Chapter 2-1: List of Sample Critical Media Consumption Questions
Below, is a compilation of questions that is based on various assignments and evaluations concerning critical reading and listening skills. This list will be valuable for anyone that wishes to review the things they should consider as they consume media or for anyone that has been given the task of analyzing a piece of media from with a critical eye.
Questions to Help Critique Media
Bias: is there any bias in the media? The word bias means “a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned” (dictionary.com). What is it that causes you to believe this? Was something exaggerated or was information subtly miscommunicated? Was only one side of an argument presented or were counter arguments discussed?
Motivation & Purpose: what motivated the author to produce the media in the first place? Why do you think they went through the effort of producing it?
Contradiction (internal): is there anything within the media that is contradictory? For example, does an opinion occur that is later contradicted? Or, are there facts that don’t match up with what is claimed?
Contradiction (external): does the media contradict another piece of media? For example, have you found two pieces of media on the same topic that provide hard statistics… and yet the figures are different or manipulated?
Reliability & Authenticity: have you done a background check on the author (training, political affiliation, life experiences, etc.) and on the publisher?? Do they have the credentials necessary to be producing the media in the first place? Are they a well-known authority on the topic, an informed reader, or are they just an uninformed and opinionated blogger? Are they a seasoned journalist working for a relatively impartial news service or do they work for an organization that leans heavily to the left or to the right? Do they have other publications? Do they frequently publish? Are there any reviews of their work? What is the agenda of the organization behind the production? Is contact information readily available? How selective are they at what they publish? Has the author published the work directly, or has the work gone through an editing and publication process through an editor or through a renowned organization?
Evidence & Details: what category of evidence does the producer use? Is it recent? Is it solid? Is it reasonable? Is it too certain? Is it subjective or objective? Does it rely on authority (if yes, is it reasonable)? What is the nature of the examples used? What is assumed by choosing certain types of evidence (importance, possibility, influence, positive/negative)? Are there generalizations being made? Was credit given where it was due in the form of citations? Are more popular works available than the one that you are critiquing? Does the work discuss a broad topic, or a specific element of a topic?
Marginalization: are socio-cultural issues and groups accurately portrayed and represented in the media or does it marginalize people or use subtle tricks to misrepresent them? Is there an underrepresentation of certain groups? Is there any exclusionary language, themes, or scenarios?
Superstructure & Metadata: how do such things as title, choice in font, images, graphics, table of contents, etc., add to the quality or depth of information?
Triangulation: do other well-known and well-respected authors or publishers make the same argument? When the author cites an external reference, is the external reference credible? Do other well-known and well-respected sources cite this work (the one that you are critiquing)?
Problems: was there anything missing? Are there any topics being fused that should instead be dealt with individually? How could the media have been different? Is anything integrated into the media that is out of context?
Questions to Help Analyze Media
Genre / Audience: What is the genre of the medium? Is it a journal article, a newspaper article, etc. Who is the audience? Does it probably already know a bit about the topic? What clues lead you to arrive at your conclusions?
Purpose / Intent: students generally encounter difficulty identifying the “purpose” or “intent” of media. People should ask themselves what the implicit or inferred purpose of the media consume is. An acronym that some language instructors use is “PIE:” Persuade, Inform, Entertain:
Point of View / Perspective: from what perspective did the author or producer create the media? You may have heard people in the past make statements such as, “as a mother of four children…” or “as someone who is against racism…” or “as a person of faith…” This is point of view. Do not use fiction point of view (1st person, 3rd person, omniscient, etc.) unless your analyzing fiction.
Bias / Propaganda: what clues do you see in the media that there is bias in the it or that it is a piece of propaganda? Is there advertising on the site and, if so, how does it impact the content?
Level of expertise: is the author an informed reader or an expert on the topic?
Ideology: what ideals are championed by the author? In other words, what are the implicit belief systems or value systems in the media? One method of forcing these to come to the surface is to create two columns on a piece of paper and to note down the words or ideas that seems to be positively reinforced in the media. Then, in the other column, write down the opposite of these words and ideas. These binaries (pairs of opposites) will paint a picture of the media’s underlying ideology.
Mood / Emotion: what sort of mood do you pick up on in the media (sad, angry, happy, neutral, etc.). If you pick up on mood in the piece, how did the author manage to achieve it (e.g. language, layout, illustrations)? More importantly, what purpose does it serve? Often biased works are dripping with emotion.
Language: what type of language does the producer use? Is the tone formal or casual? Is it brimming with colloquialisms? Expletives (swear words)? A poor quality narrative often coincides with suspicious content. Did the other use words in a connotative way to imply something beyond their literal meaning (e.g. figurative language, idioms, symbolism, satire, irony, parody, allegory, exaggeration, imagery, personification)? This can mean that the author is a good writer, but it can also mean that there is an attempt to subtly manipulate the media consumer toward some covert meaning or message. Does the author use a lot of adjectives and adverbs? This is often an indicator that they are attempting to invoke mood and emotion with the intent of pushing the media consumer toward a certain belief. Are there times when the language used does not appear to impart knowledge or to assist in understanding the issues at hand, but seems instead to have some other purpose? If yes, what do you think this purpose might be, and how did the author accomplish this shift away from information?
Organization: how is the text organized. Perform a media analysis exercise and identify the various components of the piece. Better still, identify the sub-components of the introduction (hook, setting the context, declaration of topic / thesis), the body (main points, and details or support), and the conclusion. Sometimes one or more of these items may be omitted. Is the media logically sequenced in some way (e.g. chronological, different aspects of the topic, steps in a logical sequence)? A lack of logical sequencing often indicates novice production skills which, in turn, should lead consumers to question content.
Methods to Attract Interest and Develop Familiarity: how does the author grab your attention or try to get you to care about the subject? Does the author try to get you to identify with them (e.g., through tone? shared experiences?)? Or do they try to get you to feel respect for their knowledge or authority? Or do they appeal to your emotion (pathos), provide statistics and facts (logos), or try to reach you on some moral level (ethos)? Or do they offer anecdotes, details, or something else that grabs your attention? Does the producer simply assume that you have particular interests or values and use those as the basis for their argument?
Superstructure & Metadata: how do such things such as overall tone, sentence formation, use of punctuation, and brevity or length of passages have an impact on the media consumer? For example, overuse of the exclamation mark (!) is often indicative of an unseasoned writer or someone that may (suspiciously) be trying to invoke emotional appeal into their media. What was the date of publication and when was it last updated? Unless you intend to give the historical background on a topic, many sources of information are considered out of date after 5 or 10 years, depending on the area of expertise. Are there dead hyperlinks?