I am in awe of writers who managed to be productive last year (shout out to Doug Belshaw, Audrey Watters, and Ian O'Byrne - some of my favorite blogger thinkers). Despite my 2020 resolution to write at least one media and information literacy blog post a month, I didn't even get close. I wrote one in February and that was a year in review! Looking back it sounds unusually chipper, you can tell it's definitely pre-pandemic. And there ended my 2020 blog posting journey. Once the caca (an actual word, in case you were wondering) hit the fan, I vacillated wildly about the role and purpose of media and information literacy. I definitely saw little point in blogging about media and information literacy. Like many others I'm sure, I fully rocked the existential crisis in 2020. It was a good year to do it. #thankscovid
Ironically enough, at the same time if more evidence was needed to underscore the importance of media and information literacy in our lives, 2020 gave it to us in spades. From understanding the COVID-19 pandemic (and later, vaccines), to the representations of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests, and the insanity that was the presidential election and its aftermath, over and over again the need for people to evaluate 'how we know what we know' about a wide range of topics became obvious.
But surely it's going to take more than media and information literacy to deal with our issues eh? If it were that easy, wouldn't the subject already be instituted in every school, at every age level, in every library and beyond? We have to recognize that of course it isn't that simplistic. This was the nut graf of a recent Irish Times article which noted that too often media literacy places the emphasis on individuals and individual actions. What about the role of big tech, government policies, collective action, etc.? The role of emotion and the very human urge to avoid cognitive dissonance can't be underestimated either. Information literacy expert Nicole A. Cooke has written compellingly about this topic. The Times article raised some important issues for those working in media and information literacy to consider, especially as the profile of these areas continues to increase. In addition, I'll reintroduce one of my old refrains, we need to go beyond our silos to integrate ideas from other fields including psychology, economics, political science, history and more, if we are to figure out the meaning, purpose, and place of media and information literacy in our world.
Aside from my own problems including pivoting to pandemic pedagogies and new normals (all phrases I never want to hear again), there were some great media and information literacy moments in 2020 including the Critical Media Literacy Conference of the Americas and the Northeast Media Literacy Conference. I also attended the related online Digital Pedagogy conference - there are still not enough media and information literacy types at this event but this is slowly changing. All three conferences were provocative, engaging, community focused, not to mention a welcome, if temporary distraction from global realities. All were also online and I wouldn't have been able to attend any of them had they been traditional, face to face events. #thankscovid
I was also inspired to snap out of my self pitying morass while reading Mareli Rowe's obituary (it's an amazing read and life). Although I didn't know her all that well, I had the pleasure of meeting Marieli at several media literacy conferences in recent years (in Chicago, Lisbon and Washington D.C.). She was the executive director of the National Telemedia Council, the oldest media literacy organization in the US. In a 2011 interview with Dee Morenthaler and Tessa Jolls (Center for Media Literacy) Marieli noted:
"My goal today - and really always has been – is that we need to have media literacy throughout our society. I have
an ultimate goal to take away the word 'media' because reading and writing have always been a goal of all
education - becoming literate. And what we are using today is just a new pen and a new book. It’s the same
process. There is more to learn because there are more issues involved - more complex factors such as who’s
paying for it and who’s behind it, how is it represented and whose choice is it and all of those basic criteria that we
use when teaching kids about the media - but essentially we are using a new pen, aren’t we? It seems to me that if
we could get to the point where the word “literacy” means all of the media, and it pervades our education, and a
goal for a healthy society is to be literate and that includes all of the media then I think they won’t need
organizations, non-profits, volunteer organizations anymore - it will be part of the infrastructure and the system.
That is the ultimate goal - to be obsolete."
Her point is as relevant now as it was when she gave that interview a decade ago and rereading it helped refocus the bigger picture for me. Marieli was fearless, genuine, witty, learned, curious and most of all, as is evident from the above excerpt, passionate about the importance of media literacy. She will be missed though long remembered as a pioneer in the field.
Lastly, you might be interested in some media and information literacy related reads/events I am looking forward to in the next couple of months:
Disinformation and Manipulation in Digital Media - new book by Eileen Culloty and Jane Suiter
Critical Information Literacy in Ideologically Pluralistic Classrooms: Exploring Challenges and Possibilities, ACRL Webinar
Almost any program/report put out by Joan Donovan and the folks at the Shorenestein Center
Renee Hobbs' new book Media Literacy in Action, and programs organized by the Media Education Lab (full disclosure, I am affiliated faculty)
Lastly, a shameless bit of self promotion - next month, I'll be doing two media literacy webinars (different topics though), one for my local public radio station, and the other for the American Library Association. Both are free and open to the public, although registration is required.
Thanks for reading.