Media Literacy Deconstructed

What is “media literacy” and why does it matter? Media literacy in its most basic definition is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in a variety of forms. We come across so many messages from all kinds of different media outlets every day, so we need to be able to think critically about what the media are trying to convey. To help guide you there are five questions to think about when interacting with media messages:

  1. Who created this message?
  2. What creative techniques are used to draw my attention?
  3. How might different people interpret this message differently?
  4. Which points of view are included or left out from this message?
  5. Why is this message being sent?

Answering these questions can help us decipher whether or not what we are reading should be trusted and relied on. We have no control over the content of a message, but we do have control over our perception of the message and the way we choose to respond to it.

So who created this message? All messages were created by someone (or several people), whether you are reading a newspaper article, watching a TV show, or scrolling through Facebook. We want media to come across as natural and not “fake,” but there is always going to be a level of production that goes into each message. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t trust media outlets or enjoy a movie, but we need to keep in mind that there is a specific message that this author (or authors) wants us to perceive.

What creative techniques are used to attract my attention? Messages are created by a series of elements designed to draw your attention or make you feel a certain way. Horror movies have scary music to heighten your fear and newspapers will draw more attention with bigger headlines. Understanding these techniques will help you to understand the media, become less susceptible to manipulation, and enjoy the media even more.

How might different people understand this message differently? Each person is different, and therefore interprets messages differently based on their unique experiences. Someone who recently went through a break-up might react differently to a romantic movie than someone who is happily married. When taking in a message you should consider what people with other life experience will think rather than only considering your own experiences.

Which points of view are included or left out from this message? The main point of view in a media message, or the people, setting, and ideals portrayed in a story, shows what is important to the creator of the message. This can lead the audience to think the same way. Consider the point of view being portrayed, along with what has been left out, and think about what values are being promoted. Then you can decide if the message is something you agree with or not.

Why is this message being sent? Most media messages are created to gain some sort of profit or power, even when they come across as news or information. While products are sold to us through advertisements and commercials, our readership and viewership is also sold back to the advertisers. It’s up to us to decide who is benefitting from each specific message. If we are not getting anything of value from it, who is?

Media analysis like this can help to challenge stereotypes, give perspective, and illuminate bias that you might not have noticed before. Thinking critically about the media will also prepare you to create your own messages without bias.Questions borrowed from Center for Media Literacy’s Literacy for the 21st Century.