YMG trains student journalists for social media’s new wild frontier — TikTok

@youthcastmedia (Part 2) Elijah, 16, has dealt with #mentalhealth issues since he was 2. He and his mom sat down with us to talk about what it’s like being him, and how important it is to #DecriminalizeMentalIllness. #YouthcastMediaGroup #MentalIllnessIsNotACrime #988hotline #suicideprevention #crisisintervention #MentalHealthMatters #Philadelphia #MothersAndSons ♬ Forever - Labrinth

By Brie Zeltner

It wasn’t long after we started planning for the launch of our Sozosei Foundation-sponsored TikTok account on the decriminalization of mental illness (DCMI) when we realized we’d need some help. Scratch that — a lot of help.

TikTok is a relatively new and rapidly changing social media platform, which began as a do-it-yourself music video app aimed at a teen audience in China. It’s since ballooned to more than a billion users. While still predominantly young, those users now include people of just about every age and from every profession and part of the world, including journalists.

But doing journalism via TikTok is still a very new thing, and for many journalists, it’s downright intimidating.

So when we set out to launch our first TikTok training for students in February, we brought on two experts to help: Michael Lacey (aka @comrade_sinque on the app), a TikTok influencer with more than 860,000 followers and a unique perspective on DCMI, and Alex Connor, audience editor at The Associated Press (who formerly held the same role at USA TODAY).

Lacey, who lives in Indianapolis, has grown a huge following on the app by sharing his experiences being incarcerated for 21 years, earning his bachelor’s degree at Ball State University, working since his release as a photographer/videographer and social media influencer, and sharing his takes on how he thinks the criminal justice system should be reformed. Connor, who studied journalism at Iowa State University, helped to grow the USA TODAY TikTok account to more than a million followers.

The two, along with YMG Managing Editor Julianne Hill, created and taught our pilot with eight students. Students learned how to shoot, edit and caption videos about DCMI, and had a great time in the process (“I feel that I am much better equipped to tell a story now, and properly get my point across!” one student told us).

Their work, along with the winning TikTok entries from our recent middle school contest at Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts (TAPA) in Rhode Island, is rolling out on our newly launched account: Thats_Mental (@youthcastmedia).

We have a growing team of diverse, dedicated and creative youth working on more videos, and we hope to soon post even more often.

Our TikTok teaching pilot is now serving as the basis for a broader social media lesson plan developed by our curriculum consultant extraordinaire, Teresa Redd, who was the founding director of Howard University’s Center for Teaching, Learning and Assessment and an English professor emerita there. Middle schoolers at TAPA just last week started using a version of it, tailored to Instagram Reels, to learn how to create short videos about the racial wealth gap.

What can you do to support us and our student creators? Follow our account, and like and share our videos, of course.

We promise that — just as we have — you’ll learn a lot!