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Media and Information Literacy Basics: 5 questions to analyse any media message

Evaldas Rupkus

Author, trainer and project manager,

Germany

Kuvaus

Media and Information Literacy (MIL) and youth information have something in common – a huge diversity of issues both try to address.
Photo with computers and other mobile device on the table.

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MIL is quite a diverse field comprised of a variety of topics, as we have already discussed in the previous article  and podcast. Youth information workers are facing even more generalist youth information topics, and it is obvious, that one just cannot know it all. That is why we need some practical tools to help us, and particularly the young people we are working with, to navigate this cosmos. One of the basics is a set of questions that can help you analyse almost any media message – be it a book, a social media post, a radio programme, a video, or an advertisement.

Analysis as part of learning by doing

Critical thinking is often used as a synonym for MIL. Since MIL is a set of various competencies, one of them is undoubtedly the skill to think critically – to question and analyse. Because of the nature of the media, analysis is one of the main tools for developing MIL skills. Youth workers are well acquainted with the principles of the non-formal education and experiential learning model as one of the most effective ways to learn through practice. Therefore, even if we put the focus in MIL education on the creation of media products, we will still come to a stage of analysing them. Or as Kolb would put it – reflecting on the experience so that conclusions can be drawn, and, therewith, an experiential learning cycle can kick in. 

Different models – same goal

Successful and meaningful analysis requires some guidance. This can be provided by a simple set of questions that will help structure this process. We all know the 5W1H rule for information gathering and problem solving, or even writing a piece of news. In MIL education there have been several different attempts to come up with something similar. However, most of the proposed questions are not compact enough to be abbreviated to four letters. Let’s have a look at some examples of what those questions could be in MIL education.

The Centre for Media Literacy in the US has published “5 key questions of Media Literacy ” (2005). It is based on the “core concepts of media literacy”. According to these concepts every media message is constructed using a special creative language, which is perceived by different people in different ways. Most importantly, the “5 core concepts” state, the “media have embedded values and points of view” and are organized “to gain profit and/or power”. These very to-the-point and brief concepts can be a good summary after questioning a media message. 

Youth information work has been incorporating MIL competencies in its preventive work on extremism and radicalisation. ERYICA with its members has published a substantial chapter on MIL, with detailed method descriptions in the “Liaisons  – Toolkit for preventing violent extremism through youth information”. One of  the methods described is “The Six Dimensions of Media Education”. These dimensions include producers, language, technology, representation, audience and category of document. Here we see many parallels to the “5 core concepts”; however, it could be harder to apply these dimensions, as not all of them are followed with concrete questions which would enable analysis. 

Five questions to ask

A recent practical update to the core or key questions can be found in the latest edition of the “MIL: A Practical Guidebook for Trainers”  by DW Akademie. The authors follow the idea of five key questions and offer us an interactive method as well as a helpful worksheet that you can give to your group. Any media message can be analysed by asking five groups of questions. The first is authorship – who has created this message and how do we know? Secondly, format – what attracts our attention and what creative techniques have been used for this end? Thirdly, on audience – who is the target audience? How might different people understand this message differently? The fourth follows content analysis: What lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented in this message? What is omitted? What is the overall worldview?

If you only have time for one…

Fifth in the DW Akademie’s Guidebook is the question of purpose. Why is this message being sent? Who benefits from it? Who pays for it? Out of all the five questions this one is perhaps the most important one. It shows the motive of the author or organisation behind the media message. The analysis is more thorough and it is easier to find an answer to this question after going through the first four, but in case you need to prioritize, you can try to go for a Why. 

To find out how these questions work with a concrete case, tune in to the podcast where Mika and Evaldas are analysing a social advertisement from South Africa

Social advertisment from South Africa
Photo of a social advertisement from South Africa.

 

Including analysis in your educational activities

The analysis of media might not be the most entertaining activity for young people at first sight. Therefore, it is our task to embed it in the MIL activities in an engaging and practical way. Start with relevant cases to analyse. Even better – choose content that everyone in your group has seen (e.g. some influencers or pages they follow) or even content they have created themselves. A plenary brainstorming session in one of the mentioned frameworks for analysis may not necessarily be the most fun for a bigger group, but a power brainstorm (each participant has 1 minute to answer a question and then switch to the next) or a World Café could be a nice alternative.

Whatever model you choose, the most important thing is to break down what we mean when we invite young people to “think critically”. We need to provide them with a handy and simple set of questions they can think about the next time they confront some dis- or misinformation. By analysing media in this way, we make it clear that not everything we see is true or trustworthy. We learn to ask questions in order to understand. 

3 Types of Information Disorder. Credit: Claire Wardle & Hossein Derakshan, 2017.
3 Types of Information Disorder. Credit: Claire Wardle & Hossein Derakshan, 2017.

 

Since we have mentioned some MIL terms connected to information disorder, let us revise what they are about. Council of Europe defines following terms as:

Misinformation is when false information is shared, but no harm is meant” – this happens quite a lot for people who reshare false information without even thinking so on their social media channels. 

Disinformation is when false information is knowingly shared to cause harm”, e.g. manipulative narratives, facts or propaganda. This is also normally being done in an organised manner. 

Malinformation is when genuine information is shared to cause harm, often by moving information designed to stay private into the public sphere”, for example someone’s sexual content to destroy that persons career in public.

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