Every time you watch TV, listen to radio, open a web site or read a newspaper, magazine or book, someone is trying to tell — or sell — you something. The best way to achieve media literacy is to evaluate all the messages that bombard you. Ask these questions to understand the message:

Who created, or paid for, the message? The company, group or institution that creates a media message or that pays for the creation of a message has a reason or motive.

Who is the target audience? Message producers direct their message to specific groups. When the producers want to reach several groups, they typically produce separate messages targeted at each group.

What is the product? Media messages, especially in advertising, have something to promote. Usually, the product or service is obvious; sometimes, the product or service isn’t clear until the end of the message.

What are the direct messages? Direct messages are easy to identify. They include the name of the product and price, and its benefits to the consumer are stated explicitly in text, dialogue or voice-overs.

What are the indirect messages? Indirect messages are not stated directly, either in text, dialogue or voice-overs. These messages may be just as powerful as the direct messages.

What is omitted from the message? In advertising, messages often highlight the positive qualities of their product, service or cause. They downplay any negative qualities. Often, they just don’t talk about anything that would cause consumers to dislike what the message is promoting. Ask yourself what is missing from any message you read, see or hear.

Taken from Understanding Media: Process and Principles, a self-directed course by Sherrye Dee Garrett and Stephanie Johnson at Poynter NewsU.

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