Media Studies

“The greatest digital divide is between those who can read and write with media, and those who can’t… Our core knowledge needs to belong to everybody.”                                                                                                             Elizabeth Daley

My current project is Eastern Shore Stories, an audio documentary of farm life in the mid-20th century. While I draw on professional experiences in my teaching, I design courses to provide students with exposure to many different styles, philosophies, and genres of media work.  I also teach students methods to critique photography, sound or film; while students have spent years in English classes learning to analyze text, they usually haven’t learned how to “read” imagery and sound.   For example, in Documentary: Beyond the Evening News, I developed film critique guidelines to teach students how to “read” documentary film.

When possible,  I provide an opportunity for creative exploration that correlates with what students are exploring academically.  For example, in The Recorded Human Voice, I assigned a group audio documentary project so that students would better appreciate what goes into the creation of audio programming.  In Media Criticism, students wrote proposals for and produced short documentaries using audio, video, photography, or mixed media.


Documentary: an artistic representation of actuality.  That’s the definition John Grierson, an influential documentary filmmaker, came up with – and it has held up better than most.

Robert Coles writes that “the word documentary certainly suggests an interest in what is actual, what exists, rather than what one brings personally, if not irrationally, to the table of present-day actuality.”  The difference between documentary and journalism is time, according to editor and publisher Ralph McGill of the Atlanta Constitution.  Journalists are skilled documentarians, but ones with deadlines – what McGill called “the limits of journalism.”

The difference between journalism and documentary may run a bit deeper.  Many documentarians would not call themselves journalists, but prefer the terms storyteller, artist, or witness. Documentarians also wrestle more overtly with how they factor into the story they’ve chosen to tell.  Are they a participant as well as an observer? Journalistic ethics dictate a clear divide between participant and observer.

The lines, however, are blurring as digital technologies and the internet allow everyone to “commit acts of journalism” as Dan Gillmor has written.  And the internet makes it possible for everyone, with a minimal investment, to globally distribute their journalistic or documentary work. Teaching this intersection of change is primarily what I do in media studies.

To understand how communication media will work in the future, however, I think it is important for students to be grounded in what has come before and so my courses include the study of historically important work and the people who created it.  In the case of The Recorded Human Voice, that meant introducing students to Studs Terkel and Edward R. Murrow.  In Documentary: Beyond the Evening News, that meant studying the work of photographer Dorothea Lange and filmmakers Pare Lorentz, Errol Morris, and the Maysles Brothers.


At Longwood University, I taught six sections of COMM 210: Media & Society, a survey course that examines the economic and social organization of mass media,  the relationship between media and the public, and the growth of new media technologies.

Also at Longwood, I taught six sections of COMM 251 : Principles of Page & Digital Design, which emphasized print and web-based publication design principles, as well as a beginning mastery of the Adobe software applications InDesign, Dreamweaver, and Photoshop.

Other courses I taught at Longwood University include COMM 325: Media Criticism, COMM 200: Introduction to Communication Studies (two sections), COMM 366: Conflict Resolution (online, two sections), COMM 101: Public Speaking (three sections), and COMM 241: Media Reporting & Writing (two sections).  From December 2012 to 2014, I supervised more than a dozen student media-related internships.

For Media Studies course descriptions and syllabi for courses I designed, see Course Design in this portfolio.  Courses may also include sample assignments and student work.

“Media literacy empowers people to be both critical thinkers and creative producers of an increasingly wide range of messages using image, language, and sound.  It is the skillful application of literacy skills to media and technology messages.  As communication technologies transform society, they impact our understanding of ourselves, our communities, and our diverse cultures, making media literacy an essential life skill for the 21st century.”    

The Alliance for a Media Literate America 

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