Media Literacy and the Question of Production

As media analysis is to ‘reading;' so production is to ‘writing'

When teachers and leaders hear the word "media" they often think "dollars"— and then dismiss the idea of media literacy classes or programs because "we can't afford the equipment." Sure, high tech television programs do cost millions of dollars, but that doesn't mean that the opportunity to learn about media production is out of reach for schools and parishes with even the most meager budgets. Good equipment is often available at minimal or no cost, it's just a question of being creative. In some of the sample sessions and learning modules, you don't need any hardware at all.

 Indeed, media literacy means not only to be able to analyze and evaluate the media that surrounds us but also to be able to create media in a variety of forms, to express oneself in sound and image as well as writing and speaking.

According to media literacy specialists, 30% of a class or course should be spent in production or in creating with media. Analysis and production work together: by producing a desktop newsletter or creating a PowerPoint presentation, students gain insight into how professional media is created. By putting media together ourselves we become better equipped to deconstruct, or take apart, the media presented to us everyday. Our ability to discern production techniques is heightened.

Very often, production activities flow logically as "Action" steps in the Empowerment Circle process. You might not be able to record a song in a fancy recording studio, but you can purchase a CD single (most of which feature an instrumental version of the hit song) and develop your own lyrics. You can't make a feature film, but you can storyboard a short scene for a film. You can't make the news at five, but you can create with any camcorder a 2-minute feature story on a topic your group would like to see on the news. You might not be able to get an article on the front page of the local newspaper, but you can choose which stories will make the front page of your own desktop-published newsletter.

Just as a media literacy program is not complete without some production experience; neither is it complete with only production experience. That's what distinguishes media literacy education from career-oriented broadcast or journalism training. The goal of media literacy education is not to become amateur producers but rather to engage the media in our lives, to interrogate and evaluate its messages and techniques and then to choose, ultimately, whether to accept or reject the values conveyed. Production-oriented activities are an important, but not a dominating, educational tool.