by Jennifer E. Moore, University of Minnesota Duluth
I recently spent a weekend attending two public events where I was immersed in history and photojournalism. The first featured the work of professional and community photographers who captured the uprising after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Documenting a Reckoning: The Murder of George Floyd is a breathtaking visual record of events that changed the world and how we talk about race and the police. The second was a play at the Minnesota History Theater, Parks: Portrait of a Young Artist, about twentieth-century documentary photographer, filmmaker, and humanitarian Gordon Parks. The performance focused on Parks’s early years in St. Paul (Minneapolis’ twin city). Both events caused me to think about the importance of journalism history in public spaces and my role as AJHA’s first “media literacy czar.”
When AJHA President Dr. Aimee Edmondson asked me if I’d be interested in working on ways to engage our members with media literacy, I was delighted. I volunteered for the additional work as an AJHA board member because I am passionate about the various roles we can play as scholars in our communities. We have past president Donna Lampkin Stephens to thank for her efforts to establish a relationship with NAMLE (the National Association for Media Literacy Education). I’m excited to do what I can to continue building on that relationship, and more.
Taking on this role for AJHA has caused me to think more purposefully about what constitutes media literacy and how we can amplify our roles as teacher-scholars to help educate the public. If you consider how the Center for Media Literacy defines media literacy as creating “an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy,” we as journalism historians are in the perfect position to lead conversations in our communities. How can we stress the importance of history in understanding news and mass media today? While few of us (if any!) are in a position to curate a photo exhibit or a theatrical performance, there are smaller things we can do as experts in journalism and mass media history to facilitate community conversations where we live. I will offer an example.
Earlier this year I was a speaker at the League of Women Voters of Duluth’s 24th annual “Citizens in Action'' meeting themed “Misinformation and Media Literacy.” The January 2022 event began with a recorded message from Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar. You may know about the bi-partisan bill Klobuchar co-authored, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. She spoke passionately about journalism and democracy, and that made my role all the more exciting. I was invited to speak about disinformation, misinformation and “fake news.” I provided historical context to contextualize the current state of mass media. I offered ways to be a savvy news consumer and how to spot misinformation. I shared tips on how to speak civilly with people who spread misinformation. A local television reporter talked about her role as a local journalist and shared her experiences with misinformation. The event was attended by area state and house representatives as well as school board and city council members. The Zoom chat function was full of enthusiastic comments from community members. Many wanted to know how the conversation could continue talking about media literacy education in our community. I’m now in the process of working with League organizers to figure out how.
I imagine many of you could share similar stories about the work you do as teacher-scholars in your communities. If not, perhaps you’d like to learn how. If you have thoughts, ideas, or questions, I’d love to hear from you before we gather in Memphis this fall. I’m committed to help drive this presidential initiative toward tangible goals and actionable outcomes. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter: @jem2998.