Wednesday, May 12, 2004

My Green Tambourine - Media Literacy

Media literacy is the ability to figure out what the true message is in an advertisement, news article or television program. It is important to develop the skills to go deeper than the surface communication. This is especially true now with new communication pathways being created and old ones coming under constriction.

The journalism 5W's (Who, What, When, Where and How) are still important. Now you also need to know:

*Who produced the material?
*What is their goal or objective?
*What in it for them and for me?

Two places to ramp up to speed about evaluating the validity of web page and, by extension, other media information is Virtual Salt and the critical thinking article at UCLA at

So here is an overview to start your media literacy juice flowing:

Advertorials are commercials for a product or service dressed up like a news or entertainment report. Companies pay for mention in featuring their products in a positive light. In print, they are a little easier to spot. They have a tiny 3-point type label above the story with the words "advertorial or "advertising supplement". On television, it is much sneaker but there is usually a disclaimer at the beginning and ending of the program. But not always.

Press Releases and Video Press Releases contain news and information from companies and non-profit organizations. In the old days, press releases were directed to reporters and editors who made decisions to cover the story or toss it in the trash can as an advertisement in drag. PR News Wire is a distributor for company public relations news for print, radio, television and the Internet -

Video press releases appear in regular local TV news programs. Here is an example. Various published reports cites test that show a high PCB levels in farm raised Salmon.

Sales of farm raised Salmon start to dive. The industry needs to counter those reports. They create a VPR campaign using a nutritionist and Graham Kerr to dispute the validity of the report and to assure viewers that it is safe to eat farm raised Salmon -

They also cite the VPR as proof that it is okay to eat Salmon - and at

Video Press Releases (also known at Video News Releases) are delivered to television stations free of charge. You should know that every local station in the nation runs VPR's. There is no mention on air of the source of the VPR. Some stations use only
the visuals and have local talent read from a supplied script.

Using VPR's doesn't always work to the promoters or TV stations advantage. The Medicare VPR designed to look like an actual news story by the Bush administration. It cause a big ole stink because it was perceived as a propaganda piece -

Amy Gahran has a good article about the use of VPR's on her blog at and the
Poynter Institute has a little something to say about

Advocacy News and Entertainment Media

Now VPR's are risky, there is no guarantee that the local TV station will show them. You could try to hook up with Fox where there is a conservative focus to the news of the day - but that might not be a good match for your needs.

What do you do when you want your message heard but the existing gatekeepers block your message? You could create your own news network.

On the left hand side is Air America, which is positioning itself as a news and entertainment outlet for the politically left and proud. Mainly found on the AM band (never thought I'd say those words again) or on Satellite Radio XM 167 or Sirius Ch 125. If your city doesn't carry Air America you can download live feeds using Real Player.

Being frustrated with the way their organization is presented in traditional media, The National Rifle Association has created an internet video news channel. NRA focuses attention on gun laws, gun safety, Ted Nugent and the electoral process. You
can view video created by the NRA and get more information about the National Rifle Association -

I bring this up because there is a plan to develop long form advertainment (advertisement-entertainment) films and other products using embedded advertising. The New York Times looks at this growing trend at
(Subscription to the NYT web site required).

Know what you are looking at - it isn't always what it seems.

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