We all have a lifelong relationship with media — but how does the relationship work, how is it valued, and who are the parties involved in this relationship?

The Media Triangle is an essential model of how our relationship with media works. Based on a model originally developed by Scottish media educator Eddie Dick, the Media Triangle shows how media operates through the engagement of the Audience, the system of Media Production, and the Text — all while each component is being influenced by culture and influencing culture in kind.

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The Audience represents the viewer or user of the media; the Text is the actual media product; and the Production system is comprised of the creators, the platforms or media companies or organizations, and the distribution behind the media text. Today with social media, everyday people are also producers of media, utilizing production systems designed for their use and broadening the possibilities for individual and group expression.

Media involves transactions or engagement between each of the parties in the relationship, and these transactions are highly dynamic, depending upon the needs and capabilities of each party. For example, if a Text is highly compelling, it may command a large audience and go “viral,” while other Texts may struggle for an audience despite high production qualities. Sometimes an advertising budget can strengthen the Production System, and subsequently reach a larger Audience, and sometimes not. Regardless, the transactions between the various players are motivated by profit and/or by power (in the broadest sense, meaning influence).

Ideally, these transactions represent a fair exchange between each party, but frequently Audiences are unaware that they are the product being “sold” for the value of their eyeballs, their content, their clicks, and their click history, all telling indicators of their propensity to buy or accept a proposition. Understanding the Media Triangle helps us understand our own role and value in our relationship with media.

Editor’s Note: This article and graphic are co-published by the Center for Media Literacy and EveryLibrary.