve.

This concludes our review of media solutions and of solutions which could be generated by private and public social institutions. Even though we may be able to involve the public and private sectors in reducing gang activity and youth violence, if their efforts are uncoordinated they may be less effective than if were they orchestrated in some way. That's our next topic. 

Next

Additional Resources: If you'd like to find out which cities in the United States have a population size approximate to your community, visit this U.S. Census Bureau site. Be sure to use the numbers in the year 2000 column.

2002 Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.