Media Literacy: How the Media Constructs Reality – Totsepedia


1. All media are CONSTRUCTIONS.

2. All media construct REALITY.

3. AUDIENCES negotiate meaning in media.

4. Media have COMMERCIAL implications.

5. Media contain IDEOLOGICAL and VALUE messages.

6. Media have SOCIAL and POLITICAL implications.

7. Media have UNIQUE AESTHETIC FORM that is closely related to CONTENT.

Reprinted from Media Literacy Resource Guide: Intermediate and Senior Division. Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Education, 1989.

Key Concepts of Media Literacy Explained

  1. Media are mediated communication. They are not "slices of life," "windows on the world," or "mirrors of society." They are carefully manufactured constructs with nothing left to chance. They are not, by definition, "real," although they attempt to imitate reality. The success of these manufactured constructs lies in their apparent naturalness. Our job as media educators is to make media "strange" and problematic to students.
  2. Although media are not real, they can shape our attitudes, behavior and ideas about the world. The WWII broadcaster, Walter Lippmann called it "the world outside and the pictures in our heads." If we haven’t had first-hand experience with a person, place or thing and yet we feel we know something about it based on media information, then media has constructed a form of reality for us. Our job as media educators is to question media culture and to teach our students to think about reality vs. mediated information.
  3. Audiences are not passive entities. We may look passive as we sit motionless in front of a book or a TV, but our minds are working to make sense of the information. This is especially true of fast-paced modern media. We learn to anticipate the codes and conventions in media and to somehow "read" or make meaning of its message. We do this as individuals and in predictable ways, as groups. Our taste in media content and forms changes as we age. Advertisers know this and try to target us as individuals and as audiences. Our task as media educators is to help students become aware of the way that they interact with media personally, and to speculate about the way that others might use media.
  4. Media industries add billions of dollars to economies and are one of the United States’ largest exports. In addition to the business generated by media commodities, spin-off products and services that rely on media industries generate billions more. Commercial factors such as distribution, technical costs, labor costs, ownership and potential ad sales influence content. Advertisers are guaranteed a number of consumers who will see their ads and who they target to buy products. Advertising drives media businesses. The commodity that is bought and sold is the audience. Our challenge as media educators is to educate students about media industries and the way that they are intertwined with modern economic systems. We can teach students to question the economic decisions that influence the content of a media product and to become aware of the place of media industries in the overall economy.
  5. Objectivity and balance are journalistic ideals, but media are not value-free. The notion of objectivity in media is a relatively new idea. Until the first part of the Twentieth Century, audiences did not expect media to be objective. They knew the "Republican" newspapers or the "Democrat" magazine and generally bought them according to their own ideological persuasion. Media content that purports to be objective can hide explicit and implicit values and ideology. Most modern media content maintains a social status quo or "sells" a consumer lifestyle. The role of the media educator is to guide students to uncover ideological messages using media literacy techniques and values education strategies.
  6. Media have irrevocably altered the landscape of modern political campaigning. Media not only seek to sell us products, but they also sell us political candidates, ideas, public health messages, and seek to shape audiences into political constituencies. Media technologies have altered our culture, our families and the way we use our leisure time. Although they may not directly affect the way we behave, media seek to legitimize and reinforce social and political behavior. The job of the media educator is to increase students’ awareness about the political and social messages in media and the way they seek to shape political and social attitudes.
  7. People derive great pleasure from their use of media and media literacy skills can heighten that pleasure. We can appreciate the artistry of texts, technical feats and creative vision. We can also understand that form and content are closely related in media and that each medium has unique codes, conventions, benefits and limitations that influence its content.

Students can learn creative self-expression by producing their own media texts in the classroom, as they analyze the texts of others. They can also see how each medium reports the same event in a different way due to the constraints and limitations of the medium. Hands-on production and critical analysis are two halves of a whole media studies program.

Media Literacy Resource Guide: Intermediate and Senior Divisions. Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Education, 1989.


1. Average cost of movie ticket in 1985: $3.35

2. In 1991: $5.00.

3. Millions in revenue United Artists Theatre 9 mo. in 91′: $477

4.  % minority reporters appearing on Bay Area TV: 40%

5. In Bay Area newspapers: 12%

6. Percentage of minorities in Bay Area population: 40%

7. Cost per enrollee in 1978 at a Boston Public School: $2,850

8. In 1990: $7,300

9. Millions spent on cigarette advertising in 1988: $3.2

10. Millions earned from sale of cigarettes to minors 1988: $221

11. Years spent watching TV by the time today’s child is 70: 7

12. Percentage of corporate sponsorship spent on arts in 1990:6%

13. Millions spent on corporate sponsorship 1990: $2.9 billion

14. Number,out of 962 ads,that a black female is present:23

15. Billions in revenue Advertising Industry 1990: $1.2

16. Percent Johannesburg whites positive about mixed-race ads: 71

17. Number of beginning teachers who believe students have too many problems to succeed in class: 9 out of 10

18. Grams of fat for food to be labeled fat-free: 0.5-

19. Milligrams sodium for food to be labeled low-salt: 139

20. Minutes of commercials/CBS prime-time hour: 11.10

21. Millions spent/7 years on anti-smoking strategies: $115

22. Percentage of American adults, who smoke: 28

23. Number of Americans expected to die from tobacco related diseases this year: 434,000

24. Number of years to connect every US home to fiber-optic line: 5

25. Number of dollars/hr. paid to computer hacker-spies: 75

26. Thousands spent on 1920’s Batman comic book, Detective

27: $55 27. Percentage of Hollywood TV moguls, who never attend religious services: 93 27. % who describe themselves as politically "left of center": 75

28. % Hollywood execs who voted for McGovern in 1972 against Richard Nixon: 82

29. % Hollywood execs who believe in pro-choice: 97

30. % who do not regard adultery as wrong: 51

31. % who believe TV entertainment should play a major role in promoting social reform: 66

32. % Hollywood moguls who endorse a complete leadership restructuring of America’s basic institutions: 43


1-2. San Francisco Chronicle, January 8, 1992.

3. The New York Times, December 2, 1991

4-6. San Francisco Examiner, December 8, 1991.

7-8. San Francisco Chronicle, January 23, 1990.

9-10. California Health Department survey, 1988.

11. San Francisco Examiner, April 17, 1990.

12-13. Advertising Age, June 3, 1991.

14. Ervin and Jackson, The Frequency and Portrayal of Black Females in Fashion Advertisements, 1990

15. Advertising Age, ASTA Guide 1991 16. This World, November 10, 1991.

17. San Francisco Examiner, Oct. 7, 1991.

18-19. San Francisco Chronicle, November 6, 1991

20. San Francisco Chronicle, October 5, 1991 21-23. San Francisco Chronicle, October 5, 1991

24. The New York Times, October 25, 1991

25. This World, October 27, 1991

26. New York Times, Rare Batman, 199? 27-

32. Insight, July 1, 1991

MORE Raw Media

33. Number of calls the Student Press Law Center received in 1991: 827

34. Percentage of calls related to censorship of school newspapers: 80

35. Number of calls the Center received in 1985: 371

36. Number of middle and senior high schools signed up for Channel One: 10,000

37. Percentage of nation’s high schools that subscribes to Channel One: 31

38. Percentage of Middle Schools: 37 39. Millions of students view Channel One broadcasts every day: 6.6

40. Percentage of American households that subscribe to cable: 60

41. Rank of television watching as the most popular after-school activity among 6 to 17 year-olds: 1

42. Hours per school day that children watch television: 2.5

43. Weekend hours spent with television: 4.3

44. Percentage of kids 6 to 17 who have TV’s in the bedroom: 47

45. Percentage of Americans who say they are "addicted" to television: 13

46. % of Americans who think they watch too much TV: 49

47. Number of references to sexual behavior on the three major networks in a typical season: 14,000

48. Number of references to sex education information: 165

49. Percentage of Americans under 35 who said they had ‘read a newspaper yesterday’: 30

50. Percentage in 1965: 67

51. Percentage of Americans who said that they completed a book in the past week: 24

52. Percentage in 1975: 30

53. Number of minutes per day an American spends reading the newspaper: 34

54. A book for work: 44

55. A book for pleasure: 23

56. Average number of books read by women in the last week: 18

57. By men: 12

58. Number of hours spent daily listening to the radio: 2

59. Rank of novel as the last book an American read: 1


33-39. From Advisor Update (Winter 1991-1992), published by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, P.O. Box 300, Princeton, NJ 08543-0300.

40. This represents 55.8 million Americans, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office.

41. From a Yankelovich poll for PBS, September 25, 1991. 79% of the 1,100 youngsters surveyed liked TV watching, 49% talked on the phone, 27% preferred playing on a sports team.

42-44. Also from the Yankelovich poll. 29% of those surveyed had telephones in their room. This compares to a 1989 survey released by the Santa Barbara County Office of the Superintendent that found a slight correlation between a television in the bedroom and lower grades. For a copy of the study, The Wired Bedroom: 805.964.4711.

45. From a 1991 Roper poll.

46. A February 4, 1991 Gallup Poll.

47-48. From a 1988 Louis Harris poll conducted for Planned Parenthood. The sexual references average 65,000 per year.

49. From The Age of Information, a 1990 study by The Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press.

50. Results of a 1965 Gallup Poll. The same poll reported that 52% of young adults got their news from television, indicating that TV has not filled the information gap left void by youth’s aversion to newspapers.

51-58. Gallup Poll, February 4, 1991. The poll indicates that while reading is slightly down from the past, it is on the upswing. Younger Americans are just as likely to be reading a book for pleasure as older Americans.

59. Gallup poll. 54% last recalled reading a novel all the way through. 7% read a biography, 5% read a how-to book and 2% read the Bible.

Media Literacy: How the Media Constructs Reality – Totsepedia


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