What Is Media Literacy and Why Does It Matter?

The Center for Media Literacy defines media literacy as “a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.” https://www.medialit.org/media-literacy-definition-and-more
Media literacy helps a person understand information outside of media as well. Andrea Quijada, the former executive director of Media Literacy Project and former member of Federal Communication Commission Consumer Advisory Committee, lists how media literacy can further benefit people as such:

  • Develop critical thinking skills
  • Understand how media messages shape our culture and society
  • Identify target marketing strategies
  • Recognize what the media maker wants us to believe or do
  • Name the techniques of persuasion used
  • Recognize bias, spin, misinformation and lies
  • Discover the parts of the story that are not being told
  • Evaluate media messages based on our own experiences, skills, beliefs and values
  • Create and distribute our own media messages
  • Advocate for media justice

Media literacy teaches you how to actually spot if news is “fake” or not; or, rather, if the news source holds credible and accurate information. The International Foundation of Library Associations and Institutions recommends a few key topics to think about when consuming media. Red flags to be aware of when thinking about these key topics will also be addressed in each section.
Consider the Source
It is important for you to understand the source that a piece of media is coming from. The best way to learn about a news source is to click away from the story and visit the main site. From there you should be able to figure out the mission statement of the organization and see if there is reliable contact information.
Red Flags:

  • No About Us section or mission statement
  • No visible or easy to find Contact Us section
  • One of the main features of the site is to purchase an item from their store
  • News articles on the site use clickbait or sensationalized headlines

Check the Author
Just as every corporation has their biases, so do authors. It is equally important to research the author of the material as it is researching the organization itself. You can often click on the author’s name on an article to see their previous publications with that organization. Another way of looking for more information on an author is to type their name into a search engine and see what results appear. You are able to point out or understand an author’s bias by seeing their publication history, criticisms from others, etc.
Red Flags:
  • Minimal to no information can be found about the author
  • Past issues regarding credibility in their news stories
  • Providing credentials with no details (e.g. claims to be a ‘certified’ biologist with no mention of education)
  • Criticisms showing the author has strong biases
Check the Date
When a piece of media was written has a lot to do with how and why it was written. An old news article could have outdated or incorrect information and it could not be relevant to current events. The majority of publications have the date an article was originally published as well as times and dates it was updated or edited.  
Read Beyond
Read the article rather than just the headline. This allows you to see why and how claims were made as well as which sources the author used. You can also judge start to see if the news report tried to report the whole story or just a fraction of it. From here you can look at other news articles and see if they are also reporting on the story and how the articles compare.
Red Flags:
  • The article does not have a reporting purpose other than to gain views
  • No other sources are reporting on the same topic or any topic related to it
  • The article leaves information out of the story to ‘spin’ the narrative
Supporting Sources
Media organizations and authors will use sources to give credit to their claims. They often do this by putting links to previously written articles or statements. You can click on the links to make sure that the sources they are coming from are valid.
Red Flags:
  • The news source does not have any sources supporting its claims
  • The sources have been taken out of context from their original publication
  • The sources themselves are not credible
  • Clicking on the sources or researching them does not bring up the cited source
Is it a Joke?
Check to see if the media outlet is a satirical organization, especially if the headline seems too sensationalized. If you see any story from one of the publications listed below then know that they are not real stories and simply made up for entertainment.
  • Borowitz Report, ClickHole, Cracked, Christwire, Duffel Blog, Free Wood Post, Islamica News, Landover Baptist Church, Lush for Life, National Report, SatireWire, ScrappleFace, The Babylon Bee, The Daily Currant, The Daily WTF, The Onion, The Valley Report, Topeka News, Weekly World News
Red Flags:
  • The headline or story is too outlandish to be true
  • The story was published immediately after a national or global event was reported
Ask the Experts
Applying all of these methods to everything you read or watch can be overwhelming. Luckily, some professionals dedicate their careers to fact-checking and making sure media claims are truthful. You can consult your local librarian if you are not sure about a certain news source or to seek more advice on media literacy. There are also websites you can visit where fact-checking professionals actively update claims on current pieces of media, including:
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