Media Literacy — Beyond the Buzzwords

Media Literacy — Beyond the Buzzwords

It is easy to feel inundated by different types of media in our daily lives, from newspapers and YouTube videos, to Tweets and memes, to infographics and reports.

Libraries are great places to go learn about different types of media, and librarians can help you answer questions about unfamiliar media and become a savvier consumer (and producer!) of media. Being a savvy consumer and producer of media is increasingly vital and increasingly challenging in the ever evolving media and technology ecosystems of the 21st century.

At Every Library we are committed to supporting and advocating for the valuable work libraries and librarians do nationwide, including empowering people of all ages with media literacy, or the skills they need to find, use, evaluate, and create media.

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When we think about media literacy, it is important to understand what you are looking at, who produced it, how it was produced, and why it was produced. Knowing what to ask and what to look for when you encounter different types of media and information, particularly online, can help you be a stronger consumer and producer of media.

With a deeper understanding of media, you can develop the skills you need to find the media and information you want, evaluate and analyze media you come across, use media in your own projects, and create your own media using various tools and techniques.

Here are a few things, courtesy of our wonderful partners at the Center for Media Literacy (CML), that you can keep in mind when you encounter new or unfamiliar media. This handy list from CML highlights things to look for and questions to ask as you encounter different types of media, including thinking about the author who created the media, what format the media is taking, who the audience is, how the media is framing or presenting issues or topics, and what the overall purpose of the media is, or why it was created in the first place.

Considering all of these factors and questions can help you gain a deeper understanding of the media you are encountering and help you develop your media literacy skills:

  1. Authorship — Examining who wrote something is key, especially when you are encountering new or unfamiliar media. Do you know and trust this person, or the organization that is putting it out? If a random person on the street yelled at you to buy something you might ignore them; what if that happens on your Instagram feed? Taking a few moments to Google an unfamiliar author and see what their credentials are can help you be a savvier media consumer. Aside from credentials you can also see what, if any, affiliations the author has. Is the author advocating for a certain platform or do they support a certain position on an issue? Remember, it isn’t bad for an author to have an opinion or an affiliation! Having a better understanding of who wrote or created something can help you develop a clearer understanding of the media you are consuming.
  2. Format — Format can influence how a message appears, the tone, and what it might say. Our devices, and the sites we frequent, provide examples of how format can impact the content we are consuming. Think of how seeing an article quoted in a Tweet differs from seeing it on Facebook, and how that differs from seeing the article on newspaper website. What is around the article in these different environments, where and how are you reading it, and what different impressions might you take away?
  3. Audience — Who is the intended audience for this article/story? Audience can impact what is said, how it’s said, and where it’s shared. Magazines can provide some ways to think about the role of the audience and can help illustrate how an audience can influence media. Think about the difference in appearance, tone, and reading level between Teen Vogue, Time Magazine, or Men’s Health for example.
  4. Framing — Media has embedded points of view, values, and positions because it’s created by people who have those things. Op-eds can be a great example of this, where an author takes a stance on an issue. But any and all media outlets can frame stories in different ways. Take a topic like self-driving cars — one article might frame it as a technology industry issue, another might look at the topic through the lens of local government, and yet another might focus on safety issues. All media has a frame. Watch out for situations where the frame is being concealed or is trying to come across as something else though!
  5. Purpose — Someone took the time to create the media you’re seeing, so why did they? What is the goal or aim here? Are the media creators hoping to persuade you to take a certain action, are they trying to elicit a certain emotion, is the goal to inform? When encountering new or unfamiliar media, always ask yourself why it was created and pay attention to things like the language being used, images being used, and the creators of the media.

These are all topics and questions that librarians explore every day as they help people conduct research or explore new media and information. If you want to learn more about media formats, trends in media, and things to pay attention to when you’re consuming media, head to a nearby library!