Life lessons: what is media literacy? What we need to know

Photo courtesy of Valencia County Literacy Council | Jeremy, a VCLC student, engages in online tutoring through the Valencia County Literacy Council.

“It’s a complex world we live in, so being media literate – if you’re not media literate, you’re not ready to function as a citizen of this century, you’re not literate .”

Pamela Pereyra has been a media literacy educator for over 20 years, serving as the New Mexico President for Media Literacy Now, a national media literacy advocacy organization, and founder and director of Media Savvy Citizens.

“Yes, maybe you can read a book or write a letter or write an email, but we have to do a lot more than just read and write,” she said.

The US National Association for Media Literacy Education defines media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication”.

Like literacy itself, media literacy is an umbrella term encompassing all the ways of interacting with and understanding the thousands of mediated messages that surround us. It can be divided into different categories, such as information literacy, digital literacy, and information literacy, but all have to do with critically examining the message being sent.

“If you think about the media, the media goes beyond broadcast, newspapers, radio and television. We live in a networked world, it’s instant,” Pereyra said. “We have social media, we have a lot of communications that are hyped, including coding language.”

Just a few decades ago, people consumed media differently. What was once a top-down model with the message controlled by a few has transformed into a Web with the integration of the Internet into everyday life.

“We are bombarded with images, icons and brands, in different ways, memes and 140 characters,” Pereyra said. “So all these messages come from the media and are publicized. The media is not them, it is us. It was them, up and down, but now it’s us.

Media Literacy Now and Media Savvy Citizens focus on integrating media literacy into K-12 schools.

In 2020, Media Savvy Citizens launched a pilot program to integrate media literacy into the mainstream curriculum through a program called “Teachers Transform”.

Belen Consolidated Schools was one of 30 different school districts that participated in the pilot program.

Pereyra said teaching students to analyze media messages using skills such as identifying bias and credibility is one of the goals of the program.

“On YouTube, just because someone has millions of subscribers doesn’t make that person credible, it just makes them popular… (and that) doesn’t make them credible on a specific topic, like if you were watching COVID or you are looking at a number of issues,” she said.

During New Mexico’s 2022 legislative session, Senate Bill 195 would have expanded media literacy in public schools, awarding $400,000 to the cause, but the bill died in committee and n was ever introduced in the Senate.

After the governor vetoed the first interpretation of the junior appropriations bill in March, during the last special session a similar bill was approved, allocating $50,000 to the Department of Public Education of the New Mexico for an expansion of the statewide media literacy program.

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