Changing the Question
Across the U.S., “if it bleeds it leads” dominates the screen and promoting false stereotypes is common practice as countless media outlets run stories and images of people of color engaged in destructive behavior. Folks watching the news don’t see youth at Spirit House or the Arab American Action Network, for example, doing the positive work they do 24/7.
Biased coverage creates difficulty for community morale and organizations doing the work, and missed opportunities in moving local reform efforts and shifting public perception. With these concerns in mind, CJNY began to search for a way to offer high-level media assistance to CJNY members and help shift the way youth incarceration issues are discussed in the media and wider public arena.
The Center for Media Justice (CMJ), a national media strategy and action center dedicated to building the power of grassroots movements, began helping CJNY staff identify the need to reframe public discourse regarding juvenile justice/juvenile incarceration. CMJ works specifically with networks to offer media training, tools and access to a database of national progressive media contacts. It soon became clear that CMJ and CJNY would benefit greatly from working together to grow the skills and profiles of CNY member organizations as well as impact and shift the national discourse.
Changing the Story
Proposition 6 (the Safe Neighborhoods Act) – a “tough on crime” predatory policy that if passed would have resulted in growing racial disparities and unequal sentencing in the California juvenile justice system – provided a perfect opportunity to test the effectiveness of this partnership. CMJ’s media training and established relationships with reporters provided a massive asset to CJNY members and had clear positive impact on the statewide public debate, political climate and helped to lead to the overwhelming defeat of Proposition 6.
CMJ monitored coverage of Prop 6 stories during the elections and found that despite all concerted effort of youth organizations, 92% of articles still contained no youth voices, 78% of articles mentioned race explicitly, nearly half the articles offered no solutions. Many stories focused positively on youth tended to be “diamond in the rough” articles about “exceptions to the rule.” These findings only highlight the importance of this partnership.
Transforming the Conversation
In April of 2009 CMJ began working with CJNY members to develop broad messaging around juvenile justice and DMC, media plans to complement campaigns, and training on CMJ’s press data base. At an initial training in D.C., participants identified key opportunities for collaboration: The Webb Bill, Lobby Days, and the OJJDPA Re-Authorization.
These are spaces where we can work to achieve three things, reframe core beliefs about public safety and racial disparities; move from racial disparities to a racial justice lens; and develop and advance a system accountability frame through a racial justice lens. CMJ has also committed to publishing a communications strategy tool kit for CJNY members.
For the initial document produced after the training click into the Resources section and click on the "Communicate Justice Leadership Institute" document to download.
For further information contact Malachi at
For a full list of documents, tools and resources, visit CENTER FOR MEDIA JUSTICE.