Understanding The Media

media_literacyThe ability to critically understand and evaluate the media is an essential skill in today’s world. Being able to understand not only the surface content of media messages but also the deeper meaning beneath the surface is an important skill to have particularly as a parent. The following is a selection of some key media literacy “tools” and skills to think further about.

Source: Strasburger, V.C. – Wilson, B.J. (2002) Children Adolescents and the Media. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Media Constructs Our Culture. 

Our society and our very sense of reality are shaped by the information and images we receive through the media. It is important to understand and help our children understand the impact the media has on how we understand the world, other people and ourselves.

Media Messages Contain Certain Values And Meanings.

Some of these messages are intended, and some are unintended. However, these messages and values tend to target specific groups. Because the media is so powerful, it is important to ask a number of questions including:

  • Who is this message for?
  • Who wants to reach this intended audience and why?
  • Whose voices are heard and whose are absent?

These questions ask us to be critical of media messages and never to accept a message at face value.

Individuals Interpret Media In Different Ways.

The way you construct meaning from the media is most likely to be different from the way your children, partner, co-worker or friends do. This is because we interpret the media from our unique positions based on our gender, race, class, sexual orientation and so on. How these factors combine and what experiences you have had as a consequence of them result in how you will understand and interpret media messages.

Media Creates Fantasy Worlds.

Although media is can be pleasurable and an entertaining activity, it is also important to understand the extent to which it may be harmful. For example, media messages and advertising regarding gambling usually portray gambling as a fun, spontaneous and exciting activity while ignoring the serious problems that often occur as a result of it. Media literacy allows us to recognize fantasy and constructively integrate it with reality.

Most Media Are Controlled By Commercial Interests.

While this point may seem largely obvious, it is important to understand the extent to which the marketplace determines what we see on television, what we hear on the radio, and what we read in magazines and newspapers. As money increasingly comes to be the underlying factor driving media, asking questions becomes even more important.

Media Messages Can Be Decoded.

By practicing critical thinking skills and applying it to powerful media messages, we can begin to understand how persuasion is used and recognize how media makers are trying to influence us.

Source: Jacobs, W. (2005). Speaking the Lower Frequencies: Students and Media Literacy. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Strasburger, V.C. & Wilson, B.J. (2002). Children, Adolescents, & the Media. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.