Tessa Jolls

From Telemedium, The Journal of Media Literacy

Vol 60, No 1&2. Published 2013

Tessa Jolls [& Frank Baker and Barrie McMahon] Receives the 2013
Jessie McCanse Award For Individual Contribution to Media Literacy

In this year of 2013, as we celebrate our organization’s sixtieth Anniversary, we at the National Telemedia Council are delighted to present our time-honored Jessie McCanse Award to three eminent leaders, all passionately representing essential and different building blocks for a media literate, global Society of the Twenty-First Century.  The recipients, honored during the NTC’s Anniversary celebration on November 8, 2013, are Barrie McMahon, distinguished Australian pioneer, teacher, mentor, author and a founder of media education in Australia. Tessa Jolls, rigorously grounded visionary and brilliant entrepreneurial genius dedicated to the cause of media literacy. and Frank Baker, eloquent spokesman for media literacy education, author, communicator, the joyful Pied Piper and genial Master of the Media Literacy Clearinghouse.

Tessa Jolls


Tessa Jolls, President and CEO of the Center for Media Literacy since 1999, and founder of the Consortium for Media Literacy, comes to the field of media literacy with a passion and an exceptional gift for identifying, adapting, and implementing the basic ingredients for major social change.  During her tenure at CML, Tessa restructured the organization to focus, grow and change, preparing to meet the demand for an expanded vision of literacy for the 21st Century.  Her primary focus toward this end is working in partnership to demonstrate how media literacy works through school and community-based implementation programs. In this effort, she actively contributes to the development of the media literacy field internationally through her speaking, writing and consulting, with curriculum development and research projects, and through publishing and disseminating new curricular and training projects.


Another landmark contribution, one which Tessa regards as possibly her most important one is the CML Media Lit Kit, for which she created the concept, co-authored and published as a collection of media literacy resources featuring professional development and curricular materials. These resources all center around CML’s research-based framework for media literacy education, which is recognized worldwide as an “onramp” for teaching and learning that is consistent and can be replicated, measured, evaluated and scaled.


Working with other institutions and organizations in the US and abroad, Tessa has designed, implemented, and published the results of studies such as Beyond Blame: Challenging Violence in the Media, the longitudinal multi-year experiment on media, violence and media literacy; others focused on health and nutrition as well as music and the arts. Her network of collaboration takes her all over the world! Her powerful message resonates with her listeners because of its validity, its truth, and its working model.


This dynamic and charismatic leader in our field does it all with grace, elegance, and true passion.

Tessa, In her Own Words


It’s with great humility that I accept the Jessie McCanse Award for media literacy, awarded on the 60th anniversary year of the National Telemedia Council. Such history is associated with this award! And such terrific, dedicated individuals who stand before me and beside me…thank you for this honor.


I came to media literacy education as a parent. In the late 1990’s, I was mothering two young children, and I was concerned for them and for their future. I saw that the internet would make everything and anything easily accessible to them, and that it would betheir own values and discernment that would make the difference in their choices for what media they would be taking in and for what they would be expressing, and for whom they would be interacting with through media, near and far.


I knew that interacting responsibly in the global village that Marshall McLuhan described so long ago would be a challenge. I knew I couldn’t protect my children by shielding them from media, but I had no direction on what to do until one day, at a school advisory board meeting in 1998 at Our Lady of Malibu School, our pastor announced that he wanted to introduce a media literacy program. I had no idea what media literacy was, but when he said that he wanted to find some ways of helping our children understand the new media world they would be living in, I volunteered to head the committee. And I’ve been working to improve media literacy education ever since!


When I began working with Elizabeth Thoman at the Center for Media Literacy, I asked her for a definition of media literacy. She explained that there was a lot of controversy around definitions, and she handed me a folder about an inch thick. The Center was well-known for translating media literacy theory into practical tools for teachers and community leaders, but I knew then that we were only at the beginning of providing teachers with the kind of resources they needed to be able to teach media literacy effectively. I was determined to help provide teachers with an onramp to media literacy that was accessible, consistent, replicable, measurable, and scalable.


That quest has led over the past 15 years to the creation of the CML MediaLit Kit; to the articulation of a consistent framework through which to structure media literacy programs; to grants for modeling media literacy implementation programs; to new books, powerpoints, videos and curricular resources to teach media literacy through professional development and direct delivery to students; to training teachers and students and community leaders; to pilot studies and to a multi-year longitudinal study to evaluate the effectiveness of CML’s framework and approach to structuring media literacy curricula; and to advocacy throughout the world for providing citizens with the skills necessary to be active citizens in a democracy today. And of course, since media literacy represents a continuum of skills, the job is never done. I look forward to future years of strengthening media literacy with relish!

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