Art Silverblatt explains the keys to understanding media messages


Art Silverblatt


Ten years ago, a network of media scholars from 50 countries formed the nonprofit organization known as DIMLE (Digital International Media Literacy Education), to empower consumers in their quest for accurate news.

Art Silverblatt, one of the organization’s founders, is a Jewish St. Louisan and professor emeritus of media communications at Webster University. Silverblatt, 74, who attends Central Reform Congregation, sat down with the Jewish Light to talk about the importance of media literacy in an environment where social media is the primary news source for many consumers.

Why is digital media literacy an important skill for consumers?

It gives people the skills to conduct independent analysis or assessment, developing critical distance from what they’re watching and hearing. Those influences are impactful. People are voting for candidates and buying things based on media influences. We try to provide strategies for media analysis. We’re teaching people how to think, not what to think.

How are your efforts having a positive impact?

We took a book I wrote about media literacy and converted it to a print edition in India, which is now in its second edition. It takes the same principles and concepts that appeared in the American edition but substitutes examples and commentary from their culture. It was a wonderful project and our biggest success. Last year they had 70 workshops where they were using it. It’s a measure of success because it has found its way into an educational environment.

Can you give an example of how the media plays on our senses? 

I showed a group of third-grade kids the beginning of the movie “Jaws” with the shark musical cue that creates anxiety and stress when you’re watching it. Then I showed them the same footage, but I substituted a Strauss waltz. They had an entirely different reaction. What’s the lesson? The music I used created an emotional reaction. The same can be true of a camera angle. If you shoot up at someone it can be a sign of respect, if you shoot down it can be a sign of denigration.

How significant is the influence of social media in how consumers gain information?

People are on their phones from a very young age and that’s how they’re getting their information. There’s no problem with getting information from different sources as long as you know what the source is. In the old days of print journalism, newspapers used to have a news section, an opinion section, a comic section. Now that distinction is blurred. If you see an article about how the world is flat, you should know whether it’s opinion or entertainment or news.  And we’ve become a skimming society. Even if you do have guardrails in place, after I read an article, have I fact checked it? You should look at what the sources are, who’s funding them, what the point of view is, and what’s the purpose of them putting it out.

What other projects are you working on right now that show promise?

I’m on the board of a new St. Louis charter school called St. Louis Voices Academy that will be opening this fall. It’s an elementary school in north St. Louis that will revolve around media literacy and storytelling. One of the really great things about it is that if we are teaching these kids how to become effective storytellers using media, we’re helping them in terms of their future employment.