I am the first person to hold the endowed C-SPAN Chair at the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University, and I am Founder and CEO of a strategic communications and management consulting company. Last year, I worked for the U.S. Department of Defense and NATO as the Chief Strategic Communications Advisor to the Afghan National Security Forces in Kabul, Afghanistan. In this year-long civilian role, I reorganized the entire communications function for the Afghan National Army and counseled senior Afghan and Coalition military leaders including the Afghan Minister of Defense. I enlisted NATO leaders to execute several coordinated public messaging campaigns with the Afghans targeting the international community, Afghan citizens, and the Enemies of Afghanistan regarding the end of Operation Enduring Freedom and the (then) upcoming Presidential elections. Today, I serve on the Fulbright Specialist roster as a communications expert, and I was just elected to the NAMLE Board of Directors.
2) Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.
I am very excited to expand an International Affairs class that I created and taught in Costa Rica for the University of Georgia after I returned from Afghanistan. It’s a media literacy class named “Media Influence in Conflict Environments.” We’re offering it next semester at Purdue University, cross-listed in Political Science and Communication. In the class, we’ll talk about how media inform public opinion around war and other controversial issues. My doctoral research was a critical, qualitative case study of the power relations and interests that shape television news production, and I have spent my career influencing news, managing reputations and shaping public opinion for Fortune 500 companies, top PR firms, leading universities, Cabinet-level federal agencies, nonprofits and others. My students will become more critical consumers of media who are more capable of making informed decisions in accordance with their own values.
3) Why is media literacy important to you?
How do you know about the world? Where do cultural norms arise? How do you make decisions? I have launched multi-million dollar products and business lines and shaped multi-billion dollar public crises that were played out in the media. I have advised Fortune 500 C-suite executives, military generals, world-class scientists, millionaires and celebrities. I have known the back-side of a lot of stories, and I often find it fascinating to contrast how the media handle them against what I know. I know there are reasons why news is produced the way it is, and the systems in which we operate are neither good nor bad. They just are…but it behooves us to understand these complexities. The media play an extremely important role in our society: to inform and educate and entertain. I have seen the effects first-hand of media influence and the resulting public opinion on very important issues from corporate earnings to major scientific discoveries to U.S. foreign policy. Who, what, when, where, why and how we understand the world matters — as individuals and as societies. On Election Day, my vote counts the same as yours. I don’t care if you disagree with me, but please, have informed opinions.
4) What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?
Wow! There is just so much to be excited about! Few people would doubt that we are in the midst of an information revolution today. Traditional news is becoming more homogenized, while media generally — and social media, by definition — are more democratized. The volume of information that is produced is growing so fast. The means by which it is distributed and accessed is changing all the time. It’s overwhelming, even for most (all?) of us who work in or with media. As an advisor to industry and thought leaders, I have to constantly stay abreast of new trends and technologies. The need for a sophisticated understanding of these dynamics keeps growing and changing, and the need for increased and improved media literacy education must grow and change too.
5) Why did you become a NAMLE member – what benefits do you see to membership and how will it support your work?
I was a NAMLE member years ago when NAMLE was born and I was a graduate student, but I let my membership lapse after graduation. I continued to receive the e-newsletter, and I always read the job postings and the member profiles. Back in academe now, I renewed my membership, and I see that the organization sure has changed a lot! It is a far more robust organization than I recall, and the breadth of outreach, interests and participation is a lot wider too. I am especially excited to see more practitioners in the ranks and a wider focus on non-formal media literacy education. To be part of the leading organization in this powerful and dynamic field is a great way to find out about the latest research and practices. It’s also a great way to connect with leaders who are transforming media literacy and media literacy education.