By Azsanee Truss, Joe Riina-Ferrie, Sonali Rajan, and Lalitha Vasudevan
Columbia University Professor Sonali Rajan was frustrated with the way innovative, research-driven solutions to the persistence of gun violence don’t always come to the public’s attention. Yet these were often ideas that could save lives.
She spoke about this with her friend and colleague Professor Lalitha Vasudevan, who leads the Media and Social Change Lab (MASCLab) at Teachers College. Together, they came up with the idea for a podcast, (Re)Search for Solutions, a podcast series that amplifies the voices of researchers and practitioners. They also added two graduate students from MASCLab, Joe Riina-Ferrie and Azsanee Truss, to the production team.
Considering a wide variety of perspectives is crucial to understanding social issues and their solutions. By intentionally centering the voices of a diverse range of experts, our team at (Re)Search for Solutions aims to disrupt singular and oftentimes narrow discourses of complex phenomena. The first season of our podcast focuses on approaches to preventing the persistent issue of gun violence in America.
“Ask an Expert”
One of the most important media literacy practices is to “ask an expert,” yet so few people (politicians or otherwise) do so when debating the issue of gun violence. This is particularly challenging given how polarizing the issue of gun violence and its solutions are. As a result, the conversation remains highly politicized.
To interrupt mainstream political narratives about gun violence, the (Re)Search for Solutions team has sought to produce a podcast grounded in evidence by speaking to experts about their work in a way that is accessible and compelling to the general public.
Importantly, our team has defined experts not only as researchers, but also as doctors who are on the frontlines of responding to the aftermath of a shooting, principals who make decisions about how to ensure the safety of their schools’ students, and community members who have been personally affected by gun violence. Expertise, as we see it, is not limited to those with the support to formally research a subject. It includes the people with lived experiences whom we so often overlook, or seek to simply extract information from without truly hearing their stories.
A typical episode of (Re)Search for Solutions starts with a researcher who has studied a creative solution to gun violence in order to ground the episode. Afterward, we speak with people who have hands-on experience with the specific topic or proposed solution discussed by the researcher.
For example, in the first episode, we spoke with epidemiologist Dr. Charlie Branas. Dr. Branas studies greening, or the conversion of vacant lots in urban settings to community greenspaces, and how it reduces gun violence. We also heard from Keith Green, the Director of the Philadelphia LandCare Program at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), who described his work and perspective as a coordinator of greening projects throughout communities in Philadelphia. Keith was able to show us the physical green spaces in Philadelphia and connected us with a community member, Shelia Parker, who told us about how her neighborhood changed after it was “greened.”
By including at least three voices with distinct perspectives in each episode, we aim to tell more well-rounded stories about the work being done by a range of people concerned with stemming the tide of gun violence.
Media Production as Media Literacy Education
The production of (Re)Search for Solutions in MASCLab allows us to engage in these practices and reposition ourselves as learners through the participatory approach we take to podcasting. In MASCLab, we view media production as a form of multimodal composition and one of the best teachers of media literacy. “Multimodality assumes that representation and communication always draw on a multiplicity of modes to articulate meaning” (Domingo, 2016, p. 544). This same understanding is key to media literacy, as the ability to analyze a piece of media depends on both the interpretation of language and the ability to decode multiple modes that are communicating simultaneously.
Put another way, producing a podcast is a way to engage more fully with how ideas and knowledge are communicated, as the literal layers of sound and transitions are laid bare on the editing screen. As such, media composition affords us the ability to reflect on the ways in which messages are organized, represented, and communicated to us by engaging in these practices ourselves.
You can learn more about (Re)Search for Solutions at researchforsolutions.com. It is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Google Play. Follow MASCLab on Twitter @MASCLab, and let us know your thoughts about the podcast using the hashtag #R4S.