Media Effects Media Literacy Ninth Edition 2 3 Media Literacy Ninth Edition W. James Potter University of California, Santa Barbara Los Angele

Media Effects Media Literacy

Ninth Edition



Media Literacy
Ninth Edition

W. James Potter
University of California, Santa Barbara

Los Angele

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Media Literacy

Ninth Edition



Media Literacy
Ninth Edition

W. James Potter
University of California, Santa Barbara

Los Angeles

New Delhi

Washington DC



SAGE Publications, Inc.

2455 Teller Road

Thousand Oaks, California 91320


SAGE Publications Ltd.

1 Oliver’s Yard

55 City Road

London EC1Y 1SP

United Kingdom

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Mathura Road, New Delhi 110 044


SAGE Publications Asia-Pacific Pte. Ltd.

18 Cross Street #10-10/11/12

China Square Central

Singapore 048423

Copyright © 2019 by W. James Potter

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Potter, W. James, author.

Title: Media literacy / W. James Potter.

Description: Ninth edition. | Los Angeles : SAGE, [2020] | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2018040336 | ISBN 9781506366289 (paperback : alk. paper)

Subjects: LCSH: Media literacy.

Classification: LCC P96.M4 P68 2020 | DDC 302.23072/1—dc23 LC record available at

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Acquisitions Editor: Lily Norton

Editorial Assistant: Sarah Wilson

Production Editor: Bennie Clark Allen

Copy Editor: Christina West

Typesetter: C&M Digitals (P) Ltd.

Proofreader: Sally Jaskold

Indexer: Jean Casalegno


Cover Designer: Candice Harman

Marketing Manager: Staci Wittek


Brief Contents

1. Preface
2. Acknowledgments
3. About the Author

1. Chapter 1 • Why Increase Media Literacy?
2. Chapter 2 • Media Literacy Approach

1. Chapter 3 • Audience: Individual Perspective
2. Chapter 4 • Audience: Industry Perspective
3. Chapter 5 • Children as a Special Audience

1. Chapter 6 • Development of the Mass Media Industries
2. Chapter 7 • Economic Perspective

7. Part IV • CONTENT
1. Chapter 8 • Media Content and Reality
2. Chapter 9 • News
3. Chapter 10 • Entertainment
4. Chapter 11 • Advertising
5. Chapter 12 • Interactive Media

8. Part V • EFFECTS
1. Chapter 13 • Broadening Our Perspective on Media Effects
2. Chapter 14 • How Does the Media Effects Process Work?

1. Chapter 15 • Helping Yourself and Others to Increase Media Literacy

1. Issue 1 • Ownership of Mass Media Businesses
2. Issue 2 • Sports
3. Issue 3 • Fake News
4. Issue 4 • Advertising
5. Issue 5 • Media Violence
6. Issue 6 • Privacy

11. Glossary
12. References
13. Index



Detailed Contents

About the Author

Chapter 1 • Why Increase Media Literacy?
The Information Problem

Growth Is Accelerating
High Degree of Exposure
Keeping Up

Dealing With the Information Problem
Our Mental Hardware
Our Mental Software

Automatic Routines
Advantages and Disadvantages

The Big Question
Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date

Chapter 2 • Media Literacy Approach
What Is Media Literacy?
The Three Building Blocks of Media Literacy

Knowledge Structures
Personal Locus

The Definition of Media Literacy
The Development of Media Literacy
Advantages of Developing a Higher Degree of Media Literacy

Appetite for Wider Variety of Media Messages
More Self-Programming of Mental Codes
More Control Over Media

Further Reading

Chapter 3 • Audience: Individual Perspective

Information-Processing Tasks


Meaning Matching
Meaning Construction

Analyzing the Idea of Exposure to Media Messages
Exposure and Attention

Physical Exposure
Perceptual Exposure
Psychological Exposure

Exposure States
Automatic State
Attentional State
Transported State
Self-Reflexive State

The Media Literacy Approach
Further Reading

Chapter 4 • Audience: Industry Perspective
Shift From Mass to Niche Perspective on Audience

What Is a Mass Audience?
Rejection of the Idea of Mass Audience
The Idea of Niche Audience

Identifying Niches
Geographic Segmentation
Demographic Segmentation
Social Class Segmentation
Geodemographic Segmentation
Psychographic Segmentation

Twelve American Lifestyles
VALS Typology

Attracting Audiences
Appeal to Existing Needs and Interests
Cross-Media and Cross-Vehicle Promotion

Conditioning Audiences
Further Reading

Chapter 5 • Children as a Special Audience
Why Treat Children as a Special Audience?

Lack of Experience


Lack of Maturation
Cognitive Development
Emotional Development
Moral Development

Special Treatment From Regulators
Special Treatment From Parents
Re-examining the Case for Special Treatment of Children


Young Adults as a Special Audience
Cognitive Abilities

Field Independency
Crystalline Intelligence
Fluid Intelligence
Conceptual Differentiation

Emotional Abilities
Emotional Intelligence
Tolerance for Ambiguity

Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date

Chapter 6 • Development of the Mass Media Industries

Patterns of Development
Innovation Stage
Penetration Stage
Peak Stage
Decline Stage
Adaptation Stage

Comparisons Across Mass Media
Life Cycle Pattern
Indicators of Peak
Decline and Adaptation

Current Picture
Special Case of the Computer Industry
Profile of Mass Media Workforce



Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date

Chapter 7 • Economic Perspective
The Media Game of Economics

The Players
The Goal
The Rules

Characteristics of the Game
Importance of Valuing Resources Well
Complex Interdependency Among Players
Digital Convergence
Nature of Competition

Media Industry Perspective
Overview of Success

Film Segment
Music Segment
Book Segment
Video Game Segment

Media Strategies

Maximizing Profits
Constructing Audiences
Reducing Risk

Consumers’ Strategies
Default Strategy
Media Literacy Strategy

Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date

Chapter 8 • Media Content and Reality

Role of Reality in Media Content Formulas
Complex Judgment

Magic Window
Multiple Dimensions of Reality
Differences Across Individuals

Organizing Principle: Next-Step Reality
Audience’s Perspective


Programmers’ Perspective
Reality Programming as a Genre
The Importance of Media Literacy
Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date

Chapter 9 • News
Dynamic Nature of News

Rise and Fall of “Big News”
Shift to Online Sources of News

Different Perspectives on News
Political Philosophy Perspective
Traditional Journalistic Perspective
News-Working Perspective
Economic Perspective
Consumer Personal Perspective

Selective Exposure

Consumer Standards for Evaluating the Quality of News


Lack of Bias

How Can We Become More Media Literate With News?
Exposure Matters
Quality Matters

Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date

Chapter 10 • Entertainment
Story Formulas

General Story Formula

Different Media


Changing Public Taste
Dealing With Risk

Character Patterns
Controversial Content Elements


Deceptive Health Patterns
Responsible Health Patterns

Becoming Media Literate With Entertainment Messages
Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date

Chapter 11 • Advertising
Advertising Is Pervasive
Process of Constructing Advertising Messages

Campaign Strategy
Outbound Advertising Perspective
Inbound Advertising Perspective

Becoming More Media Literate with Advertising
Analyze Your Personal Needs
Analyze Ads
Evaluate Ads

Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date

Chapter 12 • Interactive Media
Competitive Experiences

Attraction to Electronic Games
Psychology of Playing Electronic Games
Designing Electronic Game Platforms
Marketing Electronic Games

Cooperative Experiences


Opinion Sharing

Acquisition Experiences

Media Literacy With Interactive Messages
Personal Implications
Broader Concerns

Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date

Chapter 13 • Broadening Our Perspective on Media Effects

Timing of Effects
Valence of Effects
Intentionality of Effects
Type of Effects

Cognitive-Type Effect
Belief-Type Effect
Attitudinal-Type Effect
Emotional-Type Effect
Physiological-Type Effect
Behavioral-Type Effect
Macro-Type Effect

Four-Dimensional Analysis
Becoming More Media Literate
Further Reading

Chapter 14 • How Does the Media Effects Process Work?
Media Effects Are Constantly Occurring

Manifested Effects and Process Effects
Baseline Effects and Fluctuation Effects

Factors Influencing Media Effects
Baseline Factors


Developmental Maturities
Cognitive Abilities
Knowledge Structures
Sociological Factors
Personal Locus
Media Exposure Habits

Fluctuation Factors
Content of the Messages
Context of Portrayals
Cognitive Complexity of Content
Degree of Identification

Process of Influence
Thinking About Blame
Becoming More Media Literate
Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date

Chapter 15 • Helping Yourself and Others to Increase Media Literacy

Helping Yourself
Ten Guidelines

1. Strengthen Your Personal Locus
2. Develop an Accurate Awareness of Your Exposure Patterns
3. Acquire a Broad Base of Useful Knowledge
4. Examine Your Mental Codes
5. Examine Your Opinions
6. Change Behaviors
7. Think About the Reality-Fantasy Continuum
8. Become More Skilled at Designing Messages
9. Do Not Take Privacy for Granted
10. Take Personal Responsibility

Illustrations of Milestones
Cognitive Ladder
Emotional Ladder
Moral Ladder
Aesthetic Appreciation Ladder


Examples of Levels of Literacy
Helping Others

Interpersonal Techniques
Public Education

Current Situation
What Can You Do?

Societal Techniques
Keeping Up to Date

Issue 1 • Ownership of Mass Media Businesses

Delineating the Issue
Arguments Against Concentration of Ownership of Media Companies
Arguments for Concentration of Ownership of Media Companies

Evidence of Concentration
Trend Toward Concentration
Factors Driving the Trend

Regulation and Deregulation

Evidence for Harm
Increased Barriers to Entry
Reduced Level of Competition
Reduced Number of Public Voices
Changes in Content

Your Own Informed Opinion
Expanding Perspective
Re-examining Evidence
Thinking About Underlying Values


Informing Your Opinion
Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date
Applying Media Literacy Skills

Issue 2 • Sports
Delineating the Issue
The Money Cycle


Owners and Leagues
Television Networks

Video Gaming
Your Own Informed Opinion

The Big Picture
Extend Your Knowledge
Cost-Benefit Analysis
Think About Implications

Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date
Applying Media Literacy Skills

Issue 3 • Fake News
What Is Fake News?

Delineation by News Criteria
Human Interest

Delineation by Type of Sender
By Channel
By Professionalism

Delineation by Intention of Sender
Delineation by Accuracy

Factual Accuracy
Story Accuracy

Delineation by Context
An Irony

Media-Literate Treatment of Fake News
Be Skeptical
Be Analytical
Evaluate Facts
Evaluate the News Story

Your Own Informed Opinion


Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date
Applying Media Literacy Skills

Issue 4 • Advertising
Delineating the Issue
Faulty Criticisms

Advertising Is Deceptive
Companies Manipulate Us Through Subliminal Advertising
Advertising Perpetuates Stereotypes

Criticisms Based on Personal Values
Advertising Is Excessive
Advertising Manipulates Us Into Buying Things We Don’t Need
Advertising Makes Us Too Materialistic

Criticisms About Responsibility
Advertising Potentially Harmful Products
Invading Protected Groups
Invading Privacy
Altering Needs

Your Own Informed Opinion
Further Reading
Applying Media Literacy Skills

Issue 5 • Media Violence
Delineating the Issue
The Public’s Faulty Perceptions

Equating Violence With Graphicness
Ignoring Context
Blind Spot on Harm

Producers’ Faulty Beliefs
Violence Is Necessary to Storytelling
Blame Others, Not Producers

Your Own Informed Opinion
Implications for Individuals
Implications for Producers
Moving Beyond Faulty Thinking

Further Reading
Applying Media Literacy Skills

Issue 6 • Privacy
Delineating the Issue
Criminal Threats to Your Privacy

Stealing Private Information


Direct Theft
Indirect Theft
Economic Purpose
Political Purpose

Destroying Information

Non-criminal Threats to Your Privacy
Collecting and Selling Information

Public Opinion and Regulations
Public Opinion

Your Own Informed Opinion
Information Assessment

Take an Inventory About What Information Is Publically Available About You
Map Your Information by Privacy Levels

Threat Assessment
Privacy Strategy

Remove Private Information
Correct Inaccuracies
Continually Monitor Threats
Download Software to Protect Your Computer From Threats to Your Privacy
Set Up Your Internet Browsers to Disallow Cookies as the Default

Further Reading
Keeping Up to Date
Applying Media Literacy Skills





Most of us think we are fairly media literate. We know how to access all kinds of media to find the music,
games, information, and entertainment we want. We recognize the faces of many celebrities and know many
facts about their lives. We recognize a range of musical styles and have developed strong preferences for what
we like. We can easily create messages through photos, videos, and text then upload them to various sites on
the Internet. Clearly, we know how to expose ourselves to the media, we know how to absorb information
from them, we know how to be entertained by them, and we know how to use them to create our own
messages and share them with others.

Are we media literate? Yes, of course. We have acquired a great deal of information and developed remarkable
skills. The abilities to speak a language, read, understand photographs, and follow narratives are significant
achievements, although we often take them for granted.

While we should not overlook what we have accomplished, it is also important to acknowledge that we all can
be much more media literate. In many ways, your overall level of media literacy now is probably about the same
as it was when you first became a teenager. Since that time, your information base has grown enormously
about some types of media messages, such as popular songs, Internet sites, and video clips. However, your
information base may not have grown much in other areas—about the economics of the mass media industry,
who controls that industry, how decisions are made about the production of content, and how that constant
flow of content affects you and society in all sorts of hidden ways. Thus, your current level of media literacy
allows you to do many things with the media, but you could be exercising much more control and getting more
out of your media exposures—if you grew your knowledge in additional areas.

The more you are aware of how the mass media operate and how they affect you, the more you gain control
over those effects and the more you will separate yourself from typical media users who have turned over a
great deal of their lives to the mass media without realizing it. By “turning over a great deal of their lives to
the mass media,” I mean more than time and money, although both of those are considerable. I also mean
that most people have allowed the mass media to program them in ways they are unaware of. And because they
are unaware of these ways, they cannot shape or control that programming.

The purpose of this book is to show you how the media have been shaping your beliefs and behavioral
patterns. Until you become aware of how much your beliefs have been formed by media influence and how the
media have accomplished all this shaping, you will continue to float along in a flood of media messages—
oblivious to their constant, subtle influence. However, once you begin to see things from a media literacy
perspective, you can see how this process of influence works, and this understanding will help you to gain
control over this shaping process.



How to Get the Most Out of This Book

As you read through this book, think frameworks and be strategic. If you keep these two ideas in the front of
your mind, you will be able to read faster and at the same time get more out of your reading.

Frameworks are maps. When you have a map to guide your reading journey, you know where you are and
where you have to go next. To help you perceive the most important frameworks, each chapter begins with a
key idea followed by an outline of topics covered. Strategies keep you focused on what is most important.
When you read through each chapter, be guided by several important questions, then be strategic in your
reading; that is, actively look for the answers to those questions. By actively, I mean don’t just scan the words
and sentences; instead, start with an agenda of questions, then as you read through each section, look
specifically for answers to your questions. After you have finished a chapter, close the book and see how much
you can recall. Can you remember only a random mass of facts, or can you envision an organized set of
knowledge structured by your questions?

This book is composed of 15 instructional chapters followed by six issues chapters. The purpose of the 15
instructional chapters is to provide you with the framework of ideas to help you organize your knowledge
structures in four areas: knowledge about the media industries, knowledge about media audiences, knowledge
about media content, and knowledge about media effects. These chapters also present you with some facts and
figures to hang on those frameworks. To help you acquire more information to elaborate these frameworks on
your own, the chapters include a list of books, articles, and websites for further reading; I have selected these
as particularly interesting extensions of what I have presented in the chapter. Also, because things change so
fast these days with the media, I have also provided several sources of information (typically websites) where
you can access the most current information available on each topic. The first time you read through these 15
core instructional chapters, stay focused on the most important ideas as you build your own knowledge
structures. Then once you have these structures, go back and reread the chapters to add the detail you need to
elaborate your understanding.

You will get more out of each of the core instructional chapters if you try to incorporate the information you
are learning into your own experience. The exercises at the end of each chapter help you do this. But do not
think of the exercises as something that will only help you prepare for an exam. Instead think about the
exercises as things you can continually do in your everyday life as you encounter the media. The more you
practice the tasks that are laid out in the exercises, the more you will be internalizing the information and thus
making it more a natural part of the way you think.

After you have finished with the core instructional chapters and building your initial set of knowledge
structures, you will be ready to dig deep into the controversies within media studies. The six issues chapters
give you a chance to use your knowledge structures and increase the strength of your skills as you take apart
these controversies, appreciate the beauty of their complexity, and put together your own informed opinion on
each. The first issue unpacks the controversy about whether or not the ownership of the mass media has
become too concentrated; some critics argue that there are now too few owners of too many media businesses.


The topic of sports is treated in Issue 2 by examining possible answers to the question: Is there too much
money being spent on sports? Issue 3 examines “fake news.” Issue 4 analyzes how we criticize advertising and
whether those criticisms are valid. Issue 5 tackles the persistent controversy over whether there is too much
violence in the media and whether the prevalence of violence in media content is harming individuals and
society. This section concludes with Issue 6, which examines the growing concern about privacy and how the
new media environment is making it much more difficult for you to protect your privacy.

If you engage these issues on a superficial level, then you will likely be frustrated by what seem like unsolvable
problems. But if you dig deeper and apply your developing skills of media literacy, you will begin to see how
the complexities of these issues may be causing problems in your own life. And when you recognize these
problems, you will be able to use your greater level of media literacy to develop strategies to reduce their
influence. Thus you will be taking more control over issues that you previously thought were too big, too
complicated, and the fault of other people.


Digital Resources

The password-protected instructor resources site at includes:

Test banks that provide a diverse range of prewritten options as well as the opportunity to edit any
question and/or insert your own personalized questions to effectively assess students’ progress and
Lecture notes that summarize key concepts on a chapter-by-chapter basis to help with preparation for
lectures and class discussions.
Chapter-specific PowerPoint¯ slides that offer assistance with lecture and review preparation by
highlighting essential content, features, and artwork from the book.
Tables and figures in an easily downloadable format for use in papers, handouts, and presentations.
Sample course syllabi for semester and quarter courses provide suggested models for structuring your
Discussion questions that help launch classroom interaction by prompting students to engage with the
material and by reinforcing important content.
Chapter activities for individual or group projects provide lively and stimulating ideas for use in and out
of class that reinforce active learning.
A course cartridge provides easy LMS integration.

The open access student study site at includes:

Mobile-friendly practice quizzes that allow for independent assessment by students of their mastery of
course material.
Mobile-friendly eFlashcards that strengthen understanding of key terms and concepts.
Carefully selected chapter-by-chapter video and multimedia content that enhances classroom-based
explorations of key topics.
Exclusive access to influential SAGE journal and reference content that ties important research to
chapter concepts to strengthen learning.
Access to online-only appendices.


To Conclude

It is my hope that this book will stimulate you to think more deeply about your media habits and become
motivated to increase your control over the process of influence from the media. The information presented in
these chapters will get you started in this direction. Will the book provide you with all the information you
need to complete this task fully? No. That would require too much information to fit into one book. You will
need to continue reading. At the end of most chapters, I suggest several books for further reading on the topic
of that chapter. Although some of those books are fairly technical, most of them are easy to read and very

This book is an introduction. It is designed to show you the big picture so you can get started efficiently on
increasing your own media literacy. It is important to get started now. The world is rapidly changing because
of newer information technologies that allow you to create and share your own messages in addition to
accessing all kinds of information on just about any conceivable topic.

I hope you will have fun reading this book. And I hope it will expose you to new perspectives from which you
can perceive much more about the media. If it does, you will be gaining new insights about your old habits
and interpretations. If this happens, I hope you will share your new insights and “war stories” with me. Much
of this book has been written to reflect some of the problems and insights my students have had in the media
literacy courses I have taught. I have learned much from them. I’d like to learn even more from you. So let me
know what you think and send me a message at

See you on the journey!



This book project has traveled a very long distance from its initial conceptualization in the mid-1990s. Since
then I have had the privilege of using various versions of the book with more than a thousand students at
Florida State University, UCLA, Stanford University, and the University of California at Santa Barbara.
These students helped me form the idea into a useful book for a broad range of undergraduates and refine the
material through eight subsequent editions. I thank them for every question, every puzzled look, and every
smile of satisfaction from an insight gained. Over the years, Media Literacy has been translated from English
into seven other languages, which makes it accessible to readers in many parts of the world. Some of those
readers have provided me with their reactions, and I thank them.

I thank the many reviewers whom SAGE called on to critique the text in each edition. Some contacted me
directly; others chose to remain anonymous. In all cases their comments were valuable. SAGE and I gratefully
acknowledge the following reviewers for their kind assistance:

MaryAlice Adams, Miami University
Richard T. Craig, George Mason University
Donna L. Halper, Lesley University
Elizabeth R. Ortiz, Cedar Crest College
Phil Rutledge, University of North Carolina–Charlotte

I am grateful for the support of SAGE with its many highly skilled staff members over the years. First, I need
to thank Margaret Seawell, who initially signed this project then shepherded it through three editions, then
Todd Armstrong who took over for Margaret on the fourth and fifth editions, then Matt Byrnie who took
over for Todd and gave me considerable help with the sixth, seventh, and eighth editions before turning it
over to Terri Accomazzo for this ninth edition. In the production department, Astrid Virding skillfully took
the first edition from manuscript to bound book, as did Claudia Hoffman on the second edition, Tracy
Alpern on the third, and Astrid Virding again on the fourth, fifth, and sixth editions, Olivia Weber-Stenis on
the seventh edition, Laura Barrett on the eighth edition, and Bennie Clark Allen on this edition. They made
it look easy, though there must have been days when it was anything but. I also want to thank Carmel
Withers in Marketing and SAGE salespeople for their enthusiastic support of the new edition. Finally, I must
thank the many fine copy editors SAGE has assigned to this project over the years, especially Christina West,
who demonstrated that she is the best of the best with her great job editing my work on this ninth edition.

If you like this book, then I share the credit of success with all the people I mentioned above. If you find a
mistake, a shortcoming, or a misinterpretation, it is my fault for not fully assimilating all the high-quality help
I have been privileged to experience.



About the Authors

W. James Potter ,
professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, holds one PhD in Communication Studies
and another in Instructional Technology. He has been teaching media courses for more than two
decades in the areas of effects on individuals and society, content narratives, structure and economics of
media industries, advertising, journalism, programming, and production. He has served as editor of the
Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media and is the author of many journal articles and books, including
the following: Media Effects, The 11 Myths of Media Violence, Becoming a Strategic Thinker: Developing
Skills for Success, On Media Violence, Theory of Media L

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