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Media Literacy Examples

Watertown non-profit working on mission for media literacy education

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With increased screen time due to the coronavirus pandemic, youth are exposed to a volatile news cycle filled with political and racial division, according to Belmont resident Erin McNeill, founder of Watertown-based Media Literacy Now.

McNeill’s organization’s mission is to make media literacy universally understood and accepted as a vital component in public school education across the country.

Now, more than ever, students of all ages are bombarded with images, words and messages through social media, news, television, music, video games and other media outlets.

“We are committed to achieving our goal of a society where all students are taught to understand, critique and re-envision media systems upholding racism, inequity and violence,” said McNeill.

Her organization is leading grassroots efforts at local and state levels to incorporate media literacy education in public schools. Efforts include educating state assembly members, representatives and senators on the importance of media literacy education and advocating with school and school district leadership.

McNeill began thinking about the importance of media literacy education through her own experience as a parent when her two sons, now 22 and 24 respectively, were children. She was concerned about what they were watching and how it was impacting them.

“We all need these literacy skills to navigate the world we live in,” she said.

McNeill gave current examples of the dangers of not having media literacy education such as people not accepting the results of the presidential election, getting swept up in conspiracy theories, not understanding what health information they should be paying attention to, extremism and radicalization.

“We see a skyrocketing level of anxiety and depression among young people which has been attributed to the way social media is affecting them in their lives, impacting them emotionally and socially. Cyberbullying is also a danger and being vulnerable to predators,” said McNeill, adding many sites are created to get an emotional response.

She launched her organization in 2013. Since then, it has grown with 13 chapters nationwide. The organization provides tool kits which include sample letters advocates can write, tips on how to create coalitions and organize people, and fact sheets for policy makers.

McNeill is working on a Massachusetts bill for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to provide professional development for media literacy education in public schools.

McNeill was successful in getting the Chenery Middle School in Belmont to incorporate media literacy into its curriculum through a grant from the Foundation for Belmont Education. The grant was used for professional development on media literacy.

Karen Duff, Chenery’s librarian/media literacy teacher, has developed a media literacy curriculum for students which includes advertising media and the history of broadcast media. She created a green room/broadcast room at the library and a “news hour” elective where students can take on the role of journalist, research a topic of interest and then video record their story in the studio which Belmont Media Center helped design.

Duff said media literacy is essential for students in today’s media-rich, 24/7 culture. She also covers media bias through the lens of race, gender and other identities as well as internet safety and digital citizenship.

“Learning the skills to analyze and decode the messages embedded in their games, television shows, on YouTube, and social media will assist them with their critical thinking skills and help them become smart consumers of products and information and have a more clear-eyed understanding of the role of media in our culture and how it can shape our view of the world,” she said.

For more information about Media Literacy Now, visit medialiteracynow.org or call 617 744-9563.

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