MEDIA LITERACY 101: IX. Five Important Things to Remember

Subject: Digital Literacy
Grade Level: All
Source: Cable in the Classroom

1.  About how media is constructed
Nothing you see in media represents reality exactly. Rather, what you experience has been shaped by someone to show you an interpretation of reality. It's easy to understand that a cartoon, sitcom or science fiction movie isn't real. It's less obvious that dramas, reality shows, even news and sports coverage are influenced by editing choices, camera placement, narration, and other factors. Since we get most of our information about the world from media, this is extremely important to remember.

2.  About how children interpret media
Adults should realize that children will receive and interpret media messages differently at different ages. Each episode of The Simpsons, for example, contains a moral message that typically affirms traditional values. However, young children may focus on Bart and Homer's behavior and entirely miss the moral. Each episode is also full of sly references to media and culture that adults might pick up but that children would not get.

3.  About commercials
Advertising can impact your thinking and behavior. Psychologically, advertising creates a need by establishing a state of dissatisfaction. Commercials can make you feel that you are inadequate and flawed or that what you have isn't good enough. The solution to your problem, of course, is buying the product. Then you'll feel better, look better and be more popular!

Advertisers especially want to reach young adults and establish life-long loyalty to their products, so a disproportionate amount of programming is geared to 18-24 year olds. A continuing question in media literacy is whether advertisers influence the content of programs and news. For example, if a newscast were sponsored by a chemical company, would the news organization think twice about reporting a story on chemical hazards?

4.  About values
Our attitudes towards work, school, government, and family can all be influenced by what we see and hear in the media. Each story, whether fact or fiction, reflects underlying values about whom or what is important. If women or minorities are consistently portrayed as lacking power and authority, impressionable young viewers may absorb that message. If scenes with smoking, drinking, violence, or casual sex are repeatedly shown, young people may believe these behaviors are normal and appropriate. On the other hand, highlighting our shared values can bring us together.

5.  About language and style
Each medium uses its own language and style to tell stories. Some types of media are better at doing certain things than others. Because television is such a visual and immediate medium, it's good at bringing you a breaking news story, like a hurricane, with lots of action but little detail. For details about disaster response policies, newspapers, magazines, and Websites have more room (or time) to explain. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each medium will help you know when and where to turn for the information you need.


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