Media literacy, election years, and museums

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The Massachusetts museum advocates outside Senator Warren’s office, Museums Advocacy Day 2016

Last week was #MuseumsAdvocacy2016, hosted by the American Alliance of Museums down in DC. It was several days of training, talking about museum issues, sharing big ideas, meeting up with old friends and making new ones, and talking to legislators and their staffers about everything from STEM education to charitable giving tax deductions. It was about 250 people participating in the ardent practice of democracy, and it was awesome.

And this week was Super Tuesday. (More ardent practice of democracy, for good or ill. I got to the polls 5 minutes after they opened, because when I was little, my parents took me voting with them like it was an adventure. Still is, mostly because I understand the stakes better now.)

Most people say the ads and the terrible behavior of both candidates and supporters are the worst part of election years. While that’s often true, this year I also marked with sadness President Obama’s last State of the Union.  If you missed it, for whatever reason, I do encourage you to check it out, because it was one of his better examples of hopeful oratory. I’ve linked to the White House above because they’ve got a bunch of the quotes, infographics, and other extras that were included in the enhanced livestream, which make for good nuggets around which to build a discussion, should you happen to be teaching civics, graphic design, or media literacy this week. (Please teach some media literacy this week.)

Media literacy has been a long-held interest of mine: an essay I wrote about it was part of the web resources for PEM’s Eye Spy: Playing With Perception exhibit, and elements of those same visual/critical thinking skills ideas also worked themselves into the teacher guide I wrote for middle and high-school based on the same exhibit. In an election year like this one is shaping up to be, where paying attention to the kinds of language candidates use gives you a lot of information about who they are and what they’re trying to do with their platforms, it’s important for educators in both classrooms and museums to step up their game around teaching those critical skills. Otherwise, who’s to notice when one candidate gets an overwhelming amount of media attention for no critically apparent reason?

That’s why I was pleased to find out recently that the Newseum launched a new resource for educators and students centered around the history, roles, and responsibilities of the press, with lesson plans, curriculum links, and activities for both the classroom and trips to the museum itself. I didn’t make it to the Newseum on this most recent trip to DC, but I enjoyed it when I was there several years ago, and it’s on my list for another look next time. (I’ll have reviews of the places I did visit in the next post or two.)

Here are a few recent ‘museums in the news’ articles to get you started, in case you want something other than election coverage to read:



Learn Vocabulary and more with the New York Times

Every now and then I run across a link that is just too cool to wait for an appropriately themed post, and today is one of those days.

Today I discovered The Learning Network, a blog on education hosted by The New York Times.  This extremely active blog uses content from NYT as the basis for lesson plans, quizzes, activities, and other materials directed at both teachers and students across all academic disciplines.  You can investigate their archives based on subject matter (grammar, social sciences, math, etc.) or by type of activity (word of the day, ‘6Q’s about the news,’ poetry pairings, etc.), or search the blog for a specific topic, article, or event.

One of the currently featured posts is “Twelve Ways to Learn Vocabulary with The New York Times,” full of neat trivia regarding the main NYT website itself (did you know that double clicking any word in an article will bring up dictionary definitions of that word?), lesson suggestions on content based analysis (even for the sports pages!), and opportunities for student writing.

This blog and some other cool resources I’ve encountered will soon be showing up on the re-organized resource pages here at Brain Popcorn, so stay tuned!

Developing a Critical Eye: Why Media Literacy Matters

In Conjunction with the Peabody Essex Museum exhibition:
Eye Spy, Playing with Perception

June 19, 2010 to May 1, 2011

In this age of digital imaging, we’re comfortable adjusting contrast, tweaking color, or even adding an absent uncle to a family photo. Advertisers also alter or enhance images to get our attention. But what level of alteration is acceptable for the media? Are standards the same for fashion or entertainment magazines as for news outlets? Should they be? How aware are you of our world’s altered realities?

In popular magazines, altering images has become standard practice. To expose the extent of retouching, the women’s-issues blog Jezebel published the before-and-after photos of a Redbook cover featuring musician Faith Hill. Redbook’s editor-in-chief responded, “The retouching we did on Faith Hill’s photo for the July cover of Redbook is completely in line with industry standards.”

Retouching alterations included changing Hill’s neck, earlobe, back, arms, lines and shadows around the face, hair, and skin tone.

Many organizations have criticized the widespread practice of excessive retouching in  magazines, raising concerns about setting unreasonable expectations that can lead to self-esteem issues and behavioral disorders. Similar concerns surround advertisements whose altered images create misleading impressions about a product’s effectiveness.

And the pursuit of the “ideal” image isn’t confined to advertising and popular culture. In 2006, news media giant Reuters fired photojournalist Adnan Hajj when it was discovered that he had altered his photos of smoke rising above a bombed city in Lebanon to intensify the effect. Further investigation revealed that this was not the only photograph Hajj had altered, and Reuters ultimately removed all his work from its archives. Hajj is just one example among many.

Altered photo on left, original photo on right

Why does “a little cosmetic alteration” matter? Not only does this violate established rules of journalistic ethics, but altered images have been shown to affect people’s memories of public events. According to a study by Italian researchers, viewing digitally altered images of protests and rallies can change our perception of the emotions involved, including the size of the crowd and even perceived violence.

Blatant or subtle, examples of “altered reality” abound in today’s culture, so it’s important to become media savvy! Below are resources to help develop a critical media eye and to raise awareness in children about image manipulation in the media at large.

Further Resources

For Adults
Dove: Evolution Watch the dramatic transformation of an ordinary woman into a billboard model through use of make-up and digital manipulation.

Digital Forensics: 5 Ways to Spot a Fake Photo from Scientific American Tips for analyzing photos for evidence of manipulation.

American Photography: A Century of Images from PBS A short essay on ‘Digital Truth’ examining the historical record of photo tampering and the possible ramifications for justice and memory.

For Kids
This step-by-step site uses a fake magazine cover featuring a 14-year-old girl to show
the impact of retouching.
Get an ‘ad-ucational’ look at who creates ads, how, and why through this video-game
style site.

Don’t Buy It! Get Media Smart from PBS Kids
Explores advertising tricks and techniques across many themes, including food, clothing, and entertainment, with “behind-the-scenes” elements and interactives.

Source Articles

Carmon, Irin. “Losing Faith.” WWD 17 Jul 2007: n. pag. Web. 10 Jun 2010.

Moe. “Here’s Our Winner! ‘Redbook’ Shatters Our ‘Faith’ In Well, Not Publishing, But Maybe God.” Jezebel 16 Jul 2007: n. pag. Web. 10 Jun 2010.

“Picture editors shocked by doctored Reuters photos.” Press Gazette: Journalism Today
11 Aug 2006: n. pag. Web. 10 Jun 2010.

University of California – Irvine. “Memory Can Be Manipulated By Photos.” ScienceDaily
21 November 2007. 10 June 2010 <