September 2018: M-Passioned Member Niki Warncke

What do you do?
I am an educator and artist who loves to create in many modes and engage in thoughtful and taboo discussions. Media literacy has been an integral part of the work I’ve done in the past 11+ years. As a multimedia artist, storyteller and activist, I prioritize work that has social impact, opens up space for marginalized voices and sparks important dialogue, especially around civic engagement, intersectional feminism, racism and classism. As a media educator in many different capacities, I have worked with preschool children through young adults, encouraging students to create work that pushes beyond mass media’s narratives and with messages that they can stand behind. I just completed a big chapter in my career where I received an MFA in Documentary Production and Studies. In the process, I was part of many research projects, produced several documentaries and narrative films and taught college courses for undergrads and graduate students. Media literacy is a part of every course I teach, whether it’s screenwriting, documentary production, digital activism or community media.

Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy
I am excited to move back home to Philadelphia this September and reconnect with so many colleagues and friends who are doing amazing work in the field. I’m seeking out employment and collaboration opportunities with like-minded folks who want to harness the powers of collective voice and enrich our field. As I prepare for the move, my summer is dedicated to a few documentaries and passion projects. One project is my documentary short about dick pics, online sexual harassment and where sex education fails us. The final product will be an educational, humorous and intimate conversation-starter that features a diverse group of women sitting amongst their friends telling stories about receiving solicited and unsolicited dick pics, ultimately demanding better respect for women’s sexual agency. I am also recording a weekly podcast called Good At TV, which explores television with a focus on fandom, feelings, feminism and friendship. In it, my TV-obsessed best friend and I discuss the subversive shows we love, moments that make us cry, outdated tropes that make us mad and we constantly beg for better representation in our favorite shows of today like Riverdale.

Why is media literacy important to you?
I’ve always been driven by media literacy’s ability to balance or redistribute power dynamics at several levels. For one, it’s about deconstructing and speaking back to hegemonic powers that make mass media’s messages very narrow and hurtful. We need to vary the kind of stories we create and consume, and we are seeing that better representation is possible if we diversify who holds the powerful positions behind the scenes. In addition, media literacy values content that isn’t only commercial, and can serve as a way to strengthen creative confidence and help people reflect on their identities and habits as shaped by media. Community media holds a special place in my heart because it provides a space for different creative freedoms in the production process. Even if the final products are not polished and professional, community media allows more people to be media-makers, encourages authenticity and helps people engage in their communities with purpose.

What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?
My undeniable excitement is bittersweet because I know that the field is gaining more attention. Yet, this feeling comes with a heavy heart considering the current climate online and offline that makes media literacy education more urgent and necessary than ever before. So many horrible injustices and broken systems are being exposed right now, and media literacy has become one of the few liferafts that can help us navigate these choppy, deceptive waters. There is a great deal of learning, unlearning and critical thinking strategies that media literacy can offer the misinformed and polarized masses. Of course it is not a panacea for our social inequities, political turmoil, fake news or the capitalist drive of mass media, but it provides a sort of coping mechanism that helps us ask the right questions about what we consume and share. On a fully positive note, however, I must say that I am excited about the next group of powerful media-makers who will bring new things to our field and enrich our media landscape.

What did you become a NAMLE member, what benefits do you see to membership, and how will it support your work?
Media literacy people are “my people.” I’ve known this since 2007 when I got involved with NAMLE and Temple University’s Media Education Lab as an undergrad in Philadelphia. Fast forward to presenting on my recent work with youth in foster care at the 2017 NAMLE Conference in Chicago: I was shocked by how much I felt at home amongst so many strangers and colleagues I hadn’t seen for years. It was beyond comforting, empowering and exciting to be surrounded by so many people from various disciplines and backgrounds come together to assess the state of media literacy and demand that we do more with it. Leaving the conference refreshed, I was reminded of the power of my connections and inspired to reassess my sphere of influence. Engaging in the online and offline spaces NAMLE has provided over the years has helped me stay in touch with the latest research and tools for enriching my various projects. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing work in my own little bubble, so seeing the successes of “my people” keeps me energized and committed to this community that spans across the world, ideologies and industries.

Email me at nikiwarncke@gmail.com if you want to collaborate or learn more about my work!

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