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MediaLit Moments

Blurring the Edges of Commercial Intent

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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

Last Updated ( Friday, 31 March 2017 11:35 )
 

Looking for truth when the lights are out

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Accessing timely, reliable information is of paramount importance during a severe weather event, and yet, in an era of multiplying media platforms, consumers are reaching for a variety of media, including social media, as sources of breaking news during such events.  Dissemination of false news reports may increase substantially, if not exponentially at such times.  In this MediaLit Moment, a false news item generated during Hurricane Sandy provides a real-world scenario for exploring principles of information credibility and grappling with questions of journalistic ethics.

Ask students to examine the trail of sources associated with a false news report

AHA!:  Establishing the validity of a news report isn’t always easy!

Key Question #1:  Who created this message?

Core Concept #1:  All media messages are constructed

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: 9+

Materials: Handout of news story from Poynter Institute; or computer with internet connection, LCD projector and classroom screen

Activity: Hook students by asking them what they know about the Internet as a source for false news reports.  Did they see any false reports for Hurricane Sandy?

Display or distribute the following story on the false report of flooding at the New York Stock Exchange from Poynter Institute, a national organization devoted to teaching the writing and critical reading of news:

http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/193564/cnn-weather-channel-inaccurately-report-that-new-york-stock-exchange-is-under-3-feet-of-water/

When students have finished reading the story, ask whether they believe it had been appropriate for Piers Morgan and other CNN commentators to rely on the information they had at their disposal and pass on the story that the NYSE had been flooded.  Why or why not?  Why does it matter?  During the discussion, make sure to ask which sources of information mentioned in the story they believe to be the most credible and why.  Direct their attention to Key Question #1.

Extended Activity:  On the same night that the National Weather Service confirmed that this was a false report, reporters from BuzzFeed, a news and social media site, identified a single Twitter post from a user with the handle @snuglycomfortable as the source.  They also claimed to identify the user.  And indeed, the next day, Shashank Tripathi, a Wall Street hedge fund analyst, tweeted an apology for this and other deliberately misleading posts he made during the storm, and resigned from his position as a manager for a local Congressional campaign.  Ask students, what did Tripathi do wrong?  Should he also have to pay a legal penalty?  Also ask students to consider the medium of Twitter.  Is it reasonable for audiences to trust news from this source, or is it entirely suspect?  Direct students’ attention to Key Questions #1 and #2.


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




Last Updated ( Friday, 31 March 2017 11:35 )
 

DIY Sandbox Game

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Video games are one media form which may be difficult for children and adolescents to produce.  Many will learn how to use “cheats” or learn how to modify (“mod”) a game, but creating a game from scratch requires programming skills which few have at their disposal.  However, just as drafting storyboards can help students become reflective producers of comics, film and video, creating initial game designs can help them become reflective producers of video games.  In this MediaLit Moment, your students will be able to try their hand at some of the essential tasks involved in games design, and they’ll also learn how to recognize the values implicit in their designs.

Have students create a basic design for a “sandbox” video game

AHA!: I’m not just making a world, my design choices also “say” something about my values and point of view!

Key Question #1 for Producers: What am I authoring?

Core Concept #1: All media messages are constructed.

Key Question #4 for Producers: Have I clearly and consistently framed values, lifestyles and points of view in my content?

Core Concept #4: What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?

Grade Level: 6-12

Materials: Pencils, paper, imagination.  Larger sheets of paper if students want to produce sketches of their game worlds.

Activity: Rather than restricting players to singular goals or storylines, “sandbox” games allow large groups of characters to more or less freely explore the environment of the game.  Second Life and SimCity have helped to define the genre, but there are plenty of sandbox games which have been targeted towards children and teens, such as Club Penguin, Whyville, and Habbo Hotel.  Begin the activity by asking students what sandbox games they’re familiar with, and discussing some of the essential characteristics of these games.

Next, organize students into groups of two or more, and let them know that they’ll be creating an initial design for a sandbox game of their choosing.  Ask them to come up with a theme for their game.  If SimCity is ‘about’ urban planning, what might interest them?  Marine conservation?  Aviation?  Musical theater?   If students mention the Grand Theft Auto series,  you may want to affirm that criminal activity should not be a primary theme of the game.  Students will also need to ask themselves, what are some of the most valuable or important things that player characters can do in this game?  Once they’ve answered that question, they should decide how characters are awarded points or other benefits for experience and/or tasks completed.

Once students have had time for collaboration, ask them to share their design concepts with the rest of the class.  This is also the time to ask “Why?” questions.  Why this theme?  Why were certain roles or professions important?  Why did they decide on their particular reward “mechanic” for the game?  Direct their attention to Key Question #4 for Producers.  How did they frame values through their work?

Extended Activity: Depending on time, grade level or sophistication of your students, ask them to answer a few more questions.  Are there any important places within the game?  What purposes do they serve? If they’re cities or geographical regions, what are the most notable characteristics of the place and the people there?  Ask them to create a sketch.  Is there some sort of economic system within the world of the game?  What goods and services are traded?  Again, once they’ve completed the work, ask questions to call attention to the values, lifestyles and points of view framed within the games.


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, © 2002-2011, Center for Media Literacy, http://www.medialit.com

Last Updated ( Friday, 31 March 2017 11:35 )
 

Lights, Story, Action!

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The classic opening for a detective story features the voice of the detective in charge of the case.  Why?  It’s one tried-and-true method for grabbing the attention of the audience.  As the detective explains why the details of the case were so mysterious, the audience takes his point of view, and in one sense, begins to unravel the case alongside the detective himself.  Now imagine the potential for engagement when audience members are participating as players in a video game.  In this MediaLit Moment, your students will have the chance to enjoy taking the role of ‘private eye’ while they explore the dynamics of video game narration.

Have students explain why a game trailer would use a first-person narrative to introduce the game.

AHA!: I feel like I’m the private eye!

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.

Key Question #1: Who created this message?

Core Concept #1: All media messages are constructed.

Grade Level: 5-8

Materials: Computer with high speed internet connection, data projector, and screen; game trailer for Puzzle Agent 2, accessible at:  https://www.telltalegames.com/puzzleagent2 ; additional trailer or clip in a similar genre which is not narrated from a first-person point of view.

Activity: Play the game trailer for students at least twice.  Ask them what they thought was interesting about the trailer.  Draw their attention to Key Question #2.   Also ask students if any of them are familiar with the game.  What’s the story line?  What’s involved in game play?

{This is a mystery story with some fantasy elements.  The foreman of the local eraser factory in Scoggins, Minnesota has disappeared.  Nelson Tethers, FBI Puzzle Research Agent, had been assigned to this case until the bureau closed the investigation.  He’s come back to Scoggins on his own time.  The whole town seems to be obsessed with puzzles, and game players follow in Tethers’ footsteps while they solve a variety of math and logic puzzles.  When Tethers takes his investigation to the woods, he encounters a mysterious band of gnomes.  As it turns out, they’ve been whispering puzzles to the townspeople for some time.}

We suggest that you also screen a clip or trailer from a television show in a similar genre, perhaps Once Upon a Time. Find a clip that is not narrated from a first-person point of view, and ask students to explain what’s different about the clips.

Begin a discussion with your students about the reasons why a game maker would have them follow Agent Tethers’ view of things so closely.  How would this draw them to playing the game?  Draw students’ attention to Core Concept #1.

Extended Activity: Using the second clip as a point of departure, ask students to compare and contrast the stories and storytelling typical of video games and television shows in the mystery/fantasy genre.


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, © 2002-2011, Center for Media Literacy, http://www.medialit.com

Last Updated ( Friday, 31 March 2017 11:35 )
 

When a Scroll is Really a Scroll

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Today, many of us scroll through tens or hundreds of pages of content each day.  Scrolling is an activity or feature, and the pages themselves don’t seem to be worthy of much attention.  Yet we are often captivated by visual media in which scrolls or papers play a large part.  We’re right there with Charlie, gazing with rapt attention as he discovers the last Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory: “In your wildest dreams you can not imagine the marvelous SURPRISES which await YOU!”

In this MediaLit Moment, your students will learn why papers and scrolls attract the attention of media audiences.  They’ll learn about the media genres in which they appear and the purposes for which they are used; and they’ll learn how to capture the attention of audiences with their own scrolled message.

Have students write and read aloud a scrolled message with attention to genre, purpose and intended effect on the audience.

AHA!: When I see a scroll used on screen, it means that the words are important, and a lot of people should hear them.  If I create my own, I can make audiences think I’m important and powerful, too!

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.

Key Question #2 for Producers: Does my message reflect understanding in format, creativity, and technology?

Key Question #5:  Why is this message being sent?

Core Concept #5: Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.

Key Question #5 for Producers: Have I communicated my purpose effectively?

Grade Level:  5-8

Materials: DVD, computer, data projector and screen; or computer with high speed internet connection, data projector, and screen.  DVD of “Star Wars” or access to opening sequence from film on YouTube.   Butcher paper and markers.

Activity: Play the opening “crawl” of the movie, and briefly pause the sequence when the words fill the screen.  Ask, why do you think the director of this movie decided to use this format rather than a voiceover, or a “flat” paragraph, or even just action on the screen to make it clear who was fighting whom?  What does it suggest about the message that is being delivered?  Direct their attention to Key Question #2.  You may also want to work with one or more additional clips.  Here are a few suggestions:  a reading of the Declaration of Independence in which the written document figures prominently; the scene from “Amazing Grace” in which William Wilberforce unfurls a massive popular petition against slavery before Parliament; the scene from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971) or “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005) mentioned above; a scene from a Harry Potter movie in which a proclamation from Hogwarts or the Ministry of Magic is read aloud.

Next, ask students, what kinds of messages tend to be delivered in this format?  For what kinds of purposes?  Direct their attention to Key Question #5.  An extremely wide variety of documents could be included on this list, from jury verdicts to messages bestowing an award.

When a substantial list has been generated, it’s time for students to demonstrate their understanding of purpose and format by producing their own scrolled messages with markers and butcher paper.  Consider assigning students to teams.  Do ask students to read their work aloud.

Extended Activity: If students are feeling confident in their understanding of this format, encourage them to experiment with genres, or use humor and satire.  For example, students could write their personal declarations of independence.


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, © 2002-2011, Center for Media Literacy, http://www.medialit.com


Last Updated ( Friday, 31 March 2017 11:36 )
 


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