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Communication professor promotes responsible media consumption

By Austriauna Brooks – Whitworth Intern

Nichole Bogarosh chose journalism to have an impact on how people understand current events.

Trust between the public and media has grown more skewed since the rise of the term, “fake news,” said Nichole Bogarosh, Whitworth University communication professor. So she believes it’s important for the public to be responsible consumers of media.

She also promotes responsible media consumption through classes and involvement with the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media (NW-ARM) Board.

Skepticism about what is being reported makes media consumers suspicious of anything journalists report.  Many take on an “us versus them” mentality with media, which can make the job harder for journalists, she said.

“It’s hard to strike that balance in news decisions: ‘Is this interesting, engaging and going to draw people’s attention, and am I also serving the public good?’” Nichole said. “It’s easy to slide into the sensational stuff if we’re not doing the work we’re called to do as journalists.”

In addition to being on the communication faculty, she is director of the women and gender studies department at Whitworth.

Nichole entered communication because she loved writing at an early age. She did not know the specific job she wanted to do but she has always been drawn to communication.

“Part of the reason, beyond my love of writing and creating, is the potential impact media can have,” she said. “This led me to teach communication. I wanted to reach out to people and have an impact on how they look at things, giving voice to the voiceless, highlighting injustices and celebrating the breaking down of barriers.”

Nichole said her faith background also influences her view of media, and makes her aware of how media view certain faiths and religions.

She was raised Catholic and attends St. Thomas More Parish in Spokane. She spent time around Jesuits, who are strong advocates of social justice.

“They emphasized thinking about the marginalized in the world community,” Nichole said. “This is part of why I began studying representations in the media with a critical eye.”

Her undergraduate degrees are in communications and political science from Washington State University and Whitworth’s evening program in humanities.

Nichole also worked in marketing, communication and public relations prior to doing some graduate work at Gonzaga University in communication leadership in 2008. She earned her doctorate at WSU in American studies in 2013, while working part time as an adjunct at Whitworth. She has worked full-time there since 2011.

Nichole incorporates media literacy in Whitworth courses she teaches. For spring semester, she will teach a class called “Media Criticism.” Her goal is for students to understand messages media give their audiences.

“We’re going to look through different lenses and at different theories to view media critically,” she said. “Because my background is so intertwined with women and gender studies, ethnic studies and LGBTQ studies, I will introduce those perspectives.”

According to Nichole, media are one of the most influential and powerful institutions in society. Media influence the public, even people who avoid television, movies or listening to music.

Those people still interact with people who consume media, so they consume media indirectly. They also see billboards while driving or a TV playing in the background at a doctor’s office.

“It’s influencing us even when we think we do not consume that much media. It’s impossible not to consume it,” she said. “It has a big impact on our own world views, who we think we are and who we think other people are, particularly if it’s a group we have little exposure to.”

From women and gender studies, Nichole pays attention to how pop culture and media portray gender, and how that affects everyone’s lives. Media messages convey about what men and women are supposed to be like and how they are to act are reflected through cultural norms. If someone is told he or she is not living up to those cultural norms then it could have profound psychological impact, Nichole said.

“Women are taught that their worth comes from how they look, but there is only a narrowly defined way to look to be considered beautiful and be valued. That can be an incredibly damaging form of ‘othering.’”

It can be life threatening if it leads to eating disorders or complications from cosmetic procedures.  It can be costly for someone who spends money and time buying and applying those cosmetics, rather than engaging with the community, she said.

Nichole joined the NW-ARM Board in part because of her time in graduate school at Gonzaga University. John Caputo, the director of NW-ARM, was her adviser when she attended. The board includes professionals, educators and others who have a passion for media literacy.

Once a month, they meet to discuss what they see in media, and ways to educate schools and the community.

“We brainstorm ways to involve the community,” Nichole said.

NW-ARM teamed up with Whitworth’s women and gender studies department in November to help bring Jennifer Stuller, author of Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology, to the Whitworth campus.

Having the public interact with what it means to be a responsible media consumer helps them use that power to make changes.

Nichole encourages students, community members and others to use their voices if they find perspectives are overlooked, specifically with entertainment media.

“Sometimes we are not aware of the power we have as consumers,” Nichole said. “Stop watching a show and tell other people why you’re not watching it.

“We can let our opinions be known, telling the newspaper we don’t like the way they covered something by writing the editor or submitting an opinion piece so they hear from the people they’re supposed to serve,” she said.

A vital part of being civically engaged with what powerful institutions do is to pay attention to the messages they are sending, Nichole said.

One assignment she gives in her “Representations of Women in Popular Culture” course is for students to keep a weekly media and popular culture journal. They write about what they see in the media in terms of gender.

“This makes them stop and reflect on types of media they don’t even think about—billboards, background songs in stores, magazines in waiting rooms and more,” she said. “I ask the students: What messages are being given? Do you support them? Why or why not? If you don’t, what can you do as an individual?”

There are many ways the public can be more informed consumers. Nichole encourages people to be active rather than passive media consumers by taking advantage of educational opportunities. 

NW-ARM gives tools to help consumers analyze the media they interact with. It also offers media salons for people to discuss media topics and shows movies that build awareness of media issues.

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