Kyra Kyles is the CEO at Oakland-based YR Media (formerly Youth Radio), an award-winning national network of young multicultural journalists and artists who create content—including music, investigative journalism, and documentaries— for this generation. As a member of the 2021 Grand Jury, she offers some backstory on YR Media’s award-winning investigative journalism and the importance of storytelling.
New York Festivals: YR Media’s content includes music, investigative journalism, and documentaries. Could you talk about the appeal of each of those genres for this generation?
Kyra Kyles: YR Media offers different dimensions of content production because we see these as areas that need to be made more diverse and enriched by young BIPOC creators from suppressed, and therefore underrepresented, communities. Of course, music is absolutely timeless and generation agnostic, but by working with a staff of award-winning and acclaimed producers and former label executives, we are creating a product that meets industry standards and lays down a pathway for advancement into those creative fields.
Our award-winning investigative journalism, one of the cornerstones of our work, is highly valuable in an era where there is so much misinformation. Having youth journalists co-leading these efforts ensures that they can identify and execute projects that are of relevance to Generation Z and Millennials. Documentary filmmaking is one of our newer offerings, and with the release of our flagship effort “Unadopted,” we partnered with one of our youth employees who spent his childhood and teens within the foster care system. Though documentaries are a large labor and cost investment, we want to continue to do more because so many of the young people we work with see this as a storytelling platform in a highly visual medium that can yield an outsized impact and aid with narrative change.
New York Festivals: Could you give some examples of how new technologies have made a difference for the journalists and artists who are part of the YR Media network?
Kyra Kyles: During the pandemic, working remotely was our only option but for decades, YR Media has worked successfully with young content creators across the country through our national network and we also operate one of the few live-streaming stations AllDayPlay FM. Being able to leverage our Slack community and virtual meeting capabilities, for example, allowed us to continue our work without a hint of disruption, though the shelter-in-place order came abruptly to our Oakland headquarters. Particularly through our music work, we’ve also leaned on Discord, Twitch, and Instagram Live to recreate that IRL studio experience and through a program called, Type Beat Challenge, encouraged musicians across the country to create music and provide peer-to-peer mentorship despite only being able to communicate online.
New York Festivals: In this year of disruption of every kind, what is the importance of storytelling?
Kyra Kyles: Throughout time, storytelling is what has kept humanity connected. Even in the absence of touch or in-person interaction, sharing our stories through social, Slack, e-mails, calls, and video conferencing has helped us maintain some semblance of shared experience.
New York Festivals: Does reporting on social justice issues lead to an expanded worldview?
Kyra Kyles: Reporting on social justice issues most certainly leads to an expanded worldview, but so does being exposed to it. Our content creators operate from a place of knowledge that is all too often deprioritized in the mainstream media. In fact, social justice is interwoven into almost any story you can tell, but it comes from one vantage point that is mostly white and male. We appreciate that our youth correspondents are gaining work experience by doing this work, but they are bringing just as much (if not more) to those who are privileged to read, watch, or listen to their perspectives.