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Media Mission Across America, Part 4

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The end of week three has come, signalling the completion to our media literacy trip around the US. For a catch up on preceding aspects of my trip in Washington DC, Los Angeles and St Louis, read my previous blogs if you have time.

Our destination this past week... New York City. Fortunately, our first day there gave us an open schedule. We took the opportunity to venture into the 'concrete jungle' and discover the sites and sensations (old and new) offered by the cosmopolitan city. For a first timer, I was blown away. The fact that I am from London made no difference too, I can only describe Times Square as Piccadilly Circus x20 (yes, the urge to compare the two cities never ceased). Each and every neighbourhood boasts its own history through its community, architecture, cuisine, and fashion. New York is...incredible.

Our schedule there was to focus on media literacy projects that are being undertaken nationally through academia, focusing mostly on lower, higher and university level education levels. Our first meeting took place in the U.S. Mission to the U.N., where we were hosted by three senior figures from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Center for News Literacy (teaching media literacy to over 7,000 students across the US).

We looked at various foundations and principles defining the rules of journalism and verifying the credibility of sources, identifying key differences between fairness and balance, bias and propaganda, commercial versus ethical and consuming observations versus information.

Present in the room was a former president of CBS news, who although didn't comment much on media literacy, had a few positive things to say about ethical journalism, and that a regulated press wouldn't work in the UK in light of the recent phone hacking scandals (a comment which was prompted after a thought provoking question to him by yours truly - I didn't want him to just sit in silence for the duration of the presentation).

Another stand out meeting was presented by the Executive Director of The LAMP, who work in local communities to build healthy relationships with all forms of media. Their vision; one day media literacy will be seen as critical requirement to understanding the world and our place in it, where educated consumers demanding more accountable media will create grounds to where media companies will have to respond to such demands through transparent and 'balanced' content.

The benefits of our stay in New York presented opportunities to see practical examples of media literacy training and education, putting theory into practice while emphasising how media literacy will impact a growing sceptical and/or cynical consumer demanding accountability and transparency, not only consuming media but also producing various media effortlessly with the rise of easily accessible digital products and distributing widely via social media platforms.

However, after weeks of presentations on media literacy, the whole topic started to seem a bit too unquestionably straightforward to me, in the sense that it's a discipline that if taught properly could play a role in building a healthier civil society? Questions began to surface in my mind as to the possible negative effects of a society full of media literates, the role of government, regulation and control, and the digital / social media sphere. All issues and factors started a whirlwind of thoughts that I began to express at whatever opportunity I could.

I will leave this discussion to my fifth and final blog next week, which will be an overview of lessons learned from this trip, what I have taken from it and how I hope to use it.

The days in New York passed way too quickly for my liking. Just as I was really beginning to sink my teeth into the 'Big Apple', our time had come to leave. Our next destination was Connecticut, where our whole trip would conclude. Here we were staying in Storrs, within the University of Connecticut campus area. As it was spring break, the place was relatively isolated, and the New York withdrawal symptoms were almost instant.

The team took this opportunity of quiet and serene surroundings to try to absorb the information overload experienced over the past few weeks. It was a great opportunity for us all to wind down, kick back and share our experiences and stories over the course of the trip. The likelihood of us all being together again is minimal, so we grasped the opportunity to make the most out of the final days together.

In Storrs, we attended the 10th Annual Northeast Media Literacy Conference - this consisted of a variety of practical workshops ranging from Web 2.0 tools available to enhance media and news literacy, to storytelling using digital tools, advertising analysis activities, filtering news using content curation tools, and balancing logistical, technical and legal challenges in media production.
It was a good opportunity to discover new online tools that assist the learning of the discipline, both on the consumer and producer side of the spectrum.

And so the time came for farewells. It was emotional to say goodbye to my fellow participants, we all set off in our own directions. These people have become friends in such a short space of time, based all over the world. I hope to be able to visit each sometime in the near future. They have been great company and I have learned a lot from them and what life is like in parts of the world that I didn't even consider before embarking on this once in a lifetime trip. I will miss them all...what a bunch of characters!

I wrote this blog en route to New York JFK from Connecticut. Fortunately, I got to spend an hour or two roaming the streets of NYC soaking up the St Patrick's Day celebrations with the locals, and man do they know how to celebrate it over there. I'm actually quite lucky I managed to get on my flight or even find my way to JFK airport all in good time!

My next and final blog on this series as mentioned above will focus on exploring the questions and debates on media literacy considering the rise of social media.

Stay tuned...