Diversity, or the lack of it in mainstream public media, has been an ongoing issue, especially in broadcast radio and journalism spaces. However, there are groups working to change that. Listen Up! Youth Radio is an organization that presents young people from underrepresented groups with the platform and the tools to get into broadcasting.
According to a 2018 survey done by the Radio Television Digital News Association, only 11.3% of radio newsroom staff are people of color. According to a 2019 report by Nielsen holdings, radio is the predominant way that Black Americans consume media. Black and Hispanic Americans make up one-third of the radio audience in America, but only 416 commercial radio stations are minority-owned, compared to the 10,076 white-owned stations.
Even though there are many minorities who listen to radio, station leadership and staff are not representative of the people listening.
Giving young people the ability to express themselves through Listen Up!, especially if they are from underrepresented groups, can help pave the way to diversifying radio newsrooms. Supported by the Minnesota Humanities Center, St. Paul Foundation and Youthprise, youth ages 14 to 24 have the opportunity to host a live weekly radio talk show and join the other programs Listen Up! offers. Listen Up! also works with elementary school kids.
Mia Lambert, 16, joined Listen Up! as a broadcaster three years ago, when the organization was created. Mia is now a youth board member, as well.
Initiatives such as Listen Up! allow people to hear the stories of minority youth that often are not taught in classrooms.
“Being able to learn the history of a certain people allows you to understand it and maybe even connect with that,” Mia said.
The limited history of people of color has been a tool to portray minorities in a certain way in the classroom.
“I feel by not having that well-rounded history … the stereotype and the aspects that you’ve been taught about these kinds of people and the history that you learned have all snowballed into a whole prejudice,” Mia said.
Listen Up! hopes to reach more people in Minnesota in the coming years to help unteach prejudices.
“I think that would be really great because our mission, our goal, is to give access to young people to journalism, to radio or just to telling their story in general,” Mia said.
That access could be vital to ensure that future radio newsrooms are more reflective of their listeners.
“I think by allowing students to have access to journalism and radio—younger instead of older—it allows them to gain these kinds of skills that are needed to get into those newsrooms,” Mia said.
Coming into professional newsrooms can be challenging.
“I tell other young people, ‘Don’t lose faith in yourself,’ because sometimes it’s really hard telling your story in journalism or radio, because there are different obstacles you face, whether it’s racism, or not being able to feel like you’re totally included in the story because of your race, your identity, your age. It’s important that you know you’ve got this. There are people out there who want to hear your story and who will support you. And even if there is not, you always have yourself,” Lambert said.