Catherine Combs

February, 2019

Press Release

Jason Bailey, CEO at Sun Broadcast Group, Inc., Continues Partnership with the Alliance for Women in Media and its Foundation as an Honorary Trustee

LEXINGTON, KY January 31, 2019 – The Alliance for Women in Media and its Foundation (AWM/F) are pleased to announce that Jason Bailey, President, Sun Broadcast Group, will be continuing his longstanding support of AWM/F as an Honorary Trustee. Bailey is the founder and CEO of Sun Broadcast Group, a national radio sales and syndication company.

Bailey has been at the forefront of innovation in the national radio space for more than 25 years and has championed new products designed to reshape how radio is programmed, measured, bought and consumed. Bailey has been featured in numerous industry articles for his unique insight on the radio space, most recently on the cover of Radio Ink Magazine where he was named “Network Radio’s Next Big Star”.

“For the last several years, I’ve been honored to watch firsthand the amazing support the AWM lends to women across all media. The work that is done, the guidance provided, and the accolades given that are so wonderfully deserved are just the tip of the iceberg to what this incredible organization is all about,” said Bailey. “I am delighted and humbled to be welcomed back to serve as an Honorary Trustee through 2021. My hat is off to the leadership of AWM for the good they sow throughout media. And I urge anyone reading this to make today the day to get involved!”

Bailey started his broadcast career as the Morning Show Producer at WXLO-FM in Worcester at the age of 17. In 1994 he became the arena announcer for the AHL’s Worcester IceCats, a position he held for 10 years. In late 2000, Commonwealth Broadcasting recruited him to rebuild and program two radio stations in Worcester, including WORC-AM, the first station to play the Beatles. Throughout his radio career he was also privileged to serve as consultant in different capacities with companies such as Nextel, The NCAA, Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins.

Prior to founding Sun Broadcast Group, Jason launched a marketing firm that helped streamline the sales and advertising process of more than 35 luxury real estate projects across North and Central America. He became one of the pioneers of an innovative personalized marketing approach by developing software that created email, direct mail and website experiences personally tailored to each individual prospect. During his three years in the industry, Bailey helped his clients realize more than $2 Billion in sales.

“Honorary Trustees have the unique ability to advise and shape the Alliance for Women in Media and its Foundation while publicly acknowledging the value of women in the media industry,” said Christine Travaglini, AWM/F Chair and President, Katz Radio Group. “Jason is a consummate leader, both at Sun Broadcast Group and in the radio industry and we value his ongoing support,” added Becky Brooks, AWM/F Executive Director.

The Honorary Trustee program at AWM/F offers senior executives the opportunity to engage and influence the strategy of AWM/F and its support of women in media. The HT program highlights ways to work together that are exclusive to Honorary Trustees and not available at any other partnership level through the Alliance for Women in Media or the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation.

Jason Bailey joins Catherine Frymark, Discovery Communications, and Mark Gray, Katz Radio Group, as an Honorary Trustee.

For more information, visit

About the Alliance for Women in Media (AWM): The Alliance for Women in Media connects, recognizes and inspires women across the media industry. AWM is a diverse community – whether type of media, job or global location – that facilitates industry-wide collaboration, education, and innovation. Established in 1951 as American Women in Radio & Television (AWRT), AWM is the longest-established professional association dedicated to advancing women in media and entertainment. AWM harnesses the promise, passion and power of women in all forms of media to empower career development, engage in thought leadership, and drive positive change for our industry and societal progress.

About the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation: In 1960, the Alliance for Women in Media became the first professional broadcasting organization to establish an educational foundation. The Alliance for Women in Media Foundation (formerly known as The Foundation of American Women in Radio & Television) supports and promotes educational programs, charitable activities, public service campaigns and scholarships to benefit the public, the electronic media and allied fields. The Foundation also produces nationally acclaimed recognition programs, including the Gracie Awards®, a live gala that honors exemplary programming created by, for or about women. The Alliance for Women in Media Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, educational organization.

Catherine Combs

January, 2019


“’Perfect’ Women in Media” by Rashida Jones

Early morning breakfast meeting.
Off the record politics briefing.
Breaking news at the White House.
Rehearsal for the class play.
Basketball practice for one kid and a basketball game for the other kid AT THE SAME TIME.

In my house, we call this a “Friday”. Seven days a week our days are packed to the max. Choices have to be made. Levels have to be set. And at times, hearts have to be broken. This is a reality I have to face as a journalist, a mom, a daughter, a sister and a partner. You can’t do everything all the time and you can’t do everything perfectly. This is something I’ve had to accept over the course of time and it has changed my life.

From my perspective, the “secret sauce” to being able to do it all is accepting the fact that you can’t do it all perfectly. You have to make choices and prioritize. You have to choose when you can say no to that work event (I said no to one today). Or when you have to say no to a non-critical event with your family (I said no to one yesterday). Or when a little extra sleep is a better self-care decision than staying on the phone a bit longer (I said good night early last night). It’s not about saying no or yes, it’s about balance. It’s all about balance. It’s being able to go to sleep at night (even if it’s a little early) knowing you’ve said yes to the most important things most of the time. And that your NOs are balanced across all areas of your life. No one area feels slighted or neglected if you balance these decisions and they understand why you are saying no.

The tradeoff to living in this state of balance is worth it. Every day I serve as a News Executive is a day my daughter has a real life role model of a woman who is a leader, a decision maker and a guide for other journalists. It’s a day my son learns more and more that leaders come in all shapes, sizes and colors. He comes from a line of very strong women—I don’t think he’s ever thought women can’t or shouldn’t be among the most powerful in the room. On those days when I miss a game because of a Presidential summit or have to skip back to school night because it fell on the same evening as the State of the Union, my duo knows it’s for a good reason. My company knows if I have to miss a late night because my daughter is overcoming her stage fright to recite the Pledge of Allegiance during the Winter Concert (true story), it’s important to me and my family and they support me 100%.

We as women at times put pressure on ourselves to be perfect at all times. We can be highly self-critical when we can’t be. We have to not only accept that we can’t be perfect, but stop making this a goal. Embrace the upside of being in demand. Own the fact that you are multi-dimensional and multi-focused. Be comfortable with saying no to people or responsibilities you love when you need to. And realize your children are learning from you when you are feeding your passion-even when your passions fall outside of the time you spend with them.

Rashida Jones, Senior Vice President for Specials, NBC News and MSNBC

Catherine Combs

January, 2019


Natalie Edelstein, 2018 “Emerging Voices” Scholarship Recipient

When Glamour Magazine announced their women of the year issue, I knew it would be nothing short of amazing. What I wasn’t prepared for was one of the best journalistic, power-woman combos of 2018: Yamiche Alcindor writing about Kamala Harris.

As a California native, Kamala Harris’ rise to political stardom is one I have watched closely. She is the only African American woman in the Senate, and its first ever Indian America. She has made a name for herself championing the rights of women and minorities, and prior to serving in the Senate was the Attorney General of California, where she took on cases that reshaped California’s legal landscape.
Alcindor is one of those journalists whose careers you dream of when you’re a little girl. She’s written about some of the most consequential events in the last decade including the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the Ferguson unrest, and the Baltimore protests.

As I read the story, I couldn’t help but stop and take in what was occurring. Two women of color, sitting down for a national news outlet, elevating a story and a voice that would have otherwise been drowned out fifty years ago. The piece, which details Kamala’s political career and background, is written with a kind of careful consideration that only women can provide to one and other.

Upon finishing the story, I was able to reflect on what an incredible moment in history we are living in. The piece inspired me to go back into my internet history and find some of my favorite profiles, written by and about women and post them to Twitter. “Women are an amazing, powerful force and I am inspired by the ones around me every day,” I wrote. “Here is a thread of profiles I’ve read in the last few months that make me hopeful for our future,” and with that I listed out some of the pieces that I found strength in this past year. They include Claire McCaskill’s Toughest Fight, Kamala Harris Is on the Rise, How Maya Rudolph Became the Master of Impressions, Aly Raisman Takes the Floor, The Quiet Power of Viola Davis, She Founded Me Too. Now She Wants to Move Past the Trauma, and What Does Tulsi Gabbard Believe?

I am reminded of what a powerful force women in media are almost every day when I read profiles by Jia Tolentino and Taffy Brodesser-Akner. I am lucky to see myself represented in television news when I watch Katy Tur and Hallie Jackson report live from the White House, and I am excited about the future when I see my peers, like Allison Pecorin, taking on some of the biggest news stories of the year. Despite what some might say, I have immense hope for the future of this industry and the women involved in it.

Catherine Combs

December, 2018


The Year in Review

By Becky Brooks, Executive Director

What a year it’s been. 2018 has been filled with glimmers of hope even as we see tragedy and hardship. Communities came together to provide aid to those in need and strangers wept for people they’ve never met. Women, men and children marched for change, and we gathered to watch a royal wedding, midterm elections and a beloved president’s funeral.

Through it all, the media was there – talking, listening and documenting. Despite a turbulent year for journalists, your hard-working teams kept us up-to-date every step of the way and delivered these stories directly to watching eyes and listening ears where people wanted it at that moment. For this reason, we thank you for your perseverance and dedication. AWM owns the responsibility to recognize, honor and distribute the content that you, the drivers and supporters of content, are creating.

For more than 60 years, the Alliance for Women in Media has been supporting and celebrating the contributions of women through connections, education and storytelling. Born out of the National Association of Broadcasters, AWM (originally the American Women in Radio and Television) was created by a group of women who understood the need to connect within a male-dominated media world, so they could positively impact the future for other women in the profession. History is full of stories like these—stories of women who had the courage to step up, speak out and their actions have a lasting impact.

The current leadership of AWM should be so proud of what has been built on that foundation. I have had the privilege of serving AWM for nearly four years now and our collective goal, to further why we were founded, has been to focus – focus on recognition, connection and build the future of women in media.

Focus is critical as growth can happen where energy is given. We have seen and experienced that in 2018 with record breaking Gracie entries followed by celebrating those winners at the Gala and Luncheon. Rebranding the Gracies Leadership Awards and honoring seven deserving women and learning from Pam Oliver about her rise to the top of women in sports broadcasting. Six deserving students received more than $20,000 in scholarships and ten more experienced the Gracies Leadership Awards first hand and will participate in a Lunch and Learn at CBS. You can read some of the content our future leaders have written on our site. The future looks bright!

While these efforts are impacting the future – we know there is still more opportunity – so we will continue to focus.

The AWM board of directors met recently for a strategic planning meeting and through much brainstorming and discussion, the board created a list of goals for new AWM initiatives which include more ways to engage AWM members. We want to push even more snackable, relevant content to members and the masses while adding opportunities for education in the future. We also want to gather executive women in one room across television, radio and interactive media – which is what AWM has the unique ability to do.

It is also important to continue shining a light on content creators at all stages of their careers and the Gracie Awards do just that.

We invite each of you to consider ways to engage with AWM and our Foundation to impact the future of women in media. The opportunity is available now to enter outstanding content to be honored at the 2019 Gracie Awards. Additionally, look for ways in early 2019 to volunteer on task forces implementing some of these new initiatives as well as judging Gracies in early 2019.

There is still much to be done including more seats at board room tables for women and our collective voices and effort will continue to bring positive change. AWM will fulfill our responsibility of recognizing, honoring and distributing even more content created by, for and about women.

With 2019 in sight, we can reflect on what we’ve learned this year, while looking forward to a fresh start. I hope we can all focus on growth in areas of our professional and personal lives. We have an opportunity to take action by mentoring, coaching, teaching and raising other people up, while finding and navigating our own paths forward.

Here’s to welcoming a New Year and wishing the world of media a healthy, happy and productive 2019!

Catherine Combs

December, 2018


Rae-Shan Nate’ Barclift, CBS Fellowship Program Participant

Receiving an email from AWM with the subject line ‘Congratulations…’ was unbelievable, and I predict it will be Life Changing! The criteria for the CBS/AWM Fellowship called for female, college students in media. I am proudly female, but well beyond my college years. I wrote in anyway! I never thought I would be chosen. I’m in my Forties, Fabulous and I have pursued Media my entire adult life. Yet, I dared to step outside the criteria guidelines and ask if anyone would take note of my accomplishments and see me. On a whim, I went for it and reminded myself… You are what they’re looking for!

Attending the Gracies Leadership Awards felt like it was day one of my new journey. Seeing so many successful women was Women’s Empowerment at its BEST! I felt like I CAN because they HAVE! Every woman in that room earned the right to be there and I was there with them. So grateful! I wanted to have a conversation with each of them to find out their story because I’m a firm believer that every Woman has a story and Women Empower Women when we share our stories. We were the Best of the Best that day. And seeing Jeff Zucker, President of CNN Worldwide, was an added treat. It’s been many years, but I got my start interning in his office on a show called ‘NOW,’ with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric. Full Circle moment for me!

When others said ‘No,’ I had to be my own ‘Yes.’ I created and hosted my own Talk Show, ‘I AIN’T That CHICK,’ about Self-Empowerment, Self-Awareness, and Self-Respect for women and girls of all ages and ethnicities and later created two more Talk Shows, ‘Chick Chat’ and ‘DISCUSSIONS.’ I currently Co-Host a Faith Based, Internet Radio Talk Show called, ‘Be Yourself’. I’m passionate about my purpose and love for Media.

I am humbled, I am honored and I am beyond grateful that AWM and CBS saw me! Some blessings are delayed, but definitely not denied.

Catherine Combs

December, 2018


Emily Sauchelli, 2018 Loreen Arbus Scholarship Recipient

At the Gracie Awards Luncheon, on June 27th 2018, I was living a dream. I never thought in a million years I would be receiving an award of this type of grandeur and prestige. I never fully had confidence in my capabilities until that day. That moment opened my eyes and made me realize anything is possible if I just believe in myself.

At the Gracie Awards Luncheon, I was inspired by so many women. I was particularly inspired by PBS News Hour Editor in Chief, Judy Woodruff. Anyone can be a journalist, but it takes someone special to be a storyteller. Judy Woodruff is a master at her craft. From watching her on TV, to seeing how she carries herself, Woodruff cares about the message she is sending out to society and does not care about putting on a persona for viewers. The best moment was when I got the opportunity to talk with Woodruff at the luncheon. It was a moment that I will never forget.

After I introduced myself, she was so gracious and asked, “What was your story?”. She told me she was going to look through the stories of all the winners on the plane back to Washington DC. From that moment, I knew the kind of person she was – kind, caring and inspirational. One of my favorite quotes from Judy’s speech was, “We have come a long way, but we still have work to do. We need more women in decision-making jobs, more women doing the hiring, more women deciding which stories get covered and more women reaching out to bring along younger women like the remarkable women we are seeing here today.” I agree with Woodruff that, as women in the media, we need to start uplifting each other and praising each other for our achievements in the industry.

Besides being a great storyteller, Woodruff cares about those with disabilities, as her son has spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Due to her son’s conditions, she is able to relate to others who are going through similar circumstances. That is another reason why she is great at her job. Audiences don’t just see a woman doing her job as a journalist, they see a woman who has opened part of her private life up to the world, in hopes that others can understand and know more about those with disabilities. Every single one of us is different on this Earth, and it’s time that everyone respects one another and our differences, no matter the severity.

What I took away from this experience – becoming a Gracie award winner and being in a room full of talented journalists and storytellers – is that everyone has his or her own story. The road to success is different for each person. I learned that no matter the struggles people have in their lives, it matters how they persevere and continue to achieve their goals. To me, that’s true inspiration.

Catherine Combs

November, 2018


Nazanin Bani Amerian, 2018 Ford “Emerging Voices” Scholarship Recipient

I am standing in the middle of a fancy ballroom in NYC and recording the scene to preserve the moment in my mind forever. There are well-dressed people, purple lights, chandeliers, glasses of champagne and beautiful women taking pictures with their awards. My mom, brother and friends are waiting for this, so I post it on Instagram immediately with the caption, “This is the first time I feel important in my life”. I am 32, and that is not a lie. I feel important as me, Nazanin, for the first time in 32 years. I am here to accept my scholarship for a story of my life that I sent to the Alliance for Woman in Media. We are sitting at table 1 with all these important people working for different networks like CNN, journals and other places that I have always dreamt of working with one day. The beautiful girl from Ford is reading my article, which is a story about an ordinary Middle Eastern girl. People are clapping, tears are coming and I am overcome by this feeling in my heart that they have heard what I have told them. They are looking at me with no anger, judgment or pity. I am “me” here.

All my life, as a woman, I have not been allowed to talk about what I believe in, what I want or do not want to be, what I’ve gone through and what I feel about life in my country. There are some places in this world where you can tell your story and nobody is going to punish you for telling the truth. Alliance for Women in Media has given me the courage, confidence, and motivation to speak my truth. Standing in front of people I have admired all my life, talking to them and being heard by them has given me the encouragement to not be silent anymore. I know this experience is not just for me. This is for every other woman. Today, we need to cheer each other on, shake each other’s hands and help each other. The Alliance for Women in Media is a place where we can find that.

Catherine Combs

November, 2018


Natalie Edelstein, 2018 “Emerging Voices” Scholarship Recipient

My entire life, I have been supported by strong women who have believed in me and my ability to achieve my goals. Beginning in high school with my Mock Trial coaches, Judith Daar and Debby Stegura, I learned that there was a vast network of women looking to nurture and help young women find their voice and stand up for what they believed. In college, I had the opportunity to work for C-Strategies President and CEO, Becky Carroll, who believed in me enough to allow me to take on a full-time role within her office and instilled confidence in me to stand behind the work I’d done. Those women, along with many others, fundamentally changed my life. They taught me to seize opportunities, make my voice heard and never turn down a challenge. I have come to realize how lucky I am for this vast support network, and I can see how much I’ve achieved because of it.

I was drawn to the Alliance for Women in Media for this very reason. The organization, which was created by women and for women, is a constant reminder that women can achieve incredible goals, status and progress when they support one another. I’m inspired by the Alliance’s commitment to educate, connect and inspire others in media and related fields. Because of AWM’s work, women who might otherwise be passed over for positions or opportunities find themselves elevated to a position where they can receive the recognition they deserve. Now more than ever, women need a seat at the table. Especially when it comes to media coverage and decision making, having women in positions of power is integral for balanced and thoughtful coverage.

Organizations like the Alliance for Women in Media are vitally important. By providing scholarships to students pursuing careers in media and allied fields — as well as supporting educational programs, charitable activities and public service campaigns — the organization continues to demonstrate the power of female leadership.

As one of this year’s Emerging Voices Scholarship winners, I am hyper-cognizant of how lucky I am to have the AWM’s support. The quote “Behind every great woman is a tribe of other successful women” couldn’t be more true. The Alliance for Women in Media is living proof.

Catherine Combs

November, 2018


Alliance for Women in Media Honors Seven Female Leaders at Inaugural Gracies Leadership Awards

The Alliance for Women in Media (AWM) hosted its inaugural Gracies Leadership Awards luncheon, formerly called Women Who Lead, Tuesday, November 13 to a capacity crowd at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Keynote speaker Pam Oliver connected with the audience as she recounted her struggles and triumphs as a woman in the media industry. She spoke of winning a Gracie Award earlier this year and shared, “So many people asked me what it meant to me to receive a Gracie Award, and I always say it was really a career moment. I have received numerous awards that I am very proud of and grateful for, but the Gracie sits on my desk. It just gives me inspiration, and it says something about what women are able to accomplish.”

Seven female leaders in media were honored at the event. Highlights from their speeches include:
• The first honoree, Dara Altman, EVP and chief administrative officer, Sirius XM, said, “Women, Jews and all minorities of every kind do not have the same opportunities. Every day I try to ensure, however I can, that those unheard and under-observed people and voices are heard and that no one is told, like they told my mother, that she has no place at the table. I want to thank the Alliance for Women in Media for everything you do to make this a more inclusive industry and to shine a light on deserving women.”
• Lynn Beall, EVP and COO of media operations, TEGNA recognized the incredible work her team has done in today’s media climate. She said, “We’ve really tried, with the way the world is going today, to reinvent journalism. It has been the most challenging and messy time of my career because it’s hard. We’ve actually turned over our company to the best and brightest through innovation summits and pilots, and they have come up with content we could not have even imagined a couple of years ago.”
• Despite a big day in the news for CNN, honoree Allison Gollust, EVP and chief marketing officer, CNN, and Jeff Zucker, president, CNN were in attendance. During her acceptance, Gollust said, “There has never been a more important time in the news business to do what we do.”
• After thanking her “girl tribe” and husband, Jeanine Liburd, chief marketing & communications officer, BET Networks went on to say, “We can say everything that we want to say, but if we’re not doing the actions to make it happen then what’s the point? If you walk into a board room and everyone looks like you, you’re not being diverse and you’re not being inclusive. You’re not walking the walk.”
• In accepting the honor, Beth Neuhoff, president and CEO, Neuhoff Communications said, “We need to go out of this room and not just tell each other what we know, which is that having women in management, in the c-suite and on boards is good for cultural diversity, but you know what, it’s also great for investor returns. We need to show that and prove that, which we can…”
• Carole Robinson, chief communications officer, BuzzFeed addressed the importance of including men in the conversation about equality in the workplace. She said, “If we want to impact change we need to clarify what strong and equal representation is and how valuable it is to have everyone at the table. None of the rules have changed. The rules are the same ones we learned in fifth grade; we keep our hands to ourselves and treat others with respect.”
• Jo Ann Ross, president and chief advertising revenue officer, CBS said, “Founders of AWM were way ahead of their time understanding women have a lot to contribute and a lot to say. Many of us here have power and privilege, and what I believe is our responsibility, to help other women excel in this business.”

“Now more than ever before, we have a responsibility to create conversation and shine the spotlight on the success and progress of women in media,” said Heather Cohen, AWMF board member and EVP, The Weiss Agency. ”We not only want to honor those deserving recognition but show the next generation what is possible. Our purpose at AWM is to bring intelligent, accomplished, dedicated women (and men) together to share ideas, experiences and some ‘you go, girls!’”

Photos from the event can be found at

Sponsors of the event were Ford Motor Company, BET Networks, BuzzFeed, CBS Corporation, CNN, Cox Media Group, FOX Sports, Katz Media Group, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, Neuhoff Communications, SiriusXM, TEGNA, vCreative and WideOrbit.

Becky Brooks

September, 2018


Integrating Public Health and Entertainment to Improve Digital Literacy among Youth

By Grace Kim, MPH

In the current hyperconnected age, digital literacy is essential to the development of 21st century skills, as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication are increasingly conducted through computers, social media, and the internet. The current generation of youth is one defined by media and technology. Generation Z, consisting of those born between 1996-2010, is the first generation to be raised in the era of smartphones, and many do not remember a time before social media (Williams, 2015). Stories of young people who become the digital elite demonstrate their new roles as creators and influencers and have become celebrated narratives of technological progress and entrepreneurial savvy as they discover new, innovative uses for media and technology (Burwell, 2010). Not only is the prevalence of smartphone access among youth essentially universal, a growing share of teens now describe their internet usage as nearly constant with 45% of teens saying they use the internet “almost constantly,” a figure that has nearly doubled since the 2014-2015 Pew Research Center survey (Anderson & Jiang, 2018). With this kind of technology easily accessed at our fingertips and the near constant usage of these technologies, new skills and competencies are needed to equip youth to engage in society.

While digital literacy is often framed as an educational issue, the constantly changing media and technology landscape increasingly requires digital literacy for everyday activities and an engaged citizenship, and has reverberating implications on health, well-being, and quality of life. As such, digital literacy should also be considered an urgent public health issue. In this essay, we describe how a collaboration between public health and entertainment can be used to better understand digital literacy and form opportunities to improve youth digital literacy levels. The aims will be to: (1) discuss the importance of digital literacy in the context of public health, (2) review existing digital literacy interventions and the potential limitations of restricting these interventions to the classroom, and ultimately (3) identify entertainment education as a unique opportunity for public health and the entertainment and media industry to work together to improve digital literacy in youth populations.

Digital Literacy for Public Health

Since its origin, the definition of digital literacy has had to constantly adapt to new technologies and new ways in which users interact with these technologies. Definitions have shifted away from protection or inoculation and towards empowering individuals to engage with media (Bulger & Davison, 2018). Digital literacy takes into account the full range of skills needed to read, write, speak, view, and participate in online spaces (Turner et al., 2017). The aim of these core competencies is responsible digital citizenship, an understanding of citizens’ rights and responsibilities online, a recognition of the benefits and risks, and realization of the personal and ethical implications of actions in the digital space. In sum, the goal is to empower individuals to be smart and effective participants in the digital world (Partnership for 21st Century Learning).

Although digital literacy has traditionally been discussed in the context of education, digital literacy is also fundamental to public health. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (World Health Organization, 2018). At an individual level, digital technologies allow us to participate in everyday activities—access internet to do homework, shop online, communicate with one another, or check real-time traffic conditions, demonstrating how digital literacy can contribute to individual quality of life (Tomer & Lee, 2015). Digital literacy has also become increasingly important to public health as digital technologies have changed the way through which we obtain health information and access care. For example, as health records, medical appointment scheduling, and health information move to digital platforms, individuals must become digitally literate to access these resources and receive timely and appropriate care. Of particular concern among public health researchers has been how the media can influence audiences regarding risky behaviors, such as increased propensity for violence or body dissatisfaction (Potter, 2013). In response, interventions implementing an educational curriculum in classroom, community, and lab settings have been designed to foster resiliency and help young people be critical of the media they consume. This body of research has found digital literacy interventions to have positive, counteracting effects related to risky and antisocial behaviors, including violence and aggression, alcohol and tobacco use, body image issues, eating disorders, and commercialism (Halliwell, Easun, & Harcourt, 2011; Jeong, Cho, & Hwang, 2012; Kupersmidt, Scull, & Austin, 2010).

Navigating digital technologies also plays a role in public health at a community and societal level. The wellbeing of individuals in a community is influenced by how well the community functions, not only in terms of ensuring equitable distribution of the determinants of health, but in terms of the processes of governance in the community such as the degree of participation, the degree of social cohesion and the extent of civic engagement (Hancock, Labonte, & Edwards, 1999; National Civic League, 1993; Putnam, 1993). Given digital technologies are considered central to cultural, civic, and economic participation (Aabo, 2005; Meyers, Erickson, & Small, 2013), digital literacy empowers individuals to be active participants in their communities. For example, online advocacy, social protest, “liking,” sharing, and remixing media demonstrate digital technologies’ increasing capacities for political engagement, advocacy, and social justice (Cohen C & J, 2012; Mihailidis & Thevenin, 2013; Turner et al., 2017). Thus, digital literacy can improve community functioning, which, in turn, has positive effects on individual health outcomes.

Clearly, the costs of digital illiteracy are high. Digital literacy has major health implications over an individual’s life course. Although we often assume that young people are digitally literate, there is some research that reveals disparities in digital literacy, with lower digital literacy associated with lower socioeconomic status and racial and ethnic minorities (Hargittai, 2010; Rampell, 2008). These disparities may have reverberating effects later in life. Digital literacy equips people with the skills and capacities to pursue higher education and obtain higher paying jobs due to most jobs now requiring basic computer skills and an expanding job market that is technology-driven (Tomer & Lee, 2015). Substantial literature supports the influence of socioeconomic status on health outcomes via mechanisms of social capital and access to resources (Phelan, Link, & Tehranifar, 2010). The U.S. has gambled on broadband being a great equalizer (West & Karsten, 2016) but, in order to achieve this goal, and take advantage of the resources that broadband presents, citizens must be able to understand how to use the internet to access and interpret the information available. This reinforces that digital literacy training must occur in early life stages, thereby increasing opportunities for youth to succeed. Given digital literacy is also a public health concern, it implores us to explore how a public health perspective can contribute to improving youth digital literacy and address persisting disparities.

 A Review of Digital Literacy Interventions

Digital or media literacy interventions typically involve an experimental treatment that provides people with the tools that increase awareness and promote deeper understanding of the underlying meanings contained in media messages (Potter, 2004). The goal is to build the cognitive skills required to process media messages in a more active way and use these tools to defend themselves against the potential negative effects of media (Byrne, 2009; Potter, 2004). A meta-analysis of media literacy interventions reports that digital and media literacy interventions are generally effective as having significant positive effects on outcomes including media knowledge, criticism, perceived realism, influence, behavioral beliefs, attitudes, self-efficacy, and behavior (Jeong et al., 2012).

What emerges from a review of the existing literature of digital literacy interventions is that interventions have been largely limited to the classroom {Colwell, 2013 #25}(Colwell, Hunt-Barron, & Reinking, 2013; Sefton-Green, Nixon, & Erstad, 2009), and the majority of media literacy efforts in the U.S. remain focused on teacher training and curricula development (Bulger & Davison, 2018). These curricula often focus on protection with digital literacy as a means to defend oneself from the potentially harmful effects of media. For example, in health, media literacy often means helping youth decipher implicit messages in media and increasing awareness of the media as a business of selling products and behaviors that often are not good for them (Brown, 2006). The assumption behind these interventions is that youth will become more critical of the media they consume and will be less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors promoted by the media (Brown, 2006). Although these critical evaluation skills are important, these kinds of interventions tend to narrowly focus on the media as having a negative or harmful influence on audiences. What has been largely absent in the digital literacy intervention literature is using the powerful influence of media for the social good.

While it remains essential to continue efforts to incorporate digital literacy into school curricula, studies have identified barriers to implementing digital literacy curriculum and integration of digital technologies into classroom instruction, including competing demands, lack of appropriate professional development for teachers, and teacher attitudes towards the importance of digital literacy training (Colwell et al., 2013; Hutchison & Reinking, 2010, 2011). Moreover, learning digital literacy not only occurs in schools, but also in the home and other informal settings, such as social environments with friends and online communities (Meyers et al., 2013). Given the challenges in implementing digital literacy interventions in classroom settings, innovative approaches to supplement classroom instruction on digital literacy are needed. Thus, it is timely to explore how collaborations between different disciplines can allow for a more integrative, holistic approach to improving youth digital literacy.

Interventions have long focused on personal responsibility where individuals are expected to negotiate the risks and opportunities of the online world, rather than the responsibilities of the community, state, institutions, or developers of technologies to support individuals (Bulger & Davison, 2018). Consequently, there has been a recent surge of efforts to foster news literacy, media literacy, and digital citizenship among corporations, policy makers, non-profits, and national organizations to create curricula, resources, and instructional materials for parents and educators, fund and conduct research, and expand corporate initiatives to protect and empower users (Bulger & Davison, 2018). For example, in 2017, Facebook initiated their Journalism Project aimed at improving the media literacy of its users (Bulger & Davison, 2018). This involved establishing collaborations and partnerships between Facebook and the news industry, developing a series of PSAs promoting news literacy, improvements on the Facebook platform to curb the spread of misinformation, and bringing together experts to help decide on what new research to conduct and projects to fund (Simo, 2017). Although these sectors are making steps towards supporting digital literacy, what remains largely unexplored is how entertainment and television can also engage in this nationwide effort.

An Opportunity for Entertainment Education

Digital literacy represents a unique opportunity for collaboration between public health and the entertainment and media industry via entertainment education. Entertainment education (or edutainment) incorporates health and other educational messages into popular entertainment media with the goal of positively influencing awareness, knowledge, attitudes, and/or behaviors (Moyer-Gusé, 2008). While there have been media-based interventions that aim to build digital literacy by critiquing films or television shows, using entertainment education to improve digital literacy has largely been an untapped avenue. However, digital technologies are already central to storylines of popular young adult television series, such as Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl, supporting the potential for the development of entertaining storylines that can educate audiences about skills, strategies, and responsibilities of navigating the internet, social media, and other digital technologies in a way that is relevant and resonating with today’s youth audiences.

One potential framework that may serve as a tool for interested producers and screenwriters is the Sábido Methodology. The Sábido approach uses the soap opera melodrama to communicate prosocial messages. Often credited with the beginning of entertainment education (EE), Miguel Sábido, a Latin American artist and intellectual best known in Mexico for his theater and television works, created a methodology articulating a theoretical and empirical research-based formula to construct media messages that initiate socially desirable attitudes and behaviors (Nariman, 1993). A central pillar of the Sábido approach is role modeling. Thus, there are characters that represent the socially desirable behavior and consequences when characters rebel against the behavior. Through these narratives, spectators can learn how they would handle or overcome similar experiences.

More recently, this approach has been applied in the Hulu original East Los High. With an all Latino cast and crew, East Los High utilizes principles of EE and transmedia storytelling to reach, engage, and ultimately influence young Latino/a American knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors as a response to persistent challenges in teen pregnancy and adolescent sexual and reproductive health (Wang & Singhal, 2016). A recent evaluation of the show’s first season demonstrated wide audience reach, strong viewer engagement, and a positive cognitive, emotional, and social impact on sexual and reproductive health communication and education (Wang & Singhal, 2016). The show also demonstrated success by being consistently rated as a top show on Hulu and drawing 1 million unique visitors each month to the Hulu Latino webpage (Wang & Singhal, 2016). Similarly, producers may use the Sábido approach to create content that can model socially desirable behaviors around best practices with digital technologies in an engaging, but safe environment for adolescents. Population Media Center, which helped produce the first season of East Los High, describes the process of developing entertainment education content in 5 steps.

How is an entertainment education show constructed? (Population Media Center, 2018)

1.     Know your audience. Conduct ethnographic and formative research to understand the realities, issues, opportunities, and challenges that the target audience experiences. This research should inform character development, storylines, media placement, and issue treatment, so that they can better resonate with target audiences.

2.     Integrate behavior change theory. Understand how people learn and make decisions, and the factors that contribute to their attitudes and behaviors. The show content is designed to motivate the audience to adopt certain behaviors, create self-efficacy, and build resiliency. The format of the show is also derived from behavior change theory, requiring storylines to extend over many episodes and involve characters that behave as role models that face similar struggles, such that audiences can learn how to handle similar challenges.

3.     Integrate entertainment-industry insight. In order to address sensitive topics and provide knowledge, improved sense of agency, and the desire to adopt new behavioral options, audiences need to be engaged and entertained to be willing to hear the messages presented on the show.

4.     Monitor and evaluate the show and its impact. Continuous monitoring and evaluation of each show ensures programs are on track and provide learning for current and future programs.

5.     Ensure culturally-specificity. Not only should the storylines and the presentation of the health issue be relatable and culturally-specific, but the creative and production process should also be culturally-specific. In other words, hire local writers, actors, and production staff from target audiences whenever possible. The team should be trained in the methodology for show creation and for overall operating procedures, including show marketing, monitoring and evaluation, and others.


 Population Media Center:

Nariman, H. N. (1993). Soap operas for social change: Toward a methodology for entertainment-education television. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Storylines relevant to digital literacy are already present in television entertainment. Popular shows like the recently renewed series Will & Grace, which is known for its subtle but poignant cultural commentary, has addressed pertinent issues such as fake news and how the internet and social media play a role in politics and democracy.

Another example is the 2017 film Ingrid Goes West, a black comedy exploring society’s conflicting feelings towards social media, which won best screenplay in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance (Variety, 2017). The story follows the story of Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza), a young woman who moves out to California in hopes of befriending her new Instagram obsession—social media “influencer” Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). In interviews with the cast and producers, they discuss how the film serves as a social critique of social media and the online generation (The New York Times, 2017). Through humor and wit, the film addresses issues of loneliness and isolation, authenticity, obsession and online versus real connection and ultimately encourages constructive discussion around the use of social media and digital citizenship.

As these recent examples have shown, there is ample opportunity for television and film to create educational, yet entertaining content about digital literacy for youth audiences. These kinds of storylines are not only entertaining, but also tap into the current zeitgeist about the implications of digital technologies on daily life. Entertainment education takes this a step further, such that prosocial messages are carefully constructed based on comprehensive, formative research about the target audience and their experiences with the issue at hand. One of the many strengths of entertainment education is that including digital literacy messages into popular media can increase reach and affect audiences at a larger scale than a typical classroom-based intervention. Further, transmedia narratives can complement entertainment education efforts to create immersive experiences that allow audiences to engage with the educational material on television and apply digital literacy skills across platforms in innovative ways. Just as entertainment education has proven to be an innovative, effective communication platform in the field of public health, television can have a powerful role in teaching digital literacy through the power of storytelling, role-modeling, and audience engagement.

(References available separately.)