Liveblog: Informed World, The citizen’s guide to media literacy

We’re about to start this panel, located on a floor accessible only by two elevators, so people are coming in in batches of 8.

The topic: “Who can you trust in the We Media landscape? Where’s the line between commerce and information? No more is it a question of parsing the biases of individual media outlets: It’s time to define a global media-education agenda so everyone can understand how today’s media works, and how best to use it. Our goal: Create a set of guidelines for media literacy today.”

Panelists: Sam Grogg (dean of U. of Miami), Vinta Srivastava (professor at Ryerson), John Bell (managing director, 360 Digital Influence at Ogilvy)

11:35: Bell welcomes us. Explains his job title: the way we’re influenced today has changed fairly significantly. Introductions. Interestingly, Vinta is being introduced but hasn’t arrived in the room yet. Consider it a pre-introduction.

Bell talks about Paper Tiger television, was popular in NYC. A group that analyzed media structure and bias. But they just had to deal with magazines, tv, radio, newspapers.

Now, we have to look at the devices (cell phones, PDAs, computers, TiVos) that deliver the content, and who owns them, and who owns the advertising. Bell has a complicated metro-style chart that shows how complicated things have become.

Grogg studied film literacy, previously in his career. He tried to educate students about this, but found it was quite difficult. His curriculum here at U of M is aiming to be an integrated look at spoken, written, visual, online, and any other imaginable form of literacy and how to become more literate over time.

Grogg: We’re forcibly becoming literate multitaskers, but we’re still not properly studying it. The faculty here has banned laptops in the classrooms; he thinks this is a big issue (i.e. a wrong decision, though he was circumspect about saying so in front of so many bloggers).

11:45: Srivastava, was a journalist for about 15 years, inc. NYTimes. Became disillusioned with mass media roung about Sept. 11, and felt that the our (journalists) media literacy fell out the window and patriotism replaced objectivity. She went (back) to Toronto to teach, and started an empowerment project.

Srivastava feels there are 4 pillars to media literacy (which leads to empowerment):


Training people (journalists and public alike) in these skills, leads to better journalism especially in times of crisis.

At one point, Srivastava went on a leave of absence to South Africa. In Soweto, she asked hundreds of kids what they wanted to do: They all wanted to open Internet Cafes.

Bell asks the room: how many self-identify as belonging to the media: (most people) — education (a few)? — non-profit (a few) — business (more than a few).

Bell: What’s changing in the marketplace? Emerging digital media forms are creating:

* openness
* transparency
* understanding

Bell says that helping citizens to understand media — the media they consume and/or create — ensures an informed and engaged citizenry (which is good).

Grogg: Young people are coming to companies without the overall media / technology skills necessary. They can use facebook, and email, but they can’t necessarily move across platforms and not get stuck. Companies need nimble, innovative workers. Young kids are reading, constantly, hours a day, but not as often books as what their friends are writing.

Srivastava: Facebook and MySpace aren’t part of being an informed citizen

Bell: What about people who use MySpace [and Twitter] to track blackout news?

Srivastava: But that’s probably the exception, isn’t it?

11:55: Srivastava: Who’s creating the power structure? It’s not just about who OWNS the media outlet. Its about who’s participating and who’s missing in the production process. Grogg: And, who is (and isn’t) consuming it…

Bell puts up a slide: Rupert Murdoch runs a very large media empire. But smaller blog owners, like Birdie Jaworski of beautydish, also have their own sphere of influence.

Srivastava: Small bloggers still need to have enough time, and access to the tools. This isn’t a luxury that all people have. That blog is run by, probably, a middle-class, middle-aged woman. Spent time doing research with kids (African-American teens) in her neighbourhood in New York. They say life today is “white-knuckle fast” and actually said they long for the “golden age” simply because the pace of life was so much more manageable.

12:05: Audience question: New Voters Project (dang, I missed it while looking for the link. Blogging hazard.

Second question: Students don’t necessarily make the connection between the tools they use (blogging) and the influence those can have. They don’t just have to be about your life and a personal journal. They can break stories and be influential, but students don’t always make that connection or see the potential.

Bell: Marketing. The pressure in the marketplace is between privacy and advertising. Facebook’s “adventure” with Beacon (a way Facebook could amalgamate your shopping and Web browsing habits) illustrates these opposing pressures. Marketing is not necessarily transparent, and this causes issues.

Grogg: The speed of life today, for the young man Srivastava was referring to, is a common issue. Checking Facebook during class is a necessity to keep up with life (at least, students sometimes try that excuse). Grogg says, you shouldn’t feel the pressure to use technology just because it’s there. Peel yourself away from it at times — smell the roses, take a walk. But advertising is the thing creating this pressure.

Question: Given the changes questioner has seen in the past 40 years, is it even realistic to expect that someone (i.e. students) can be trained in the diversity of knowledge that encompasses all media and all skill sets? Grogg: There is a basic, broad set of skills that students would benefit from, and employers want. Srivastava: Every message has cash behind it, someone who WANTS someone else to listen, and understanding that is critical to being able to parse the message. Media literacy has to start in kindergarten.

12:15: Srivastava: In the span of one year, 2005 to 2006, students went from not understanding the term “spin” to totally getting it. Why? John Stewart.

Grogg: Students today are truly, legitmiately focused on concerns of the fate of the planet. They’re serious about figuring out what to do about the big issues facing us today. They’re not disinterested.

Bell: Personal Information. Postulate: There’s a general expectation among youth that they can transact (share) personal information in order to get something. This is a frequent issue they encounter, and an acceptable tradeoff, depending on the value on each side.

Audience: Let’s not be totally focused on kids. Adults, like speaker’s father, clicks on bold blinking text and probably needs additional media literacy training.

Grogg: Part of the power of this is in the personal. Connecting with people at a personal level. The other issue is the intellectual property issue. Two students here are doing a documentary on a Miami politician named Art Teele who committed suicide. They used unlicensed songs in their work, and when told they couldn’t, were rather surprised and said that they would certainly expect that their own work would be reused, remixe,d posted around, and so therefore were unprepared for the licensing rights associated with the documentary music they’d used.

Bell: Facebook page of man puking in toilet — will this affect the job opportunities of youth, if they don’t understand the effect of media? Audience: Depends on the job. Srivastava: I teach a class in these issues, and how to write a proper email, and so forth.

12:25: Bell slide: Dan Lyons aka Fake Steve Jobs — it’s parody, and requires media literacy. You have to know who is out there, in order to be able to participate and succeed as a journalist, and on the flip side, as someone who might be interacting with journalists. Grogg: This is true, and also, media literacy allows you to avoid the media (advertising, too) that you don’t want to participate in.

Question: ESPN has to send out internal emails from time to time with guidelines about how to search effectively, and not to use wikipedia, and how to deal with anonymous sources and tips. Even within a journalism organization, these tools and skills are sometimes lacking.

Grogg: Doctors around the country use WebMD to help diagnose folks in emergency situations. 90% of the time it works, 10% of the time it doesn’t. Grogg has talked to someone who’s working on a better search tool for these sorts of emergency situations. Srivastava: SEO is driven by market forces, and you don’t want a diagnosis to be arrived at based on which sites appear at the top of a search engine, because that’s influenced by money spent on SEO, not necessarily on what’s the best answer to the question.

Bell: 80% of Internet users start on one of these 5 sites: Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL Search,

Question: Professor talks about a technology literacy general education course – “Infomatics: Computers and Your World” that’s going to be a requirement in his college. Excel, basic HTML, things of that nature. Students aren’t coming in knowing as much as we (adults) are giving them credit for. He will provide the syllabus if you want it. Ask Leonard Witt, at Kennesaw State University.

Question: Web 2.0 / / flickr is intimidating. Classes have been very popular, and word of mouth (about the classes) is driving a lot of traffic.

Srivastava: Let’s keep building around the 4 pillars. The questions we’re asking aren’t going away.
Grogg: It’s not easy to create media education courses in the public education system in the U.S. because that system is so slow to move. Education systems in other countries are years in advance of the U.S.’s. Eventually, the kids will demand it, or demand to know why they weren’t taught it.

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