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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Lou Grant On Media Literacy

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

Have you ever seen a piece on TV and then gone to the newspaper to check outthe same story to find out more? Of course you have; we all have. Weintuitively realize that all forms of media are not created equal. There aresome things one medium does better than the others. We often use more thanone form to get a clearer picture.

Smoke signals, the town crier, newspapers, television -- they are all formsof media. Each is a form of communication. But you would never findphilosophy in smoke signals. The medium just doesn't handle that topic verywell. The town crier could give only "headline news," not any depth oranalysis. His oral medium wasn't suited for that. And intelligent creators and consumers of the print and the electronic mediaunderstand that simple fact also. Each medium has its own particularstrength (and weakness). Ideally, each goes with its strength.

Television is immediate. Coverage of the California earthquake (forexample) began just three minutes after the quake struck. TV isinstantaneous. Of course, with time being so important in television, sometimes TV news reports rumors, incomplete stories, and facts that haven'tbeen checked-out or researched adequately. The rush to be first with the news and the pressures of live broadcasting have their unique pitfalls.

TV is also very visual, personal, emotional. Quality of thought is less important than the power of the picture. Reflection is less important than immediacy. Content takes a back seat to emotion. We see tearful reactions,heroic acts, helicopter shots of fires and destruction. The images are gripping and memorable.

Print, on the other hand, is more rational, more calm, more reflective.

While print lacks the moment-by-moment immediacy of TV, it does provide amedium for explanations, for causes, for reflection and understanding. Withmore time at its disposal, print has the added luxury (and responsibility) ofbeing able to research, to check and recheck facts and facets of a story.Print can stress accuracy and balance over emotion and visual images. We get facts and figures of the destruction, an explanation of the causes, plans for rebuilding.

An old episode of Lou Grant brought this concept home forcefully years ago.

There had been a fire or scandal or some big breaking story and the staff ofthe Tribune was laboring all night to get the story out in a special edition. Just as the paper was about to go to press, the local TV station ran the piece. The Trib had been "scooped." The story wasn't theirs exclusively anymore. They would not be the first to report it. The staff was discouraged, downhearted, depressed. Once again, they had been "beaten" by TV.

Wise old Lou Grant entered and gave them a little pep talk. Condensed, itamounted to, "Sure, TV was first. TV told the public WHAT happened. Now it's up to us to tell them WHY it happened." He didn't know it, but cagey Lou was talking media literacy way back then.

We are fortunate here in Billerica to have both an excellent town newspaper and an active Access TV operation. We can get our local news from either (orboth) sources.

As we go through our day as media consumers, we need to be conscious of thefact that each communication medium has its own particular strengths and weaknesses. For immediacy, for intimacy, for imagery we can turn to television. For reasons, for reflection, for understanding we can turn toprint.

We need to actively ferret out the relative strengths and weaknesses of each medium as we try to craft for our minds the same kind of balanced information diet we try to provide for our bodies. Active involvement and thoughtfulness about our own individual media-digesting habits are important first steps in this process.

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.