8 The Importance of Media Literacy

Allison Jennings-Roche

Media literacy is a crucial skill all media consumers must have. There are many factors that can change how we interpret media, and how media affects us, and there are a few main skills that can aid consumers in being more media literate like willingness to try, and having an ability to distinguish reactions. Understanding the differences between mediated and non-mediated media and their implications is also important to media literacy.

Defining Media Literacy  

Media literacy is the method of dissecting media content in order to critically analyze it. To do this, it is essential to look at media content’s underlying messages, its ownership and regulation, as well as how it is presented. This is not an easy process, and has no stopping point. It is necessary to always question what is shown in mediated communications (Pavlik, 46). We often are passive in our roles in mass communications. We forget to question what our responsibilities are as consumers (Baran, 21). We look at violent televisions shows and criticize how they promote and romanticize violent behaviors, but we never miss an episode, telling producers we support the content. Culture is created through media (Baran, 21), and if we continue to tune in, we are allowing issues within our culture to persist. By being subject to passive consumption or Stanley Baran’s “third-person effect”, we release all control we have over culture.

Stanley Baran, in the Introduction to Mass Communication, speaks of a term he calls “third-person effect”. This encompasses the idea that as consumers we believe media affects others but not ourselves (Baran, 24).  Being media literate allows us to see that this is untrue and media does in fact have underlying messages that affect us. By understanding those messages, we can change how it affects us.  Media literacy is so important to consumers because it can help us to control our actions in response to media, and allow it to have less control over our views (Pavlik, 46). By asking questions like, “Who paid for this?”, “What point are they trying to make”, or even things like “What are they getting out of this?” consumers are able to get a better picture of the subliminal messages, and their influence (Rosenwald, 97).

There are many factors that frame media content including political factors, social factors and economic factors (Pavlik, 47).  It’s important to become a critic when it comes to media forms; we must question all aspects of its production, and presentation to fully grasp its repercussions. By developing media literacy skills consumers can better assess the content they are receiving.

Media Literacy Skills 

Today, we are living in what is known as the Digital Age and the only constant is that it will continue to develop and expand for future generations. It is important for everyone to develop and expand along with the media, in order to properly understand what is being circulated. For this to happen, we need to develop media literacy skills. It’s crucial for this to be taught to school age children, especially now with more children being exposed to media at a younger age. Today, children are being introduced to media even before their formal educations (Hopkins, 24). Media literacy skills are crucial for, “developing knowledge about the social, political, and economic forces that influence media content” (Pavlik, 40). These skills will help in keeping the mind active when looking at different media platforms, instead of keeping a passive mind.

There are seven main media literacy skills. The first is “the ability and willingness to make an effort to understand content, to pay attention and filter out noise” (Baran, 21). This means consumers should distinguish the points an article is trying to make and ignore factors that could influence their thinking. Thus, changing the way we consume media. An example could be when you are listening to the radio while driving. What is your main focus, the radio or driving? Hopefully driving, but this means you could misinterpret what’s on the radio. By realizing what factors affect your interpretation, you can be more mindful of when content you are absorbing.

Second is, “having an understanding of, and respect for, the power of media messages” (Baran, 24). There’s so much media content in circulation and it’s important to understand how many people the content is available for. It is imperative not dismiss that fact, because it can be very powerful. For example, some articles can convey stereotypes. If we dismiss that, it hurts the group being stereotyped and other marginalized groups. It is important that we recognize and stand up against it.

Third, the “ability to distinguish emotional from reasoned reactions when responding to content and act accordingly” (Baran, 24). Sometimes, we connect with certain media like songs and books because we can relate to them on an emotional level. But, it’s important to keep in mind that content like this may not always be true, despite our emotional ties with it.

Some media content may be trying to persuade you by keying into your emotional reactions; it’s essential to keep this in mind when analyzing media messages.

Fourth, is the “development of heightened expectations of media content” (Baran, 24). This is referring to viral videos or articles on the internet that are the “most viewed” or “top ten” that we settle on and give meaning to, when we are not searching for anything specific. Today, on the internet there is so much content to filter through that we tend to scroll through it mindlessly, not looking for underlying messages, or meaning. When on the internet if there is not a specific thing you’re looking for, it’s easy to give meaning to the random content you fall upon.

Next, is “the knowledge of genre conventions and the recognition of their mixing” (Baran, 24-25). This means to its necessary to understand different genres and how information is given by those sources. For example, we are more likely to believe a documentary about weight loss, than what’s in a magazine for weight loss. By being aware of that fact you can determine what is true and what is not, or if the source is reputable.

Sixth, is “the ability to think critically about media messages” (Baran, 25). This means not everything you read on the internet will be true, even if it comes from a credible source. For example, if Fox News presented an article it’s important to remember that they are being paid by people who believe the same things, so their media will be biased to whom they are getting paid from to support those views.

Seventh is “the knowledge of the internal language of various media and the ability to understand its effects” (Baran, 25). This comes down to understanding how media is produced; to pay attention to camera angles, lighting, text sizes, and location. Understanding this language will help you deceiver through media. As the media continues to grow, it continues to matter.

In today’s world the media is constantly around us. We are always interacting with mass media, so it’s essential to learn from our experiences with it. John Pavlik and Shawn McIntosh in their book Converging Media: A New Introduction to Mass Communication explain that we learn topics such as math and history in school, but not media literacy (45). They bring up the question; if we are interacting with the media so much, why are we not learning about it? Media literacy encourages thinking for ourselves, and questioning what is being told to us. Media literacy “emphasizes the skills and knowledge needed to be effective in the increasingly social media environment” (Hobbs and Jensen, 5). We are introduced to media at an increasingly younger age, so we should start learning about media and its underlying messages sooner.  Our society has a “culture that absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media….” (Hobbs and Jensen, 5); we thrive off of media, and because of this media literacy skills are so important.

Mediated and Non-Mediated Communication  

Communication connects the world and makes all things possible. To differentiate between mediated and non-mediated communication, as a whole, is simple but when it is looked at on a larger scale, the lines become blurred. The word mediated has multiple definitions one of which being to effect (a result) or convey (a message) (Pavlick and McIntosh, 47). Through this we land on the working definitions mediated and non-mediated communication.

Non-mediated communication is any communication that occurs directly between one party and another through face-to-face interaction. This means that a conversation had, between a professor and her student at her desk after class, is an example of non-mediated communication (Pavlick and McIntosh, 47). There is no program helping to make that conversation between the professor and her student possible.

Mediated communication differs from non-mediated in that it requires some sort of outside influence in order to occur. When two girls are having a conversation with each other via tweets sent back and forth to one another on Twitter, it is a form of mediated communication. It is mediated because the two girls actively logged onto Twitter and typed their message using the program. Another example of mediated communication is when two parties interact with one another on Skype or Facetime. Both of these programs allow for video chatting which is a form of face-to-face communication but because the individuals are still using a video chatting program, it is a form of mediated communication (Pavlick and McIntosh, 48). By knowing the difference between these two forms consumers can realize that media literacy is important when dealing with mediated communications, and less with non-mediated. Using media literacy skills can aid consumers in better analyzing the messages that do come from mediated communications.

The use of technology has become more common in today’s age. Whether it’s in an office or in a classroom, the use of technological devices like computers play an important role in our lives. Studies have shown that computer mediated communication leads to several negative outcomes such as “depersonalization, impoliteness, information overload, and increased worker stress due to having to respond quickly” (Bob and Sooknanan, 47). When communication is face to face you are able to use your body language or other cues. Mediated communication does not allow you to use these cues but has created a different environment in communication, possibly altering what the media content is communicating.

To be media literate it is important to be able to interpret and analyze media information. If an individual is unable to decipher between what is true and untrue, mediated and non-mediated, then they will have a much more difficult time navigating media effectively. Being media literate is essential for the media consumer and it is important that everyone take notice of their media literacy.

Works Cited 

Baran, Stanley J. “Mass Communication, Culture and Media Literacy.” Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture, McGraw-Hill Education, 2015, pp. 4–26.

Bob, K. and Sooknanan, P. “The Impact of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) on Productivity and Efficiency in Organizations: A Case Study of an Electrical Company in Trinidad and Tobago.” Advances in Journalism and Communication, vol.2, no.2, pp. 46-51.

Hobbs, R & Jensen, A. (2009). “The Past, Present, and Future of Media Literacy Education”. Journal of Media Literacy Education 1, 1 – 11.

Hopkins, Liza, et al. “Books, Bytes and Brains: The Implications of New Knowledge for Children’s Early Literacy Learning.” Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, vol. 38, no. 1, Mar. 2013.

Pavlik, John V., and Shawn McIntosh. “Media Literacy in the Digital Age.” Converging Media: A New Introduction to Mass Communication, Oxford University Press, 2018, pp. 44-68.

Rosenwald, Michael. “Making Media Literacy Great Again.” Columbia Journalism Review, vol. 56, no. 2, 2017, pp. 94–99.


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Strategic information literacy: Targeted knowledge with broad application Copyright © 2019 by Allison Jennings-Roche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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