Posts about Media

What is literacy?

It’s time for new definitions of literacy just as we need new definitions of media.

I’ve been talking with lots of people lately – academics, foundation and government folks – about the need for more media literacy training today as media is becoming more expansive and thus confusing.

But I emphasize that media literacy today must encompass not just the consumption but the creation of media. Media literacy means being able to find and discriminate among sources of information and being able to create content and understand how it fits into the larger sphere of information and identity.

But now break media literacy down into its component definitions. What does literacy itself mean today: reading, finding, discriminating, what else?

An annual survey of literacy out of Central Connecticut State University frets that declining newspaper readership is a sign of reduced literacy. No surprise: I’ll argue with that.

Jack Miller, author of the survey, says: “This study attempts to capture one critical index of our nation’s well-being — the literacy of its major cities–by focusing on six key indicators of literacy: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment, and Internet resources.” But, of course, the last of those has an impact on and even redefines all the other indicators.

And the problem is that even in its definition of the internet, the study still relies on views of media in pre-internet terms: “1. Number of Internet book orders per capita; 2. Number of unique visitors per capita to a city’s internet version newspaper; 3. Number of webpage views per capita to a city’s internet version newspaper.” What about reading – and interacting with and creating – new media not related to the old?

I don’t want to mischaracterize Miller’s work. He is trying to connect various activities associated with literacy. The story about his survey says:

That concern was that declining newspaper readership was caused by increasing online newspaper readers. This was the same assumption that having a book available online meant fewer local booksellers and less use of libraries.

However, what Miller found was just the opposite.

Examining the data for this and his past surveys, Miller found that top ranking cities for library use also have more booksellers, and that cities with more booksellers also have more people buying books online, and that cities with higher per capita newspaper circulation rates also had a higher proportion of people reading newspapers online.

“Cities that rank highly in one form of literate behavior are likely to rank highly in the other forms and practices of literacy,” Miller said.

He noted that a literate society tends to practice many forms of literacy not just one or another.

Good. But we still need to redefine literacy – as we also understand that the internet is not a medium. To quote Doc Searls, the internet is a place. It’s a means of making connections and creating. I went around this track a few times with Howard Weaver in a different discussion. He said that “the internet is NOT a source of news; it’s a delivery system.” I argued that the internet is not just a means of delivery for one-way distribution of media as a product; the internet is a means of collaboration, creation, and curation (alliteration unintentional). Paper is a medium; the internet is not. Jay Rosen also pointed to the problem of trying to view these overlapping structures as if they were separate when he tweeted regarding Pew’s latest: “‘Net Overtakes Newspapers As News Source’ is a weird headline because newspapers are the main ‘source’ of the Net’s news.” (For now, I’ll add.) And what’s a newspaper when a newspaper goes online? 140 characters later, Jay added: “People had organized their media headsets like so: print, radio, TV, now Internet! Re-organizing is so painful they’d rather not make sense.” The dictionary’s behind, too: “Media – the main means of mass communication (esp. television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet).” Except it’s not just mass now and it’s not just communication and the internet isn’t a medium; other than that….

So back to the start: We must redefine media as we redefine literacy.

Media is no longer broken into separate means of presentation and delivery; they are all mixed in together online (as I tell journalism students, while hacks in my era had to decide among media once for a career, now they must make that decision each time they go to gather and tell a story). The internet, as a replacement for media, brings in so much more functionality: the ability to search, create, analyze, curate, track, interact, follow….

Media literacy, then, must embrace all those activities and skills, not just reading but:
* knowing how to focus on a need for information and express that by crafting a query to find an answer;
* knowing how to judge the relevance and reliability of sources – including the PageRank-like skill of judging sources on sources;
* knowing how to create (and remix) content across all media types;
* knowing how to collaborate;
* understanding the impact of facts on perspective and perspective on opinion;
* understanding the impact of identity and anonymity;
* understanding the relationship of pieces of information that make up a larger story via links;
* understanding how to make and find corrections…

And on and on. There’s a lot of good thinking on the topic: Here’s Dan Gillmor’s list of principles of media literacy. Howard Schneider is running a Knight-backed curriculum in news literacy at Stony Brook; here’s a list of Schneider’s key skills. Here’s an article on Ofcom’s efforts in media literacy in the UK, which says: “A media literate person can access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts.”

I’d like to see more discussion of new definitions of media, literacy, and media literacy. What do you think? What are the new definitions and new skills?

Media is

I’ve decided that media are is singular.

I came to that conclusion, unblogged, awhile ago because I saw the lines between media crumbling. I especially see this teaching journalism school. When I came into the business, we had to pick a medium for life (or at least until we went into PR). Now, every time a journalist does a story, she can and should pick from all appropriate media to tell it (and not just tell it, by the way). Today, still photographers shoot video with a still camera. Print reporters take pictures and make slide shows and shoot video. TV people write text. Magazine people make podcasts. And that was just the game of 52-card-pickup we began playing with old media. Now enter new media with data bases and animation and interactivity. What is Twitter? A medium? A conversation? Both? Yes. So how does one separate one medium from another? It’s impossible, I came to see.

Then On the Media called asking whether I fell into the media as plural or singular camp. Funny you should ask, I said. I was plural, now I’m singular.

Now Brooke Gladstone took this question from another angle as well: media as monolith. We complain about The Media. But I argued that media are is no longer monolithic thanks to the internet, because scarcity is dead, because the dinosaurs are consolidating only to hide from the cold wind of the future, because consolidation is thus no longer a threat, and because we can all make media. We are all media. We are the message.

So here’s the On the Media conversation. They don’t agree with me. But that’s fine.

Bias? What bias? We’re not biased. Just ask us. Are we?

Chris Matthews — who has been downright spiteful in his coverage of Hillary Clinton — reports that she is attacking back. But David Shuster, the correspondent, explains it all away: “Attacking the media is not new. Presidents and politicians have been doing it for a long time, usually to deflect their own problems, often to tap into a perceived voter hostility towards journalists. The problem for Hillary Clinton is that her charges may reinforce concerns about her credibility.” His illogic: Clinton says that some in the media want her to quit. Shuster says that though they have declared her campaign over, nobody asked for her to quit. And besides, he says, the continuing campaign is good for ratings. But then he then goes on to declare himself, “She will not win.”

Incredible. He says she can’t be credible accusing the media of bias because he says the media aren’t biased and he says you can believe that because he’s credible and so she’s not.

Playing by media rules

Media and Obama fans are trying to change the rules and kick Clinton out of the race. It’s no surprise that Obama would try to do that; it’s politics. But that media has accepted this meme is only further demonstration of their Obamalove.

This week’s On the Media is a mash note for Obama if there ever were one. My friend Bob Garfield repeats over and over that Hillary can’t win and then goes on to ask whether media should even be covering her or at least not as much as they are because, after all, he has declared her the loser.

Let’s get this straight (again): Obama, too, is not likely to walk into the convention with enough delegates to win. And then the rules decree that it should be up to the superdelegates. There is no rule that says they must act as a proporational whole or that they all should accede to the wishes of the majority. I’m not saying that would be a bad rule — indeed, I’ve long wanted national or regional primaries that count onlly the popular vote and I’ve long wanted to abandon delegate votes, not to mention the Electoral College, because — we need no better proof than 2000 — it can be gamed. But we are still stuck with our system and so both sides will maneuver within those rules. However, media and Obama think Clinton should not have that right.

Let’s put forward another scenario: Imagine that John Edwards had sparked voters more and that he stayed in the election until the convention, walking in as the kingmaker who could throw his support either way and crown the nominee. I don’t think we’d be insisting that whoever was behind — No. 2 — in the vote should be quitting before the convention. I don’t think we’d be insisting that Edwards had no choice but to throw his support behind the candidate with the most votes (though that candidate might make a wishful try to argue that). No, we’d realize that Edwards would decide where to throw his critical support based on (1) his self-interest, (2) his party’s best interest — which is to say, victory in November, and (3) his own beliefs (not necessarily in that order). We could only hope that those interests would all coincide. But that would be his decision.

Well, the superdelegates are all John Edwards. They have been charged with making this decision at the convention if there is not a nominee thanks to the fucked-up system of popular vote mixed with caucuses mixed with disenfranchising crucial states. The election remains close, not over, and for better or worse, it is going to be in their hands — not to mention the voters who’ve not yet voted. How dare media try to grab it away.

Hey, Obamalovers, the election’s not over yet. In the soon-to-be-immortal word of Bill Clinton: Chill.

: ALSO: Just to show there are no hard feelings with Bob — it’s politics — I’ll embed his masterful commercial for ComcastMustDie, which I see I forgot to embed before. One has nothing to do with the other but I’ll take the excuse to show how Bob and I agree about defeating something: cable companies.

One picture…


By Matt Davies, via Make Them Accountable.