The current name of the organization (National Association for Media Literacy Education) was adopted in 2008. But, the idea of creating a national organization devoted to media literacy began in 1997 with the Partnership for Media Education (PME). PME was conceived and established by four leaders in the US media literacy movement who formed a public/private collaboration in order to stimulate professional development in the then-fledgling media literacy field.
Not yet a membership organization, the PME’s primary goal was to organize and host an annual national media education conference at which educators and practitioners could come together to learn the principles of media education in a venue that both exemplified and modeled the best practices in the field – in essence, a national forum for diverse views, visions and voices.
These founders included Renee Hobbs, then of the Media Literacy Project at Babson College in Wellesley, MA, Elizabeth Thoman, founder and president of the Center for Media Literacy in Los Angeles, CA; Nancy Chase Garcia, then at the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention of the US Department of Health and Human Services and now at Garcia Consulting in Olympia, WA; and Lisa Reisberg, then the Director of Public Education, American Academy of Pediatrics, Chicago, IL.
1998: Building on Success
During the first successful conference in Colorado Springs, CO, attended by over 450 media literacy leaders from 41 states and 6 countries, an open meeting was held in which sixty attendees discussed plans for the 1999 conference, the future of the PME and the prospect of becoming the field’s first national membership organization. As a result three new members were recruited for the Board in order to build a base of support and organize the conference for 1999: Lynda Bergsma, Director, Rural Health Office at the University of Arizona, Frank Baker, Director of Distance Learning, South Carolina Educational Television, and Linda Brown, then at the Ross School in East Hampton, NY. The organization was also formally incorporated, adopted governing by-laws and received its 501-c-3 tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.
1999: Expansion Explored
The national media education conference in 1999 was hosted in St. Paul, MN where enthusiasm continued to grow for turning the PME into a national membership organization. The PME doubled the Board again, nominating and electing six new members reflecting the widening commitment of national and regional education, health, and community-based organizations to the movement.
In October 1999, the new board met for its first annual Board Retreat in El Paso, TX, where it adopted a mission statement, elected officers, assigned committee chairs and agreed on initial actions toward the twin goals of continuing to host national conferences to promote professional development and working toward “giving birth” to a national professional membership association.
2000: Time out for Toronto
In light of the international media education summit planned for May 2000 by media literacy colleagues in Canada, the PME decided not to sponsor a 2000 conference in the USA but to collaborate with the international event by hosting US-focused sessions at the Toronto gathering. Four sessions were held, attracting many of the 300 US registrants at the conference.
Meeting monthly via conference call, communicating regularly by e-mail and meeting periodically throughout the year, the board continued to build an infrastructure to launch a full-fledged national organization. In April 2000, at a weekend planning session in Austin, TX, the board decided to announce a “founding conference” for the new organization to be held June 23-26, 2001 in Austin, TX. The board also adopted funding guidelines to govern the fundraising activities that would be required to support both the founding conference and the establishment of a national office, initial staff and founding membership campaign.
In July 2000, at a Board Retreat at the Sundance Institute, the Partnership adopted a new name, the Alliance for a Media Literate America (AMLA), and brainstormed a ten-year growth plan to implement a national professional membership organization and promote professional development in media literacy education in the United States. The remainder of 2000-2001 was devoted to preparing not only to host the 2001 national media education conference, but also to give birth to the first US national membership organization dedicated to media literacy.
2001: Move to Membership
The official start of the Alliance for a Media Literate America (AMLA) began at the national media education conference in Austin, TX in 2001. During the three-day conference, the first membership meeting was held, at which all 200 founding members read aloud the Founding Declaration. A member handbook was distributed, and ten caucuses were formed around special interests. By December 2001, the AMLA had been joined by more than 300 founding members.
2003: Research Partnership
In 2003, the Alliance for a Media Literate America (AMLA) in partnership with Just Think, a leading media education organization in San Francisco, and the Michael Cohen Group received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to design, deliver and evaluate a model media arts education program for middle school students called MEAL: Media Education, Arts, and Literacy. This three-year project was proposed to help substantiate the growing qualitative evidence of the educational and developmental benefits of media literacy education through providing one of the first scientific impact studies of media literacy education curriculum for middle school students.
2006: The Core Principles of Media Literacy Education
In 2006 several members of the NAMLE board and other media literacy leaders met to draft a document that would provide a framework for thinking about and implementing media literacy education. The gathering was precipitated by a meeting the previous month by the Aspen Institute in which the question “Is Media Detrimental to the Health and Well-Being of Young Children” was explored. The Aspen Institute meeting brought together leaders of the some of the largest media companies in the US (including Richard Parsons of Time-Warner and Les Moonves of CBS), bi-partisan representation from the FCC, and individuals from the largest health organizations nationwide. The debate digressed into differences in opinions with one exception – that media education was unanimously believed to be a necessary common practice to ensure young people had the basic tools to understand the impact of media.
The problem: while there were core concepts of media literacy, the media literacy education field in the US had not yet agreed upon a set of core principles that defined the pedagogy of media literacy education. Founding NAMLE board director Elana Yonah Rosen spoke passionately when she said, “…if we, the leaders of the field of media literacy education do not define the terms, and put them on a banner, someone else will.” The NAMLE board rallied and quickly gathered a team to work on defining terms based on best practices and research. The group, facilitated by former NAMLE president Faith Rogow, delved into the deep and often delicate discussion amongst colleagues to exact language and terms for communicating to the world what was meant by “media literacy education” in the US. The group emerged from this meeting with the Core Principles for Media Literacy Education. The meeting came to be known as the “Queens Meeting” since it took place in Queens, NY. Endorsements from other field leaders and leading organizations were sought and received. The Core Principles began being cited in research papers and fundraising proposals.
2008: Evolving with the times
Since 2001, the organization has biennially held four highly successful national media education conferences; 2003 in Baltimore, 2005 in San Francisco, 2007 in St. Louis and 2009 in Detroit. The 2011 conference will be held in Philadelphia.
The organization has forged alliances with numerous national education, youth, health, advocacy, and media organizations, and received a major grant from the U.S. Department of Education to demonstrate the effectiveness of media literacy in media arts education in collaboration with the Just Think Foundation.
Throughout the years, however, members of the organization questioned the name, AMLA, asking whether it reflected the actual mission of the organization. Many members asked that a new name be considered. At the AMLA board retreat in August 2007, the board agreed to create an Ad Hoc Committee to research the viability of an organization name change and to make a recommendation to the Board. The Committee was comprised of both individuals serving on the board of directors, as well as members-at-large. The goal was to re-examine the name and provide a recommendation to the board.
Through the Committee’s research it became clear that despite the organization’s best efforts, there was a lack of alignment between the organization’s title (AMLA), the national conference name (“National Media Education Conference”), the organization’s mission, and the title of the new Core Principles of Media Literacy Education. The committee felt that if the organization’s focus is on media literacy education, then those words should be included in the organization’s name. Therefore, the committee recommended that the Board adopt the name The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). The board agreed and formally adopted the name in February 2008.
In 2006, an online store, the Marketplace, joined with NAMLE as a resource to the NAMLE membership and the media literacy community at large. Led by Liz Thoman, the Marketplace provides information about a wide range of books, videos and other media literacy education resources.
2009: The Journal of Media Literacy Education
With a clear focus on media literacy education, the organization moved to align all of its activities around that mission. At the time, no existing journal focused on the topic and provided a central resource for scholarly discussion. It was determined that NAMLE would provide that resource. The premiere issue of the Journal of Media Literacy Education (JMLE) was published in August 2009. To assure access by all and to encourage discussion and growth in the field, it was decided that the journal should be open source and available exclusively online. The journal is produced three times per year and features scholarly articles from an interdisciplinary body of scholars as well as practitioners articles and materials reviews. Read more about JMLE on this site.