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Communication Media Literacy
by
W. James Potter

Introduction

Thousands of books, articles, and web pages have been published about media literacy by authors all over the world. These authors are concerned citizens, parents, consumer activists, educators, and scholars from almost every field of study across academia. Given the wide-ranging backgrounds of these authors, it should be no surprise that there are many visions of what media literacy is and how it can best be achieved. Some authors think media literacy is an educational problem, so they write about curriculum design, course design, and student assessment. Some think media literacy is a family responsibility, so they write about how parents can help their children handle the risks that come with media exposure. Some think of media literacy as a personal responsibility, so they construct theories about how the media influence individuals and offer practical guidelines to help people control those effects in their everyday lives. And some authors regard media literacy as a problem with the media themselves, so they critique media businesses for many of their values, practices, and messages. While there is a great variety of thinking about media literacy, there is also a core essence that is shared by all people writing about the subject. This shared vision is that media literacy is concerned with empowering individuals to understand the mass media better and to use that increased understanding to take more control over their media exposure habits, to analyze the meaning in media messages more carefully, and thereby simultaneously to protect themselves from potentially negative effects and enhance the media’s positive effects.

Foundational Ideas

The three most important foundational questions have been: How should media literacy be defined? What should be the role of media literacy within the institution of education? And with which media should literacy be most concerned? This section is structured to highlight sources where scholars provide answers to these three fundamental questions about general definitions of media literacy, literacy and education, and literacy by medium.

General Definitions

What does “media literacy” mean? This is a question that has generated a great many answers. Those answers raise fundamental issues about who should be the target of media literacy efforts (children only, or people of all ages); who should be the literacy agent (parents, siblings, friends, consumer groups, media critics, or the institution of education); and what should be taught (knowledge, attitudes, or skills). Hobbs 1998 illuminates the debates that underlie scholars’ construction of definitions, and Potter 2009 analyzes the range of definitions proposed for media literacy. Aufderheide 2001 reports on a widely used definition constructed by a group of scholars. The two other entries in this section both attempt to expand our perspective on media literacy. The chapters in von Feilitzen and Carlsson 2003 take an international perspective and treat media literacy as a problem best addressed through regulation, while Lopez 2008 argues that media literacy is best approached in a non-Western, nonlinear manner.

  • Aufderheide, Patricia. 2001. Media literacy: From a report of the National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy. In Media literacy in the information age: Current perspectives. Edited by Robert Kubey, 79–86. Information and Behavior 6. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

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    Twenty-five media scholars met at the National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy in 1992 and crafted a definition of media literacy, which has since been widely circulated and accepted by many who write about media literacy. This essay presents that definition and explains its facets.

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  • Hobbs, Renée. 1998. The seven great debates in the media literacy movement. Journal of Communication 48:16–32.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1998.tb02734.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    As a person involved in building the field of media literacy, this author reflects on seven issues where scholars disagree about what media literacy is and what it should be.

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  • Lopez, Antonio. 2008. Mediacology: A multicultural approach to media literacy in the twenty-first century. New York: Peter Lang.

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    A fascinating alternative to the Western intellectual tradition that focuses on linear thinking as an approach to media literacy. The author suggests a right-brain approach that favors nonlinear and multisensory exploration of meanings, then argues convincingly that his “mediacology” approach is better suited to examine the changing nature of today’s media.

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  • Potter, W. James. 2009. Media literacy. In 21st Century Communication: A Reference Handbook. Edited by William F. Eadie, 558–567. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This chapter presents an analysis of the most circulated definitions of media literacy. It focuses on the key issues: Which media? What does literacy mean? And what is the purpose of media literacy? It concludes with a synthesis of nine characteristics of a media-literate person.

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  • von Feilitzen, Cecilia, and Ulla Carlsson, eds. 2003. Promote or protect? Perspectives on media literacy and media regulations. Gothenburg, Sweden: Nordicom.

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    With a strong international perspective, the authors of the twenty-one chapters in this book regard media literacy as a problem that requires regulation of the media. Authors examine many interesting ways in which various countries and governments can regulate the media and their messages.

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Literacy and Education

The entries in this section examine the relationship between media literacy and media education. Scholars generally agree that media education is a very broad concept that includes descriptive, prescriptive, and critical approaches to examining the full phenomenon of media from both a liberal arts and a focused training perspective, as seen in journalism and broadcasting curricula. Within the broad idea of media education is the concept of media literacy, which is focused less on the media themselves than on people as they interact with the media and are influenced by them. Some of the entries (Alvarado et al. 1993, Buckingham 2003, Masterman 1985) look at the European tradition of media education, with its humanistic and critical approach that regards media literacy as an important component of those curricula. The other entries examine the American tradition, where literacy has been rarely part of media education, which is more focused on teaching entry-level production-type skills to students who want jobs in the media industries. Brown 1991 and Hobbs 2009 provide descriptive histories, while Sholle and Denski 1994 criticizes the way media literacy has developed in the United States; Dickson 2000 and Kubey 1998 explain why it has developed in the way it has. Jenkins et al. 2006 offer an interesting prescription for how media literacy should be developed now that the media have converged.

  • Alvarado, Manuel, Edward Buscombe, and Richard Collins, eds. 1993. The Screen Education reader. New York: Columbia University Press.

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    An anthology of twenty essays originally published in the journal Screen Education during the 1970s and early 1980s. These essays, which were written largely by European humanistic scholars who were critical of TV and film, provide a valuable historical perspective on how cultural studies influenced thinking about educational theory and practice.

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  • Brown, James A. 1991. Television “critical viewing skills” education: Major media literacy projects in the United States and selected countries. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    Although the information in this book is now dated, it provides a very good survey of early media literacy programs, mainly in the United States. Brown also lays out some useful criteria for assessing media literacy programs.

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  • Buckingham, David. 2003. Media education: Literacy, learning, and contemporary culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

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    This is a survey of the field of media education. It focuses attention on key debates and controversies, such as definitions for the field, types of literacies, and the role of criticism. Lays out some guidelines for the future of media education.

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  • Dickson, Tom. 2000. Mass media education in transition: Preparing for the 21st century. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    Dickson offers a history of media education in the United States, then deals with some thorny questions about the structure of the scholarly field and value of media literacy as he crafts a vision about what he calls the “new professionalism.”

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  • Jenkins, Henry, K. Clinton, R. Purushotma, A. Robison, and M. Weigel. 2006. Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st Century. Chicago: MacArthur Foundation.

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    Interesting argument for why American schools and after-school programs should devote more attention to fostering literacy about the new media that have generated a major expansion of participatory cultures. Lays out a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape.

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  • Hobbs, Renée, and Amy Peterson Jensen. 2009. The past, present and future of media literacy education. Journal of Media Literacy Education 1:1–17.

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    Highlights the central characteristics of media literacy programs as they have evolved over time in America. A fascinating exploration of the future of media literacy around two issues: media literacy’s relationship to the integration of educational technology into the K–12 curriculum, and the relationship between media literacy education and the humanities, arts, and sciences.

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  • Kubey, Robert. 1998. Obstacles to the development of media education in the United States. Journal of Communication 48:58–69.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1998.tb02737.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author contrasts the lack of progress in integrating media literacy education into public education in the United States with the success of doing so in other countries. He presents a convincing explanation of this difference based on political, economic, historic, and cultural factors.

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  • Masterman, Len. 1985. Teaching the media. London: Comedia.

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    This book has become a classic because of the way it lays out a vision about why media education is so important. Also, the author presents many suggestions about how to foster greater media literacy in students when teaching about the media.

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  • Sholle, David, and Stan Denski. 1994. Media education and the (re)production of culture. Critical Studies in Education and Culture. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.

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    This book critiques the way media education is handled in American universities. The authors present an interesting framework for changing the focus of media studies programs.

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Literacy by Medium

Because scholars have been writing about media literacy for at least four decades, many of the older writings have been limited to dealing with older forms of the mass media, such as Messaris 1994, a classic on visual literacy, and Zettl 2010 on film and television aesthetics. However, now that we have evolved into a new media environment, scholars are arguing for newer kinds of media literacy. Tyner 1998 and Hartley 2010 lay out their visions for digital literacy, while Knobel and Lankshear 2007 explores a range of new literacies, and Jenkins 2006 argues for an expanded approach in what he calls the “convergence culture.” Taking a very broad view are the New London Group 1996 and Potter 2004, who presents a general approach that fits the newer as well as the more traditional media.

  • Hartley, John. 2010. The uses of digital literacy. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction.

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    Engages the idea of what it means to be literate with the new media that rely on digitization. Hartley complains that online social networks and participatory media are often still ignored by professionals, denounced in the press, and banned in schools. He argues that the digital media are significant in popular culture and their use needs to be better understood.

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  • Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.

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    Jenkins’s work has been very influential in making “convergence” a popular buzzword in media scholarship. In this book, he clearly lays out his conception of media convergence and then provides six extended examples of how the media have converged over time. His key idea is that current media attract a much greater degree of audience participation than ever before.

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  • Knobel, Michele, and Colin Lankshear, eds. 2007. A new literacies sampler. New York: Peter Lang.

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    The authors of the ten chapters in this sampler explore the implications for media literacy when people, especially children, interact with different kinds of content from the new digital media, such as popular websites, video games, role-playing texts, fan fiction, and academic blogs.

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  • Messaris, Paul. 1994. Visual “literacy”: Image, mind, and reality. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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    Challenges some commonly held assumptions about visual literacy, particularly the popular notion among many scholars that there can be no objective standards to judge the reality of visual images. Messaris compellingly argues that there are generic cognitive skills that people apply when they experience the pictorial media.

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  • New London Group. 1996. A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review 66:60–92.

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    Calls for a very broad view of literacy and argues that students need to learn about linguistic and cultural differences if they are to fully understand media messages and thus prepare themselves for the evolving culture.

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  • Potter, W. James. 2004. Theory of media literacy: A cognitive approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Takes a broad perspective to include all the mass media and then synthesizes a model that focuses on human cognitions to incorporate past research and thinking into a unified system. The model integrates five types of knowledge structures, eight fundamental skills, and a personal locus, which includes a person’s individual goals and drive energy.

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  • Tyner, Kathleen. 1998. Literacy in a digital world: Teaching and learning in the age of information. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    Using a historical approach, Tyner examines how new communication technologies are accepted as well as resisted over time. She also looks at how media education has responded to changes in technologies. She argues there are multiple literacies—visual, informational, and media.

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  • Zettl, Herbert. 2010. Sight, sound, motion: Applied media aesthetics. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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    This is regarded as the bible of television and film production by many production students because it goes well beyond how to light scenes and compose shots to explain how people process visual information. Although it contains a lot of aesthetic theory, the descriptions are simple and clear.

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Journals

There is only one journal devoted exclusively to media literacy, Journal of Media Literacy Education. However, a good deal of useful information about who expose themselves to which media and which messages, and what the effects of those exposures are, can be found in the findings reported in mainstream communication research journals, especially the Journal of Communication, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, and Journal of Children and Media. In addition, practical advice concerning teaching about the media is found in journals like Journal of Media Education and Journalism & Mass Communication Educator. Scholarly journals sometimes publish symposia focusing on media literacy, as did the Journal of Communication in 1998 and the American Behavioral Scientist in 2004.

Textbooks

There are many textbooks that are marketed with the name “media literacy” in the title, but most of them are simply long, detailed descriptions of the mass media businesses and their possible effects, with some “critical thinking” exercises at the end of the chapters. In contrast to these, there are a few textbooks that offer a unified perspective on media literacy, such as Adams and Hamm 2001, which takes a rather playful approach. Potter 2010, already in its fifth edition, and Silverblatt 2007, in its third edition, are more traditional in their approach to educating students. Also useful for teaching college students are course readers, such as Macedo and Steinberg 2007, which consists of a series of chapters on interesting media literacy topics.

  • Adams, Dennis, and Mary Hamm. 2001. Literacy in a multimedia age. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

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    Coming from an educational technology background, the authors argue that media literacy needs to include media analysis, multimedia production, collaborative inquiry, and networking technologies. They present many practical ideas to help teachers guide their students to learn how to get the most out of messages in all forms of media.

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  • Potter, W. James. 2010. Media Literacy. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This textbook has a self-help tone that engages readers as it takes them systematically through media organizations, audiences, messages, and effects. It concludes with some key issues of literacy, such as dealing with privacy, violence, sports, and ownership concerns.

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  • Macedo, Donaldo, and Shirley R. Steinberg, eds. 2007. Media literacy: A reader. New York: Peter Lang.

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    Collection of essays written primarily for people who are not expert in media literacy and want an introduction to the topic rather than a full scholarly treatment. Provides lots of suggestions about how to help students develop the ability to interpret media as well as to understand the ways they themselves consume and emotionally invest in media. Interesting treatment of the ideas of Noam Chomsky and what reality means in the media.

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  • Silverblatt, Art. 2007. Media literacy: Keys to interpreting media messages. 3d ed. Westport, CT: Praeger.

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    Good text for a course on introduction to mass media. It does not merely present information about the media but instead shows how the information is important for developing media literacy.

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Education

While there has been a good deal of theorizing about what media literacy should be (see Foundational Ideas), there has also been a good deal written of a practical nature that helps guide readers in the design of media literacy curricula and courses. Some of this thinking focuses broadly on large-scale curriculum design. There are also many writings that provide a wide variety of suggestions about how to design particular courses or exercises within courses.

Designing Curricula

There is no consensus about what is the best media literacy curriculum, nor is there one scholar with a dominant vision of what a media literacy curriculum should be. The reason for this is that there can be no single curriculum that meets the goals of all the kinds of schools across all grade levels, all sizes of schools, and all countries. Instead, we are fortunate that a wide variety of scholars have been providing interesting suggestions for media literacy curricula. Some of these focus on a curriculum tried in one country. Healy 2008 examines the development of media literacy curricula in Australia, while both Christ 2006 and Semali 2000 focus on development efforts in the United States. Broader treatments are provided in chapters of Cole and Pullen 2010 and Kubey 2001; the chapters presented in these edited volumes illustrate a wide variety of interesting techniques tried in countries around the world. The chapters in Christ 2006 offer very practical suggestions about how to evaluate the effectiveness of media literacy curricula.

  • Christ, William G., ed. 2006. Assessing media education: A resource handbook for educators and administrators. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    Presents twenty-six chapters filled with practical advice about how to develop an assessment plan and measure student outcomes across a wide range of media courses. Includes four case studies.

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  • Cole, David R., and Darren L. Pullen, ed. 2010. Multiliteracies in motion: Current theory and practice. New York: Routledge.

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    Presents fourteen chapters by authors primarily from Australia and the United States. While some chapters deal with theory, most chapters present case studies of media literacy programs and show what techniques have worked and not worked.

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  • Healy, Annah. 2008. Multiliteracies and diversity in education: New pedagogies for expanding landscapes. New York: Oxford University Press.

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    Presents a multi-literacies model that attempts to break down the barriers separating academic disciplines in order to help all kinds of teachers to design active learning programs. Very readable, with lots of suggestions for classroom techniques.

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  • Kubey, Robert, ed. 2001. Media literacy in the information age: Current perspectives. Information and Behavior 6. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

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    Edited volume of twenty-one chapters that looks at the history of media education around the world. It deals with theoretical and conceptual issues and is especially strong in its treatment of practical curriculum design issues, illustrated through case studies in a range of countries, including Israel, South Africa, and Australia.

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  • Semali, Ladislaus M. 2000. Literacy in multimedia America: Integrating media education across the curriculum. New York: Falmer.

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    Written by a professor of education, the book provides a strong argument for integrating media literacy across the public school curriculum from kindergarten to 12th grade in the United States. He presents many stories to show how critical thinking can be incorporated into existing classes.

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Course Design

Teachers who want to develop a course or even a single presentation on media literacy can get a good start on this task by reading any one of the entries in this section. Each entry offers a wealth of practical advice. Some are more theoretical and scholarly in their approach. Frechette 2002 preaches social empowerment. Johnson 2001 takes a postmodern perspective. McLaren, et al. 1995 presents the visions of seven different college professors. Unsworth 2001 takes a more practical approach by developing his advice from describing the experience he learned by trying particular treatments. Tyner 2009, an edited volume, is also practical, with its focus on techniques to help students in both formal and informal educational environments. The edited volumes of Kubey and Ruben 2001 and Metallinos 1994 offer both theoretical and practical advice in the chapters they present.

  • Frechette, Julie D. 2002. Developing media literacy in cyberspace: Pedagogy and critical learning for the twenty-first-century classroom. Westport, CT: Praeger.

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    Based on a vision of learning that values social empowerment over technical skills, the author argues that media literacy offers the best long-term training for today’s youth to become savvy users of 21st-century technology. Provides guidelines to help educators develop learning strategies that enable students to judge the worth of what they see on the Internet.

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  • Johnson, Lesley L. 2001. Media, education, and change. New York: Peter Lang.

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    Written from a postmodernist perspective, this book examines the core concepts of contemporary media literacy education. The author reports on her observations and interviews with teachers during a fifteen-week course to train them in basic video production. She draws conclusions about those teachers’ experiences in their classrooms and their perspectives on students, learning, and media.

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  • Kubey, Robert, and Brent Ruben, eds. 2001. Media literacy in the information age: Current perspectives. Information and Behavior, 6. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction.

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    This is an edited volume of twenty-two chapters written by leading media educators from many countries around the world. The focus of most chapters is not just how to deal with technological change in the media but how to create educational processes that will help students become more media-literate.

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  • McLaren, Peter, Rhonda Hammer, David Sholle, and Susan Smith Reilly, eds. 1995. Rethinking media literacy: A critical pedagogy of representation. New York: Peter Lang.

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    Edited book of seven chapters by college professors, concluding with an interview with the four editors on the topic of strategies for media literacy. The chapters are critical of the media and argue for activism.

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  • Metallinos, Nikos, ed. 1994. Verbo-visual literacy: Understanding and applying new educational communication media technologies. Montreal: 3Dmt Research and Information Center.

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    These thirty-eight chapters are from a symposium of the International Visual Literacy Association. They focus on suggestions about how best to use the emerging new technologies to foster verbal and visual literacy.

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  • Tyner, Kathleen, ed. 2009. Media literacy: New agendas in communication. NY: Routledge.

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    Edited volume provides lots of practical advice about how to increase student proficiency with new literacies for learning in formal and informal educational environments. It also investigates critical literacy practices that can best respond to the proliferation of new media in society.

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  • Unsworth, Len. 2001. Teaching multiliteracies across the curriculum: Changing contexts of text and image in classroom practice. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

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    The author, who trains primary and secondary school teachers in Australia, argues that teachers need to build from traditional literacy, which is print, to many other types of literacy across the curriculum. He outlines the basic theoretical knowledge teachers need to have about visual and verbal grammar and the nature of computer-based texts in school learning.

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Organizations

The number of organizations that provide information about media literacy is relatively small but growing. Some of these are professional societies for scholars who conduct research and teach about media literacy. As of 2010, there is only one professional society devoted exclusively to media literacy, the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE); however, more established professional organizations, such as the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication (AEJMC) and the Broadcast Education Association (BEA), have attracted media literacy scholars to their annual conferences and journals for decades. There is also a larger number of centers and institutes devoted to media literacy, which are funded by donations and grants. These organizations typically sell books, DVDs, and other instructional materials, but they also offer free access to a good deal of media literacy materials both on their websites and by mail.

Professional Societies

For decades, people who wanted to learn more about media literacy and to network with others having similar interests typically participated in professional societies such as the Broadcast Education Association (BEA) or the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication (AEJMC). The membership of these two professional societies consisted largely of scholars who conducted research and taught courses about the mass media in general. Then some scholars created the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), a professional organization with its primary focus on media literacy. Each of these three societies publishes a journal that offers articles on media literacy (see Journals).

Centers and Institutes

Various concerned citizens have created centers for media literacy that provide information and materials to the general public. They are usually funded by philanthropists, grants, and the sale of materials such as books and DVDs. Some of these centers are politically active in attempting to exercise influence on the media industries. Citizens for Media Literacy has a fairly critical focus and argues for free speech issues. Parents Television Council is also fairly critical and focuses its attention on monitoring media content for offensive material. Other centers are less politically active and instead focus more on providing educational materials for the general public. The oldest of these is the Center for Media Literacy, which is primarily educational. The Media Education Foundation and the Media Awareness Network are also primarily educational.

  • Center for Media Literacy

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    Founded in 1989, CML is a well-established educational organization that provides materials about media literacy on its extensive website. Its mission is to help children and adults prepare for living and learning in a global media culture by translating media literacy research and theory into practical information, training and educational tools for teachers and youth leaders, parents and caregivers of children.

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  • Citizens for Media Literacy

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    A nonprofit, public-interest organization that publishes material on media literacy, especially in the area of free speech, and provides assistance to citizen activists and journalists on issues related to the US Freedom of Information Act and Open Records laws. It also publishes media analysis and criticism, such as Sinclair Media Watch, a newsletter that criticizes Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is composed of sixty-two TV stations.

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  • Media Awareness Network

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    A Canadian nonprofit organization that generates research and provides media literacy programs for teachers and parents. It conducts original research, particularly in the areas of youth media consumption. Unlike the Parents Television Council in the United States, it focuses less on advocating media regulation and more on education.

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  • Media Education Foundation

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    MEF produces and distributes documentary films and other educational resources, such as the articles, handouts, and study guides on a wide variety of media literacy topics that are available on its website.

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  • Parents Television Council

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    PTC is a nonpartisan education organization founded by a conservative activist. It claims to have more than 1.3 million members across the United States. It monitors media content and prepares reports that highlight entertainment products that it considers beneficial or harmful to the development of children. It has sponsored boycotts of certain TV advertisers and filed numerous complaints of indecency on television with the FCC over the years.

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Empirical Research

Scholars have produced a great deal of empirical research about the mass media, particularly about media effects. While only a small proportion of this large literature is directly on point with media literacy, the literature itself provides a great deal of insight that can be used to develop all kinds of media literacy interventions, courses, and curricula. This empirical research is organized into two categories. One category includes individual research studies that have tested media literacy treatments and interventions, while the other category focuses more on broader-scale studies that take place over a long period or that span several countries.

Treatments and Interventions

The design of media literacy interventions, courses, and curriculum relies on the findings from studies of mass media effects that document which effects are harmful, the factors that can mitigate these effects, and the types of audience members who are most vulnerable to these negative effects. This media effects literature is very large. Fortunately, there are some very helpful reviews of many of the subtopics within that huge literature. Bryant and Oliver 2009 presents a set of reviews that cover most of the media effects literature. Nathanson 2001 and Potter and Byrne 2009 focus their reviews more on media literacy itself. Silverblatt, et al. 1999 is included here because it displays a range of methods that have been used to generate findings from mass-media studies.

  • Bryant, Jennings, and Mary Beth Oliver, eds. 2009. Media effects: Advances in theory and research. 3d ed. New York: Routledge.

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    This classic academic book presents twenty-seven chapters written by experts on a wide range of mass media effects. Each chapter provides an in-depth review of the research literature on a different effects theory, type of effect, or influence of type of content.

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  • Nathanson, Amy I. 2001. Mediation of children’s television viewing: Working toward conceptual clarity and common understanding. In Communication yearbook 25. Edited by William B. Gudykunst, 115–151. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    Very good review of the literature about mediation, that is, the strategies parents use to protect their children from unwanted effects of television exposure. Nathanson organizes this research into three types of strategies: restrictive mediation, co-viewing, and active mediation.

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  • Potter, W. James, and Sahara Byrne. 2009. Media literacy. In The SAGE handbook of media processes and effects. Edited by Robin L. Nabi and Mary Beth Oliver, 345–357. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This chapter provides a review and critique of the literature of media literacy effects studies conducted largely by social scientists. It looks at the effectiveness of both natural and formal media literacy interventions.

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  • Silverblatt, Art, Jane Ferry, and Barbara Finan. 1999. Approaches to media literacy: A handbook. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

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    A very interesting book on methods for people interested in designing a media literacy research study. The authors focus on ideological analysis, autobiographical analysis, nonverbal communication analysis, mythic analysis, and analysis of production elements.

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Broad-Scale Studies

These broad-scale studies provide an in-depth examination of various facets of media literacy. Hobbs 2007 provides an in-depth case study of media literacy in one high school. The long-term studies in Mackey 2007 and Watkins 2009 tease out valuable insights into how young people are now using the mass media. Livingstone, et al. 2001 and Livingstone, et al. 2009 form an extremely valuable resource, showing how media literacy has been exerting all kinds of positive effects in almost every European country over the past two decades.

  • Hobbs, Renée. 2007. Reading the media: Media literacy in high school English. New York: Teachers College Press.

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    Tells the story about how the English faculty at a New Hampshire high school developed a media literacy curriculum. Provides qualitative and quantitative data illustrating the effectiveness in areas of understanding advertising and storytelling structures, as well as building skills of reading and writing.

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  • Livingstone, Sonia, and Moira Bovill, eds. 2001. Children and their changing media environment: A European comparative study. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    Edited volume contains fourteen chapters that describe how children in twelve European countries use the new media and how those exposures affect them, their family life, and their relationships with their peers. Based on in-depth interviews with eleven thousand children and adolescents.

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  • Livingstone, Sonia, and Leslie Haddon, eds. 2009. Kids online: Opportunities and risks for children. Bristol, UK: Polity .

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    Edited book reports a large number of empirical media literacy studies conducted by sixty researchers across twenty-one European countries who are associated with the EU Kids Online Project. These research studies document who goes online, what they expose themselves to, and what are the risks of those exposures.

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  • Mackey, Margaret. 2007. Literacies across media. 2d ed. New York: Routledge.

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    Describes an eighteen-month-long project that was designed to study how a group of boys and girls (ages ten to fourteen) made sense of narratives in a variety of formats, including print, electronic book, video, DVD, computer game, and CD-ROM. Analyzes how those children developed strategies for interpreting narratives through encounters with a diverse range of texts and media.

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  • Watkins, S. Craig. 2009. The young and the digital: What the migration to social network sites, games and anytime, anywhere media means for our future. Boston: Beacon.

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    With a base of four years of interviews and survey data, Watkins documents how America’s youth have moved away from traditional one-way media to the newer interactive media. The author includes an intriguing chapter in which he rethinks the idea of Internet addiction.

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Types of Content

Media content can be organized into three meta-genres: news, entertainment, and persuasive content. Media literacy is concerned with all three types of content. However, the risks for negative effects differ across the three meta-genres, so the techniques to increase media literacy differ by content type.

News

The news has been a lightning rod for much criticism, which largely focuses on journalists’ failure to present unbiased, accurate reports of the most important events each day because of economic and political constraints. Jensen 1995 is highly critical of journalists in general for missing many important stories each year. Paul and Elder 2006 and Postman and Powers 2008 argue that all news is biased, and both books present techniques for people to use to protect themselves from such bias. Schudson 2003 constructs a scholarly analysis to explain why the news is biased, and Mindich 2005 draws from these ideas to show why the younger generation in the United States is turning away from news exposure.

  • Jensen, Carl. 1995. Censored: The news that didn’t make the news—and why. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows.

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    Begun in 1976, Project Censored invites journalists, scholars, librarians, and the general public to nominate stories that they feel were not reported adequately during that year. From hundreds of submissions each year, the list is reduced to the top ten censored stories for the year.

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  • Mindich, David T. Z. 2005. Tuned out: Why Americans under 40 don’t follow the news. New York: Oxford University Press.

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    Author clearly documents that the latest two generations of Americans have exhibited drastic declines in attention to news in the traditional media. He develops some convincing explanations for why news has become so irrelevant to the younger generations and then speculates about how this will affect the political system and society in general.

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  • Paul, Richard P., and Linda Elder. 2006. The thinker’s guide for conscientious citizens on how to detect media bias and propaganda in national and world news. 3d ed. Dillon, Beach, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

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    Short book focusing on critical thinking and the news. It presents a lot of practical advice how to think about news stories critically and thereby protecting oneself from bias, especially from novelty and sensationalism.

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  • Postman, Neil, and Steve Powers. 2008. How to watch TV news. New York: Penguin.

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    Now revised and updated from the original classic 1992 edition. These authors argue that television news fails to present substantial reports of important event and instead presents superficial constructions designed to create large audiences for advertisers.

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  • Schudson, Michael. 2003. The sociology of news. New York: Norton.

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    In a scholarly analysis, Schudson argues that journalists not only report reality but also create it. He digs deep into the issue and offers explanations about how the news construction occurs and the effect those constructions have on the public.

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Entertainment

There has been a great deal of criticism about media entertainment. Each of the entries in this section show readers that there are fascinating issues regarding media entertainment about which most people are unaware, or about which they believe the wrong things. These help readers sift through their faulty beliefs and help them become more media-literate. Using contrasting approaches, Metallinos 1996 presents a theoretical and aesthetic perspective on media entertainment, while Postman 1984 presents an anecdote-driven argument about why media entertainment has become so important to the general population. Sayre and King 2003 takes a historical approach to explaining media entertainment. Potter 2003 focuses on the pervasive topic of violence and shows how the faulty thinking that drives the debate on this issue has been preventing any meaningful change.

  • Metallinos, Nikos. 1996. Television aesthetics: Perceptual, cognitive, and compositional bases. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    With a theoretical rather than critical approach, Metallinos lays out many principles of aesthetics from both a social science and an artistic perspective and then demonstrates that humans are bound by their perceptual capabilities and the functioning processes of their brains. A person who is visually literate needs to have information in the areas of perception, cognition, and artistic composition.

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  • Postman, Neil. 1984. Amusing ourselves to death: Public discourse in the age of show business. New York: Penguin.

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    This is a strong, well-written argument about how the media, especially television, have conditioned us to expect entertainment. Because our perceptions of ideas are shaped by the form of their expression, we are now image-oriented. We respond to pleasure, not thought and reflection.

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  • Potter, W. James. 2003. The 11 myths of media violence. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This book begins with a chapter illuminating the current state of public debate over media violence and ends with a chapter reflecting on the prognosis for change. In between are eleven chapters, each dealing with a faulty belief about media violence. Taken together, these myths lock people (the general public, people in the media industries, media regulators, and media researchers) into a maze of unproductive thinking.

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  • Sayre, Shay, and Cynthia M. King. 2003. Entertainment and society: Audiences, trends, and impacts. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Spanning the gamut of media-provided entertainment in sixteen chapters, this book provides some history of thinking about entertainment, a theory of entertainment content and effects, conceptions of audiences, medium comparisons, and even predictions for the future of entertainment.

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Persuasive Content

People who design persuasive messages are in the business of manipulating our attitudes and behaviors. This is an especially important area of media literacy because, while most people understand the manipulative nature of persuasive messages, they do not understand how that manipulation works, so they cannot take specific steps to protect themselves. The entries provided in this section offer some very interesting examples about the manipulative practices in media messages. Hart, et al. 2005 focuses on the use of words, while Jones 2004 approaches media persuasion from our faulty beliefs. Myers 1999 offers practical advice about how to analyze ads.

  • Hart, Roderick P., Sharon E. Jarvis, William P. Jennings, and Deborah Smith-Howell. 2005. Political keywords: Using language that uses us. New York: Oxford University Press.

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    Provides an in-depth analysis of how political words are used, such as “president,” “government,” “consultant,” “people,” and “promise.” The analysis reveals how the news media manipulate us and what we need to do to protect ourselves from such manipulation.

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  • Jones, John Phillip. 2004. Fables, fashions, and facts about advertising: A study of 28 enduring myths. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This author is a college professor with twenty-five years’ experience working in a major advertising agency. In this book, Jones confronts more than two dozen beliefs that the public holds about advertising and shows how each of these is faulty.

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  • Myers, Greg. 1999. Ad worlds: Brands, media, audiences. London: Arnold.

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    Lots of practical advice and examples about how to analyze advertisements. Organized around a very interesting series of questions about ads and how they work on audiences.

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Special Topics

Much writing on media literacy is critical. Some of this criticism is directed at the media, some at educational institutions, some at parents, and some at audiences for not being more aware of their own actions and risks. These criticisms run through most of the entries presented in previous sections. In this section, the first topic of importance is to look at some of the criticism along with some of the counter-criticism. Then there are sections on hot topics for people writing about media literacy, including children as a special group and ownership issues.

Criticism of Media and Counter-Criticism

There has been much criticism of the mass media in general, especially of television. A classic example of this type of criticism is provided by Mander 1978. However, this criticism of the media has stimulated others to write about some of the positive aspects of the mass media. It should be noted that these “counter-critics” are not total supporters of the mass media; that is, they too are critics, but they provide a more balanced view of the advantages as well as the disadvantages of media exposure. Bianculli 2000 highlights the good elements of television programming. Gee 2007 argues convincingly that video games can have positive effects. Newman debunks the myth that television viewing has harmed reading skills. Johnson 2006 takes a thorough counterview to all media criticism by arguing that almost all media content is good for people in some way.

  • Bianculli, David. 2000. Teleliteracy: Taking television seriously. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press.

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    Bianculli was a TV critic/columnist for fifteen years before writing this book, which is a defense of television. Although admitting that 90 percent of TV content is “crap,” he feels that TV also has a great deal of value. He presents a manifesto of ten points, all intended to get TV more respect.

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  • Gee, James Paul. 2007. What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Rev. ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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    Gee argues that video games can be positive teachers, even violent games and others that have been criticized for fostering negative effects. Working from a strong foundation of educational theory, he shows how a wide variety of games can help people find positive role models and develop their own strong sense of identity.

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  • Johnson, Steven. 2006. Everything bad is good for you. New York: Riverhead.

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    Johnson is a best-selling author who argues that the popular opinion that the media are harmful to us is wrong. He says that media messages are getting more complex, not simpler, over time, and this makes exposure more challenging and hence more rewarding.

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  • Mander, Jerry. 1978. Four arguments for the elimination of television. New York: Morrow.

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    This is a very strong criticism of television based on four ideas: TV deflects viewers from experiencing real life; TV forces a unified perspective on all users; TV makes people sick physically (from ingesting artificial light) and mentally (dims the mind, hypnotizes, suppresses imagination); and TV has inherent biases against subtlety, away from the sensory, and toward the extraordinary.

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  • Neuman, Susan B. 1995. Literacy in the television age: The myth of the TV effect. 2d ed. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

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    Arguing that television viewing has not reduced reading literacy, Neuman debunks four theories: displacement, information processing, short-term gratification, and interest stimulation. She shows that the empirical evidence does not support any of these theories; that is, the criticism that the media have hindered literacy is unwarranted.

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Children as a Special Group

Of all the ways that the general audience for media messages can be segmented into groups, children have been regarded as the most important audience segment by media literacy scholars and advocates. Children spend a great deal of time with the media, yet they have much less of the life experience required to evaluate the reality and credibility of those messages, and they are believed to have skills sets much less developed than those of older people. The entries listed in this section document exposure patterns among children, their heightened vulnerability to negative effects from the media, and suggestions about how to protect children from those negative effects. The first entry takes a humanistic perspective, while the other two were written from a social-science perspective. Drotner and Livingstone 2008 and Singer and Singer 2001 present reviews of research that show children are vulnerable to various media content and therefore require special protection from the media. Strasberger and Wilson 2009 covers much of the same information but in a simpler and more readable style.

  • Drotner, Kirsten, and Sonia Livingstone, eds. 2008. The international handbook of children, media and culture. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

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    Edited volume provides thirty chapters that examine the nature of childhood, why children are vulnerable to media messages, and how children can be protected from risks of negative effects from interactions with the media. Because the authors take a humanistic approach, cultures and contexts are particularly important.

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  • Singer, Dorothy G., and Jerome L. Singer, eds. 2001. Handbook of children and the media. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This is a definitive handbook on the topic of children and the media. It consists of thirty-nine chapters, each written by an expert in the field. The chapters are organized to address the following topics: children’s uses of the media and the gratifications they obtain from them; cognitive functions and school-readiness skills; hazards of TV viewing; personality, social attitudes, and health; the media industry and its technology; and policy issues and advocacy.

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  • Strasburger, Victor C., and Barbara J. Wilson. 2009. Children, adolescents, and the media. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Very readable book with lots of cartoons, pictures, and graphics. Taking a public health perspective, the authors show how both children and adolescents are influenced by the media, particularly the content of advertising, violence, sexuality, drug use, music, and portrayals of food. It also has special chapters on the media of electronic games and the Internet.

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Ownership Issues

When people criticize the media organizations themselves, it is usually because those organizations have become too big and powerful; that is, the media are more interested in making money and protecting their own interests than in behaving in a more responsible way toward society. Bagdikian 2000 presents the classic argument that media consolidation is dangerous, and this argument is elaborated and extended by Bettig and Hall 2003. In contrast, Einstein 2004 makes the counter-argument that consolidation has not resulted in what critics feared. Doyle 2002 presents a more descriptive and general approach to media economics for readers with no background in either economics or the media.

  • Bagdikian, Ben H. 2000. The media monopoly. 6th ed. Boston: Beacon.

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    Since 1983, Bagdikian has been conducting an economic analysis of the media industries to track the degree of concentration of ownership. With each new edition, the number of powerful companies shrinks as their media (as well as non-media) holdings dramatically grow. This book is a must-read for anyone concerned about how much power is being concentrated in the hands of a few CEOs of media-holding companies.

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  • Bettig, Ronald V., and Jeanne Lynn Hall. 2003. Big media, big money: Cultural texts and political economies. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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    Arguing that the media have been unfettered in their drive for greater profits and control over constructing meaning in our culture, the authors present a great deal of detail to demonstrate that the result of this media consolidation is that a few very powerful companies are becoming even more invasive in our lives and are successfully supplanting family, friend, religion, and education as the controlling source of constructing meaning.

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  • Doyle, Gillian. 2002. Understanding media economics. London: SAGE.

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    Written for people who do not have a background in economics but who want to learn about how the media industries operate along economic principles. Most of the examples are from Great Britain and Europe.

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  • Einstein, Mara. 2004. Media diversity: Economics, ownership, and the FCC. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    The author counters much of the criticism about the consolidation in the media industries. She argues that despite a clear consolidation of ownership of media properties and the narrowing in the number of people making decisions about media content, there is even more diversity in messages now than there was four decades ago.

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LAST MODIFIED: 02/23/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199756841-0065

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