By Dan O’Reilly-Rowe, 2009.

Generally speaking, media makers don’t just put in hours and hours of work on their pieces because it feels good (even though it often does). Media messages are flung out into the world in specific directions, towards specific audiences, with specific impacts on those audiences in mind. Artists make various decisions in their production process about how their work will look/sound/feel/taste/smell that help target certain messages to certain audiences. This workshop helps participants train their analytic muscles to identify what type of impact a piece of media might have in the world.

Goals

  • Practice identifying a text’s message, techniques, target audience, potential impact.

Participants

Ideally 2-5 per viewing station.

Media Resources

  • A set of texts (media samples) for the group to analyse. These could be video clips, photos, songs, video games… whatever. Suitable media for this activity
    • Have clearly identifiable audience, impact, techniques, and message.
    • Can easily be compared and contrasted.
    • Are short, and can be viewed and discussed multiple times in the course of the workshop.

Equipment/Resources

  • Paper
  • Markers
  • A/V equipment as required for media viewing stations.

Activities

  • Pose the general question to the group:
    • What does media (art) do in the world?
  • Answers might include:
    • Make people happy (entertain)
    • Spread information (inform)
    • Keep a record of things (document)
    • Promote people’s struggles (agitate)
    • Convince people to buy stuff (advertise)
  • Discuss the idea of “impact” in media. “Impact” refers to the effect that media has on those people who make it and consume it (the “audience”). Media does not just live separate from reality, it effects the way that we see the world, and in turn effects the world itself.
  • After giving the group some time to think and make notes for themselves if they like, go around the room and have each participant give an example of either:
    • A time when media has had an impact on them personally.
    • A time when media has had an impact on the world.
  • For example, participant responses might be something like:
    • I was deeply effected by a particular toy commercial when I was a kid…
    • The repetition of the images from September 11, 2001 in New York were used to convince Australia to send troops to war in Afghanistan…
  • Describe today’s activity. We’ll be breaking down some media examples to look at:
    • what they say (MESSAGE) – a piece of media’s meaning when it’s distilled into a direct message
    • who they say it to (AUDIENCE) – the group of people being targeted as the primary recipients of the message
    • how they say it (TECHNIQUE) – the style, form,
    • what they hope to achieve (IMPACT)
  • Write those four terms up on butcher’s paper for all to see. Clarify the meaning of each term and ask the participants to think of examples.
  • Begin by working through one example as a whole group, and then break the group out into smaller teams that will each work through an example and then present back their findings to the entire group.
  • For the first (whole group) example, choose something fairly straightforward to ensure understanding of the basic task. Example: a television commercial for fast food, or a soft drink, or a toy.
  • Watch the example video and then start making notes on a piece of butcher’s paper with the four headings (message, technique, audience, impact).
  • A typical commercial for McDonald’s (or most other fast food chains) might break down like this:
    • MESSAGE: McDonald’s is a good place for families to eat, have fun, spend time together.
    • AUDIENCE: Parents
    • TECHNIQUES: Playful music, humor, casting of picture-perfect (white, hetero, middle-class) family, appeal to “family values”, association with sports, “realist” camera work and editing that doesn’t draw attention to itself
    • IMPACT: people buy McDonalds products, “McDonalds” and “family” become associated in consumers’ minds
  • Check for comprehension of the terms and the task and then divide the group into teams of 2-5. Each team receives a piece of media (video, audio, photo, interactive, whatever…) and butcher’s paper and markers to record their responses on.
  • The teams should view their media, discuss, view again if time permits, and then prepare to present their findings to the group. They can present their findings on the page in any way they like, but they must address the four aspects that are the focus of this workshop.
  • Facilitators should circulate among the groups to ensure that teams are staying on task, to resolve conflicts that might arise, and to ensure that all participants are able to contribute to the conversation.
  • The whole group then reconvenes and teams take turn showing their media, presenting their findings , and leading a discussion with the rest of the group on their example. It is perfectly normal for different participants to come up with different interpretations of the media. What is important here is not to determine a definitive analysis that the entire group agrees on, but to practice coming up with an analysis of the media and making coherent arguments based on evidence that can be referenced in the media itself, or in the media’s social context, that supports that analysis.
  • After each team has presented, ask the big SO WHAT question.
    • SO WHAT? Why does it matter if we are skilled media analysts or not?
    • Why should viewers think about this?
    • Why should we think about this when we’re producing media?

Storytelling Prompts | Finding Topics to Explore

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