We sat down with Jennifer Furlong, Media Literacy Now’s new Board President, to learn more about her background, passion about media literacy, and the challenges and opportunities that face the organization as we enter our next decade.
Jennifer, we’re so pleased to have you serve as Media Literacy Now’s new board president! Can you give folks a little background about yourself.
Thank you! I’m honored to be a part of it and to be of service. I started my career in communications a little over 30 years ago as a young reporter in the U.S. Marine Corps. I was fortunate in that I was able to experience many facets of the profession from reporting to editing to community relations. I found I loved it all. So, when I got out of the military, I knew I wanted to stay in the field. I went to George Mason University and received my bachelor’s and my master’s in communication.
I got my start as an educator while I was a graduate student. It just so happened we had a public speaking class that was full with no instructor. One of my professors asked if I would teach it and I agreed. I had no idea that experience would spark my love for teaching. So for the past 30 years I’ve had one foot in the industry working as a communications specialist and for 18 of those years had another foot in the classroom as an educator. Now, I’m the Communications Director for Ad Fontes Media, the creator of the Media Bias Chart®. In addition to focusing on external and internal communications strategies, I provide demonstrations for and lead webinars for teachers who are interested in using our educational tools to teach news literacy as a part of their curriculum.
How did you first learn about Media Literacy Now?
I learned about MLN through a colleague at Ad Fontes Media. I’m thankful for that connection as it’s an incredible opportunity to combine my passion for media literacy with my love of learning. I care deeply about media literacy because as a communications professional and educator, I understand just how important it is that kids develop the skills necessary to be savvy consumers of information.
We’ve seen “media literacy” in the news a lot in recent months, as more states take steps to ensure media literacy is taught in schools. It’s exciting to see momentum build and more folks becoming aware of the importance of media literacy. What’s your take? Is there anything that’s overlooked or missed in the conversation?
I think the challenge is that the idea of what “media literacy” is, is different for everyone. And honestly, although the definitions vary, they’re all correct. Regardless of how we receive information, we need to have the skills to be able to determine as best as we can what information is reliable and what information is not reliable. This is not a simple task. There’s nothing simple about it.
We’ve experienced a lot of “wins” recently – last year, Delaware and New Jersey both passed legislation requiring media literacy education for K-12 students and we’ve received funding to lead a project focused on media literacy in science classrooms. As you look to the future, what do you see as opportunities and challenges for our organization?
We’re making progress, which is a fantastic motivator to continue the work. And we have much more work to do. I think we have incredible opportunities to foster new relationships in states we have yet to reach. I also recognize we have some serious challenges. Like many other topics, media literacy, unfortunately, has become politicized. That in itself is a challenge for an organization that is non-partisan.
In your role as Board President, what do you identify as your priorities or goals for the next year or so? How do you anticipate leveraging your professional expertise and passion for media literacy to help Media Literacy Now continue to get media literacy education into more classrooms around the country?
I think we should continue to leverage our partnerships to amplify our voice in this space and expand our reach. I’d like to grow our community engagement with public awareness campaigns, workshops, or seminars that will encourage the broader community to engage in discussions about media literacy. Media literacy in itself is not inherently political, but it has been politicized thanks to the increasingly polarized media and political landscape. And because of that, some educators and parents are hesitant to talk about it in public spaces. I think we are in the perfect position to lead these important discussions that need to happen.
If someone is concerned about the lack of media literacy education in their community and schools, what advice would you give them? How does someone get started?
I recommend that you first find out whether or not your state has media literacy legislation on the books and familiarize yourself with it. Then, consider becoming an advocate to advance media literacy in your state. We have some excellent resources to help you do just that on our website. We issue Action Alerts when there’s proposed legislation and offer guidance on how to reach out to your state legislator.
If you’re not interested in that, there are lots of other ways to become involved. Whether you need help with starting a conversation about media literacy with other parents or you want some ideas on how you can support media literacy efforts in your school, we can help you with that. Be sure to sign up for our emails so you stay informed.
You have a podcast – Communication TwentyFourSeven – can you tell us a little bit about it?
Sure! The Communication TwentyFourSeven podcast is where we communicate about how we communicate. I started it in July 2021, in the middle of the pandemic, as a side project. My goal is to empower my listeners to enhance their personal and professional relationships, improve their interactions, and increase their influence. I also like to challenge their way of thinking. A part of being an effective communicator is learning to have difficult discussions about difficult topics and learning to listen to others’ perspectives that don’t align with yours. I’m happy to say I’ll be wrapping up Season 3 this fall and already have plans for Season 4. Interviewing experts has reminded me of what I loved about being a journalist all those years ago. It’s a privilege to be able to have a conversation with so many different types of people from all over the globe and learn from them. I hope folks check it out!
The media landscape has changed drastically in the last decade, even in the last few months or years. As a communications professional, what excites you about the changes and what gives you pause for concern?
You’re right. The media landscape is constantly changing. Just recently we saw the unveiling of yet another social media platform and are witnessing changes of well-known and popular online platforms in real-time. It’s an exciting time because we have never been able to connect so quickly and easily to others from around the world. All of my work colleagues work remotely from home all over the world. I’ve created online friendships with people I otherwise never could have known. We are the most informed society in history with the answer to any question literally at our fingertips. Sounds great! Right? But as we all know all too well, there is a dark side to all these technological advancements and I have many concerns.
On the one hand, it’s great that everyone now has a channel to be heard. People say everyone deserves to be heard. And I believe they believe that until someone says something they don’t like or something they disagree with. And while having the ability to access so much information is great, it can be overwhelming.
It’s great to be able to go online and find like-minded individuals until it turns into groupthink. I don’t want to paint such a bleak picture that it seems hopeless. But I do think we are losing the ability to have conversations with each other. To listen to different points of view. To discuss difficult topics without resorting to insults. To simply agree to disagree. The good news is all of these challenges are within our power to change.