Jeremy Stoddard, Dan Krutka, and Lance Mason

By Catherine Burgess

This month, NAMLE interviewed Drs. Jeremy Stoddard (University of Wisconsin – Madison), Dan Krutka (University of North Texas), and Lance Mason (Indiana University Kokomo), who recently served as guest editors of JMLE for a special issue, “Media Literacy, Fake News & Democracy.” Their opening essay and entire issue is available here in JMLE 10.2.

NAMLE: How did you decide to partner together to edit this issue of JMLE?

Jeremy Stoddard

JS: After several discussions of issues around media literacy and its ties to democratic education at conferences, the three of us met for lunch and talked about how we might be able to do an edited volume or special issue on the issue. With the emergence of “fake news” during and after the 2016 US Presidential election, we thought it was perfect timing for a focused special issue to address this problem. We decided to approach JMLE because of its broad audience and reach – it goes beyond the social studies education field and is read globally. We also appreciated that JMLE is an open access publication, so the articles in the special issue can be easily accessed globally even where institutions or individuals may not have the ability to purchase subscriptions to other kinds of journal databases. Finally, we greatly respect the work of the JMLE editors and appreciated their positive response to our proposal and guidance on the special issue’s theme. They also helped us move the issue into publication quickly so that the research and practice articles could be read and used while the problems of fake news, disinformation, and the challenges to democracy have continued to grow.

NAMLE: How did the idea for this issue come about?

Dan Krutka

DK: Three of us are all active members of the social studies education community and engage in media scholarship. I have been fortunate to get to know, and learn from, Jeremy and Lance over the years. Jeremy’s research has focused on films and simulations, Lance has theorized about pragmatism and medium theory, and I have primarily researched various ways educators take up social media so we all bring different media perspectives to the fore. As we point out in our introductory article, issues of disinformation are not new even if the the term “fake news” has been popularized and weaponized since the rise of Donald Trump. We are all concerned about the ways in which educators confront the ways in which educators confront the media ecosystem. We believe educators and scholars can help investigate media forms, messages, and the real outcomes for citizens, particularly those who are historically marginalized within political and media discourses.

NAMLE: How do you hope the research presented in this issue will contribute to media literacy education?

Lance Mason

LM: As media use becomes more disparate and personalized, and as social media becomes the gateway to media consumption for a majority of citizens, issues surrounding media literacy become more complex. It is now less persuasive to suggest that media literacy has been “covered” by merely dissecting news content with students, because there are so many other layers of concern that now proceed content exposure. Several of the pieces contribute to an emerging discussion about these new dimensions.  

NAMLE: Why is media literacy research important to you?

JS: Since I became a middle school social studies teacher over 20 years ago I viewed media literacy as a key component to developing informed and active citizens. An informed citizen needs to understand the nature of the political landscape and how different political forces use it to gain and maintain power – the role of the media in this landscape is more prominent than ever before and continues to grow. Unfortunately, schools and policy-makers too often want to rely on technical solutions such as school internet filters or limited access to approved news and information sources. These solutions not only fail in their intent – as I have seen literally hundreds of students easily bypass filters over the years – they do not help students develop the skills, knowledge, and behaviors needed for engaging outside of school. They also enrich technology companies unnecessarily. Instead of these solutions, we must figure out how to engage students in developing not only skills in accessing and evaluating digital information but also their overall understanding of how media works, their place and role in the political media landscape, and strategies for engaging actively on important issues in digital spaces. This is why the research and scholarship in this issue are so vital to keep the field moving forward in making media education a key tenet for democratic education.

DK: Like many in educational technology and media circles, I saw the early benefits of social media for connecting with other people with similar affinities. I have built professional and personal relationships with educators and researchers I met in spaces like #sschat on Twitter (social studies chat). However, I have been increasingly concerned in not only the lack of technoethics from profit-driven social media companies like Facebook, but also the lack of an educational response to prepare students for these media platforms. I believe media education is integral to the survival of democracies worldwide. I believe media education has a role in ensuring a more just world.  

LM: As John Dewey argued, democracies are built and sustained by communication. The particulars of communication influence not only the information citizens receive, but also their perceptions of what it means to be contributing members of a democratic polity. One might call this the “hidden curriculum” of media communication. Media literacy, as an area of study, is the right place to begin to consider how our media ecosystem fosters or inhibits the quality and vitality of our democratic culture. It is also the best place to interject curricular interventions to bolster democracy by improving the ways we interact with media.