Seven Techniques that Donald Trump Uses to Control the Media

[Note: This post was originally featured on PlanetSave]

At the time of our nation’s inception, the Founders supported an open, free exchange of ideas as a necessary ingredient for the survival of a representative democracy. As Benjamin Franklin proclaimed, “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Freedoms of speech and press in the First Amendment, according to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black are essential to the U.S. constitution. “The Framers knew that free speech is the friend of change and revolution. But they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny.” Censorship is used to stop truths or ideas from emerging, to prevent the ability to draw attention to powerful people or governments, or to undermine ideology. President-elect Donald Trump understands the power of a free and independent press, according to Robert Reich, and does what all tyrants do: he tries to “squelch it.”


Reich, the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has outlined seven techniques that Donald Trump has used to undermine the power of the press. Reich calls these strategies “worrying.”

1. Berate the media: Trump “summoned” two-dozen TV news anchors and executives and berated them for their election coverage.

According to Vanity Fair, sources told the New York Post that Trump, in a dressing-down, characterized the assembled media execs as a “fucking firing squad,” with the president-elect attacking CNN in particular. “Trump kept saying, ‘We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful dishonest media who got it all wrong,’ ” the source said.  Reich related how another person who attended the meeting said Trump “truly doesn’t seem to understand the First Amendment. He thinks we are supposed to say what he says and that’s it.”

2. Blacklist critical media: Trump’s Facebook page read that the Washington Post was “phony and dishonest” and later revoked their press credentials.

Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said, “Donald Trump’s decision to revoke The Washington Post’s press credentials is nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press. When coverage doesn’t correspond to what the candidate wants it to be, then a news organization is banished.” CNN Money has the Trump Blacklist of media outlets, which includes Huffington Post, Politico, and Buzzfeed.

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Using Digital Media Wisely in Cleantech

Cleantech marketing can take a good product or service and make it recognizable, familiar, and comfortable for consumers. This is generally known as branding, in which a company develops and promotes an idea that captures and transmits the essential raison d’etre of their business model. Today, in the era of our complex digital world, branding should be embedded across multiple media but contain consistent messaging. Appropriate digital media marketing can create a whole picture of the consumer cleantech experience you provide without relying on the traditional 30-second sound bite.



Communication possibilities within digital media spaces require new cleantech marketing structures that address branding through concise messaging and a keen understanding of your intended audience.

Enrich your network of contacts through digital platforms

Networking involves creating win-win situations with other people by being helped and helping others. Your cleantech company can establish a circle of influence that encompasses other people who are also in the cleantech industry, the technologists who are driving cleantech behind the scenes, existing customers who may help your cleantech company to grow, and others.

Yes, like many businesses, you’ll need to join like-minded others at conferences, cocktail parties, and community events. You’ll extend the buzz you create at these events, however, if you can share clever and catchy digital platforms where your message is featured. Bring your iPad! Your digital presence can make all the difference in the way you are perceived by potential customers and investors— for positive or negative effect.


When designing your cleantech business website architecture, infuse lots of white space and intuitive navigation. Design should be consistent with style expectations of your audience. The contemporary, sleek, minimalist look that appeals to 25-40 year olds, for example, looks easy to create but is a consequence of careful planning and design. Get rid of the visual pollution.

Moreover, don’t assume your audience knows about your cleantech industry. Use your cleantech business website to narrate specifically and succinctly who you are, what you do, and how your cleantech business will benefit the consumer or investor. Make sure the copy defines terms and concepts in ways that are understandable. Pay attention to how images and design elements reinforce the points you are trying to make.

Describe what you do in a concisely worded slogan that is then explained in detail afterward through floating text boxes. Focus on function over flowery language, please. Emphasize how your customers save money, are more efficient, and belong to a sustainable community when they use your products or services.

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Elon Musk Becomes the Latest Target of Fake News

[Note: This post was originally featured on PlanetSave]

A mixture of Trump insiders, Alt-Right supporters, the fossil fuel industry, and climate change doubters have combined forces to create and propagate fake news about Elon Musk with the intent of undermining his influence in the automotive and energy sectors. Attacks on Musk and his companies have intensified since the Electoral College results were announced after the November 8 election and a surprise win by Donald Trump returns the Republican party to the White House.

fake news

Florida-based fact-checking outlet PolitiFact found that, of a set of 158 things Mr Trump said during his campaign, 78 per cent were false.

Musk inspires strong admiration for his industry-disrupting companies: Tesla, SolarCity, and Space Exploration Technologies (i.e. SpaceX). Each has been instrumental in fostering a significant shift in the way that consumers think about transportation and energy sources. The fake news attack on him is part of what many people fail to fully acknowledge: echo chambers — spaces in which ideas, information and beliefs are enforced through repetition and outside or opposing views are unable to penetrate — have a way of turning bad information into facts.

Indeed, some of these fake articles have been written by fake persons. An entirely falsified article titled “Elon Musk Continues to Blow Up Taxpayer Money With Falcon 9” was tagged with author, Shepard Stewart. Earlier the same week, Stewart had written “Here’s How Elon Musk Stole $5 Billion in Taxpayer Dollars.”

“Definitely a fake,” says Gavin Wax, editor-in-chief of the Liberty Conservative. That publication took down the article, as did the Libertarian Republic. Only recently did The Federalist site remove authorship information about Stewart from its website.

Sam Jaffe, managing director of Cairn Energy Research Advisors, says there are several reasons that Musk has become a fake news target. One is that whoever is behind the attacks fears Musk could enter U.S. politics. “There’s a portion of the political spectrum that is scared to death of Musk as politician. They see him as a threat. They’re starting that process.”

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Budweiser’s “Not Backing Down” Ad: Corporate and Political Parallels

[Note: This article was originally published on PlanetSave by Carolyn Fortuna.]

In a divisive year in which the U.S. Presidential and multiple Congressional seats are uncertain, candidates have drawn upon large pools of corporate support to fund campaigns. The messages within the commercials we see during our favorite screen shows contain many of the same themes that have emerged in the 2016 elections. Research-grounded climate change continues to divide political parties, and it scares big corporations who produce the largest carbon footprint of all. The messages of campaigns and corporate products have a significant common element: they use embedded messages to divide their audiences into groups. That division reinforces the wishes of corporate sponsors, who seek to maintain their power and influence, regardless of the effect on society and our world.


Budweiser, that “King of Beers,” has been strategically advertising its products since 1852 when salespeople provided beer trays for taverns. Throughout its long history, Budweiser has reflected the times through specific social messages that connected beer drinkers with its products. That advertising expertise is evident in a 2016 Budweiser commercial which recently aired during the World Series.

As we analyze this commercial, we not only see the marvel and complexity of marketing; we see how international corporations embed messages within their texts to perpetuate systems, institutions, and structures that privilege some and diminish others, such as those of us in the world of sustainable living, who threaten the status quo. This is often referred to hegemony at work.

The commercial is titled “Budweiser’s Not Backing Down.” Iconography of large scale brewing machinery, hands of hard-working employees, people drinking Budweiser hungrily, bands, athletes, dancers, and the ubiquitous Budweiser Clydesdales appear in a montage. The overt theme is that Budweiser will not allow craft beers to surpass it in popularity, and it places this theme within the idea that Budweiser is not for everyone, but this Bud’s for you.

The commercial is divided into sections, and each section has a marker phrase that encapsulates the message within that section. Let’s look at these sections and deconstruct how Budweiser moves beyond a superficial theme about product competition to see how it has Othered certain individuals and groups within society. Sustainability initiatives, by definition, fall into these Othered categories.


Budweiser’s message: The Clydesdales are the biggest and most formidable of all horses. If you want to be on the side of power and dominance, stick with us at the Budweiser Corporation. We’re on the side of Big Horses and Big Business.

Oppositional reading: Budweiser — and other international corporations — can exert power in ways you haven’t even imagined. Don’t even think about siding with the little guy, um, I mean, horse, or you’ll regret it.


Budweiser’s message: Budweiser is a full-time, established brewery with over 150 years of experience. Why would you want to choose a craft beer to drink when its makers are little more than homebrewing hobbyists? The 3,500+ craft breweries in the world comprise only about 12% of the market, although Anheuser’s U.S. sales have declined for the third time in four years.

Oppositional reading: Craft breweries and other innovative startups are slowly yet incrementally gaining a market share of a huge and formerly closed industry. If craft breweries can do it, what’s next? Vegan restaurants? Almond milk in every refrigerator? Cleantech startups?

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What’s Cycling Got to Do with Digital Literacy?

Allow me to introduce Emily Phillips, a 58-year-old who loved cycling when she lived in Europe. New to Philadelphia, she couldn’t quite afford to buy a bike. She had heard about Indego, Philadelphia’s bikeshare program. With Indego, 700 bikes are available at 70 stations throughout the city. To locate a bike, a rider accesses an app or an online station map for bike and dock availability. There are several ways to check out a bike with Indego. You can purchase a pass with credit card or cash, and you then use your electronic Indego Key to check out a bike. Or you walk up to any bike at any station and use your credit/debit card to pay for a one-time trip.


Sounds easy, right? Well, for a digitally literate individual, navigating the Indego app or website is a snap. But for Emily Phillips and other individuals who aren’t technologically savvy, using the bikeshare program can be too complicated. Forget it. Curiosity shutdown.

Back in 2014, it didn’t take long for the new grant manager of the Better Bike Share Partnership, Carniesha Kwashie, to figure out that internet access was a barrier to many individuals who wanted to sign up for Indego. “I found out that you couldn’t apply anywhere else but online,” she said. But she had a plan. Voila! Soon Philadelphia had a Digital Skills and Bike Thrills (DSBT) program, and lots of people were signing up to learn digital skills at their own pace.

Their assignments relate to Indego and bike sharing. In Digital Skills and Bike Thrills, individuals participate in a month-long workshop where they learn basic computer skills at the same time as they become familiar with local bicycle law and best practices. And they can join in a group ride and learn safe cycling skill at the same time. That’s all anybody can expect, right?

Actually, the DSBT program also includes a free six-month pass to Indego to anyone who completes the course. That means no hourly fees or passes to buy while learning to gain confidence as a city cyclist.

And how did Emily Phillips do? She completed the program and says she’s been riding in Philadelphia through Indego most everyday. She getting used to Philadelphia’s particular biking culture — “How drivers drive, how bicyclists bike, how many potholes there are in the road.”

What are digital learning and digital literacy?

Digital learning is not about technology. It’s about being able to access the right tool in the most efficient way to accomplish specific goals. To be digitally literate, a person needs to know how information is processed, delivered, and received in today’s highly connected world.

Here’s a typical digital learning standard: “Select digital tools or resources to use for a real-world task and justify the selection based on their efficiency and effectiveness, individually and collaboratively.” The Digital Skills and Biking Thrills program meets all specifications within this standard. It allows real world application of digital skills.

Internet access itself just wasn’t enough for everybody to join bikeshare

As reported by Anderson on Better Bike Share Partnership, Indego’s marketing team “knew by the end of the last season that the cash pass by itself wasn’t sufficient” to reach its full potential audience. Indego knew that many Philadelphians who have the most to gain from bike share access were unable to afford Indego’s prices.

So, over the winter of 2015-2016, they brainstormed ideas about a manageable and appealing discount program. The team knew that most low-income Philadelphians had already proved their income status to the state government. They had state-issued cards. Looking back, the next step seems extraordinarily easy, but it was quite new and innovative at the time of implementation. Indego gives a 67 percent discount on bike sharing memberships for anyone whose income is low enough to qualify for food assistance. So far, 687 Philadelphians have taken up the offer. Called Indego30 Access, it is the fastest-growing bike share discount program in the country. People who signed up for the Indego system this way now account for 10 percent of the system’s monthly membership rolls.

Biking beyond Philadelphia

There are so many good reasons to commute on a bike. In times of fluctuating gas prices, cycling clearly wins out: the daily cost amounts to little more than pedal power, with an equipment occasional tune-up thrown in. Lepore at Levo suggests that cycling boosts energy. You can skip the gym. And it is part of a larger picture to save the earth by limiting fossil fuels.

Looking back to his college years in Chapel Hill, NC, CleanTechnica’s director, Shahan loved being part of bike culture. Exploring small, tree-lined streets. Experiencing the seasons as they change. He even found a solid ranking system for the most bikeable cities in the U.S.

If you’re inspired by the idea of becoming a cycling commuter, National Bike to Work Week 2017 will be held on May 15-19, 2017. Bike to Work Day is May 19. Pedal on!

Photo credit: d26b73 via / CC BY



Revisiting Media Literacy through a Digital Lens

I admit it, readily and happily:  I’ve been an advocate of media literacy instruction since the late 1990s, when I came face-to-face with students who just didn’t want to read the required Western canon.  Students would locate and share copies of Spark Notes and, without blinking, recite plot points and character distinctions.  Yet, when I pulled out magazines and asked students to identify images that had parallel themes to A Separate Peace or Flowers for Algernon, they were hooked and genuinely engaged in learning.

I knew I was onto something significant with media literacy.

Now, two decades later, I’m ready to end full-time public school teaching.  With closure comes insight into the progress we have made toward infusing media literacy and popular culture as part of what Giroux calls “serious academic discourse” (1989).  I’m also keenly aware that challenges continue to exist and daunt the most insightful and progressive media educators, even with the seeming ubiquity of digital tools and resources.

Looking Back at Two Decades of Media Literacy in the Classroom

mind over media tvMuch of my grounding in media literacy (and, later, digital culture) was framed by Dr. Renee Hobbs of the Media Education Lab.  Through Renee’s influence, I came to understand media literacy analysis from the early Know TV Curriculum; then it was onto analyzing advertisements, copyright and fair use, news bias, one-minute teen films, and, most recently,  propaganda through Mind over Media which curates a majority of its collection from users.  My students contributed, linked, and critiqued ads surrounding Dove Soap and parallel ads pointing to the destruction of South Asian rain forests, among others.

I also learned about the National Alliance for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) and their analysis categories of author and audience, representations and reality, and meanings and messages.  That framework jump-started me and helped me to create my own deconstruction model for students, called the Visual Analysis Protocol. Regardless of the course I teach — which can range from Children’s Literature, Sports and Popular Culture, Masculinity and Sport, The Art of Film, Conspiracy Theory, or American Literature — my students have the requirement to analyze media texts incorporating a social justice lens and then to compose their own media texts.

The importance of original composing can’t be overlooked:  students assume critical distance from texts and persuasion when, instead of consuming, they produce.  The shift to production requires them to design within commonly accepted conventions of a genre and with clear language expression.  This is tough work for any age group, but it’s essential for teens, whose identity experiences have been formed through constant media influences. Media composition also helps students to recognize the narratives employed in mainstream media texts, alongside their associative values, as a necessary step in questioning the dominant culture.

Add in “Digital” to Media Literacy Education, and What Happens in the Classroom?

As my years of teaching continued, an evolution toward 1-to-1 technology devices was slowly occurring.  I was eager to move from familiar print text and paper-and-pencil literacy practices to on-demand online inquiry and digital multimodal text sets.

evolution of digital engagement

Digital applications have changed my pedagogy and the way that students engage with texts. I am both a teacher and digital media literacy curriculum designer, and in both roles I have reminded myself to be conscious of several pedagogical components of digital media literacy education. It is important:

  • to engage students in media literacy learning in ways that foster their currency in companion digital skills and strategies;
  • to develop instructional experiences that connect youths’ in-school and out-of-school literacy and learning;
  • to offer inquiry into topics that arouse youth passions so to guide them as they become more deeply literate;
  • to balance opportunities for analysis with original composition so that critical examination is lessens negativity and reductionism;
  • and, to think of media literacy as a socially inclusive approach which calls upon civic participation and lifelong learning.

Tying It All Together in a Common Language of Digital Media Literacy

At the spring, 2016 conference sponsored by the Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME), co-president Julia Freschette outlined how digital distribution adds to consumer-generated content in a change to the entire digital landscape.  She argued that the end goal now of digital media education is to understand the means through which communication is created, deployed, used, and shared. Sacred Heart University’s Director of the Master’s Degree Program in Media Literacy and Digital Culture, Bill Yousman, extended that discussion to reinforce how, even in a digital age, critical media literacy continues to deal with issues of power, and such power arises when media messages benefit dominant social groups at the cost of underrepresented groups.

Source: ACME

ACME co-president Rob Williams outlined a series of ways that a critical digital media classroom can also help students to identify how the social media environment fosters skills that apply to the real world. Yes, social media offers teens the opportunities to create and curate their own identities.  But, with teens’ average 7 hours, 40 minutes per day of total media submersion — not including multimedia tasking— teens can also use social media for larger purposes.  Williams suggested that educators help students to gain language to discuss what they are doing on/ with social media, which can leverage them to gain the power of the network with their particular set of skill strategies.

In a conference session titled “Global Media Literacy Education:  Teaching Beyond Borders,” by Belinda De Abreau and Melda N. Yildiz, critical digital media literacy goals pointed to “global competence,” or the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance. To gain global competence, we can recognize cultural nuances among people around us as a beginning place to examine mediated environments and topics from culturally different points of view. A companion classroom activity compares newspaper representations of specific topics through a site like NewspaperMap and ask why different interpretations of the same text occur culturally.

Censored2016_COVER_1024x1024Project Censored director Mickey Huff described some of that organization’s earliest instructional activities, in which students identified the stories were being covered by independent news organizations but not being disseminated by the mainstream media.  They asked, “Why is there such a discrepancy?” Today, Project Censored also teaches students about logical fallacies through news headlines, and they play “Déjà Vu” when news outlets do pick up and report a previously absent story.  Huff and co-author Andy Lee Roth recently published the book Censored 2016, which captures the top censored stories and media analysis of 2014-2015. Huff stated that, until we have a news system that is diverse, we need to engage in such critical media analysis.

Sut Jhally, Professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts and founder and Executive Director of the Media Education Foundation, was absolutely mesmerizing as the culminating keynote speaker at the ACME conference!  He revisited Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death introduction and argued that both Orwell and Huxley were right: fear and pleasure are driving our current worlds.  Jhally suggested that we read not McLuhan but McLuhan’s mentor, Henry Innis, who describes the essential influences of empire on society. Jhally also spoke of New York Times‘ Chris Hedges, who has a new book, Empire of Illusion. In it, Hedges discusses “the triviality of American popular culture… the mindlessness that makes the magic….”  I’ve added lots of material to my summer reading list as a result of hearing Jhally speak.

Carolyn at ACME delivering presentationAnd, in my own presentation, Reaching Magazines that Reach Us, I argued that media images of athletes of color reproduce generational stereotypes, and, through digital media analysis, we can help students to transcend such embedded messaging. Anytime we reproduce images from a former generation for a new generation, we expose youth to another framework with which to know their worlds.  If we are to assist our students become active advocates for equity in the world, we must, instead,  empower them to speak as systemic reformers. Digital media literacy can offer students the skills and structures to organize and act on a larger scale in order to change laws, policy, and larger social conditions. With digital media literacy analysis, they can, in turn, educate each other about racism. Through digital media literacy, we can help students to gain tools to transform institutions for justice for all.  Advocating for equitable images is one way.   

Barriers to Full Access to Digital Media Literacy Education in the U.S.

Of course, there are many issues when considering full implementation of digital media literacy programs in U.S. schools and other U.S. cultural sites.  A tendency seems to exist in many professional development programs to emphasize digital tools without focusing on the more important learning application of those tools. Moreover, instructors who lack the technology expertise cannot fully utilize the potential of digital media education, and, additionally, teachers can feel compelled to choose preparation for high-stakes testing over digital media production projects.

internet connectivity graphIn June 2013, President Obama announced his ConnectED initiative, which aimed to equip practically every school in the country with a high-speed broadband connection by 2018. We often speak about ubiquitous digital access, but it is important to remember that not all individuals, schools, or cultural institutions have the capacity to offer free wireless or to supply personal technology devices to their constituents, especially in an on-needed basis. Indeed, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the affluent and educated are still the most likely to have good access to digital resources.

And, finally, we have to remember that the U.S. is one of the very few Western countries that does not mandate media literacy education in its public schools.  Canada has media literacy requirements for their K-12 students. Countries like Sweden, Finland, South Africa, and the U.K. have some form of media literacy education for primary and secondary students. In fact, 70 to 80 percent of all European students receive some media literacy training by the time they graduate high school. If we want to teach our youth to be informed citizens in a democracy, the U.S. needs to reconsider its blatant disregard for the place and importance of digital media literacy instruction and to implement curricular standards that require students to analyze and interpret the vast amount of information that we all encounter every day.

An informed citizenry may depend on it.

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She has a twenty year background in public school teaching, and she is a part-time faculty member in the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at


Freire, P. and Giroux, H.  (1989).  Pedagogy, popular culture, and public life:  An introduction.  In Popular culture:  Schooling and everyday life. Eds. H. Giroux and R. Simon.  New York, NY.  Bergin & Garvey Publishers, Inc.






Let’s Analyze Super Bowl Commercials!

In 2015, You Tube Super Bowl ads accumulated 133 million views, and many of these views came well in advance of the actual Super Bowl broadcast, offering advertisers a rich (pun intended) opportunity to attract online audiences. The Super Bowl is the largest advertising event of the year, with costs to air a 30 second ad in excess of $3 million. Clearly, planning, design, and execution of Super Bowl commercials requires meticulous persuasive rhetoric.

Source: Super Bowl Commercials 2016

Source: Super Bowl Commercials 2016

As Super Bowl audiences, we enjoy the commercials; they’ve become part of the bigger picture of the Super Bowl as a mega-media event alongside the halftime entertainment spectacle and the actual football competition.  But the Super Bowl commercials also present us with an opportunity to unpack the methods by which we are made to feel a particular way about a product or service.  And, when we step back from the content of a text like Super Bowl commercials, we become reflective. Reflexivity is a developable capacity—the ability to self-reflect is not separate from the process of coming to know and understand. When we recognize the persuasion infused within text structures like Super Bowl commercials, we become better readers of other texts and our world.

So, what language and visual analyses can we apply to Super Bowl commercials?  How can we move from deciding what the Super Bowl commercial topics are to how their composers are crafting their arguments?

Persuasion, Messages, and Assumptions 

Source: Emergent Media

Source: Emergent Media

It helps to understand what “persuasion” is in order to get started with Super Bowl commercial analysis.  Persuasion is communication intended to induce belief or action. If they’re successful, text composers will capture and hold their audiences, and those audiences will be persuaded to think, to know their worlds, and to behave in particular ways based on persuasive appeal.  The messages that are embedded within texts like Super Bowl commercials are part of an information exchange that contains a definite world view. Composers disseminate messages in ways that attempt to persuade their audiences to see the world in particular ways.

Those particular ways of seeing the world are sometimes called “assumptions.”  Assumptions are ideas that are accepted to be true without having much accompanying evidence.  Amateur and professional sports are constantly-evolving spaces, and Super Bowl commercials describe these sports spaces and the larger society in which we live through embedded assumptions.

A Four-Part Process to Analyze Super Bowl Commercials

So much happens during a Super Bowl commercial! A full story is told within 15 or 30 seconds. As the audience, we respond not only to fictionalized characters and conflicts but stylized images made possible through sophisticated digital editing  techniques. Together, a series of elements create effects that cause us to respond in particular ways.  Breaking these elements into parts and synthesizing them afterward can help us to show evidence of measured thought and to digest multiple possible interpretations of Super Bowl commercials as persuasive media texts. 

Content and Context 

Source: Super Bowl Commercials 2016

  • Start by listing objects within the commercial and offering detailed descriptions of these objects.
  • What do people say to each other in this commercial?  How do individuals respond to and build upon others’ language choices? Note the most important conversational exchanges.
  • Consider the structural mechanisms that are used to draw the viewer into the text. For example, how are lighting, sound, music, voice overs, special effects, editing, color symbolism, and/ or casting used to foster audience interest?
  • Is there any specific implied prior knowledge that would be important for a viewer to hold in order to understand the commercial?  If so, name it.
  • Describe the setting: time and place.  Why did the composer choose these instead of other possible times and places?


Source: PBS

Source: PBS

  • Return to the list and descriptions of objects you created.  Now isolate certain objects that seem to stand out as unusual, important, or curious.
  • Explain what these isolated objects often represent in society.  This type of representation is sometimes called “allusion.”  Allusions use one object to remind us of a deep series of meanings through calling to mind popular culture, history, politics, literature, religion, or art.
  • Make a hypothesis for each isolated object:  what might the composer of this commercial be trying to tell us about our own lives through this allusion?

Composer and Target Audience 

Source: Driving

  • Research who commissioned the text.   Since Super Bowl commercials are so expensive, it’s likely that a corporation paid to have the commercial produced.  What do we know about the corporation and its holdings?
  • Who actually designed and produced the commercial?  What is that company’s or individual’s reputation and experience within the world of advertising? For what other advertisements is the designer/ producer known?
  • Who is the target audience for this commercial?  How do you know?  What features of the commercial appeal to a particular age and demographic group?  
  • What are the possible economic consequences of this commercial’s success? How might it lead to new audiences adopting the corporation’s product or service?


Source: Subliminal Messages for Alienation Paulo Zerbato

Source: Subliminal Messages for Alienation Paulo Zerbato

  • What themes or lessons is this commercial telling us about our world and ways that we should behave?
  • What evidence or reasons does the text composer supply to support the theme or lesson? How good are these reasons or evidence? Why do you trust or distrust the reasons and evidence?
  • How might different people interpret these themes or lessons differently?  What are the possible consequences of such themes or lessons for different audiences?

Critical Thought through Analyzing Commercials

Breaking apart Super Bowl commercials like this takes methodical thought and effort. However, such textual analysis through both visual and language deconstruction moves us from being passive recipients of messages to active interpreters of media and society.  Sound bites have less power when we can demonstrate why media messages reproduce certain cultural norms in our society.  

Because we both consume and produce media texts, we can integrate the critical analysis techniques we learn through Super Bowl commercial analysis into our lived media experiences. Super Bowl commercial analysis opens us up to how advertising is played out between corporations and changing objectives of economic and cultural fields. The interplay between corporations and the media can become a bit more apparent when we recognize media’s changing forms and content and its impact on lifestyles, social norms, and belief systems that most people consider “normal.”

When we investigate the pleasure we derive from media consumption and learn how to question it, we achieve a duality of purpose that helps us to weigh the costs and benefits of media messages. Through our social media interactions, we can use media analysis to shift to our own greater community involvement and understand of media’s contributions to our collective culture. 

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches English Language Arts at a New England public high school and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at

Harvard University: An Opportunity for a Digital Media Literacy Lesson

Massachusetts Hall at Harvard Yard

Massachusetts Hall at Harvard Yard

As a December recess getaway, I spent a long weekend in a Harvard University neighborhood. I walked beside Victorian townhouses and through the campus maze. The raw and misty weather didn’t stop crowds on historical tours of the Yard, as dozens gathered around buildings like Massachusetts Hall and listened to the narratives of years gone by.  But the tour that I envisioned in my head was not historic but, rather, based on critical digital media literacy.  In no particular order, here’s what my Harvard University digital media literacy tour might look like.

Matthews Hall at Harvard Yard

Matthews Hall at Harvard Yard

Buildings in Harvard Yard have ornate cornices, austere lines, or even modern facades. I kept asking myself, What social and cultural forces have influenced changes in architecture since 1636, when Harvard was founded? How did the introduction of new materials and mass production change the way that buildings have been designed?  What effect will natural resource depletion have on architecture in the next two decades? What do we, as consumers, need to know about the sources of the materials we buy for our own home projects? How will a greater understanding of our own consumption contribute to a more sustainable planet?

Roses in bloom outside the Harvard University Museum

Roses in bloom outside the Harvard University Museum

As a self-trained gardener, I’m always studying the ways that plants adapt to our four season New England climate.  I wondered, In what ways is it ironic that roses were blooming in December on the Harvard University campus? To what extent has New England climate change affected botanical cycles of dormancy and bloom?  What research studies are underway at Harvard University to help scientists and citizens to understand and confront the quickly changing climate? I recognized that the effects of climate fluctuations and consequences can be a first step to adapting our own interactions with the natural world.

Thayer Hall accessibility sign at Harvard University

Thayer Hall accessibility sign at Harvard University

At one time in my life, I was a community access monitor, so I noticed universal accessibility signs as I walked on the Harvard campus.  What is it like to be a person who uses a wheelchair at Harvard University?  What types of architectural adaptations have been made to Harvard’s historic buildings so that persons with disabilities are given freedom of access?  What barriers remain to persons in our U.S. society who seek higher education and associated residential housing? Moreover, how can we all, in our local communities, ensure that all citizens with disabilities have access to as many public and private structures as possible so they can richly participate in community culture?

Plaque commemorating education of indigenous peoples at Harvard University

Plaque commemorating education of indigenous peoples at Harvard University

Several years ago, my local book group read Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing and even heard the author speak at the Read across Rhode Island May breakfast.  So, of course, as I meandered through Harvard Year, I was delighted to come across a plaque commemorating John Sassamon, who became the first known Native American to study at Harvard. Today, the purpose of Harvard University’s Native American Program is to advance the well-being of indigenous peoples. I wondered, What barriers do Native American and Alaskan Native students face in higher education? How are these barriers to student success being addressed theoretically and practically  at Harvard and at other renowned sites of higher level education in the United States?

Of course, questions about cultural literacy aren’t new to Harvard University.  In 1993, Harvard hosted a Media Literacy Teaching Institute that drew nearly a hundred interested instructors, scholars, and journalists.  It is also telling, however, that funding cuts later discontinued the Institute.  The host, Dr. Renee Hobbs, continues inquiry into education that prompts today’s students to think critically about what they see, read, and watch at the Media Education Lab. Perhaps Harvard’s current work at Youth and Media Lab at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society  will continue the power and promise of cyberspace research through a study of its own Harvard Yard, which is a site that offers myriad possibilities for critical connections through digital and media inquiry.

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches English Language Arts at a New England public high school and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at

Ways that Digital Tools Can Help Students to Read Their Worlds

Sometimes called “affordances,” the digital world offers advantages to students.  Teachers’ repertoires today likely include Twitter, Glogster, Kahoot, Prezi, a comic creator, Ted Talks, LiveBinders, podcasts, Animoto, Quizlet, a class wiki, white board illustrating, screencasting, and blog posting. These and other platforms infuse ways for students to become better readers of their worlds through nuanced textual interactions, inquiry, analytical thinking, and composing.

Textual Interactions 

Source: Wikipedia

Online tools transform students into text detectives who have fun while hunting for clues.  Start with quickly paced e-learning modules that point to key evidence; primary sources offer a wealth of possibilities. A Civil War era journal entry, sheet music from the Roaring 20’s, an eggless-butterless-milkless World War II cake recipe, or civil rights protest photo can spur conversations and engagement— and each can be accessed digitally.  Alternatively, daily digital newspapers and blogs allow students to explore local and global perspectives, and e-readers and audiobooks bring professional narration to  combined reading/ listening experiences.  It’s fascinating how digital book chats, Amazon student book reviews, or one book/ one school programs can foster a school community through common literary experiences.

Student Inquiry 

Source: Greg McVerry

E-learning centers immerse students in appropriately challenging investigations.  Online design tasks might include image-based visualizations that spur language acquisition.  Vocabulary games, multi-level/ tiered questioning, close reading wikis, or online discussion boards introduce new concepts.  Moreover, social justice simulations can unveil lives that have been affected by race, class, language, gender, or religious difference.  Further, a curation tool like Storify can help students to develop critical perspectives and to become more curious about others who don’t fit their own community’s definition of “Normal.”

Analytical Thinking 

Source: NASA

Do science/ English collaborations seem a bit avant-garde? Scientific texts can fulfill various English and literature standards through readings available at National Geographic, NOAA, NSF, NASA,  Sierra Club, and Nature Conservancy websites. Follow up with a computer lab gallery walk, cartoon slideshow, Ted Talk about study skills, sports podcast to spur argumentation, or celebrity media evaluation.  Add in online guided questions, dictionaries, and translation tools to help struggling readers. Visual texts are important in our symbol-based society, so digital classic works of art, stylized comics, minimalist advertisements, and short films can be “read” as balanced, integrated elements.


Source: The Abundant Artist

Infuse background and context into writing-to-learn activities then let students blog!  Because blogging is a reflection of identity, student bloggers gain insights into the human side of composing; they discern the complex interplay of words and ideas for an audience, making sense through print, sound, images, and videos.  Digital photography can also bring personalization and purpose to the writing process.  And don’t forget how fan fiction creates an outlet for imaginative mediation of the demands of audience and genre.

Ultimately, it is the richness of the digital world that resonates with students, for, as W. Somerset Maugham said, “The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.”

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches high school English and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at

The Digital Writing Process

One of my earliest and richest professional development activities was with the National Writing Project.  As a newly certified English teacher, the NWP’s process approach to writing seemed a whirlwind:  how could I help my students to see the possibilities within all the stages of pre-writing, organizing, drafting, and revision?  Slowly, I came to understand the process approach to writing and became a particular fan of Donald Murray, who made visible the struggles of writers and the joy of discovery through the written word.

Now, with nearly 20 years of middle and high school teaching behind me, I still respect the writing process approach and its benefits.  I also recognize that the nature of writing has changed tremendously over those two decades due to the significant influence of digital tools and sources.  Of course, today’s composers still must meet the commonly accepted conventions of the genre in which they are engaged, but our visual digital culture creates different demands than did the primarily print text-based world.

Digital environments mediate the navigation, length, and complexity of texts, requiring composers to adapt to audience, tone, and purpose in ways that previous generations were never required. Digital environments have disrupted the writing process as we once knew it due to an interwoven combination of traditional narrative sequencing, hyperlinks to other digital sources, infusions of multimedia texts like videos and podcasts, and interactive response fields.

A new Digital Writing Process SOARS!

Source: Carolyn Fortuna

Source: Carolyn Fortuna

  •  Survey: Have students surf the web and a large body of texts as a way of frontloading concepts and language. One way to ensure that students’ research meets your institution’s guidelines for social appropriateness and keen content connections is to curate a collection of digital models through which students can surf. (Here’s a sample curation from a sports and popular culture course I teach.)  A curation helps to illuminate what works among digital design, multimedia choices, and narrative structure.  And, so they learn to embed a pattern of attribution, it’s probably best for students to grab short phrases of direct excerpts from the sources they find, using quotation marks.  Otherwise, students might find themselves part of a plagiarism controversy.
  • Organize: Students need to sort through the chaos of all the fabulous texts and direct excerpts they’ve gathered from the web. Have students group their direct excerpts according to commonalities, and then have them narrow those commonalities into hierarchies. Students will also benefit from exposure to different methods to code evidence, such as color coordinating, charting, doing in-document keyword searches, or categorizing. Eventually, move students from an integration of patterns into a systematic, theoretically embedded explanation.
  • Address: One of the truly marvelous benefits of surfing the web is the capacity to see how other composers design their ideas and formats.  Commonly called conventions of the genre, these expected ways of adhering to a particular type of compositional style take a bit of scrutiny.  Have students analyze a variety of texts within a particular genre and identify certain predictable characteristics.  As students move into drafting their own compositions, they should practice different approaches to establishing mood and tone through deliberate word choices.  And, because their digital design should be visually appealing to appeal to a targeted audience, they should recognize and incorporate pointed design techniques, a clear message, and a professional look. 
  • Revise: Believe it or not, the revision stage of the digital writing process is the most time-consuming.  That’s because a first full draft of a composition, in all likelihood, lacks depth of ideas, language cohesion, and/or an interrelated design structure.  Moreover, when one aspect of the digital composition is changed, the other areas are immediately affected.  Guide students through a series of directed steps to consider how each part of the digital design process interacts with others.  Provide opportunities for 1-to-1 teacher: student conferencing, small group collaboration, and focus group feedback so that students have a balance of ample creative time and constructive responses.
  • Survey again:  Often, a full and revised draft of a composition still isn’t polished enough. That’s why the digital writing process requires composers to return to the web and to continue to survey mentor models of published digital compositions.  This final step is often lacking in classrooms, although new digital technologies and pedagogical tools have emerged to help teachers in the teaching of revision.  Students need to revisit the digital sources that originally inspired them, study them with a newly formed composer’s point of view, and decide what additional strategies they can adopt to infuse more nuance, voice, and authenticity to their own original compositions.

Many teachers now incorporate multimodal texts into their instruction as ways of making meaning. Because digital realms mediate content and meaning, curricula must also change to address new possible digital composing pathways.  Teachers in a PEW Research Center study report that their students have a broad audience for written material due to pervasive social media production opportunities. It’s time for teachers and cultural workers across disciplines to embrace a new Digital Writing Process as a necessary way to help guide our students to their highest levels of digital compositional excellence.

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches high school English and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information for your school or non-profit organization about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at