Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Monitoring Media's Messages

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Monitoring Media's Messages

Article excerpt

When reel-life action is blamed for real-life violence, critics shout "Off the air!" much like the queen in Alice in Wonderland, who yells, "Off with their heads." Media watchdog groups protest everything from toy commercials to "NYPD Blue," while the political-correctness cops condemn literary classics and Disney movies. Mothers dream of heaving the TV or raising their kids on an island.

There is another solution.

Media literacy should begin in elementary school and should be a required course to graduate from every high school in the country.

Our lives are saturated with media. Media messages bombard us from about 1,700 daily newspapers and some 12,000 magazines, with more than 500 new magazines started each year. More than 1,000 television stations and 10,000 radio stations broadcast 24 hours a day. The average person sees 1,450 ads a day and 32,000 commercials a year. Between 8 a.m. and noon on Saturday, the three major networks, plus Fox and Nickelodeon, show more than 300 commercials.

TV-watching is our country's dominant leisure activity, consuming 40 percent of our free time. And television is only one medium. When a study at Michigan State University offered 4- and 5-year-olds the hypothetical choice between giving up television or their father, one-third decided to dump their dad.

With a 500-channel universe on the electronic horizon and the amount of available information predicted to double every 20 months by the year 2000, the problem will surely get worse.

Just as schools have incorporated computer programming into elementary education and require computer literacy to graduate from high school, they need to follow the same path with media literacy.

What will our kids learn?

They'll learn to deconstruct a newspaper article, to figure out what a reporter's biases might be. They'll learn that everyone has an agenda, that objectivity is a myth and that the original message of the reporter can get substantially changed before it appears in print.

They will learn that what story gets aired on the evening news can depend on the "visuals" available rather than on the importance of the story, that the news is packaged and then filtered through editors, producers and station directors. …

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