Inspired by the YouTube model of user-created content, a growing number of television networks are soliciting video contributed by viewers–and many of these efforts involve children and teens.

Last month, CNN debuted a new series called “Children of the Storm,” featuring video from 11 New Orleans high school students as they share their experiences in life after Hurricane Katrina. Directed by Spike Lee, the show is hosted by Soledad O’Brien, co-anchor of CNN’s American Morning.

The teens’ footage will air monthly as part of the series. The first segment, in which Lee and O’Brien handed cameras to 11 students, aired on Friday, Feb. 9. The series will air regularly until the second anniversary of Katrina in August.

Also last month, Nickelodeon debuted a two-hour programming block called “ME:TV,” featuring contributions from 10-year-olds. And TLC last week began a six-part documentary series, “My Life as a Child,” where children were given cameras to videotape their lives.

“As exciting as the internet is, there’s still something different and perhaps more glorious about your creation showing up on national television,” says Tom Ascheim, executive vice president and general manager of Nickelodeon.

The channel’s “ME:TV,” which airs weekdays from 5 to 7 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Standard Times, includes videos submitted by kids (with parental permission) and a segment called “Web Wallers,” where four participants are shown via webcam. Co-host Jordan Carlos has called it “the ultimate mash-up of online and on-air.”

Reality TV, of course, has been a huge beneficiary of the public’s desire to be on TV, as have older shows such as “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Candid Camera.” But now, students as young as elementary school age might shoot, edit, and star in video that gets them on a program.

For “Children of the Storm,” CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and director Spike Lee traveled to New Orleans to distribute mini-camcorders to 11 New Orleans-area students, giving them the tools, encouragement, and a venue to share their voices and visions with the world.

“Children of the Storm” will show how the storm has affected their lives and their dreams, their thoughts about the city’s recovery, and their own future in their devastated hometowns.

“These children deserve a platform to show the world what it’s like to grow up in the aftermath of Katrina,” O’Brien said. “No one can tell these stories the way our young filmmakers can, and clearly Spike’s dedication to telling the stories of these communities fuels this project.”

Lee handed video cameras to New Orleans-area high school students and told them to capture their lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for the world to see.

“Let them know what’s happening down here, that everything isn’t okey-dokey,” said Lee, who directed When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, a four-hour documentary chronicling the Katrina disaster. Lee was recently named as a winner of the annual George Polk Awards for that documentary.

“You’re doing this for the world,” Lee said in the first segment. “Remember, it’s not just for yourself.”

The students were told to document the trials of post-Katrina life, as well as the triumphs, said O’Brien. Students will be given general topics to discuss, including family, their neighborhoods, and crime.

The project came about as O’Brien was “looking for a way to keep Katrina on the front pages,” said Michelle Rozsa, the series’ producer.

“She started to think about unique ways, and her mind came to kids, because kids are the future of New Orleans,” Rozsa said. “I think the kids are really excited about it. They all impressed me as being enthusiastic. I imagine it’s therapeutic, [getting] to tell their stories. They were most enthusiastic about that.”

The students participating in the program all left New Orleans right after the storm and stayed away for varying periods of time. One student still lives in Baton Rouge and travels the 130 miles to New Orleans and back almost daily, Rozsa said.

The next episode of the series will air on March 9 on American Morning.

“We picked kids who represented a lot of different parts of the city,” O’Brien said. “We really wanted to get a good cross-section.”

Lee’s role is to inspire the students, she said.

“I wanted him to explain to them, ‘This is how you tell your life, and this is what you think about,'” O’Brien said. “We’ll be telling their story, while they’re telling their story.”

Links:

CNN
http://www.cnn.com

“American Morning”
http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/american.morning

Nickelodeon
http://www.nick.com

“ME:TV”
http://www.nick.com/all_nick/shows/metv

TLC
http://www.tlc.com

“My Life as a Child”
http://tlc.discovery.com/tv/specials/my-life-child/my-life-child.html