AEJMC president-elect on virtual convention as a time for DEI and RMIG

Heading toward this year’s online #AEJMC2020, President-Elect Tim P. Vos reflects on imperatives for these times, including opportunities for RMIG. Vos is professor and director of the School of Journalism at Michigan State University. Vos designed and taught units on religion and media at the University of Missouri, he has presented his own work, been an adviser for Gregory Perreault’s religion-related dissertation and reviewed for the Journal of Media and Religion.

Vos spoke June 23 with Joe Grimm. These are edited excerpts of Vos’ remarks.

Dr. Tim P. Vos

The beauty of the online convention is that you can attend more of it because the sessions will be recorded. You can attend sessions live, but they will also be recorded.

This is an opportunity to actually attend a lot more of the conference. I think there is going to be a lot of value in that for members. There are some things that you don’t get from a virtual conference, of course: the serendipity of running into people and learning about their research or an exercise that they’re using in classes. And there is so much that gets learned in these contexts. But, in terms of the actual sessions in the conference, there is going to be an opportunity to attend more of those.

I think smaller interest groups that don’t always get lots of general membership engaged in their programming might now actually have the occasion for them to peek in and be drawn in and engage. Some divisions are using social media to talk about their sessions, their special guests …

(Recordings will be available for 90 days after the convention.)

Being part of an academic association in a field that’s not enormous means we can learn from each other. People get to know each other. There are communities of like-minded scholars and teachers that grow in an association like AEJMC. There’s bound to be exchanges in the collective if we’re engaged in listening to one another, talking to one another. The wisdom of the crowd doesn’t happen magically, and it’s not just doing a poll and saying, “Ah! That’s what the majority of people think.” No, it’s in exchange, it’s in debate, it’s in cross-examination.

As president-elect, I was able at the very last minute to arrange a hot-topics session, something that would be very timely that maybe at the time of the paper competition or setting panels wasn’t necessarily on the radar. I chose to do a session on the sort of consequences for our field with the death of George Floyd and the unrest that’s ensued and what seems to me to be a really renewed focus on DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion). This will be a panel of both research and teaching. This is a chance to learn from each other. We’ve had scholars in our field studying these issues for a very long time. They haven’t received the attention that their work deserves. I think now is a moment to bring these scholars to a more visible place in our association and for us to engage in discussion and debate. (The session will be 1:30-3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7.)

A refocus on DEI is of course going to focus on the plight of African American communities because that’s the moment that we’re in, but in dealing with these issues there are implications for all kinds of groups, of course, including religious groups, religious minorities. So, maybe this time doesn’t directly lead to re-energizing RMIG, but I think it shows the importance of this interest group in our field.

I hope that, moving forward, we can see the importance of covering topics related to religion and media.

There’s a lot of good research and teaching that’s being done in this area already. And, as it should be, I think the focus is on representation. Underrepresented voices have been systematically excluded from media, from journalism and other media portrayals and in advertising and probably public relations, as well. So, I think these issues of representation when they come to religious minority groups become really important topics for us.

I think there is room in the field — and this is from someone who doesn’t have an intimate knowledge of the literature, but I try to stay abreast — is sort of the role of religious institutions, religious groups, religious ideologies in media development itself and media systems and media practice. There is a really rich and interesting history there of different religious groups being intimately involved in the creation of media systems in North America.

Book coverThe book series that I edit for the University of Missouri Press had a book a couple years ago by Ronald R. Rodgers, “The Struggle for the Soul of Journalism: The Pulpit versus the Press, 1833-1923.” It’s the story of mainline Protestant Christianity and its institutions being very involved in the creation or professionalism of journalism. Some of the norms of journalism are deeply affected by these institutions and groups. We don’t always understand these religious roots.

The history of broadcasting is also one in which there were religious groups, including the Paulist Fathers, who owned radio station WLWL in New York in 1925 and who are active in publishing, film and the web. They contributed to debates about media broadcast policy. There’s some really fascinating history there that I think is very relevant to the media systems and professional cultures that we have today.

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