Using Media for Social Change

By Isabelle Ick, Program and Communications Intern

July 19, 2017

This week, Breakthrough will convene 30 undergraduate media makers who have committed to using their expertise in media, arts, and tech to advance social justice. The Action Lab will result in dynamic student-led actions designed to dismantle the cultural norms that lead to violence. Read on to see why the time is now for action in the media.

In the first quarter of 2016, U.S. adults were consuming 10 hours and 39 minutes of media daily. With such a large amount of time spent utilizing media, we may not be aware of how news media influences us in ways we do not see or consider. As activists and citizens, we have a responsibility to both deliver and consume news. But no matter how we engage with the media, we need to understand that it, like any other cultural structure or institution, carries large social power. Through iconic disruptive action designed to hold these structures accountable, we can change how news media contributes to agenda setting.

A 2014 study reported that nearly 60% of Americans do not read beyond the headline of an article. With such short attention spans, a one-sentence headline can set an agenda that diminishes identities and hinders culture change.

In August of last year, we saw the well-known Chicago Tribune headlineWife of Bears lineman Mitch Unrein, wins bronze in Rio.” Those that may not even read the article know barely anything about Corey Cogdell besides her relationship status, perpetuating the norm that lessens women’s achievements, especially in the “traditionally male” arena of sports.

When citizens need to be informed and up to date about important news that can affect their attitudes or decision-making, the framing of news media can be problematic. For example, a HuffPost piece showed an alarming difference between the media’s coverage of Black Lives Matter issues.

Breakthrough’s solution:

What stories are reported in the first place? Those who produce news media are in charge of content and can control what consumers see, hear, and learn. In a culture where norms, prejudice, and inequality are rampant, it is imperative that all persons are receiving information that is clear and free from harmful cultural and social norms. This news media helps people realize and understand the inequalities within the world, and begin to form their own opinions and understandings of the norms they live with and the culture they live in.

As media makers and consumers, it is important that we upend the idea that news media is untrustworthy by holding news media accountable and by training and expecting the younger generations to create the type of media that we want to see. We want to see norms ended within media, and norms ended within our society. This is possible by changing, using, and creating media that aligns with the social justice accountability we wish to see. By calling for this change, we can strengthen and create a unique, contemporary kind of news media.

The 2017 Action Lab takes place July 20-21, 2017 at New York University. Stay tuned in September for more information on the resulting student-led media actions!

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