Key Question #1: Who created this message?

Core Concept #1: All messages are 'constructed.'

Keyword: Authorship

To explore the idea of 'authorship' in media literacy is to look deeper than just knowing whose name is on the cover of a book or all the jobs in the credits of a movie. Key Question #1 opens up two fundamental insights about all media -- "constructedness" and choice.

The first is the simple but profound understanding that media texts are not "natural" although they look "real." Media texts are built just as buildings and highways are put together: a plan is made, the building blocks are gathered and ordinary people get paid to do various jobs.

Whether we are watching the nightly news, passing a billboard on the street or reading a political campaign flyer, the media message we experience was written by someone (or probably many people), images were captured and edited, and a creative team with many talents put it all together.

The second insight is that in this creative process, choices are made. If some words are spoken, others are edited out; if one picture is selected, dozens may have been rejected; if an ending to a story is written one way, other endings may not have been explored. However, as the audience, we don't get to see or hear the words, pictures or endings that were rejected. We only see, hear or read what was accepted! Nor does anybody ever explain why certain choices were made.

The result is that whatever is "constructed" by just a few people then becomes "normal" for the rest of us. Like the air we breathe, media get taken for granted and their messages can go unquestioned. Media are not "real" but they affect people in real ways, because we take and make meaning for ourselves out of whatever we've been given by those who do the creating.

The success of media texts depends upon their apparent naturalness; we turn off a TV show that looks "fake." But the truth is, it's all fake - even the news. That doesn't mean we can't still enjoy a movie or sing along with a favorite CD or tune in to get the news headlines.

The goal of Key Question #1 is simply to expose the complexities of media's "constructedness" and thus create the critical distance we need to be able to ask other important questions.

Guiding Questions:

  • What kind of "text" is it?
  • What are the various elements (building blocks) that make up the whole?
  • How similar or different is it to others of the same genre?
  • Which technologies are used in its creation?
  • What choices were made that might have been made differently?
  • How many people did it take to create this message? What are their various jobs?

from Five Key Questions that can Change the World