Media Literacy Online Project - Serving Educators Around The World
Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Demonizing Media Not the Answer

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

I was reading an article in the official magazine of the American Federation of Teachers which initially looked interesting and promising. It was called "The Teening of Childhood," and somewhere deep within it was the assertion that our children are growing up much too quickly and doing "teenage things" before they've even stopped being kids.

But the article quickly became a demonizing of the big, bad media. "The media's deconstruction of childhood has been a rousing success," it alleged. The media's "attack on childhood" and children as "slaves of the marketplace," were some of incendiary phrases that were used. The article claimed that (ahem), "anticultural filiarchy (rule by children) . . . is replacing traditional childhood." It went on like that.


I am so dreadfully weary of people demonizing the media, of declaring them villains, and of laying every cultural problem we have these days on the media's doorstep. This particular article even claimed that companies sent out spies - "coolhunters" - whose job it is to hang out with teenagers and try to discover the newest fad or adolescent style so that it can be marketed.

For too many - and for too long - "media literacy" or "media studies" has simply meant bashing the media, as this article did. Exposing lies in advertising, lack of objectivity in news, or profit-driven media corporations is often the only agenda of those who pretend to educate about the media but who in reality want to tear it down or discredit it.

And this sets up a "bunker mentality." Large media entities which COULD help teach people about this new communications tool fear rather that they'll be attacked, and so they "hunker down" and conduct their business in secrecy. They are (perhaps justifiably) suspicious of those who claim that they want to understand and participate in modern media technology because too often that's merely been a ploy to demonize the media further.

There are exceptions, of course - media companies which actively encourage public education into how they do their business. Years ago, The Boston Globe invited a class of students into their editorial board meeting, where we got to see the kinds of editorial decisions which placed different stories on different pages of the paper, allocated space, and chose photographs. They later answered questions from the class about why they made the particular decisions they did.

A local billboard company not only annually gives local students a prominent billboard upon which to display a public service message, but gives tips and advice on how one creates an effective billboard message. Students are also given the opportunity to tour the plant where billboards are created and watch the process by which their own billboard is erected.

There are other examples. A few media companies, including this newspaper and some access TV corporations, regularly participate in a student "Shadow Day," where students accompany executives around for a day and watch what it is they do and how they do it.

Perhaps the curtain is slowly lifting - at least with some farsighted media.

A local clothing store used to have a slogan, "An educated consumer is our finest product." It went along with a sales campaign that suggested that they wouldn't sell junk; they'd educate consumers to make smart clothing decisions, believing that intelligent consumers would patronize their store. I like that idea, and I wish more media would adopt it.

It's simply not true that a media literate person rejects media.

He or she may judge it critically, make conscious decisions about how and when to use it, and even see it on a number of different levels. But in many cases, being media literate enhances rather than destroys our appreciation of the medium.

Once both sides in the media literacy movement (the media themselves and media educators) realize this, the faster walls will come down and the sooner we all can work towards creating a more media literate public which will benefit both the creators and consumers of media.

Demonizing the media and blaming it for our society's ills isn't really very productive, nor is hiding how and why media decisions are made.

I'm a teacher, and perhaps an occupational hazard of that profession is harboring the belief that the more we know about something, the better for everyone. I think that applies to media, too.