Those who know me have long known about my passion for media literacy and the central role it serves in the functioning of a modern democracy. I have done trainings and appearances, presentations and blogs on the topic. And yet so many people still are unaware of what it means or why it’s so important in their everyday lives.
Ever since the results of this past election were seemingly manipulated by fake news, people have been asking themselves if they can even tell the difference between real and fake, leading to the conclusion that we are, in fact, living in a post-truth world where facts such as these are irrelevant. Perhaps the irony in this logic isn’t readily seen, but honey, if we decide facts are irrelevant, they become so.
But media literacy goes far beyond detecting fake news. Scrutinizing news sources and questioning the validity of official reports is part of what we call information literacy. And while information literacy is an important part of media literacy, it’s certainly not the whole picture.
The Big Picture
When I think of media literacy, I’m concerned with the underlying messages being conveyed through both the entertainment itself and the ads it delivers to an emotionally susceptible audience. What do these messages tell us about ourselves? About others? How harmful and/or helpful are these messages? Do they inform our understanding about people different from ourselves? What logical fallacies might result from exposure to one or more groups of people almost exclusively via mediated interactions? How might this affect existing racial or ethnic biases? And what steps can we as a society of media makers take to counteract those effects?
In fact, most media literacy efforts have evolved into media fluency or even digital fluency initiatives. These terms may be new to some, but the concept certainly isn’t. The fluency term indicates a combined approach to media literacy that also includes media production skills for self expression as well as the more traditional analytical approach to media comprehension.
Imagine for a moment if we all were made to learn to read but never allowed to write. What would our level of reading comprehension be? Our level of discourse? Our ability to form meaningful arguments or accomplish complex tasks? Well, that has been the approach, historically, of many media literacy efforts. However, now that technologies used to make and package media messages are more accessible, more students can and should be learning through the construction of these messages themselves. This is what media fluency is about.
Media and Democracy
Media literacy was defined by the 1992 Aspen Media Literacy Leadership Institute as the “ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.” But the Center for Media Literacy goes further, saying it includes the “essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”
Because nearly all of our political interactions with both parties and politicians are now mediated experiences, meaning we don’t typically meet the people we’re voting for anymore, the need for media literacy in a democratic system cannot be overstated.
Perhaps that’s why I started blogging about this years ago. Last year I started calling myself the Media Literacy Lady, too. Even started a Facebook page to put good content out there for people who want it. Then there’s the daily paper.li I’ve been using to curate that content, linked above as Visual Storytelling News under the Visual Art tab but I’ll link it here for convenience.
Did I mention I had a passion for this stuff? Well, lucky for me, someone took note and offered me a title to go with that passion. Gal’s Guide to the Galaxy, a nonprofit organization that provides support and resources to women and girls in a variety of ways, has asked me to lead their new Media Literacy committee, and I couldn’t turn them down. This aligns so completely with my values and goals, which include a public education program in media production – not just for kids, but also adults – and access to basic consumer-friendly media production facilities for the whole city. I am honored and excited to roll up my sleeves and start working in a more coordinated way with other volunteers and organizations both locally and at a national level to make media fluency a reality in our little part of the world.