Media literacy – both bigger picture and a critical view

Cristina Lupu

The dizzying progression of technology and the media creates an increasing need for talking about media literacy. However, it seems that the new possibilities that technology offers us are just passing by, but the teaching and news publishing “patterns” remain unchanged. Cristina Lupu from the Independent Journalism Center in Bucharest (a SEENPM member organization) often holds training sessions and workshops to teenagers and their teachers about media literacy. Cristina talks about the importance of media literacy, as well as some new ideas that can improve reporting and education.

Why is media literacy that important?

Cristina Lupu:  For a long time it has been important that we know how to read, however, new technologies are changing the rules of the game. It is necessary to follow the media, but media is not just television, radio and newspapers anymore. Today, when we say the media, we can talk about music, blogs, vlogs, and about all that is known to younger generations. It seems that each of us has a need to publish information.

At one high school training I give this example: you are riding on a bus and see a policeman coming out of the car and taking the money from a man. You would immediately photograph and post that to a  social network, wouldn’t you? They all answered – yes, but the real question is – what is the message. The policeman takes a bribe? This would be the first reaction. But perhaps he was taking money from his brother, just like that, and he has nothing to do with accepting bribes. That’s why media literacy is so important. We need to see the bigger picture and develop a critical attitude.

-It is often said that teenagers are not interested and do not follow the media. How accurate is that?

Cristina Lupu: Very often I hear that teenagers and young people do not read, do not buy newspapers, they are not informed, and they generally do not follow the media. However, they follow the media even more than adults. They are quite well informed about events in the world, sometimes even more informed than their parents, but they do not know what is happening in their country, which is bad. Nowadays, young people use new media for information, social networks are also a form of media, but it is sometimes difficult for adults to understand that.

Do young people actually understand the power of the media?

Cristina Lupu: Nowadays, fewer and fewer people search for the information, they are waiting for information to come to them. Each of us can use the media to raise awareness about an everyday problem. A group of teenagers in Romania (as well as other people living in this part of Romania) was stuck in traffic because the road that was not well done, and it was the only way you could get to the other side of town, and all drivers hated it. This group of teenagers recorded a rap song, posted it on YouTube and it became viral! Eventually we got one road more, of course, not only because of their song. This is proof that teenagers care about things that are happening in their environment, even if they are not important exclusively to them, and also that they have the idea of how powerful media is.

-It seems that most teenagers nowadays have a negative opinion about the traditional media?

Cristina Lupu: These are the opinions of their parents or teachers, who often say that all media are bad, corrupt and do not report the truth, and they almost always associate the media with the tabloids. I often ask them if they can imagine their life without the media. How would that look? Only then they begin to think about the importance of the media. However, they are right when they say that the media using innovative methods in their reporting are rare. It is logical that it would be much more interesting for them to see short video material or read texts with infographics on some serious things. That way of reporting is more appealing to them than the classic texts in the traditional media.

– The influence of the tabloids is growing. Why?

Cristina Lupu: Tabloids are now the most widely read – that’s a fact. People read them because they write about scandals, pop stars, and affect the emotions. However, the power of the tabloids is much bigger than it seems. Some tabloids do not always write only false news. People also love them because they are written in simple, even banal vocabulary, which is close to them. If the tabloids were to report on some important things of the public interest completely true, the scope of their messages would be amazing!

The education system and media literacy – Why don’t teachers pay attention to media literacy?

Cristina Lupu: Everything changes – if we want to have educated young people, we have to go where they are. We cannot drag them back! It is necessary that we adapt to them, not the other way. This can sometimes be a big problem for adults.

That’s why many adults have yet to learn, to be educated, so they can keep up with the younger generations. It is very difficult to point out the importance of using new technologies in teaching to some teachers. A recipe for disaster is actually teachers who think that the media is terrible and teaches children media literacy. In Romania, for example, we have some classes on media literacy (elective), taught by teachers who have never undergone training and they talk about their bad opinions about all the media, but this is not an education. It actually does more harm than good. You can be a teacher of Serbian language, English, philosophy, history, and at the same time you can talk about media literacy. However, it is necessary to first educate the teachers. Then they have to learn how to use new technology in everyday teaching, and many of them are afraid.

I’ll give you a couple of examples of good practice:

In order to get interest of her students for reading a book, a teacher from Romania made a Facebook profile of the novel’s main character and wrote his statuses daily, she shared the most interesting parts of the book, and then made a profile of the main female character, and changed their relationship status… She did everything teenagers would have done on Facebook and of course she managed to attract them to read the novel.

It is similar to the situation in Serbia, where history and geography teachers use maps that are twenty years old, and they can use Google Street View. One history teacher used this option to take his students to Auschwitz and told them about the Holocaust, and the children were delighted by the teacher’s approach!

These examples show us that the modern approach to education and the media can affect many teenagers and their idea of the media, and it does not necessarily have to be expensive, which is often a justification or excuse. Is money really the biggest obstacle, or do we just lack a little creativity?

The interview was originally published in Serbian by Media & Reform Centar Niš. It is republished here with permission. Translation: Media & Reform Centar Niš.