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Media Literacy Workshop
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MEDIA LITERACY

Examining the News
With the pervasiveness of news in our lives, it is important to take a look at how news affects our lives. We have come a long way from the days when the nightly news was reported at 6 p.m. on the "Big 3" broadcast networks.

We have gone from the 24-hour news of CNN to being able to access news whenever we want. We have access to news from a variety of 24-hour cable news channels to "news when you want it" from the Internet to instant news on one’s PDA device. Instant news is just part of our lives.

Examining the news is relevant to media literacy, not only because of our access to it but because so many elements, resources and dollars go toward supporting the news. The news also directly impacts our opinions about others’ behavior, celebrity and relevance to our day-to-day activities.

 
  • 65% of kids ages 8-18 have television sets in their bedrooms.
  • By the time an average U.S. citizen reaches age 70, they will have spent seven to ten years watching television.
  • By age 18, the average U.S. child's TV viewing has included 16,000 simulated murders, and over 200,000 other acts of violence.
  • Excessive TV viewing has been linked to obesity and may lead to decreased school achievement, poor body image, increased aggression and increased risk of substance abuse.
  • Out of 15,000 references to sex on TV during a 2001 media study, only 170 mentioned contraception, abstinence, or sexual responsibility.
American Academy of Pediatrics Studies, 1999-2001

 
  • Only 33% of Americans ages 18-29 say they enjoy keeping up with the news a lot.
  • Three-quarters of youth ages 18-24 who watch TV channel surf during the news.
  • 57% of Americans regularly watch network news.
  • 40% of Americans regularly watch cable news.
  • 46% of Americans follow national news only when something major is happening.
  • 63% of Americans follow international news only when something major is happening.
  • Youth who access the news from the Internet at least once a week more than tripled in the past two years — going from 11 to 36 million news users.
Source: Pew Research Center, 1999

Young People's Interest in the News
Research indicates that students get most of their political information from watching David Letterman, Jay Leno, The Daily Show and MTV and from surfing the Web. As recent elections reveal, candidates gain appeal by reaching out to youth through their favored media outlets. Remember when former president Bill Clinton made his case to youth on MTV as part of their "Rock the Vote" campaign? And in 2003, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his gubernatorial candidacy on Leno's show.

In the 2004 campaign, Howard Dean — followed recently by John Kerry — reached out through his Web site to a large base of youth to get them interested in the issues of his campaign and to motivate them to register to vote in elections for the first time. From online chats, Instant Messaging, blog writing (publishing individual opinions on a variety of topics directly to the Internet) and market research, candidates know exactly how to find young people on the Internet who are engaged in news and current events activities.

Reaching out to youth through the media and using "hipper" methods to attract youth to politics and advertising messages bears close scrutiny in regard to how they react to the media they see and hear.

The Importance of Being Informed
The free reporting on the activities of government and community leaders and the events of civic life is one of the major underpinnings of our democracy — one that our founding fathers felt very strongly about.

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.
— Thomas Jefferson

Having informed citizens is as important today as it was in Thomas Jefferson’s day. With all the sources of news and information at our disposal, how informed are young people?

A recent survey by the National Constitution Center compared teens' knowledge of American history to their knowledge of pop culture. The percentages on the next chart indicate the number of survey participants who could give the correct answers.

 
  • Who is the chief justice of the United States? (William Rehnquist) 2.2%
  • What are the first three letters after "http" of almost every Web site address? (www) 71.2%
  • What is the name of the town where Abraham Lincoln lived for most of his adult life and that he represented when in Congress? (Springfield) 12.2%
  • What is the name of the town where Bart Simpson lives? (Springfield) 74.3%
Source: National Constitution Center

This poll illustrates that when teens feel something is interesting and relevant to their lives, they are open and ready to learn.

The stories behind our country's history are interesting and relevant, but the above findings illustrate that the media can make a more powerful impact on young people's lives than does the important and historical knowledge about our country. It is our job as adults to present these facts to youth in an interesting way, and there is still work to be done in order for print and electronic news to be effective.

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