Last week was the annual AEJMC (Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication) conference, which was held this year in Chicago to celebrate the association’s 100th anniversary. I love going to conferences: they’re so intellectually stimulating, offering the chance to learn about cutting-edge research long before it’s published, and to discuss the work directly with the researchers. They’re also a great opportunity to catch up with old friends, network with other scholars in the discipline, meet the up-and-coming graduate students who will soon be your peers, and—if you’re lucky—spend a little time exploring a new city. AEJMC was all of those things for me this year.
I didn’t get to venture into Chicago as much as I would’ve liked. I’ve been there before, but it’s such a great city there’s always more to discover and revisit. I did manage to make it out to the IO theatre and see a performance by the legendary TJ & Dave, an experience I highly recommend. Friends who got into town the night before got to see several performers audition for Saturday Night Live, in the grand tradition of Chicago improv and sketch comedy. Next time, I’ll try to add an extra day to my own travel plans to take in more shows.
The trip wasn’t without its setbacks. After my first full day there, I completely lost my voice. As you can imagine, this made it rather… challenging to interview candidates for our two tenure-track online media positions. Trying to restore my voice by resting it, I ended up missing the last few interviews we had scheduled, as well as a planned evening out with my grad school friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years. I pick my friends well, though: they had sushi and miso soup brought to me in my hotel room. Isn’t that touching? And it clearly helped, since I was able to croak my way through my research presentation with Nina KL Miller late Saturday afternoon. (I’ll be talking about this project more in the future.)
Despite the untimely attack of laryngitis, I was able to attend some paper sessions and participate in conference life to some degree. I was part of a panel organized by David Mindich (who received the AEJMC Presidential award at the business meeting Saturday morning), on Digital Overload and Digital Fasting. We discussed the difficulty of balancing our need to stay connected with our need to recharge and reflect. Collectively we reflected on agency, boundaries, and identity as they relate to our use of social media. This was not a panel of pat answers; these are tensions that we are all struggling with to varying degrees, still figuring out how to productively incorporate these technologies and the firehose of information into our daily lives, and how to set limits. For example, thanks to Jennifer Rauch of Long Island University, I learned about the “Slow Media” movement (similar in concept to Slow Food), which advocates placing careful limits on one’s media consumption to better savor the benefits.
My own contribution focused on the tension between individual agency and hard economic realities for those who work in social media production, or whose profession relies to a significant degree on the 24-hour information cycle. But that’s a blog post for another day. In any case, I thought it was an interesting and productive discussion—it’s always a good sign when the panel seems to be over too quickly, and there’s so much more to be said.
A highlight of AEJMC for me was getting to see my dear friend Sue Robinson, recently tenured at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, receive the prestigious Hillier Krieghbaum award for outstanding scholar under 40. Her work exploring the shifting world of journalism as it adapts to technological change has been strongly influential in her field. She is a brilliant researcher and a terrific person, so I can’t imagine a more deserving award recipient. That alone would have been worth the trip to Chicago.
During my time at AEJMC, I heard colleagues present papers on corporate social responsibility, nonprofit relationship building, the importance of voice in social media, the state of current thinking about image and reputation, how practitioners manage life-work balance, the role of journalists in crisis communication, and many other topics. I had conversations with professors from all over the country about teaching, research, the challenges faced by higher education, and how lucky we are to be able to grapple with these important subjects every day. I love coming away from a conference full of stimulating ideas for my own work. Considering that the semester starts next week, it’s excellent timing!