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.
The following are some of the ways in which the media could help reduce gang activity and youth violence.
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.
When reporting about gang activity or youth violence, the media
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
a companion Spotlight on Youth Agencies and
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.
feature article on how a gang member changed his/her life for
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
pride of place may insulate a neighborhood against gang activity
and youth violence.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.