CheerleaderA multimedia series led by journalists at two University of Missouri media organizations are giving rural teenagers a chance to speak out about the joys and struggles in small Missouri towns via ‘My Life, My Town.’

According to researchers at Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) of Columbia, also a partner in the project, rural teens are an underserved population in media.

Producers, photographers and journalists at KBIA-FM and the Columbia Missourian newspaper not only want to foster better understanding about rural teenagers, but also create a model for other broadcast networks/media outlets to share these videos/articles or use the idea and create their own projects.

“We would love it if they would steal the idea,” said Assistant Professor and KBIA News Director Janet Saidi.

The program is made up of a unique collaboration between broadcast and print journalists. Columbia Missourian Director of Photography Brian Kratzer and KBIA Assistant News Director Ryan Famuliner have partnered with Saidi in the production of this program. MU senior Sarah Hoffman has served as the executive producer. 

“Usually print and broadcast media don’t work together so closely,” Saidi said. “And here they go out and do stories together.”

RJI’s involvement

Mother and childStaff at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) learned about the project and wanted to become involved, so Saidi had conversations with Missouri School of Journalism Houston Harte Endowed Chair Mike Jenner and Missouri School of Journalism Dean Dean Mills.

“They said ‘that’s the sort of innovative, collaborative project that RJI should get behind,’” said Saidi.

RJI has contributed money to provide funding for an individual who helps project coordination. Funds have also helped with project outreach. Prior to the funding assistance, students volunteered their time, and didn’t receive academic credit.

About the program

The program features short multimedia interview clips and photos. The interviews allow teens to offer their perspective about life in rural Missouri and struggles they face — struggles related to teenage parenthood, sexual orientation, race and religion.

Another teen shares the story about being raised by her grandparents while her parents serve time in jail. Other teens share frustrations about the lack of things to do in a small town. Some teens share their plans of staying close to home near friends and family, while others have plans to leave and seek out opportunities in bigger cities.

Goals of the project/screening

Saidi said those involved with the project don’t just want to just air the stories and move onto the next project.

“We want to create a conversation around the stories to highlight issues and possible solutions,” said Saidi.

The project partners have been holdings screenings featuring the multimedia documentaries. After the screening, the remaining time is open for discussions. The screenings and stories also provide resources to the teens. For example, one of the teens, who was featured in the project, is a lesbian. She shared her story about life in a small town and was an encouragement to other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) teens living in rural Missouri, said Saidi.

Jennifer Nelson-Pallikkathayil  
Senior Information Specialist


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