Teens v. Times

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Last December, a group of teens from the Bronx’s Schomburg Satellite Academy took their after-school project all the way to the Times Square offices of the New York Times Metro section.

Prompted by statistics that show two-thirds of the public believe youth crime is rising–despite a 33 percent decrease since 1994–five teens from the extracurricular Youth Force program studied three months of Times articles about youth crime. The 22-page report that resulted found that the Times overrepresents youth crime, and they held a summit meeting to try to convince the newspaper to alter its coverage.

Once they learned they were going to meet with the editors of the nation’s paper of record, the students drilled for weeks on how to present their statistics–and also on how to keep their cool.

“I wasn’t nervous. I was chillin’,” says Hayden Mendoza, 18. “The stuff in there is fact, and they can’t refute facts.”

But they tried. “I don’t think it’s a serious study of how journalism is done,” says Times Metro editor Jonathan Landman. “It’s a misunderstanding of what journalism is.”

And assignment editor Tony Marcano told the youngsters that looking at the Times for only three months was like judging a student on a single semester of C work. “So what are they saying? They had a bad three months?” jokes Mendoza.

At first, the Times staff seemed nervous, say the teens. But after a few minutes, the journalists hogged the conversation. In the hour-and-a-half tête-à-tête, the teens say they barely had time to suggest how the Times can improve its articles.

Youth Force came out of the meeting feeling ambivalent. They were pleased to be able to meet with the Times, but they didn’t feel as if they were taken seriously: When they showed up, there were no handshakes, no introductions, and the first thing out of Landman’s mouth, says 19-year-old Shaquesha Alequin, was “At least we know you read the New York Times.” (“I was just hoping Landman didn’t fall out of his chair when he put his feet up on the desk,” adds Alequin, primly. “That would have been embarrassing.”)

But the next day, the students saw an article in the paper that included one of their suggestions–it mentioned the drop in youth crime since 1994–and thought that they might have made a difference.

Landman denies it. “We’ve been reporting that [youth] crime has been falling for eight or nine years,” he says, adding that Youth Force “didn’t redefine the way we do journalism.”

In Between the Lines: How the New York Times Frames Youth is at http://www.interrupt.org/ reports.html