June 2010 M-Passioned Member: Brian Primack, M.D

PrimackWant to recommend an M-Passioned NAMLE member who should be in our next feature?   Contact Kelly Mendoza, Membership Chair, with your suggestion.

What do you do?

I am on the faculty at the Pitt Medical School. I see patients one day each week in an adolescent medicine clinic. The rest of the time, I teach medical students, undergraduates, and residents, and I do research related to media and health.

What can you tell us about your latest work or project in media literacy?

We are just finishing a Web-based version of our school-based anti-smoking media literacy program called AD IT UP.  We got good results from a teacher-led version of this program. However, we are hoping that the Web-based version will provide another option for schools that prefer it.

What is your favorite form of media?

Music. Alison Krauss, Prince, Mendelssohn, Rosanne Cash, and Led Zeppelin are all favorites!

Why is media literacy important to you?

After college I worked as a junior high school teacher in a media-driven place (Boston, MA) and in a non-media-driven place (Niger, West Africa).  This “natural experiment” led me to realize just how influential media can be in adolescent development – both positively and negatively. I have come to believe that empowering youth to analyze, evaluate, and participate in the media around them can decrease the effect of the negative while also increasing the value of the positive.

Why do you think media literacy should matter to others?

We all have various interests, goals, and passions that give our lives meaning. But we often forget about these passions, because we end up being wrapped up in the myriad messages around us vying for our attention. By lessening the power of these other messages – and empowering us to use media positively, I think that media literacy can help us achieve our own personal goals, whatever they may be.

Can you tell us about how your work has been recognized?  Awards you’ve received?

I am very fortunate to have been recognized as the top early career researcher by both of the major medical organizations I am part of: the Society of Adolescent Medicine in 2006 and the Society of Behavioral Medicine in 2010. I have also received several grants to study media literacy, including grants from the NIH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Other awards related to my media-related work include the University of Pittsburgh Provost’s Award for Excellence in Education (2007) and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute’s Junior Scholar Award (2010).

What’s been your proudest moment in your work in media literacy education?

In 2005 I received a small grant from a local foundation to make a documentary with 9 ninth-grade students from throughout Pittsburgh. We brought them into a professional studio and taught them analysis and evaluation skills to apply to tobacco advertising. Then we broke the students into three teams, each of which had its own camera operator and production facilitator. Each team proceeded to brainstorm, storyboard, film and edit its own 30-second anti-tobacco message. A professional producer and an acting coach rotated between the groups and answered questions. The 30-minute documentary followed this process. There were three things about this process that I was particularly proud of. One was that the end product was compelling; we even won a Telly award for it in 2006. Second, it was exciting to be able to create a relatively brief media literacy experience that included both “reading” (analysis) and “writing” (production).  In the field of public health, media literacy usually only emphasizes the analytic portion. Finally, and most important, I could see the empowerment emanating from these students. They have told me over the past few years through words and actions how much the experience meant to them personally.

Watch AD IT UP Part 1 below, and visit the AditUp.net for Part 2, teaching resources, and more

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