Professor and Associate Dean Julianne Newton and Rick Williams, Dean of the Division of the Arts at Lane Community College and a former SOJC instructor, recently won the 2009 Marshall McLuhan Award for Outstanding Book in the Field of Media Ecology for their 2007 book, Visual Communication: Integrating Media, Art and Science.

by Katie Dettman Graduate Student

“To me, Marshall McLuhan epitomizes the creative scholar whose ideas bridge boundaries to make new connections about how media and culture co-evolve with the human brain and mind,” Newton says. “My favorite quotes from him are: ‘Truth … is something we make in the encounter with the world that is making us’ and ‘It’s learning to live at the speed of the mind … that counts!’” She expressed her and Williams’ honor in receiving the award in the presence of McLuhan’s son, Erik and grandson, Andrew.

“McLuhan’s work, particularly his tetrad theory for analyzing media and culture, has had a profound influence on my work,” explained Newton.

The award was presented to Williams and Newton on Friday, June 19 at the Media Ecology Associationconference, held in St. Louis, Missouri. The two have been members of the Association for several years. This is the third award for their book, which also won an award for Excellence in Visual Communication Research from the National Communication Association, Visual Communication Division in 2008 and the Top Creative Project award from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Visual Communication Division, in 2007.

Lance Strate, professor of communication and media studies and associate chair for graduate studies at Fordham University, says the book was nominated “because it represents an outstanding example of scholarship in the field of media ecology, and the judges unanimously agreed.”

According to Newton’s entry in Volume VII of the International Encyclopedia of Communication, media ecology is “a multidisciplinary field that studies the evolution, effects, and forms of environments. Media ecology is most often defined as both the study of media as environments and the study of environments – such as situations or contexts – as media … Media therefore include not only communication technologies but also such entities as the brain and body, a lecture hall or galaxy, and languages, symbols, and codes.”

A member of the SOJC faculty since 2000, this summer, Newton is working on a new book on visual ethics. In the fall, she will teach a grad seminar in Ethnography and a Freshman Interest Group (FIG) course called Media Mirror. “I’ll teach the FIG from a media ecology perspective,” Newton explained, “focusing on ways people use and are influenced by images of all kinds.”

Williams, Newton’s husband, is Dean of the Division of the Arts at Lane Community College. He taught photojournalism at the SOJC from 2000 until 2003, and visual literacy in the Arts and Administration Department at the UO School of Architecture and Allied Arts.

Newton’s previous book, The Burden of Visual Truth: the Role of Photojournalism in Mediating Reality was published in 2000. Wiliams’ previous book, Working Hands, a twenty-year photographic/ethnographic study of Texas culture, was also published in 2000.

In addition to their collaboration on Visual Communication, Newton and Williams have also collaborated on other projects, including an exhibit of documentary photography called The Familiar Image at the First City Centre in Austin, Texas in 1986.

“When one of us gets stuck trying to figure out an idea or create a verbal or visual image,” Newton explained when describing their collaborative process, “the other is there to help brainstorm – and, often, to complete the process. We used to worry about whose idea originated with whom. Now we realize how little that matters. Our ideas flow into and out of one another’s thoughts and visions.”

“The book was more than 10 years in the making,” explained Newton, “and it truly is the synthesis of collaboration with our students, colleagues, administrators, institutions, friends and family. We feel deep gratitude to every one who helped us along the way.”

The Media Ecology Association gives the award once per year, and it is open to books published in 2006 or later on any topic related to media ecology. The first winner of the award was Neil Postman for Building a Bridge to The Eighteenth Century: How The Past Can Improve Our Future, in 2000. Other previous winners of the award include Richard Barbrook in 2008, for Imaginary Futures: From Thinking Machines to the Global Village; Thomas de Zengotita in 2006, for Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It and Donald N. Wood in 2005, for The Unraveling of the West: The Rise of Postmodernism and the Decline of Democracy.