Why does the U.S. lack a media literacy focus in public education?

Our lives are dominated by the media. They influence all aspects of our lives such as telling us how to dress, eat, what to believe, and how we are supposed to behave. People are influenced by multiple forms of media starting at a very young age. Cell phones, television, Internet, and advertising are among the many forms of media influence.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average child in the United States spends more than 7.5 hours a day, watching TV or movies, using cell phones or computers, and playing video games (KFF, 2010). It is estimated that on average, a child will see around 40,000 ads on television (KFF, 2004).

Most of the advertisements targeted at children promote foods such as candy, soda and snacks (KFF, 2004). Research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children between 8 and 12 years of age are exposed to an average of 21 food ads a day, which equals to about 7,600 ads a year. Teenagers are exposed to an average of 17 food ads a year, which equals to about 6,000 ads a year. Among all food ads targeting children and teenagers, 34 percent focuses on taste appeal (KFF, 2007).

This is problematic because the number of obese children and teens in the United States tripled over the past 30 years (CDC, 2011). Researchers argue that food advertisements contribute to unhealthy food choices and weight gain and to the misconceptions about the health benefits of certain foods (KFF, 2004).

In “Why Media Literacy Matters – Obesity in America”, I discussed how media literacy programs can be implemented to help fight obesity.

Health is just one of many concerns regarding media influence.

While the media does have a powerful influence, people can take charge of their lives by understanding how the media works and knowing how they are affected.

Some might wonder if the media has become a source of propaganda. Proponents will argue about the merits of media and technology.

There are truths to both sides but it is important realize that the media does impact our daily lives in negative ways. Several years ago, I discussed  how the media perpetuates stereotypes in society. I also wrote several articles about the importance of ethics in journalism. Quality Journalism. Journalism and Ethics, Pt 1. Part 2.

The media has the ability to influence and change how we perceive the world.

On July 23, I reminded people on Facebook and Twitter about the importance of fact checking. People need to check their sources before they post something on social media.

Back in 2012, after Hurricane Sandy hit, I wrote about why people needed to be extra careful about what they share on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Especially during times of crises as false information can cause panic. I wrote:

It is easy to spread false information on social media. One might think that they are doing something good and helping people by sharing information. While that individual might have good intentions, this accident only harms the public.

Remember the importance of fact checking. Check your sources before you post. Some sites resemble news but they are satire. There have been several posts today that stirred up unnecessary commotion and fear. Check your sources, double check if necessary! This is the importance of media literacy.

Earlier this week, Miami Herald reporter Christina Viega, wrote about how teenagers could text and tweet but probably could not choose reliable sources from their search results.

This is a problem that needs to be resolved and media literacy education is the answer. It will empower people by giving them the ability to make their own decisions.

Many countries around the world have media literacy as part of their primary and secondary education system.

In Canada, there is an annual media literacy event called “Media Literacy Week” that takes place in November. The event, co-led by MediaSmarts and the Canadian Teacher’s Federation focuses on the importance of media literacy in education. Other countries such as Sweden, Finland, and the United Kingdom have some sort of media literacy education.

According to the publication, “Media Education in Four EU Countires: Common Problems and Possible Solutions”, research shows that between 70 and 80 percent of students receive some sort of media training in primary and secondary schools (Kennisnet Foundation, 2013).

Why is there a lack of focus on media literacy in the United States?

One of the problems is that many people assume since they (both adults and children) already know how to use digital technology, they do not need instruction on how to use social media resources. They are “digital natives” after all.

Common Core is a start and I discuss the merits in “Media literacy and Common Core Standards” but it is not enough to fix the problem. Students are not going to develop critical thinking skills overnight. Simply having the standards does not mean students will be capable of applying them and critically analyzing information.

There needs to be more emphasize on helping students learn to analyze information and think critically by making connections to prior knowledge.

Media literacy education is a great example of why the constructivist learning theory is effective as it shows students that learning and having fun do not have to be separate. It gives them a chance to connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world, so they can make sense of what they are learning.

I taught 7th grade remedial students to write journalism leads and effective journalistic tweets. Their knowledge of social media and texting helped them learn and use the new skills by applying what they already knew. Their interest in social media helped motivate them and instill a desire to learn.

Media literacy needs to be applied to all content areas, not just English Language Arts and Social Studies.

Since Common Core is not going anyway anytime soon, we need to examine ways to promote media literacy education. Media literacy can be integrated into all content areas at every grade level and can be integrated with the Common Core Standards. Media literacy will provide students with a hand-on learning experience that promotes collaboration, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and cultural competency. These are the 5 C’s of the Common Core and are designed to help students be successful outside of the classroom.

I have written about the correlation between media literacy, citizenship, and democracy. As I wrote in “Why Media Literacy Matters – Democratic Values”:

People need to learn how to make their own choices. They need to learn how to think for themselves. This is where media literacy comes in. Media literacy is about empowerment, critical thinking, participation.

With the Internet, people have access to vast amounts of information. But having information and being informed are two completely different things.

Media literacy prepares us to fully participate as citizens in a world dominated by media messages.

 


References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Childhood Obesity Facts. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm

Kaiser Family Foundation (2010). Daily media use among children and teens up dramatically from five years ago. Retrieved from http://www.kff.org/entmedia/entmedia012010nr.cfm

Kaiser Family Foundation. (2007). Food For Thought. Menlo Park, CA: Author.

Kaiser Family Foundation. (2004). Role of Media in Childhood Obesity. Menlo Park, CA: Author.

Kennisnet Foundation. (2013). Media Education in Four EU Countires: Common Problems and Possible Solutions.  Retrieved from: http://www.kennisnet.nl/fileadmin/contentelementen/kennisnet/Dossier_mediawijsheid/Publicaties/rapport_media_onderwijs_EU.pdf

Role of media during times of crisis

As Bill Mitchell explained, rather than focusing on the stories to tell, the media needs to focus on “What can we do?”

The first thing that the media needs to do is remind themselves – People need to be informed, not misled.

In my previous blog, Why Media Literacy Matters – Times of Crisis, I wrote that during emergency situations, spreading accurate information to the public is crucial.

Since the media plays a major role (usually the primary role) as a source of information for the public, it is crucial for the media to work with emergency management agencies during emergency situations.

Mitchell talks about how social media pages are used to help people connect with others and share information.

In Why Media Literacy Matters – Times of Crisis, I mentioned that the average person also plays an important role in disseminating media messages.

Social media makes it easy to communicate and share information with others.

I wrote in Media Literacy and Social Support:

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are powerful communications tools that can be used to help people in the aftermath of a disaster.

The ability to connect and instantly share information with other people is what makes social media a valuable tool. With social media, people can reach out to those in need and make a difference.

An important lesson that even the average person needs to learn is – Do not mislead.

In order to help others, accurate information needs to be shared.

It is also especially important to work together.

Social media can help you become a better writer

Do not blame social media for bad writing.

In fact, social media can make people better writers. There are several ways that social media can have a positive effect on writing.

It is difficult to write an effective sentence with less than 140 characters.

Less is often better. Write less, say more.

The Power of Leads

Journalists do it all time. Every news story begins with a lead, the most important part of the story.

A good lead needs to catch the reader’s interest and make them want to read the rest of the story.

Brevity is a good thing. It helps you get your point across quickly.

Here are some tips for writing a good lead (or a good tweet):

  • Remember the Five W’s and H – who, what when, where, why and how.
  • It is important to be specific and brief.
  • Use active sentences and avoid flowery language.

Why Media Literacy Matters – Quality Journalism

With Election Day quickly approaching, it is necessary to address the importance of quality journalism.

New media changed the field of journalism.

Social media tools and the camera phone made it possible for any individual to share information and shape the way people perceive events around the world.

Some describe this as the rise of citizen journalism.

Others believe the field of journalism is simply evolving.

There is a difference between the professional journalist and the so-called citizen journalist but that is not the point.

The point is that despite their differences, they have a common goal in sharing information with the public.

Having access to tools is simply not enough. People need to be taught how to correctly use the tools.

With social media being commonly used as sources of information, it is crucial that journalists and the citizen journalist interpret a tweet or Facebook post correctly.

As I mentioned in a previous post, social media has made it easy to spread fake photographs and share false information.

Journalism has always been about sharing information with the public as quickly as possible.

Poynter published an article about the six social media mistakes that journalists need to avoid on Election Day. One of those is moving too quickly.

Social media makes it easy to share information quickly. Therefore it is important to be extra careful and ensure that accurate information is shared.

As the Poynter article pointed out, social media has increased the potential for errors and false information to be spread.

Whether you are a professional journalist or a citizen journalist, it is important to analyze and think critically about information before sharing it.

Most professional journalists are trained to do so and have a strong grasp on media literacy. However, they are human and can make mistakes.

Besides it does not hurt to reevaluate the importance of media literacy training.

It is important to think about where we get our information and make sure it is accurate.

Failing to do so will result in poor journalism and will only hurt the public.

Media Literacy and Social Support

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has affected millions of people in New York and along the New Jersey coastline.

According to a PBS report, the storm has killed at least 40 people and caused over $20 billion dollars in damage.

Schools and public transportation have been shut down and millions of people are still without power.

Many people are homeless.

In my previous post, I talked about the importance using social media carefully, to not misinform the public by sharing fake images. I also talked about why media literacy matters.

Media literacy plays an important role in teaching people how to use media tools. We now focus on the role that social media plays during times of disaster.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are powerful communications tools that can be used to help people in the aftermath of a disaster.

The ability to connect and instantly share information with other people is what makes social media a valuable tool. With social media, people can reach out to those in need and make a difference.

Many people have already been doing so.

An article written by Mark Horvath demonstrates the power of social media.

A sense of community can be established through social media, which provides people with social support.

Van Dam, et al. (2005) explain that social support is about the relationship between individuals and can be seen as an exchange of resources between at least two people.

Such resources include information as well as emotional support. It can also deal with providing people with material goods such as transportation, money or even physical assistance.

Social support is also about the basic social needs of people that are satisfied through interacting with others. It is a network of communication and mutual obligation from family, friends, social and community groups such as churches or clubs (van Dam, et al., 2005).

These supportive social interactions may help lower feelings of lost of control (Hogan, Linden & Najarian, 2002), which helps people cope during times of disaster.

Research conducted by Taylor, Wells, Howell & Raphael (2012) supports the notion that social media can be used to deliver psychological first aid to the victims of disaster and support community resilience.

It is time to focus on the community.

 

 

References

Hogan, B., Linden, W. & Najarian, B. (2002). Social support interventions: Do they work?. Clinical Psychology Review, 22, 381-440.

van Dam, H.A., van der Horst, F.G., Knoops, L., Ryckman, R., Crebolder, H. & van den Borne, B. (2005). Social Support in diabetes: a systematic review of controlled intervention studies. Patient Education and Counseling, 59, 1-12.

Why Media Literacy Matters – Times of Crisis

Be extra careful about what you share on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.

Especially when it comes to photographs of Hurricane Sandy. At least 11 photographs of the hurricane have gone viral.

These photographs are NOT of Hurricane Sandy.

You can find these fake images at http://www.buzzfeed.com/reyhan/viral-photos-that-arent-hurricane-sandy.

This is a major problem that needs to be addressed.

It is easy to spread false information on social media. One might think that they are doing something good and helping people by sharing information. While that individual might have good intentions, this accident only harms the public.

People need to be informed, not misled.

People are influenced by what they see. A photograph is worth a thousand words.

Gilens (2004) explains that it is easier to remember visual images than printed words because pictures are simple and immediate. It takes more time and effort for people to read a sentence than it is to look at a photograph. Gilens (2004) suggests that news photographs shape the subconscious process and can influence behavior.

Hurricane Katrina is an example of how photographs negatively influenced the public.

During the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the New York Times and Washington Post routinely published images that portrayed Black victims as poor, destitute, and helpless (Lee and Gandy, 2006). These photographs showed White volunteers and the National Guard providing food and medical supplies. Lee and Gandy (2006) explain that the images portrayed Blacks as a primitive people from a Third World country who relied on the United States to help them out. The New York Times published no photos that showed a Black as a rescuer and a White as a victim. These images perpetuate the stereotypes and distorted representations of African Americans (Lee and Gandy, 2006).

I recently conducted a study about the role of media in emergency management, focusing on the influence of photography (photojournalism) and social media.

In an emergency situation, spreading accurate information to the public is crucial. Since the media plays a major role (usually the primary role) as a source of information for the public, it is of great importance that emergency management agencies work with the media.

Media involvement in the emergency management process can help minimize misunderstanding. The goal is after all, to provide the public with accurate information as quickly as possible. Media agencies are great at doing that.

This means that journalists and government agencies need to work together and establish positive mutual working relationships. However, it is important to note that journalists are not the only source of media.

When most people think of media, they typically only think of newspapers and television. They fail to recognize Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as sources of media that influence their daily lives.

The average person plays an important role in disseminating media messages.

Dennis Dunleavy, my former photojournalism professor at San Jose State University once said, the camera phone made it possible for any individual to become a visual communicator who has the potential to shape the way people perceive events around the world.

Armed with camera phones and social media websites, citizens play a significant role in disaster response and recovery efforts.

Social media makes it easy to communicate and share information with others. As evident with the photographs of Hurricane Sandy, it is easy to share false information that misleads people.

Media literacy education will minimize the harm.

People need to learn how to analyze media messages so that they are not misled by false information. People also need to learn how to use media tools.

Media literacy training provides people with tools that will enrich their lives and create opportunities.

It will also teach them about what is appropriate to share with the rest of the world, so they will not accidentally mislead another.

 

 

References

Gilens, M. (2004). Poor People in the News: Images from the Journalistic Subconscious. In D. Heider (Ed.), Class and News (pp. 44-60). Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield Publishing Group.

Lee, C. and Gandy, O. (2006). “Others’ Disaster: How American Newspapers Covered Hurricane Katrina (Methods, Results, and Discussion)”. University of Pennsylvania.