CML Founder Receives Award for Lifetime Achievement

University of Dayton Honors Elizabeth Thoman June 26, 2000

DAYTON, Ohio — From the try-it-at-home science experiments of Bill Nye the Science Guy to the sophisticated marketing tie-ins between fast food restaurants and the latest Hollywood summer blockbuster, children today are immersed in media messages.

Teaching them — and adults as well — to decipher substance from selling point is the mission of Elizabeth Thoman, CHM, founder and president of the Center for Media Literacy in Los Angeles, and recipient of this year's Daniel J. Kane Award, presented by the University of Dayton's Institute for Pastoral Initiatives.

The award will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 26, in the Sears Recital Hall in Jesse Philips Humanities Center on campus. As part of the program, Thoman will give an address on "Media and Values at the New Millennium." The presentation is free and open to the public.

"Media literacy is actually more about educational reform than media reform," Thoman explained. "It's a process of inquiry and teaching the skills of decision-making in a mediated environment."

Giving children and adults the skills needed to recognize who is behind the messages they see on television and the Web and in movies, music videos, advertising and other visual media is the point of media literacy, Thoman explained. Children can learn to analyze the advertising they see as well as the news reports featured in some schools. Adults can recognize the longing they feel for the latest technological gadget as being fed by glossy TV ads as well as, perhaps, a genuine use for the tool.

"Things can't buy us happiness," Thoman said. "We know that from the Gospel and from every wise person in every civilization. It's not the things you own that are important. But we live today within a consumer culture, and mass media drives consumer culture. Part of what you need to survive is a certain sense of balance. Media literacy helps keep us in balance."

Thoman's work is praised by Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, M.H.S.H., director of the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives at UD. "This is a field beginning to capture the imagination of educators around the world. Years ago Liz planted the seeds that are nurturing the growth and development that exists today. Her perseverance and energy have been endless, demonstrated especially by her publications, strong advocacy and the media recognition she has received for her ministry," she said.


Thoman, who as a child was fascinated by the early years of popular TV, joined the Congregation of the Humility of Mary religious order in 1964. Her interest in writing and photography was encouraged by her community.

"Our sisters have always been pioneers in the field of education," she said. "We have a history of innovative projects — moving into something new, getting it started and moving on. That's one of the charisms of our community. I was encouraged all along by the sisters of my community to explore and provide leadership in media. Getting into media education was a real blending of my community's commitment to education and their willingness to embrace my own personal gifts and talents in the media field."

A former high school journalism teacher, she left teaching to become an award-winning professional photographer, writer and public relations coordinator for a variety of religious and educational organizations. She completed a degree in communications management at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California and, in 1977, started a newsletter about the impact mass media and new technology was having on individuals and families.

Media&Values, published from 1977 to 1993, helped to spark the media literacy movement in the U.S.

She founded the Center for Media Literacy in 1989, and it has become a leading voice for media literacy in the country. Under her direction, the center produced the first generation of teaching tools about the media including resources on sexism in the media, how to analyze the news, parenting in a TV age and a comprehensive program titled Beyond Blame: Challenging Violence in the Media.

Thoman has also helped to professionalize the fledgling field with leadership to organize national conferences and develop pilot teacher-training programs. Future plans call for increased Internet presence with cyberspace sites for the public as well as for teachers and professionals in the field.

The Daniel J. Kane Religious Communications Award, named for the former communication director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, is given to people who have made a lifetime contribution to Catholic communications. Thoman is the 15th recipient of the annual award. Past awardees include noted Catholic broadcasters Rev. John Geaney, CSP and Rev. Ellwood ("Bud") Kieser, CSP; television director Jack Shea and screenwriter Patt Shea, founders of Catholics in Media; newspaper columnist Dale Francis and media theologian Rev. Pierre Babin, OMI.

As recipient, Thoman will receive an original hand-crafted wall sculpture by Brother Joseph Barrish, S.M., and a donation in her name will be made to a scholarship fund for students from Third World countries to participate in the Pastoral Communications and Ministry Institute held each summer at UD.