Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Communication today: Why we need media literacy

"Media literacy is the ability to access, interpret, analyze, evaluate, and use all forms of media from direct mail pieces to newspaper articles and television advertisements to internet content. Media literacy includes understanding that because different people interpret messages in different ways, the media often change their message about the same product or issue to fit their intended audience." This definition from the National Middle School Association (NMSA) explains what media literacy is, and how messages can be manipulated to appeal to a certain type of audience. Because of the varying types of media messages and the young target audience of these messages, it is crucial to educate children about media literacy at a young age.

People become targets for the media as soon as they are able to watch television or take in an ad. This means that from early on people are exposed to numerous media messages everyday. According to Kaiser Family Foundation (1999), the average American child spends about thirty-eight hours every week engrossed in media entertainment. Despite the fact that this is nearly the same amount of time that the average child spends in school, many schools do not have a media literacy programs to educate children about these messages.

Adding a media literacy class to the curriculum for elementary and middle school children would be a good way to start educating young children about media messages. Since children are often targeted by the media, they should be formally educated on how to interpret and understand different types of media messages. However, if schools are not willing to add a new class to the curriculum, a different approach could be taken. The media does not target a specific topic or subject area; so, it would not be necessary to add an extra class specifically for media literacy. Teachers across disciplines could incorporate educating their students about media literacy in the different subjects they teach.

Currently, there are efforts being made to educate children about media literacy. The Center for Media Literacy ( provides a short book about the developing media literacy and how to teach it to students. This is a starting point for teachers to discover the different aspects that make up media literacy and how to most effectively communicate to students about media literacy. In addition to educating children early on in schools, it is important to continue this type of education though high school and into college.

Media literacy is a constantly changing and evolving field. With new advances in technology, people need to be constantly educated about how to understand and interpret the media. For this reason, media literacy is a life long process. It is not sufficient to only offer it in middle school and then stop media literacy education when students move onto high school. Media literacy programs need to be incorporated into all subjects across the curriculum, and this process should begin early on in a child’s schooling and continue throughout the education process.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Feeling the Effects of the Media

While there are numerous types of media effects, five of the most common types are: behavioral, cognitive, attitudinal, emotional, and psychological. Each of these broad categories of effects contains many different factors that influence people. As stated in chapters thirteen and fourteen of Media Literacy, there are many factors that interact to create media effects. The combination of these factors can change and influence people’s set points.

One example of a media effect would be behaving aggressively after viewing a violent movie. First, this is a behavioral effect because it causes a person to act in a certain way. Second, in order for a violent movie to make someone act aggressively, many factors influencing media effects would need to act in combination with one another. Perhaps a person with less developmental maturities, limited knowledge structures, few social interactions and a weak locus of control would be more likely to become aggressive because of a violent movie. This would unlikely be the case if a person had vast knowledge structures, developed cognitive abilities, an active life style and a strong personal locus of control. The different combinations of factors contribute to how people react to media effects.

Like behavioral effects, attitudinal effects are also prevalent when looking at media effects. Just like aggressive behavior can be related to violent movies, the creation of new opinions can be related to the viewing of certain television programs. However, for this to occur, a combination of factors must interact to influence a media viewer. With each example, it becomes more and more clear that the effects of media are not the same for everyone. It is the combination of different factors that influence effects that really makes a difference in how people perceive media messages.

For me personally, I was able to discover some of the factors that influence my set points with exposure to the media. The idea that the state in which a person is in when viewing media affects how he/she perceives messages might seem like common sense to some people; however, this simple idea is extremely important. If a person relates a certain emotional state to a type of media exposure, they might be more influenced by the media effect. For example, if I was watching a sad movie after I had a fight with my best friend, I might be more inclined to cry during scenes in the movie. In addition to states, the degree of identification between a character and a viewer can impact media effects. The more a person relates to a character, the stronger the media effect will likely be.

With this increased knowledge about media effects and factors, I am better able to prepare myself for future media exposures. First, by becoming more aware of media effects, I should be able to control my set points. Second, after learning about the factors that influence media effects, I can try to be more alert and tentative to the type of effects so that I can control how they affect me.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Dancing With The Stars Ratings

Dancing With The Stars premiered on March 17th with great anticipation from anxious viewers. It currently airs on two consecutive nights. On Monday night all the contestants perform a certain type of dance, and on Tuesday a dancing pair gets voted off the show. The show captures the attention of a diverse audience and sits high in the ratings polls. According Neilson Media (, DWTS took the fourth and fifth highest ranking spots for the week of March 24. It is likely that this show does well because it entertains people across generations and it has a good timeslot.

(image from
ABC broadcasts Dancing With The Stars on Monday nights at 8:00pm. During this same timeslot, CBS airs The Big Bang Theory, NCS airs My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad, Fox airs House, and the CW airs Gossip girls. While all of these shows are well know and pull in a substantial audience, none of them were ranked on the top 10 Broadcast TV Programs for the week of March 24, 2008. The lowest ranked show on this list had 12.9 million viewers and DWTS had about twenty million viewers during its Monday night airing. This suggests that none of the other networks have shows that can match the popularity of DWTS.

In addition to its high ranking in terms of viewers, DWTS received a Neilsen rating of thirteen. The only show to receive a higher rating was Fox’s American Idol. Each week, the amount of time DWTS is on for varies between one to two hours. This variability each week suggests that even if its Monday night timeslot was changed, its ratings would still remain high. The only exception to this would be if DWTS was aired at the same time as American Idol. Both of these programs have similar concepts and attract similar audiences. If they competed for viewers, the result would likely be that both shows would fall in the ratings.

Dancing With The Stars will likely remain a successful program. Its strategic placement during primetime on Monday nights will ensure that many viewers tune in every week to follow along with their favorite competitor, and audience participation in voting will continue to keep viewers coming back for more.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Are We Really Amusing Ourselves to Death?

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman was a critique of the media’s influence on American culture in the early 1980’s. Postman viewed many different types of television programs in an effort to explain how they negatively shaped society. While many of the points that Postman made might have been relevant at the time the book was written, it is clear that some parts of the book have become dated.

In the Part I, the focus was on the evolution of communication. The pattern of development moved from the oral word, to the written word, to television. The author clearly believed that the written word was the best source of information and communication. While he made some valid points, Postman failed to address any of the advantages of television. This part of the book could have been strengthened if the author had written from a less biased perspective.

In Part II of the book, Postman focused on television as an established media form. He described some of the different ways that television was used to communicate messages: the news, religious programming, political companioning, and educational programming. Postman basically claimed that using television to broadcast these messages presented viewers with a biased view at best, and destructive understanding of the real world at worst.

Postman made a good point when he said that all messages on television need to be entertaining to capture the attention of the audience. This means that the news cannot simply relay the stories of the day. They need to tap into the stories that people will connect with most. Additionally, news casters appear to be trained to display no signs of emotion or understating. This almost robotic reporting is what Postman referred to as “ Now… This.” This point is one example of something that can still be accurately applied to television today. Along with news, Postman’s comments about religious programming being more concerned with entertainment value than their messages also holds true today. In contrast, educational programming for children does not undermine formal schooling like Postman claimed. This difference demonstrates that while Postman was able to predict something about television, he was not always correct. This last sentence sums up the book well. Postman made many good point and predictions about television, but looking in back retrospect, he was not always correct.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What IS News?

According to Media Literacy, “…news does not reflect reality. Instead, it is a construction of journalists.” This basic idea might change the way people look at news. News stories do not necessarily portray what is happening; rather they reflect what the journalist saw crammed into a few minute news story. In large news organizations, journalists do not have adequate time to fully explain a story and this results in the public only seeing parts of news stories. These problems have recently been combated by what are called “cyberjournalists.”

Cyberjournalists report on citizen journalism sites. Basically, the idea is that regular people (citizens) are able to act in the role of journalist and their stories are published through these websites. There are many different kinds of citizen journalism. The different types are discussed at Poynter Online

One specific citizen journalism site is called Coastsider This site was designed specifically for residents of San Mateo County, CA to post stories that involve their community. Poynter Online described eleven different types or layers to citizen journalism. This site would most likely fall into the sixth layer: “The Stand-alone citizen-journalism site: Edited version.” This means that it is not affiliated with a major news site and its contributions are made up entirely of citizen’s reporting. It appears that someone edits the stories for errors before they are posted onto the website.

This site allows people to post stories of interest. In addition to stories, videos, a community calendar of events, community related links, and town hall issues can be located on this site. Residents have the opportunity to share information with others in their community through this site, and the comments section allows community members to post responses to the stories.

Coastsider provides truly local news for the community. An advantage of this citizen’s journalism site is that it provides up-to-date information to local community members about events that could be important to them. Coastsider lists stories from most to least recent. Today it has stories as recent as yesterday. This new trend of citizen journalism provides previously unheard of opportunities for aspiring journalists or active community members to get their stories out to the public. Whether it be for a major news organization or just for the local community, citizen journalism sites provide great opportunities to hear from regular people.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Thinking Like a Survivor

It seems that Alexis, like so many unsuspecting television viewers mistakenly believes everything she sees on her favorite reality program to be true reality. Her statement indicates that because fans of the show have diligently watched every episode of every season, they completely understand the game and its players. She claims to know the strengths and weaknesses of the returning competitors. While she may be confident in her statement and her ability to play the game, she failed to consider that the hour of Survivor she watches each week cannot possibly represent everything that happened.
In total, survivors can play the game for a maximum of 40 days. That is a total of 960 hours. It is impossible and ill-advised to show every minute of everyday, and so in editing, hours and hours of footage are condensed into one hour of entertaining television.
In class we learned that one goal of the media is to entertain. In order to make survivor an entertaining show the content is edited so that only the most exciting events are viewed. Alexis's belief that this will be the best season yet because the returning players are evenly matched against fans is probably inaccurate at best, and may hurt her in the game at worst.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Max Headroom

In an episode of Max Headroom, a television show from the 1980’s, there were many references to media literacy. The show was had a futuristic setting that focused on the large impact television would have on people and society. One of the main focuses of the show was on media content.
According to James Potter, media content is one of five factors that make up a person’s knowledge structure. Knowledge structures are crucial in aiding a person to make decisions. Specifically, media content was focused on in this episode of Max Headroom.
Media literate people are aware of the different forms that media messages can take, and they understand how different messages are put together. The people in this Max Headroom episode were susceptible to whatever messages the television companies broadcast. They did not possess the knowledge structures that would allow them to make their own informed decisions.
This show predicted that if people passively accepted everything they saw on television the media companies would have too much control over what the public thought. While this show went to extremes, they made a good point about the need to actively and consciously evaluate media messages.