Media Literacy Week is coming up, starting November 6th, and it is perfectly timed as you think about sources and what you want to include in your upcoming papers and projects. Media literacy is vital to anyone, teaching you how to understand and critique the many messages news, entertainment, advertising, and more send to you, and protecting you from manipulation by those who would influence your opinion or behavior (or, at least, minimizing that influence).
The National Association for Media Literacy Education defines media literacy as “the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, COMMUNICATE and CREATE using all forms of communication”. It’s worth taking time to think about each of those abilities as you move forward in the semester.
You have access to a lot of things, from books to the internet, and you probably learn from a lot of types of sources in your day-to-day life. At IU East, you also have access to numerous scholarly databases of material produced for and by academics and researchers. Most of our databases are made up of sources that try to minimize their own bias. Others, like Opposing Viewpoints in Context, do not. But any source – from ads on television to the most reputable peer-reviewed journal – should be consumed thoughtfully and critically.
This is arguably the most important part of media literacy. Read everything carefully, and think about it. Who wrote it? Why? What does the author or corporation stand to gain from it? Is it current, or pretty old? Does the author explain where their information came from? Are those sources that they used reliable, or sketchy looking? Does the text itself look professional, or are there sloppy spelling and grammatical errors? Or are there even things they’ve just plain got wrong? Make sure whatever you’re using satisfies your standards. You’re not alone – the library has an incredible guide designed to help you understand, critique, and avoid fake news in all its forms.
Now that you’ve thought about the strengths and weaknesses of a source, you can evaluate its worth. It doesn’t need to satisfy every criteria you analyzed. If the information is old, that might not matter if the topic doesn’t require currency, like scholarship on the works of Shakespeare. Information about car crash dangers written by an automobile company may still be reliable, despite their commercial interest, if they did actually observe and wreck a few dozen of them in safety testing. But if there are multiple red flags that you see with a source, it isn’t something you’ll want to use. Reflect on what was said. Consider how closely that adheres to other sources you trust. Then, make your decision.
Understanding media messages targeted at you is important. But you have a responsibility, too. When you write your papers, you need to avoid blindly passing on unexamined claims and messages. For most types of assignments, you need to be as accurate and impartial as you can. Highlight your own sources. Show the rigor of your work. Again, though, you’re not alone. Professionals in the Writing Center here at IU East can help you in crafting your paper, developing your argument, and avoiding regurgitating the opinions of others.
Your responsibilities don’t end there. Understanding how media is framed to you, gives you a significant advantage in crafting your own messages to elicit your desired opinion or reaction. You can use your power of media literacy for evil, trying to manipulate others. Or you can use it for good, creating thought-provoking work – written papers, speeches in class, YouTube videos, anything – that is informative and trustworthy. Remember, you are not passive. You are part of the conversation. A media literate person speaks, in addition to be spoken to. And you can make your messages elevate any conversation.
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