Bullying isn’t a new story, but lately, it's all over the news.
And while young people are often the targets and the offenders in bullying, they rarely get the opportunity to tell their own stories. In Bullied: Teen Stories from Generation PRX, stories from victims, teachers, and even the bullies themselves provide a frank, provocative window into the range and reality of bullying culture.
Bullied was supported by a grant from Motorola Mobility Foundation. It's produced by Connecticut Public Radio and presented by the Public Radio Exchange.
Listen to parts 2 and 3, and read an interview with producers Jones Franzel and Catie Talarski by clicking on EXTRA below.
Catie Talarski is senior producer of Where We Live, the morning news program on WNPR, Connecticut Public Radio. She is also the host of Radio Adventure Theater, a listening session/variety show in Hartford. Talarski got her start in documentary radio at the Salt Institute in Portland, Maine. Since then, her work has aired on PRI's The World, Studio 360, NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday and Hearing Voices.
As project director of Generation PRX, Johanna (Jones) Franzel feels she has the best job ever: helping youth radio groups share their stories with the world. To date, GPRX has collaborated on eight youth specials. Franzel is also senior producer for Blunt Youth Radio's Incarcerated Youth Speak Out Project and co-founded "Youth Noise Network," at the Center for Documentary Studies. She studied at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Franzel is fluent in Spanish, Swedish and toddler-ese, thanks to her two-year-old.
To read more about Bullied and see photos of the producers featured in the documentary, check out the Generation PRX site.
Hear the rest of the hour-long documentary below.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Bullied producers Jones Franzel (JF) and Catie Talarski (CT)
How did this project come together? What was your role?
JF: Back in the fall of 2010, after a rash of teen suicides and ensuing media coverage that seemed devoid of young people's voices, I decided it was time for Generation PRX to address the issue as a network. In the past, GPRX has worked with stations and youth radio groups to create a number of radio specials (a complete playlist is here) hosted by teens, and featuring youth radio stories; if ever there were a topic that needed young people's expertise, bullying was it. I put out an initial call for stories, but the key ingredient, funding, didn't arrive until the next summer. Thanks to the Motorola Mobility Foundation, we were able not only to move forward, but to take a much more engaged approach: Instead of asking for finished stories, we asked for pitches. In return, we worked closely with selected groups, offering individual help and monthly training webinars. Groups also received $500 worth of audio goods, including a Sony PCM-M10 recorder, RE-50 mic and Hindenburg editing software.
The stars lined up just right for us (thank you, stars!) in getting to work with producer Catie Talarski and Connecticut Public Radio. Catie is at the center of what I like to call the magic-venn-diagram-of-youth-radio-leadership: Super talented production chops, natural teaching abilities, and a capacity to listen to young people and meet them where they are. She guided the special from beginning to end, working closely with the hosts and producers, and ultimately brought Bullied together in a way that made all of us proud.
Finally, Latitude News.com - the just-launched international news site - added a global dimension that deepened the work and provided important context. Their story with Yasmine Gustafsson is riveting, and their extensive coverage of bullying around the world rounded out our online component.
My role was rabble rouser, fundraiser, editor, coach, facilitator, promoter and finally, proud witness.
What was the vetting process like? How many pitches did you get and how did you choose which ones to use?
JF: Nearly three dozen pitches came in, and the range was broad: From personal experiences to sociological studies to dramatic fictionalized accounts. We heard from college students, fifth graders, midwesterners, Arizonians. The process showed the depth of the youth radio field, both in the quality and number of pitches that came in. Selecting just five was difficult! Our panel consisted of myself, Catie, PRX Managing Director John Barth and youth radio producer Thien To of the Philadelphia Youth Radio Project (whose piece, The Cycle of Cyberbullying, showed both her familiarity with the topic, and her production skills).
We read the pitches carefully, and made notes in several areas: originality, thoroughness, relevance/impact, completion potential, work samples and creativity/zing. We also had an ear for balance: What stories would work well together? How would we move the listener through the hour?
The issue of suicide was only briefly mentioned in the piece. Was that a conscious decision? If so, why?
CT: Part of what drove the content of the bullying special was the stories that the youth producers wanted to tell. And it turns out that a lot of the stories that were pitched to us were about how schools/parents are dealing with the problem, and about young people wanting to tell their personal stories. Many bullying incidences (thankfully) don’t end with the loss of a life, they are nonetheless very damaging to the person being bullied. While the “mainstream media” has been all over the bullying-related suicides, we felt it was important to let the young producers (and hosts) talk about what was most impacting them as they live with bullying day to day.
Were there patterns you noticed in the way and reasons kids were bullied?
JF: I have to say that, as a teacher and a parent, I was really hoping to have a better grasp on just this question. But I don't. Cass talks about being bullied for being half-Indian, Peython experienced awful treatment for his gender identity. Cruelty is the thread, but the targets and behaviors of bullying are changeable, maybe because the bully is actually focused on him or herself. I think Alice, the former-bully who Iris interviews, makes it clearest, "Back then, I wasn't even thinking, I was just having fun... You don't, like, think about how the other person's life is. Pretty much you think about yourself and what's next to do to be cool."
CT: A lot of times it came down to the fact that a young person was considered “different” in some way. Whether they were struggling with their gender, or looking “like a terrorist,” being from a different place, etc. Unfortunately, it really could be anything. A lot of the conversations we had as the special came together centered on the definition of bullying – this fine line between kids joking around and kids being bullied. But you can hear that echoed over and over again in the pieces – young people trying to make sense of a whole lot of complicated emotions and relationship dynamics:
“It’s not really that big a deal because I know they are my friends and they’d stop if I asked.”
“I have to choose my friends wisely; it’s my responsibility to tell them to stop.”
“My mom says he bullies me because he has a crush on me.”
Your hosts are great (and have great names)! How did you find them?
CT: Thanks! Peython came to us through the Connecticut YOUTH Forum. They bring together more than 750 high-school-aged youth to exchange ideas and conversation – and they’ve been a great resource for connecting WNPR to incredible young people around the state.
Council had originally emailed us during a WNPR call-in program we did on Bullying a few years ago:
A lot of people will tell you that other kids bully you because they are jealous of you, or feel bad about themselves. That's not always the case; I've found it can also be because they just don't like you. Also, the bullying doesn't always happen in the cafeteria or the gym, I'm bullied in the classroom, even in front of the whole class. When this happens, the teachers might tell everyone to quiet down, but there has been maybe one instance where the teacher has recognized that I am being bullied. It's horrible being bullied, and it feels like I'm alone in the school with no one to talk to.
When it was time to think of hosts for the show, she immediately came to mind.
Did you draw any conclusions about bullying from working on this piece?
CT: That it is complicated. Council interviewed Dr. Sheri Bauman, a cyberbullying expert. She made the point that bullying (and cyberbullying) are really hard to study because depending on how you ask the question, or what timeframes are used, the numbers are drastically different. She says the published rates of kids who are being bullied range from 6% to 72%. I was also struck by the gap between the students and parents/teachers understanding about what bullying is.
JF: We need to talk about it! Listening to young people, creating safe environments, providing support to kids, parents and teachers to say something - all of this matters.
What about the kids? How were they affected?
JF: I think many of the producers were surprised by the interactions and discoveries they had in making the pieces. It was clear that teachers and students don't have the same understanding of what bullying means, and in some cases girls and boys have differing conceptions too. Many of the teens found that the topic was volatile - in some cases the experience opened doors (prompting frank discussions with friends and parents) and in others, it closed them (we heard about teachers with strong opinions who were unwilling to go on record). But your question is timely! The producers from Bullied are starting to blog about their experiences telling these stories on generation.prx.org.