Media Influences Explored: What High School Students Say About the Power of Newspapers, Television and Magazines
Henry, Tamara Maxine
McAdams, Katharine C.
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A body of theoretical works on media, their effect and impact shows that the ubiquitous nature of media messages tinges the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of media consumers (Katz and Blumler 1974; Ball-Rokeach and DeFleur 1976; Shoemaker and Reese 1991; and, Gerbner 1995). To investigate high school students' awareness of media, a survey of 355 Florida and Pennsylvania students was conducted during the 2004-2005 school year. Focus groups in both states in May and June 2005 followed up on survey responses. Both the survey and the focus groups sought to answer a central research question: How cognizant are high school students of media influences on various aspects of their lives, particularly the impact of newspapers, television and magazines? Today's youth are multi-billion dollar consumers, so the goal of the research project was to understand how well students identify media messages, comprehend the purposes and sources of the messages, recognize the strategies of media to win conformity to their messages and appreciate why media suggest certain actions, beliefs and behaviors. This type of understanding is popularly known as "media literacy," a relatively new, fast-developing field of study. Past media surveys and studies typically have focused on children and students' exposure to and use of media, rather than on media literacy. The dissertation's cogent theme is that students need a sophisticated knowledge of how media function in society, a grasp of media's disparate languages and the skills to successfully navigate their terrain. Data showed, however, that these high school students do appear to have an elementary understanding of the power of the media with the majority denying media's influence in their choice of clothing, snacks and beverages or their opinions about such things as what makes teens popular or cool. These students do acknowledge media's influence with intangible things like the issues that they consider important. In conclusion, the study found unequal effects of media on different racial and ethnic groups and suggests that further research is needed to develop specific ways to empower students to understand, enjoy and challenge the media, while avoiding unpropitious influences.