In the print era, it was usually easy to decipher how publications were paid for, and who was paying for what. Ads and subscriptions kept the publisher afloat. With web publishers, it’s not always easy to distinguish between editorial and advertising content. The Entertainment Weekly website is one good example. If an EW.com blogger writes a glowing re-cap of last week’s episode of “Arrow,” is it a plot summary, or a promotional vehicle? Is it possible that CW Network paid something to the blogger? In this MediaLit Moment, your students will examine a variety of media texts on EW.com’s “Star Wars Galaxy” page to gain a more refined understanding of the purposes behind commercial content.
Ask students to identify the purposes of different media texts about the same media franchise.
AHA!: A lot of what I’m seeing and reading on this web page is trying to get me to buy something, but it isn’t always easy to tell!
Key Question #5: Why was this message sent?
Core Concept #5: Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power
Key Question #2: What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
Core Concept #2: Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules.
Grade Level: 8+
Materials: computer, high speed internet connection, data projector, screen
Activity: Because the content on the Entertainment Weekly web site is constantly changing, you’ll need to do a little homework on the day before you plan to teach the activity. With your browser, navigate to www.ew.com, then type “Star Wars Galaxy” in the search bar at the top right of the home page. Once you’ve arrived at the Star Wars page, browse through some of the content. Select three different pieces of content which reflect different purposes. Find a game or movie trailer which is clearly intended to sell a product. Find a news story which appears to simply report on developments within the Star Wars franchise (e.g., “Rick McCallum Leaving Lucasfilm”). Finally, find some content which appear to promote the franchise without selling a specific product. Interviews with SW actors are often a good choice. You may wish to include a fourth item which seems intended to generate positive attention for the franchise (e.g., the White House playfully rejects a whitehouse.gov petition for the U.S. government to build a Death Star).
To begin the activity itself, create a causal loop diagram for commercial media texts, much like the one described in our previous MediaLit Moment, “Bringing the Audience into the Loop.”
Ask students to name a kind of media product they like to buy. A music download? A video game? Write a triangular figure on the board. On the bottom, write “Advertisements produced.” On another side, write “music tracks sold,” or “video games sold.” On another side, write “You,” or “Audience.” Complete the causal loop diagram with your students by drawing arrows to connect the items on each side of the triangle. Explain how media producers create ad campaigns for new products, which catch the eye of potential buyers like themselves. If those campaigns are successful, they lead to increased sales. Increased sales are likely to lead to more advertisements, and the advertisements will attempt to heighten (or at least maintain) their interest in the product. In finishing this part of the activity, remind students how essential they are to all these relationships.
Next, tell students that they’re going to have a look at a few different media messages, some of which are advertisements, some of which are not, and that they’ll need to decide what response producers hoped to receive from audiences with each individual piece. Navigate to the “Star Wars Galaxy” page on the EW.com site, and play or display the texts which you’ve selected. With each text, ask, who produced it? Usually the answer will be Disney/Lucasfilm, or EW.com. Was this intended to sell a specific Star Wars product? If not, what do they believe to be the purpose of the text? Draw a triangular diagram for each, this time with the name of the text on the bottom, the name of the producer on one side, and “Audience” on the other side. Write a description of the purpose of the text near the “Audience” side of the triangle, or more than one if students have offered up more than one possible purpose.
Even if the message isn’t explicitly intended to sell a product, what audience responses might be valuable to Entertainment Weekly and/or the Star Wars franchise? Why?
When students offer up several possible purposes, you may wish to call attention to Key Question #2. What’s the media format and techniques used? What kind of response might audiences have to them?
The Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of media literacy were developed as part of the Center for Media Literacy’s MediaLit Kit™ and Questions/TIPS (Q/TIPS)™ framework. Used with permission, © 2002-2012, Center for Media Literacy, http://www.medialit.com