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MediaLit Moments

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Exploring Cultural Narratives

COVID 19 continues to ravage disparate populations, but it also is seen as a national security threat. A recent report and webinar by the Atlantic Council, through its Digital Forensic Lab, explored these issues and connected them to narratives which can be explored by analyzing (sometimes) millions of digital documents through online research. Understanding how these narratives originate and are driven, often through social media but also through traditional media, by key players who have a definitive purpose. This is a key to understanding today’s news cycles and the human agency involved in perpetuating and amplifying various issues.

Weaponized: Understanding the COVID-19 Narrative Arms Race is the Atlantic Council’s explanation of these narratives; the report and webinar can be found here: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/event/covid-narrative-arms-race/ Today, these narratives – just like a single image or advertisement – can be subjected to a media literacy interrogation. Who created the narrative? Who’s behind it? Who benefits? How? Why? Who can be left behind? How? Why? What values, lifestyles and points of view does the narrative represent? What is omitted? What techniques are being used to attract attention?

AHA! When I continue to hear that certain countries are our enemies or our friends, I am apt to agree.

Ages: 16-18+

Key Question #4: What values, lifestyles or points of view are included in – or omitted from – this message?

Core Concept: Media have embedded values and points of view.

Materials: Web Access https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/event/covid-narrative-arms-race/ 

Nexis NewsDesk Live Tracker: What Does Media Monitoring Tells Us About the Coronavirus?

What if you were able to track the impact that the Coronavirus is having by looking at charts that capture thousands – even millions – of news articles that cover COVID-19 globally? With the Global Media and News Tracker from Nexis NewsDesk, you are able to do just that, with updates being provided every 15 minutes. The power of machine learning is becoming exponential, and it is fascinating to get a glimpse, on a mass scale, of measures of news coverage on COVID-19. Through the Nexis NewsDesk (at https://bis.lexisnexis.com/COVID-19) detailed charts provide data – for free – on:

  • The number of COVID-19 cases, the news coverage and the relationship of such coverage to the S&P 500 
  • The main topics that people are talking about through the news 
  • The amount of coverage given to COVID-19 over time 
  • The country or State locations where the most coverage is coming from 
  • How COVID-19 is impacting behavior such as panic buying or quarantine
  •  Top COVID-19 news stories 
  • The number of articles, by global region, covering COVID-19

AHA! When we combine coverage results from many different sources, we may get a different “picture” of the news than if we just rely on one source.

Ages: 14-18+

Key Question #2: What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?

Core Concept #2: Media have embedded values and points of view.or omitted from – this message?

Key Question #4: What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in –with its own rules.

Core Concept #2: Media messages are constructed using a creative language

Materials: Web access and smartboard, if available (Nexis News Desk Media Monitor: https://bis.lexisnexis.com/COVID-19


Divide class into groups, and assign each group one of the 7 charts provided on the Nexis COVID-19 Tracker page: https://bis.lexisnexis.com/COVID-19

Ask each group to review and discuss the chart they are assigned. What does the chart track? What does the chart tell them, what “story” does the chart convey? Why do they think so? What data is cited? What does this say? Give the groups about 5 minutes to discuss together.

Have each group share their chart and their findings. Have each group take questions and cite the evidence for their findings – why do they think so?

Then, have the same groups discuss the two media literacy questions, #2 and #4. What mathematical “techniques” might be used? What computer science “techniques” might be used? Why do they think so? What impact on lifestyles, values and points of view does this data have? What does it mean to individuals? To society?

Again, have each group share their chart and their discussion/findings. Depending upon the time a teacher wants to devote to this activity, it could take 20 minutes or it could take a week!

Last Updated ( Monday, 29 March 2021 19:10 )

Media literacy in motion!

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Rosemary Smith, Managing Director of the Getting Better Foundation in Livingston, Montana, was asked to serve as a guest teacher for the Sleeping Giant Middle School’s “Cougar Friday” in Livingston. Rosemary and her teaching partner, Kelly Miller, decided to create a “MediaLit Moment” by conducting a scavenger hunt, to combine some physical and mental exercise. Here is an overview of their classroom experience:

AHA! I can ask pertinent questions of ANY media that I come across.

Key Question # 1 Who created this message?

Key Word: Authorship/Construction

Core Concept # 1 All media messages are constructed.



Rosemary and Kelly collected newspapers and magazines leading up to Cougar Friday, and librarians and teachers provided outdated publications to spread out on the gymnasium floor. Students got to pick 1 publication to sort through at the start (for “payment” of 10 pushups, they could exchange or buy a 2nd or 3rd journal for different ad inventory).

Kelly and Rosemary chose 12 different advertisers’ goals to headline on 12 poster- boards they hung throughout the gym and bleachers. Students sorted through their magazine for ads that target each headline with the goal of pasting at least one ad under each headline in a 20-30 minute timeframe. Healthy nutritional snacks were distributed as rewards for 1st, 2nd and 3rd finishers. Then, everyone “hiked” to each poster-board together, asking leading questions to apply the 5 Core Concepts and 5 Key Questions:

1.  Who created this message?

Students were taught to look all around the advertisement to determine if the ad was sponsored by a major company or local organization... sometimes the answer wasn’t evident and the students had to research further.

2.  What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?

  1. Fashion models – used to tell people that if they used those products, they’d look like and be popular like the models. Students were further asked “What if you do or don’t use this product?”
  2. Celebrities – ditto above.
  3. Bright, colorful pictures of fast cars or fancy trucks were used to sell them or insurance for them. Advertising created the sense that a corporation cares about the safety of drivers or insureds more than others (interesting to note: there were 10 ads posted under this headline – reflecting 10 different insurance companies – all implying they care more about their insureds than the next).
  4. Rugged bows, ATVs, hunting equipment and “macho” camouflage attire were used to equate masculinity with hunting, camping and outdoor activities.

3.  How might different people understand this message differently from me?

  1. Race – students discussed how people of different races or ethnic backgrounds might interpret the ads differently. 
  2. Gender – This was a big topic of discussion for the group. They talked about how cosmetic companies target girls much more than boys, even with new main stream gender-neutrality messaging. The kids thought girls are more susceptible to advertising than boys.
  3. Age – students thought younger people are more susceptible to ads than older people. They discussed studies reflecting 55+ year olds being more apt to disseminate “fake news” and social media posts. The kids were delighted to talk about their parents and grandparents “always being on their smart devices”.

4.     What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?

  1. Money (and buying this product) makes people happier – all ads positioned smiling, happy people – even ones for arthritis or health insurance. Kids were quick to get the message that people on medicine might not be feeling well or are grumpy.
  2. If you work hard, you might be able to afford the lifestyle portrayed in ad.
  3. Omitted –
  • People taking this product might not be feeling well.
  • This product might lead to other issues or health ailments.
  • Some people might not be able to afford to take this medicine or buy this product.

 5.     Why is this message being sent?

  1. Initially, the students thought some of these ads were created to help them look or dress beautifully or cook nutritious foods. Then, began to uncover the fact that the ads were still trying to manipulate them to buy THAT advertised product (over other products on the market, or to create a need in their minds that may or may not have existed prior).
  2. Kids were then able to discern that all ads are created to sell/profit from getting them to do something. It’s up to each of us to decide whether we actually need, or want to buy something.

CML’s thanks go to Rosemary Smith and Kelly Miller! https://www.gettingbetterfoundation.org/


Can I Trust the Author?

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Who created this message?

There was a time when authoring media and information was mostly reserved for professional journalists, writers, entertainment producers and researchers. Today, anyone with a smartphone can create media. That democratization of information allows more underrepresented voices to be heard. But, it also means that media is available from countless sources – not all of whom are trustworthy. This activity is ideal to use when students are learning about using reliable sources for research. It gives students hands-on experience in analyzing whether or not an author is trustworthy.


Key Question # 4

Core Concept # 4 Grade Level Materials


Sometimes, authors are truly experts in their fields. Other times, on the topics that they are commenting/writing about. Other times, it is not certain who authored information.

Who created this message?
Authorship 6-12
Articles from newspapers and magazines, and/or printed out from online sources. Access to the internet.

1. Pre-select some news stories to distribute to the class. Do your best to find stories that are from a mix of reliable and unreliable sources. Stories can be pulled from traditional or online media, or a mixture of both.

2. In the classroom, review CML’s Key Question/Core Concept #1 with students. CML KQ/CC #1

Who created this message?

All media messages are constructed.

Keyword: Authorship

Someone has to do it!

Construction: Putting media together.

3. Ask students what techniques they use to determine whether or not information they see is trustworthy. Ask students how they determine whether the information they see is from trustworthy sources. Discuss finding info from recognized experts and institutions; doing Google searches of authors’ names and business interests; research other information the author has published; recognizing the risks of unsourced articles, etc.

Last Updated ( Monday, 16 December 2019 22:07 )

Where are the Lines in Selling?

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We all know the purpose of advertising: To sell. But, at what point does advertising cross the line from selling to deceiving?


This commercial positions Nutella as a nutritious food. A mom filed a lawsuit in 2012 when she said she was “duped” by the ad, and fed the chocolatey spread to her 4-yearold child believing it was healthy. (Nutritionally, Nutella is a sugary treat with little health value.) The class-action lawsuit settled for about $3 million, with $2.5 going to others who spoke up about being deceived by the ad.

AHA!         Advertisers frame products by carefully choosing what information to include, and what to leave out.

Key Question # 4            What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in or omitted from this message?

Core Concept # 4      Media have embedded values and points of view.

Grade                        Level 6-12

Materials Display screen(s) available for the class.

ACTIVITY: Watch the commercial as a class, and ask students to identify what lifestyle values are included in this ad. Answers might be: healthy living, family, parenting, etc. Ask students to break into groups of 3-5, and discuss amongst themselves what was left out of the ad to make it deceptive. (Sugar content in Nutella, what is considered a healthy breakfast by experts, etc.) Then ask each student group to consider the Five Key Questions of Media Literacy as they write an outline of a more accurate (but still appealing) Nutella commercial. The groups then take turns describing their more accurate Nutella commercials to the class.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 29 October 2019 20:02 )

Checking the Fact-Checkers

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As concerns about disinformation and misinformation have grown in recent years, a new form of journalism has emerged: fact checking. Numerous websites are now devoted to fact checking, some with specialized topics like environmental or climate change fact checking, some with an emphasis on politics, some with an emphasis on a particular geographic location. There are as many topics for fact-checking as there are for the news itself.

The aim of these sites is to provide “unbiased” information that are verified by professional fact-checkers according to criteria established previously, and often disclosed for public perusal. But like all media messages, these websites should be critically analyzed to find the bias, because bias always exists in an imperfect world of information. This is not to say that fact checking is unhelpful – it can certainly provide more information and other perspectives – but it is no substitute for individual judgment about the framing and content of media messages.

AHA! There may be different interpretations of facts!

Key Question #3 How might different people understand this message differently?

Core Concept #3: Different people experience the same media message differently.

Key Word: Audience

Key Question #4 What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in – or omitted from, this message?

Core Concept #4: Media messages have embedded values and points of view.

Key Word:  Content

Grade Level: 6-12

Materials: Do an internet search and identify a fact-checking website of interest. Display on a screen(s) available to the class.

ACTIVITY: Discuss with students ideas about fact-checking and why fact-checking has become a new offering of numerous publishers. Ask students to break into groups of 3-5, and then to discuss amongst themselves what might be useful for them in regards to fact-checking websites, and also, what criteria they might expect fact-checkers to use to verify the information that they present: what examples might they cite of best practices for fact-checkers?

Then, select a fact-checking website to explore in depth with students. Use the Five Key Questions of Media Literacy to deconstruct the site, as a beginning to And why? Fact checking raises as many questions as it answers, but ultimately, the questions are ours to answer.Then, break students into groups again and ask them to find out as much information about the site as possible, using the 5 Key Questions as a starting point: who publishes the site? Who does the fact-checking? What kind of branding is associated with the site? What kinds of techniques are used? How is the site financed? Is there any information about how much financing the site receives, and from whom? What audience does the site serve? Who is targeted and why? What is the bias of the site? Is it easy to tell? What is the site’s reputation? Who says?understanding more about how the site is constructed. Ask the students to cite evidence for their opinions and assumptions about the site: how do they know?

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 26 June 2019 20:49 )
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