Guest column: Healthy media consumption

Before tearing down “the media,” let’s agree on our verbiage and examine how we consume information, writes Roger Plothow.

If we’re going to have a thoughtful dialog about media and news literacy, we should agree on nomenclature.

For example, terms like “the media” or “mainstream media” are meaningless, yet they are used all the time, as in “the mainstream media sure missed the boat on that story,” or, “the media are completely biased and dishonest.” In fact, our new president seems not to be able to say the word “media” without preceding it with “dishonest.”

Let’s start with a good old dictionary definition of mainstream media: “Traditional forms of mass communication, such as newspapers, television, and radio (as opposed to the Internet) regarded collectively.”

In other words, the MSM includes everything from the New York Times to Rush Limbaugh. And, since nearly all members of the MSM also have an Internet presence, it’s pretty jumbled out there.

Trying to define “the media” gets even sillier. Here’s one dictionary definition: “The main means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the Internet) regarded collectively.”

In short, the mainstream media is just the media minus the Internet, except the MSM is on the Internet, too.

Of course, media are not just about news, even for our purposes. A medium is anything that aids in the conveyance of information, including movies, body language, music, or a wink from across the table.

Here’s my point: Let’s just stop using terms that don’t mean anything. Any sentence that starts with, “the media are …” is almost guaranteed to be inaccurate. The media aren’t anything that can be collectively defined. The media include everything from the woman blogging in her bathrobe to Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalism.

It’s roughly the equivalent of referring to a bus crash in Chicago as a failure of all transportation, or blaming a bad meal in Seattle on food.

So, if the term “media” has no real meaning, what do we mean by “media literacy?” One simple definition is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.” Or, it’s the process of pulling back the curtain to not only accurately interpret information but to understand where it’s coming from and who or what is behind it. Information is bombarding us nearly every waking moment (and often while we sleep). We have come to accept it as a natural thing, like breathing or eating.

When it comes to those things – breathing and eating – we like to know what’s in our air and where our food came from. We prefer to think that the air we breathe won’t do us harm. We try to choose food that will provide us energy and enjoyment without making us sick or fat. Shouldn’t it follow that we ought to be equally careful of the information we take into our system?

Think about that for a week.

Roger Plothow is Editor and Publisher of the Post Register. This is part of a yearlong weekly series on media and news literacy.