Critiquing Media and Culture

Posted: January 26, 2011 in 5 Steps of Media Critique

Critiquing Media and Culture

  • Lines between entertainment and information have been blurred
  • Will learn how not to be cynical, but to be critical
  • We want to create judgments but also be tolerant of different forms of expression

1. Description: paying close attention, taking notes, and researching the subject under study.

  • Start by describing the programs or articles
  • Account for their reporting strategies
  • Note who is featured as interview subjects
  • Further identify central characters, conflicts, topics, and themes
  • From the notes taken at this stage, begin comparing what we have found to other stories and topics
  • Document what you think is missing from these news narratives, like questions, viewpoints, and persons that were not included, as well as other ways to tell the story.

2. Analysis: discovering and focusing on significant patterns that emerge from the description stage.

  • decide how to focus the critique
  • for example, on 60 minutes, reporters are shot at a medium distance and interview subjects are generally shot in tight close-ups
  • for example, in The New York Times, you might look at social or political events in certain countries that get covered more than events in other areas of the world.

3. Interpretation: asking and answering the “What does that mean?” and “So what?” questions about one’s findings

  • Try to determine the meanings of the patterns you have analyzed
  • this is the most difficult stage in criticism
  • demands an answer to the “so what” question.
  • for example, with the 60 Minutes question, comparing more space for reporters versus close-up shots of interviewers — might mean that reporters are more in control. They are given more visual space in which to operate, where interview subjects have little room to maneuver within the visual frame. As a result, the subjects often look guilty and the reporters look heroic, or, at least, in charge.
  • for example, with the NYT, its attention to particular countries could mean that the paper tends to cover nations in which the US has more vital political or economic interests.

4. Evaluation: arriving at a judgment about whether something is good, bad, or mediocre, which involves subordinating one’s personal taste to the critical assessment resulting from the first three stages.

  • make an informed judgment
  • building on description, analysis, and interpretation, you are better able to evaluate the fairness of a group of 60 Minutes or NYT reports. At this stage, we can grasp the strengths and weaknesses of the news media under study and make critical judgments measured against our own frames of reference — what we like and dislike as well as what seems good or bad about the stories and coverage we analyzed.

5. Engagement: taking some action that connects our critical perspective with our role as citizens to question our media institutions; adding our own voice to the process of shaping the cultural environment.

  • for example, in 60 Minutes and NYT examples, engagement might involve something as simple as writing a formal or email letter to the media outlets to offer a critical take on the news narratives we are studying.
  • also means participating in Web discussions, contacting various media producers or governmental bodies like the Federal Communication Commission with critiques and ideas, organizing or participating in public media literacy forms, or learning to construct different types of media narrative ourselves. The key to this stage is to challenge our civic imaginations, rather than sit back and cynically complain about the media.
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