My Journey Home Armando Pena Andrew Lam Faith Adiele
Your Journey HomeFor TeachersAbout the film
For Teachers
Media Literacy Workshop
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Definition of Documentaries
A documentary is a work such as a film or television program that presents political, social or historical subject matter in a factual and informative manner and often consists of actual news films or interviews accompanied by narration.

Documentaries can also be real interpretations of news or events in a person's life. In analyzing or evaluating a documentary, look at how the information is presented.

Examining documentaries is a good way to have students reflect on how documentaries such as My Journey Home or any of Ken Burns's documentaries such as The Civil War, Baseball or JAZZ can make an enormously positive impact on viewers who want factual information.

  • How is language used?
  • Does the documentary contain loaded terms?
  • Who is interviewed? Who isn't?
  • How are statistics used? What is their source?
  • How does the narrator sound? What is his or her tone of voice?
  • What visual techniques are used, e.g., lighting, camera angles?
  • How is music or other sound used?
  • What is the documentary maker's point of view? Is there an attempt to achieve balance?
Media outlets are also businesses — and like all businesses they have to make money to keep going. Audiences today can get news and information from many different sources. This increased competition is putting pressure on media outlets to attract advertising dollars to keep them running. This is especially true for privately owned media, but it's also a concern for publicly-owned media (such as PBS) that need to attract audiences and ad revenues to survive.

The job of advertisements and spots is to convince, coerce or persuade viewers to buy products in order to keep the media companies in business. This is called consumerism.

Social Studies standards note that "young learners begin by differentiating between wants and needs." In this culture of "conspicuous consumption," young people often confuse wants and needs.

With the slick pitches of the advertising industry and with the constant encouragement to "Super-size it," the persuasion techniques are hard to turn down. It is often difficult to discern wants and needs.

Let's look at how much is spent on advertising in the different media. The media are supported by advertising. In order to induce us to buy, a variety of techniques are used that may manipulate our thoughts and emotions.

  • Television (including cable)
  • $21,968.1 
  • Magazines
  • $5,509.2 
  • Newspapers
  • $4,406.0 
  • Radio
  • $954.6 
  • Outdoor (signs & billboards)
  • $353.0 
  • Internet
  • $123.2 
     ($ in millions) 

    Ads and Spots
    The basic types of ads are:

    • Product ads
    • Political ads
    • Promotional ads (e.g., for other programs or services of the TV station)
    • Public service announcements, or PSAs (e.g., volunteer opportunities, a benefit event) — these ads are run free-of-charge.
    Let's think about persuasion techniques used by advertisers to see how they work.

    1. Have students watch a TV commercial. Determine together what persuasion techniques are being used?
    2. Now, watch the commercial again and analyze the commercial's technical elements. Discuss how do the technical elements support the sales pitch?
    Continue >
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