April 2018: M-Passioned Member Alan Berry

What do you do?
I’m a filmmaker and media literacy educator, interested in media reform and youth development through critical media literacy and civic engagement. I was formerly the Education Director at The LAMP in NYC where I led a team of educators to deliver a variety of school day and out of school programs empowering youth to comprehend, create, critique, and challenge media. I’ve designed and facilitated media literacy programming in New York, Chicago, and Maine, both urban and rural spaces, and I’ve trained hundreds of educators on integrating media literacy competencies and media technologies in the classroom. I’ve consulted with Media Power Youth in New Hampshire, and I serve as the Maine state chapter leader with Media Literacy Now.

My media literacy practice has focused primarily on youth and educators from underserved schools and communities, with an emphasis on equal access to quality, hands-on media literacy training, despite unequal access to technology and resources. I’m particularly interested in facilitating cultural dialogue between disparate communities, through critical remix and the creation of thoughtful, socially conscious media messages.

As a filmmaker, I’ve produced educational and promotional media for a number of national and international nonprofit organizations, as well as personal narrative and documentary projects. I’m currently in post-production on a web series titled Hotel Ghost. I’ve also worked in communications and marketing, most recently at the University of Maine.

Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.
Currently I’m based in Kosovo as a Fulbright Research Fellow looking at media literacy education in the country. There’s a nascent and exciting media literacy movement in Kosovo, fuelled by outside organizations (UNICEF, USAID, OSCE) and grassroots initiatives. Kosovo is one of the world’s youngest countries, declaring independence from Serbia in 2008, and is also demographically the youngest country in Europe, with over half the population under the age of 25. As Kosovars define their national identity as a sovereign state, they do so in a digitally saturated environment where nearly every citizen has access to the Internet and media technologies. While the ubiquity of digital media has allowed Kosovars unlimited access to the rest of the world, it has also allowed internal and external influences to manipulate some already tenuous political and cultural tensions. Religious extremism, nationalist fervor, Serbian and Russian propaganda, ethnic scapegoating, and political intimidation are some of the issues being addressed through media literacy initiatives, along with workforce readiness, academic integrity, gender equality, and journalistic professionalism.

I’ll be spending nine months in Kosovo mapping the media literacy landscape, speaking with NGOs and educators, surveying students, and understanding media literacy education from a global perspective — and learning Albanian!

While I’m here I’ll also be collaborating with teachers and organizations to design and facilitate media literacy programs for Kosovar teens and young adults. It would be great to include some mediated cultural exchange with students from the U.S. within these programs, so please contact me via email if you’re an educator interested in collaborating on a media literacy exchange.

Why is media literacy important to you?
I first started thinking about media literacy as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, where for once a week and nearly two years, I hosted a radio show in the small farming village where I lived. The show was broadcast from the tiny, secluded radio station that operated off a single solar panel and the four car batteries that provided enough juice to broadcast to the four or five villages in range on any given day. As a white, secular American in a predominantly Muslim, West African country, homesick and struggling with the language, this radio show became a joyous retreat where I could play American music or talk about cross-cultural issues without anyone challenging my poor grammar or laughing at my awkward pronunciations. Radio provided me with a personal escape and a minor local celebrity, but it also created a strange dynamic with the Malian citizens I served.

As a Peace Corps volunteer I coordinated water and sanitation projects, either through facilitating training opportunities or securing resources, and I would occasionally hold village meetings to exchange ideas and discuss the needs of the village. These meetings would often end in bickering and general doubts over me and my ideas. The doubts were certainly fair – I was an outsider that barely spoke the language and what did I know about water and sanitation, after all, having studied film production in college. It was important to me to work in union with everyone in the village, however, so I needed to find a way to get my ideas across. I took to the airwaves, relegating my usual radio show playlist to communicate my message in detail, and the impact was immediate. The next day, people who wanted nothing to do with my project before were now inspired. What changed? I was still the same inexperienced, semi-literate American that inspired only doubt the day before, but the radio represented something greater than simple communication. Receiving that message, unquestioned, unchallenged, through a powerfully persuasive medium, my captive audience gifted me an authority and influence that didn’t necessarily feel earned. The medium truly was the message. Radio was so central to life in that village, a ritual, a voice of influence, and I was on the radio. That’s when I realized just how powerful media are – how media can be used to empower people but also how media are often used to gain power over people.

From those experiences, as well as my work as a media maker and educator, I believe media literacy is the educational necessity of our time. Comprehensive media literacy education – advertising, news, visual, information, and digital literacies – is imperative to a thinking people, a thinking citizenry, and a thinking society. Being a critical media consumer and an active, responsible media producer are vital survival skills in this digital age. I also believe critical media literacy education is a powerful tool for fostering cross-cultural empathy, and in a region like the Balkans that will be extremely important as we attempt to build a more peaceful and equitable future.

What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?
I hate, hate, hate the term ‘fake news,’ but it does seem as if that overused phrase is allowing media literacy a moment right now, though it also seems that it’s often misunderstood when it is discussed. But that gives us media literacy folk the opportunity to discuss what we love more than ever. Seeing Michelle Ciulla Lipkin on CNN and Al Jazeera discussing media literacy is amazing! It’s also great to see more states adopting media literacy education legislation as politicians of all persuasions embrace what truly is a bipartisan movement

I’m excited about The LAMP’s 22×20 Campaign, in collaboration with CIRCLE, and the deep connection between media literacy and civic engagement that campaign is fostering.

And most of all I’m excited about the spread of media literacy education across the world, as organizations like UNICEF prioritize media literacy education, and schools and teachers look for new learner-centered strategies and embrace the need to integrate media and technology into the classroom.

Why did you become a NAMLE member, what benefits do you see to membership, and how will it support your work?
I joined NAMLE in order to keep in touch with the larger media literacy community, to find out what Michelle is up to, and to see how organizations, researchers, and educators across the country are approaching media literacy. My colleague Zenzele Johnson and I presented at the NAMLE conference in Chicago last year, and we met some truly inspiring individuals, all contributing to this growing community and conversation in important and innovative ways.

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