THE Center for Media Literacy in Los Angeles produces resource materials for teachers. Here are some excerpts from what they consider the core concepts of media literacy:
All media are constructions. Media are carefully manufactured cultural products. They create an emotional experience that looks like reality, but of course is not - because it is all made up by people who select this picture and edit those words or include this scene while another 20 versions land on the cutting-room floor.
Media use unique 'languages.' The language is unique to each medium - whether newspapers, TV game shows, or horror movies. Scary music heightens fear, camera angles convey relationships, headlines signal significance. Understanding these languages heightens our appreciation of media experiences and makes us less susceptible to manipulation. The best way to understand how media are made is to make them: Media production and analysis are two sides of the media-literacy coin.
Audiences 'negotiate meaning.' No two people see the same movie or hear the same song on the radio. Skillful readers and viewers examine different stylistic features of a media product and pay attention to the context in which the message occurs. Media-literacy skills allow us to be conscious and deliberate about what we experience.
Media have commercial interests. Media are ad-driven businesses. Newspapers lay out ads on their pages first. The space remaining is devoted to news. Likewise, TV programs don't exist simply to entertain us. They are there to ensure that a certain number of viewers will be watching when a commercial comes on. Most media are provided to us, as media researcher George Gerbner says, by corporations with something to sell rather than by the family, church, or school with something to tell.
Media have embedded values and points of view. Media, by their very nature being constructed, carry a subtext of who and what is important - at least to the person or persons doing the constructing. There are no value-free media. The challenge for all of us is to learn to "read" the media critically to uncover the embedded value messages.
The Center for Media Literacy, 4727 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 403, Los Angeles, CA 90010. Tel.: 800-226-9494.