Spotlight: PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs

Elis Estrada, Director, PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, shared her insight about the program and its connection to media literacy education. 

When did PBS SRL launch and why?

PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL) launched in 2009 with a seed grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It’s the brainchild of Leah Clapman, Managing Editor of Education for the NewsHour, who also founded NewsHour Extra, an awesome current events resource site for teachers and students. SRL was born in response to a need Leah identified after talking to students across the country about their experiences with the news media.

Students told her that it wasn’t easy to connect with the news. They didn’t see people who looked like them or hear voices that sounded like them. The news was being produced by adults, for adults and their experiences as young people were not being reflected or represented. SRL was created as a solve for this critical gap in the news and media landscape.

What does PBS SRL do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

We’re a national youth journalism program with Labs in 150 schools and counting. Labs are usually journalism or broadcast classrooms and after-school programs, but we’ve also worked with English, history, social studies and even science teachers. Our main goal is to create transformative educational experiences through video journalism that inspire youth to find their voice and engage in their communities. For almost 10 years, we’ve worked with teachers, students and local PBS stations to experiment with innovative ways of teaching and producing video journalism.

Throughout the school year, and sometimes during the summer, the amazing teachers and students in our network work hard to produce impactful stories that inform their peers and local communities. Students pursue assignment prompts tied to national issues and work with our incredible team of program managers, who serve as both educators and producers on their story pitches, scripts and final cuts. In the last two years, students have tackled immigration, disabilities, misinformation, STEM issues, the future of work, youth-led movements and the youth vote. Educators use our journalism curriculum, which includes valuable news and media literacy lessons, and we also connect teachers to their local PBS station that provides mentorship and other engagement opportunities. Throughout these holistic educational experiences, students are building critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and communication skills. Essential skills that help them become informed media creators and consumers.

What makes PBS SRL stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about PBS SRL?

Creating authentic news experiences for young people is important and we believe that thoughtful local reporting and the work of video production are powerful forms of learning and civic engagement. Teens don’t trust the media, they see the industry as an authoritative figure. Mainstream commercial news doesn’t reflect their own perspectives and issues they care about.

SRL’s ties to public media allows us to give young people the tools to create well-informed media and access to unique publishing platforms. SRL reporters are engaged with the issues affecting their community and are able to reach authentic audiences and join important conversations. SRL stories air on the national PBS NewsHour broadcast, local PBS stations and multiple digital platforms.  

What are recent projects or new resources that PBS SRL would like to share with other NAMLE members?

We just wrapped up a great series called, “Opportunity in America,” that explores how young people are making decisions about their future. One of the stories from the series recently aired on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. SRL producers worked with a group of students from Morgantown High School in West Virginia to investigate how young people are searching for economic mobility outside of the energy and coal industries. It’s a great story! There’s another one coming out soon from Cody, Wyoming about one of the smallest public schools in the country. You’ll have to stay tuned for that one.

In the next month or so, we’re going to launch a new series about public art in local communities that we’re doing in partnership with Instagram. NAMLE members can also check out our free curriculum online, Level Up tutorials, and the great lesson plans from NewsHour Extra that often feature SRL stories.

What are the connections between your work and media literacy?

Young people are digitally savvy, but they are also looking for ways to understand how to make sense of the endless waves of information coming at them on a daily basis. SRL teaches students how media and journalism shapes their lives, and in turn gives them a way to make sense of the world around them through storytelling. Creating more opportunities for student voice can inspire young people to become civically engaged and interested in the health and welfare of their local communities.

It also benefits youth who aren’t in SRL because they can see stories created by students, for students. If young people can learn how to use and understand the tools of media creators, to consider ethics and civic responsibility, they’ll be able to learn about the issues that matter to them as they become active members of their communities.

Why is media literacy important to you?

I didn’t receive a formal media literacy education until I was in college. That knowledge gap left me at a severe disadvantage as a millenial growing up in the digital revolution. Media literacy is essential and as media literacy educators and facilitators, we have to be creative and thoughtful about how future generations encounter and interact with all kinds of information.  

Anything else you want our readers to know about PBS SRL, your mission, your staff?

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for our latest stories and resources! Middle and high school educators interested in joining the SRL network can apply on our website. We have a great professional development workshop for teachers in the summer and this year’s application just opened.