Media Literacy

According to data from the end of 2018, U.S. adults spend almost half of each day interacting with media at 10 1/2 hours a day. As media continues to develop into new platforms faster than it can be analyzed, there’s more and more to learn about it.

What is media literacy?

As defined by the steering committee of the Critical Media Literacy Conference of the Americas, the goal of media literacy is to:

Engage with media through critically examining representations, systems, structures, ideologies, and power dynamics that shape and reproduce culture and society. It is an inquiry-based process for analyzing and creating media by interrogating the relationships between power and knowledge.

Source: Critical Media Project

Generally speaking, media literacy is an umbrella term to cover other literacies including news, visual, information, digital, technology and platform, and data literacies. A quick Google search might show that media literacy is understanding what is “fake news” or finding age appropriate material for children. This can be aspects of it, but the definition we hold extends farther and deeper than that.

Why is media literacy important?

  • Expand critical thinking: In evaluating media, you can consider why certain information is included or excluded and identify what the message is actually saying.
  • Recognize point of view: You can evaluate and understand different perspectives and be able to put an author’s point of view into context with the information they provide
  • Create media responsibly: Messages have an impact and considering what impact a message or piece of media might have is vital. What does your point of view communicate to others?
  • Identify the role of media in our culture: Media shapes how we see the world and encourages us to act or think in certain ways – identifying this and having words for it is incredibly important.
  • Recognize the author’s goal: Understand the influence and intent to make more informed choices about what media you consume.

Additionally, it can also help you see why citations and keeping track of your resources is important – for example, the bullet points above come from Unfortunately, the article they site on Common Sense Media’s site doesn’t contain any of points they list as connected to this section. It actually came from this page on Common Sense Media. Thankfully, Google searching the text worked for us, but it may not always been that easy to trace where an idea came from.

What is the difference between media literacy and critical media literacy?

Media literacy as a more general idea posits itself as a non-political, looking to observe bias but not provide any. Critical media takes a specific lens, focusing on the representations of class, gender, race sexuality, and other forms of gender and challenges the way media messages reproduce oppression and discrimination (source: Critical Media Project).

To some, this will sound biased. Given that the idea of critical race theory has become controversial and a catch-all term for any focus around anti-racist work (all through great amounts of media illiteracy, it’s important to note), critical media literacy may sound opposed to the very thing it’s meant to be to some folks who misunderstand its purpose. However, the Critical Media Project notes that there are “significant drawbacks and gaps within the traditionally approach of many media literacy initiatives.” To better understand how messages are being presented to us, we also need to understand the way our culture thinks about race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, and other identities.

So what does this have to do with career?

Everything. Much of what you already know about career comes from the culture and media around us. It’s important for you and for the Strommen Center to understand where those ideas come for and what message it’s sharing. Looking for some examples? Consider the workplace myths mentioned in this blog. If you’re heard these before, consider where they came from or where you heard them.

You’ll also receive a lot of information about career, jobs, internships, writing resumes, and related topics throughout your circles, both physical and digital. Being able to discern whether a job site or job posting is legitimate is a valuable skill (and know we have tools to help you out!) as is being able to tell if a Tik-Tok user or Instagram influencer is sharing legitimate helpful advice.

Perhaps the area where critical media literacy is most important is around the topic of professionalism. It’s all too easy to find help resources that assume women wear dresses, men wear suits, and that there is a right and wrong way to wear your hair at work. Understanding where these ideas come from, how the idea of professionalism can be used against people, and knowing how the Strommen Center uses it (as a means for you to find agency and advocate for yourself while navigating corporate culture) can help you determine how you show up for work and whether a certain workplace is ideal or safe for you.

How can I strengthen my media literacy skills?

  • Practice dissecting a website: Pick a website – even ours! Determine who created the website, who’s paying for it, how long it’s been around, how it’s changed since it launched, and/or other details you think are important.
  • Explore search engines: You – and many people – probably default to Google. But have you tried using Bing? Or Or exploring deeper into the search results you get when you do use Google? Explore how top results different across different search engines and how information varies as you get deeper into the results.
  • Use a certain platform regularly: Have you ever searched for something on your phone, then noticed you suddenly get an onslaught of ads for the thing you searched? Understanding how cookies, algorithms, and content streams work on certain sites can help you better understand how content is being generated and delivered to you. Also consider the different forms that are used on different platforms.
  • Know when to take a break: Social media sites in particularly are designed to be habit-forming and addictive. Some theorize it may also exacerbate mental health issues, depending what you see in your feed. If you find yourself being overwhelmed by negative stories – even if they are important and socially relevant, it may be time to take a break and change up what you’re interacting with, or take a break from screens or media in general. Need more support? Check out the Self-Care for Activists resources from the CWC or schedule a visit to see one of their counselors.
  • Practice the CRAAP method
Currency: the timeliness of the informationWhen was the information published or posted?
Has the information been revised or updated?
Is the information current or out-of-date for your topic?
Are the links functional?
Relevance: the importance of the information for your needsDoes the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
Who is the intended audience?
Is the information at the appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is the one you will use?
Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?
Authority: the source of the informationWho is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
Are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations given?
What are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations?
What are the author’s qualifications to write on the topic?
Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? Ex: .com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (US government), .org (nonprofit organization) or .net (network)
Accuracy: the reliability, the truthfulness, and the correctness of the contentWhere does the information come from?
Is the information supported by evidence?
Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?
Purpose: the reason the information existsWhat is the purpose of the information? To inform? Teach? Sell? Entertain? Persuade?
Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
Is the information fact? Opinion? Propaganda?
Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?
Source: Bluford Library guide
  • Practice critical media literacy framework
Conceptual UnderstandingsQuestions
1. Social Constructivism
All information is co-constructed by individuals and/or groups of people who make choices within social contexts.
Who are all the possible people who made choices that helped create this text?
2. Language/Semiotics
Each medium has its own language with specific grammar and semantics.
How was this text constructed and delivered/accessed?
3. Audience/Positionality
Individuals and groups understand media messages similarly and/or differently depending on multiple contextual factors.
How could this text be understood differently?
4. Politics of Representation
Media messages and the medium through which they travel always have a bias and support and/or challenge dominate hierarchies of power, privilege, and pleasure.
What values, points of view, and ideologies are represented or missing from this text or influenced by this medium?
5. Production/Institutions
All media texts have a purpose (often commercial or governmental) that is shaped by the creators and/or systems within which they operate.
Why was this text created and/or shared?
6. Social & Environmental Justice
Media culture is a terrain of struggle that perpetuates or challenges positive and/or negative ideas about people, groups, and issues; it is never neutral.
Whom does this text advantage and/or disadvantage?
Source: Kellner, D. and Share, J. (2019) The critical medial literacy guide: Engaging media and transforming education. Cited on: UCLA Critical Media Literacy

Where can I go for more support?

Our staff in the Strommen Center is happy to help you navigate media literacy around career topics and know that you have a wealth of resources at the Lindell Library as well as your local community library. Crash Course also has a series on media literacy that’s free to watch if you want to learn more!