Media literacy refers to the ability to approach media sources with a critical and discerning eye.
Examples of media literacy include the ability to identify scholarly from non-scholarly sources, critique author motivations, and understand logical fallacies used by media sources to develop falsifiable arguments.
To be more media literate, I give my students the CRAAP framework and 21 examples of how to use it, which are outlined below.
Media Literacy and the CRAAP Framework
The CRAAP framework is a framework for critiquing media. It provides five broad themes of media critique:
Currency: Check whether the work is current (recently written) or recently updated. Discern whether currency is important. At times, you may want to use old texts!
Relevancy: A text may be good, but irrelevant. You may not be the intended audience or the text may be being used out of context.
Authority: If an author is a topical expert, the content may be more implicitly trustworthy. There are several ways to check for the authority of a text, outlined later in this article.
Accuracy: Use your analytical skills critical thinking skills, and fact checking to discern if the content is accurate.
Purpose: Discern what the author’s purpose is. Sometimes, a text is designed to persuade, which may affect how biased it is.
Below, I’ll break down these five broad themes into 21 examples of media literacy questions you can use to critique media texts.
Media Literacy Examples
Below are 21 examples of ways you can check to see if a media source is reliable.
1. Checking the Age of the Source (Currency)
- If the information is time sensitive, you may need the newest possible sources.
- Universities tend to prefer students cite texts that are less than 10 years old.
- If the source is old, you may need to check newer sources to see if the information has changed.
- Evergreen topics (topics that do not change) may be old but still relevant.
- Remember that the newness of a source doesn’t tell you everything. It may be new, but inaccurate.
2. Finding Seminal Sources (Currency)
- Sources may be old but still worth using. For example, a seminal source such as a philosopher’s original text or the Bible may be worth examining if it remains relevant.
- New sources might provide up to date or culturally relevant critiques of seminal sources.
3. Identifying Update Dates (Currency)
- If a text is older but recently updated, it may still present the newest facts and analysis.
4. Discerning Intended Audience (Relevance)
- A source may be discussing the topic you are interested in, but it may be targeted at children or a Sub-Section of the population so the information is not directly relevant to you.
5. Discerning Context (Relevance)
- Sometimes something can appear relevant but be out of context. A statistic about divorce rates may appear relevant until you realize it is about divorces in Indonesia and you live in Brazil.
- Ensure all quotes are contextualized so you aren’t reading something that is being quoted out of context.
6. Checking the Type of Source – Primary vs Secondary (Relevance)
- A primary source will generally be more authoritative than a secondary source. The farther removed an article is from the original source, the less accuracy we can presume it has.
7. Checking the Author’s Credentials (Authority)
- Journalists are expected to adhere to journalistic ethics, especially if they are employed by respected media organizations.
- Academics are similarly expected to adhere to standards in which they are trained.
- If the author has first hand experience we may consider them to be more authoritative.
8. Checking the Author’s Expertise (Authority)
- If the author is a credentialed practitioner in the field in which they are discussing, we may find them more trustworthy.
- A person may be an authority, but they should also be an authority in their field. I have a PhD in Education. I have no business writing articles about chemistry!
- Appeals to authority may be a way to shield inaccurate information (known as the appeal to authority fallacy). Be sure to keep a critical eye even if the author is credentialed, or a credentialed expert has been cited.
9. Checking the Publisher (Authority)
- Authority is also established by quality and respected publishers. If you are on a news website with a clearly posted editorial policy, it may be more authoritative than someone’s blog.
- Universities with .edu domains will be more respected publishers than most .com websites.
10. Checking for Gatekeepers (Authority)
- Gatekeepers include editors, peer reviewers, and publishing houses. These gatekeepers can prevent the publication of low quality or inaccurate content.
- Social media like twitter and blogs do not have gatekeepers, which can lower the reliability.
11. Checking for Peer Review (Authority)
- Peer review occurs when another respectable source reads, reviews, and fact checks the content. This helps ensure high quality.
- Double blind review refers to reviews made by anonymous experts who do not know the author of the original content. Double blind review is one of the highest standards of quality for academic sources.
12. Checking Images (Authority)
- Original images, rather than stock photos or other people’s images, can be used as proof that the person has first hand knowledge. For example, a product review might be more highly regarded if there are pictures of the reviewer actually using the product.
13. Checking the Reference List (Accuracy)
- Citation of sources helps readers to fact-check for accuracy of content. It also helps ensure transparency.
- If the sources cited are respected, primary sources, or from academic texts, the references will be more reliable.
14. Checking the Evidence Used (Accuracy)
- Citation of evidence, such as data and first-person quotes, can help demonstrate accuracy of data.
15. Checking for Author Biases (Accuracy)
- Media literate readers keep their eye out for bias in writing. There are many types of bias, such as cultural, political, and framing bias.
- Authors may cherry-pick data to help support their views, so keep an eye on the sources used and check their bias as well.
16. Reflecting on Personal Biases (Accuracy)
- Ensure you read texts from a variety of sources to avoid falling into confirmation bias by only reading texts that support your views.
17. Being Aware of Fallacies (Accuracy)
- Read the arguments made by authors and keep an eye on the use of logic and reason. Authors may use logical fallacies and heuristics that readers should critically analyze.
18. Checking for Spelling and Grammar (Accuracy)
- Many librarians will recommend checking a source’s spelling and grammar with the assumption that poor spelling and grammar is a sign of low quality content. While this may demonstrate poor editorial standards, beware of falling into a fallacy: the spelling may be bad, but the content may be good.
19. Independently Fact-Checking (Accuracy)
- Fact check dubious claims by triangulating against other sources, including sources from other media outlets with different potential biases.
20. Checking for Inclusion of Multiple Perspectives (Accuracy)
- An article that explores multiple perspectives, competing perspectives, and weaknesses in their own arguments, demonstrate reflectiveness that may demonstrate reliable and responsible reporting.
21. Checking for Right of Reply
- A text that is critical of someone but has approached them for comment or given them right of reply may be respected for their journalistic ethics.
22. Checking for Persuasive Intent (Purpose)
- Reflect on whether the text aims to be objective or persuasive. If the text is arguing for a particular point of view, then it may not be presenting the full story.
23. Checking for Commercial Intent (Purpose)
- If the source is trying to sell a product or service, it may have financial interests that make it biased.
24. Checking for Entertainment Intent (Purpose)
- A source designed to entertain my be more willing to bend the truth or may engage in hyperbole, exaggeration, or sarcasm.
25. Checking for Content Sponsorship (Authority)
- If an article or video is sponsored, it may be less likely to be critical of the sponsor, which may lower the source’s authority.
26. Have you Considered Source Diversity?
- If you are reading multiple sources, ensure you are engaging with a diversity of authors. This may include diversity of: publications, political biases, genders, social classes, races, and so on. Diversity of social positions may demonstrate diversity of perspectives.
Media literacy is increasingly necessary in an era of new and social media. But it is required no matter the medium – newspaper, website, YouTube video, blog, tweet, or anything in between.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]