Context: What is the purpose of the message?

Most media messages serve at least one of three purposes—to educate, to entertain, or to persuade—and some fulfill all three at once. A blog post, for example, may entertain its readers but also share some news or promote a cause or product. Always think about the purpose of a media message before taking it at face value. Also analyze purpose before sending your own media messages.

To Educate or Inform

The news industry was built on society’s interest in learning and keeping up with what is happening in the world. We read newspaper stories, magazine features, and news blogs; listen to radio broadcasts and podcasts; and watch and listen to television newscasts, documentaries, and online video tutorials. Media messages that are meant to educate or inform are typically more neutral and unbiased than messages meant solely to entertain or persuade. However, be aware of author or organizational bias that might accompany the message. (See page 243 for more on “Detecting Bias.”)

Your Turn Read a print or online news article that is meant to educate or inform. Answer the questions about “Detecting Bias” at the bottom of page 243. Does the article you chose avoid bias?


To Entertain

Some media messages are packaged to entertain. Music, movies, television sitcoms, sports broadcasts, and social networks are just a few examples of media that entertain. Popular entertainment media are especially appealing to advertisers because they are viewed by large audiences.

Your Turn Analyze your own media habits. How much of the media you consume is meant for entertainment purposes? How much of it is meant for education?


To Persuade

As you learned at the beginning of this chapter, a key concept of media literacy is knowing all media messages share some point of view, even the ones that are meant to appear objective in tone. (See page 239.) While persuasive devices are easy to recognize in commercials and advertisements, they may be more subtle in other media messages. For example, a post on a political blog may influence you to think one way by covering only one side of a story. Media-literate individuals are able to detect bias and always consider objections or other sides of a story before making up their minds on an issue.

Your Turn Study at least three different messages from different media sources. Determine the main purpose of each message. Do any of the messages fulfill more than one of the purposes explained above? Share your work with the class.


Context: Who controls the transmission of this message?

Earlier in this chapter you evaluated a media message in terms of its creator, or sender (see page 241). The final critical question peels back another layer of authorship by considering the issue of media ownership and control. Here are the three main categories of media ownership.


In the United States and abroad, a few giant corporations control most of the media. These corporations are known as media conglomerates because they own assets across all media forms—television, radio, film, music, Web sites. Corporate-owned media are businesses motivated by commercial interests, which are gained through advertising. As a consumer of media, remember to ask if the message is serving your best interests, or the interests of the corporation.


Also known as “state-owned media,” some media are produced and funded by a government. State-sponsored media messages must be evaluated carefully for propaganda. Some nations do not allow freedom of the press and have even censored the Internet. The state-owned media in such nations may act as their government’s mouthpiece and restrict independent voices.


Media that are free of corporate or government influence are known as independent media and are controlled by individuals. The Web and digital-based technologies have greatly benefited independent media voices. The practice of citizen journalism has gained momentum thanks to new media, affording everyday people the opportunity to report meaningful news to a widespread audience. Independent media sources were a big part of 2011’s Arab Spring, where protestors turned to social media to spread information about uprisings.


Your Turn Search for three example messages—one transmitted by corporate-owned media, one by state-owned media, and one by an individual or individuals. Compare and contrast the messages using the questions on the “Media-Message Evaluation Checklist” on page 240. Discuss your findings with a partner or your class.