The academic journal is, perhaps, a researcher’s most valuable tool. Publication in a refereed journal is confirmation by one’s peers of outstanding scholarship. It confers permanence on a piece of work that likely represents many months, or even years, of work. Appearing in a journal launches a study’s second life of references and citations.
At the same time, beyond the walls of academe, journals can be opaque: Subscriptions or even individual articles (when available) are expensive, and most aren’t readily found on the magazine rack at the corner drugstore. Journals are deeply segmented by academic discipline and interest area, so articles of interest potentially might appear in any number of places. There are new efforts like Bitescience, to gather and translate academic studies for lay audiences – kind of the Huffington Post of research.
Just in the past few years, those who study children’s relationship with media have received their own journal, titled (with surprising clarity for academe) The Journal of Children and Media (or JOCAM). One co-editor is Amy Jordan, Associate Director for Policy Implementation at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania. Jordan was also recently elected to serve as the next President of the International Communication Association (ICA) putting a children and media expert at the lead of this massive professional peer group!
I interviewed the founder[DL1] and other editor of JOCAM via email exchange. Dafna Lemish is Professor and Interim Dean of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. We discussed the Journal’s origins, purpose and focus; as well as the current direction and needs of the children and media research community.
What was the inspiration to launch JOCAM?
The inspiration was quite personal. I was writing a book, and getting frustrated about the difficulty of finding a good outlet to publish work on children and media. Up to then it was scattered in various disciplinary silos, missing a common ground for dialogue and exchange of knowledge. My husband, Peter Lemish, simply asked, “so why don’t you establish such a journal,” and I thought “indeed, why not?”
The publisher I approached, Routledge, warned me that our proposal would take at least two years to process, so planned that period to prepare for this extra work. But, there was such strong enthusiasm and demand that the journal was up and running after about 9 months.
Is there an ideal JOCAM article – a type of research, a certain perspective on the relationship of children and media, an age of children it focuses on?
Actually, the idea is not to have any ideal. The journal welcomes all disciplinary and methodological approaches, all forms of questions and inquiries that focus on the relationships of children and media, and from all countries and societies. In a single issue, you might find a critical analysis of a popular movie, a large survey of internet use, an experiment about babies’ ability to learn from television, a study on media literacy and obesity using long term educational intervention, and a commentary about a new policy statement. That’s what makes this journal such a diverse, unique publication. Of course, this mission also creates a huge challenge, because you need a huge pool of reviewers from many disciplines and countries, so the journal has become a meeting ground as well as a resource.
We try to keep the articles free of jargon, and we publicize abstracts and excerpts for general audiences. I wanted the journal to have a strong engagement component bridging academia with industry, education, policy, parenthood, so we included a highly accessible Review and Commentary section. The current editor, Vicky Rideout, brings unique expertise in policy issues; the original editor was Charlotte Cole, former Vice President of Sesame Workshop, and Alison Bryant, President of PlayCollective, followed her. All three are exemplary scholars who also facilitate dialogue with stakeholders of children and media.
You mentioned the disciplinary “silo-ing” that contributed to your creating JOCAM. How do scholars decide among all those publications that cover kids and media?
For many scholars, publishing in a highly prestigious, competitive journal in the more traditional sciences (e.g., psychology, medicine) is an important criterion for promotion and tenure. Audience is another factor: if your research is about media and violence, do you wish to reach an audience of media scholars (and thus choose a media centered journal), an audience specializing in criminology (and thus look for a journal in criminology), an audience in child development (and thus look for a journal in developmental psychology), or an audience focusing on educational intervention or parenting (and thus choose a journal in education).
What are the biggest need areas for children and media research?
Almost all of our research needs a lot more work, but one basic area is the mere definition of “exposure” to media, which is often a base for investigating other issues (e.g., exposure and obesity, violence, gender identity, onset of sexual activity, social relationships, and so on). But now, with so many platforms and multi-tasking, what does “exposure” mean and how can we measure it?
We also need more research into children’s views of the issues we adults are concerned with. What do THEY say about multi tasking, or spending hours on their mobile, or their encounters with cyberbullying. We need a lot more research with children’s voices rather than about them.
One of the big divides we’ve found is that industry wants to know “will this work” while research wants to know “will this matter.” Can JOCAM find ways to address both interests?
I recently participated in a European symposium that was published under “Building Bridges,” that investigated the challenged relationship between stakeholders and academics. These worlds differ greatly in their professional “habitats”: goals, timetables, budgets, priorities. But, my experience has been that when dedicated and socially responsible industry people get together with open minded and socially engaged academics, they end up having a much higher level of understanding and collaboration than anticipated. This dialogue is crucial if we want to make a difference in the world. JOCAM can’t just collect dust on the shelves, or be a reference on someone’s CV; it has to contribute to making our world a better place to children.