Media Literacy

Media is an influential cultural force. Traditional media are watched, listened to and read. Now, social media such as Facebook and Twitter are revolutionizing the way we communicate , the way we send and receive information. Evidence of this, it can be argued, could be seen in the so-called Arab spring beginning in December 2010.[1] Media has had a huge impact on society creating a need to be aware of it in a more critical way.

Despite the vast flow of information, the benefits of the media need to be weighed with its more negative impacts. There are fewer ‘voices’ in the media as fewer owners control large segments of the industry in global corporations. There is inherent news bias based on ideology and interests and selling news as entertainment which includes public relations ‘spin’ [2] These are but a few concerns of which we need to be aware and so we must do our best to look at the information we are given critically, rather than taking everything as truth.

The National Association for Media Literacy, says, “being literate in a media age required critical thinking skills that empower us as we make decisions, whether in the classroom, the living room, the workplace, the boardroom or the voting booth” [3]. So then, media literacy is the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, and COMMUNICATE information in a variety of forms, including print and non-print messages.”[4]

Some things to be aware of when reading, listening or watching media is to pay attention to some indicator:

  • What words or images are used to describe events, issues, or people?
  • Are gender stereotypes being used? Are men and women treated differently in the stories?
  • Are ethnic or cultural, religious (etc) stereotypes used? Are they treated differently in the stories?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What are the facts?
  • Are the ‘facts’ presented corroborated by other sources?
  • Over-time, can you determine whether there is a particular political bias in the way stories are delivered? It is usually easier to determine a particular political leading or bias with US media, though there are Canadian media who are also more sympathetic to certain political parties, but it is not always so obvious. For example, Fox News tends to be more conservative and sympathetic to the Republican party. The New York Times newspaper is said to be more liberal- and perhaps more sympathetic to the Democratic party.
  • What are the people delivering the information (for example, political leaders) trying to tell you? Why are they telling you? What are they telling you? Is there any missing information?

Moreover, “A good reader is one who reads actively, interacting with the text in many ways and reading deeply, looking for more than main ideas or answers to simple questions. Understanding ideas, questioning ideas, coming to your own conclusions, reading what words literally say as well as what words imply, and thinking about and considering what a writer does not say as well as what she does say are all parts of critical thinking and reading – reading, thinking, writing are the intertwined parts of the reading and writing process.” [5]

Reading with the grain, means that are trying to understand what the author is saying, the argument being presented before making a critique or accepting the argument. Reading again the grain, on the other hand, means that one examines a text more closely, exploring the arguments and the ‘facts’ presented. To do this, one will ask questions, determines if there are contradictions, evaluates the sources used, whether the author excluded information deliberately, what is the author NOT telling you and so on.

The issue of credibility is an interesting one. We know that much of what is said in a magazine like National Enquirer is either false, over-dramatized, distorted. It is not a reputable source for facts on events, people, and so on as it is a magazine that aims to sell itself as entertainment.

But, there is sensationalism is the news and print media as well. The use of exaggeration, or framing an issue is part of the narrative of journalism nowadays, particularly in video-sourced news like those you may watch on tv. It is an attempt to see an audience, on their ‘product’, that is, their news station and their version of the news.

We can’t take everything (the information we are given or presented) at ‘face-value’, even if the source is credible. We need to ask questions about the viability of the information so that we can make decisions for ourselves, rather than believe only what others tell us. Sometimes we need to ‘read against the grain.’

Sources:

[1] Raymond Schillinger (September 2011), Social media and the Arab Spring: What have we learned? From Huffington Post Online. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/raymond-schillinger/arab-spring-social-media_b_970165.html?view=print&comm_ref=false

[2] MediaLiteracy.com. Home page, Retrieved November 26, 2012 from http://medialiteracy.com/

[3] National Association for Media Literacy and Education (2012), Media literacy defined. Retrieved from, http://namle.net/publications/media-literacy-definitions/

[4] Ibid.

[5]  College Reading Skills Program. Reading with and against the grain. Retrieved November 30, 2012 from, http://www.csupomona.edu/~crsp/handouts/read_grain.html

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