Understanding Media: Process and Principles


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.

And, sometimes it's difficult to know what that something is.

This course is here to help. It is designed to show you how to decode media messages so you can become a more informed consumer and, in turn, a better creator of your own media messages.

Media messages can be understood by using four process skills: access, analyze, evaluate and create.

These skills are the backbone of interpreting media messages. They will help you analyze messages by teaching you to look beyond the obvious to uncover the real meaning of what you are reading, watching or hearing. They are, in fact, so important that the course is built around them. Each skill has its own section.

They are:

Access means that you can locate, identify and understand information that you need. There are many different media that can provide you with information, including newspapers, magazines, books, television, radio, the Internet and social networking sites. You need to identify the type of media that gives the information you seek.

Analyze means that you can interpret and understand the components that make up a media message. Different media use different elements to convey messages, including colors, photographs, art elements, type styles, camera angles, music and sounds.

Evaluate means that you can make judgments about the truth, accuracy and relevance of media messages. In this section of the course, you will learn about the five core principles that underlie every media message. They are:

  1. Messages are constructions. Someone thinks long and hard about any print or electronic message that is produced: What it will look like; what it will say; and what it will do.
  2. Messages represent social reality. Each message presents a picture of “a” world — that world may or may not match the world in which you live.
  3. Messages have economic, social, political, historic and aesthetic purposes. There is a major reason for the message: to sell a product, to persuade someone, to establish information or to entertain. Many messages have more than one purpose.
  4. Different people respond differently. How each person responds to an ad depends upon that person’s attitudes, life experiences, needs, knowledge and more.
  5. Messages have unique forms, language, symbols and other features. The type of message determines the form, language, symbols and images that are used in it. For example, a brochure for a historic site uses different forms than a television commercial for toothpaste.

And, finally, the last process skill is: Create. Once you understand the other process skills, you will know how to use the appropriate technology to create and disseminate your own media messages. You can use the components and principles of media messages to communicate your own ideas.

OK, let's get started understanding media. First, we will learn how we access the different messages.