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Skills for Youth

All Skills for Youth

Deconstructing Media Messages

It includes the following sections:


Why Teach Media Literacy?

"Media literate people understand that television is constructed to convey ideas, information and news from someone else's perspective. They understand that specific techniques are used to create emotional effects. They can identify those techniques and their intended and actual effects. They are aware that all media benefit some people and leave others out. They can pose and sometimes answer questions about who are the beneficiaries, who is left out and why. Media literate people seek alternative sources of information and entertainment. Media literate people use television for their own advantage and enjoyment. Media literate people know how to act. They are not acted upon. In that way, media literate people are better citizens."1

The New Mexico Media Literacy Project (NMLP) has designed a seven-step model to use when deconstructing media messages. The seven critical questions of the NMLP deconstruction model include:

  1. Who paid for the media and why?

  2. Who is the audience being targeted by this media message?

  3. What messages and values are expressed by the media message?

  4. What kind of lifestyle is presented in the message, and is this lifestyle glamorized? If the lifestyle is glamorized, how?

  5. What is the text of the media message, and is there a subtext to the message?

  6. What tools or techniques of persuasion are used?

  7. In what ways is this a healthy and/or unhealthy example of the media?2

What Does Media Mean?

In order to use the NMLP model, youth must first understand what media means. Media is the form in which something is conveyed, accomplished, or transferred to a large number of people. 3 Examples of media include: magazines, newspapers, television, billboards, posters, pamphlets or web pages.

Several examples of adolescent pregnancy prevention media campaigns are provided in this column. The educator may use them as possible resources for sample adolescent pregnancy prevention media messages. The organizations which designed these campaigns were chosen for their differing opinions about pregnancy prevention and for their different sources of funding. The organizations presented are:

  • Westside Pregnancy Resource Center (WPRC)
    The Westside Pregnancy Resource Center provides pro-life services related to unplanned pregnancies. The goal of WPRC is to offer pregnancy-related services to women who are willing to choose to continue their pregnancies. WPRC is a volunteer, nonprofit, non-denominational organization and is run entirely by donations. 4
    web site:
  • National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
    The mission of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy is to improve the well being of children, youth, and families by reducing teen pregnancy. It is a nonprofit, nonpartisan initiative supported almost entirely by private donations. 5
    web site:
  • Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical
    Ortho-McNeil is a private company, and a member of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical provides funding for a variety of health care studies, support for medical and patient organizations, charitable causes and foundations. Ortho-McNeil manufactures a variety of contraceptives including several versions of the birth control pill and IUD. 6
    web site: or
  • Carter-Wallace International
    Carter-Wallace, Inc., is a New York-based private marketer of quality diagnostics and consumer and health-care products. Consumer products also include Nair hair removal products, Pearl Drops liquid tooth polish, First Response pregnancy and ovulation test kits, and Trojan condoms. 7
    web site:


Skill-Building Exercises

Who Paid for the Media and Why?

Students will be able to identify who paid for media messages and why messages were created.

To understand what underlying factors may have lead to the development of a message, it is important that youth understand who paid for the message.


  1. Have students brainstorm reasons why different companies may have developed media messages. Examples of these reasons might be:
    • to sell the company’s product,
    • to make consumers more aware of a certain message, or
    • to advance a political or religious agenda.
  1. Give students sample media messages and ask them to identify who paid for each media message and to list reasons why each message is being funded. For example:

    Media Message: "If you are in a mutually monogamous relationship, have at least one child, and have never had pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)…ask your doctor about ParaGard." 8

    Analysis: Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals paid for this media message. Ortho-McNeil has paid for this media message to advertise one of their products.


Who is the Audience Being Targeted by Media Messages?

Students will be able to identify the audience targeted by the media message.


  1. Ask students to brainstorm about the importance of targeting media messages to certain audiences. Examples:

    • not everyone responds to the same messages, and
    • people respond stronger to messages with which they identify.
  1. Ask students to brainstorm examples of media messages that target specific audiences and media messages that specifically target youth.

  2. Give students sample media messages and ask them to identify the audience targeted. For example:

    Media Message: "Condoms are CHEAP. If we'd used one, I wouldn't have to tell my parents I'm pregnant." 5

    Analysis: Youth are being targeted by this message.


What Messages and Values are Expressed by Media Messages?

Students will be able to determine the messages and values expressed in media messages.

Media give specific messages and often portray underlying values. A knowledgeable consumer should be able to identify these messages and values in order to make informed decisions about the message.


  1. Ask students to brainstorm why media contain messages and values. Examples:

    • to get consumers to identify with the values of the media, and
    • to elicit guilt in consumers not partaking in the value portrayed.
  1. Give students sample media and ask them to identify the messages and values expressed. For example:

    Media Message: "Contraceptives are far less effective for teens and young women than for older users." 4

    Analysis: This media message is portraying the value of sexual abstinence for teens. The media also gives the message that contraceptives are less effective for teens. This message does not state the reason why contraceptives have a higher failure rate among teen users but implies fault of the contraceptive.


What Kinds of Lifestyles are Presented in the Messages?

Students will be able to identify what kinds of lifestyles are presented in media messages and whether or not the lifestyles presented are glamorized.

Media can often identify specific lifestyles in the portrayal of the product or message.


  1. Ask students to brainstorm why media presents lifestyle images. Examples:

    • so that consumers will identify with images of life they aspire to have, or
    • so that consumers will see images of a life they do not want.
  1. Give students sample media and ask them to identify the lifestyle presented. Ask students what affect lifestyle images may have on youth. For example:

    Media Message: "My scholarship is USELESS. Now I need a job to support my baby." 5

    Analysis: This message presents a lifestyle that involves a delay in or the lack of an advanced education — a life that requires taking an undesirable job to support the child of an unplanned pregnancy. This media message does not present a glamorized lifestyle.



What is the Text and Subtext of the Messages?

Students will be able to identify the text of media messages. Students will also be able to determine if messages have subtext, and what the message subtext is saying.

Media text is an important part of the message that is portrayed. Often media messages have a subtext. Subtext is the meaning behind the text; it is what the text is implying without directly stating.


  1. Give students sample media and ask them to identify media text, and subtext. For example:

    Media Message: "Trojan Magnum XL condoms offer increased size and comfort to the six percent of males who require an extra large condom." 7

    Analysis: This message is designed for the larger male consumer. The subtext of this ad is to boost the male ego by referring to large penis size.


What Tools or Techniques of Persuasion are Used?

Students will be able to identify tools and/or techniques of persuasion used in media messages.

Many media messages use persuasion as a tool. Persuasion is the act of convincing someone to believe something.


  1. Give students sample media and ask them to identify messages that use persuasion as a tool. For example:

    Media Message: "ORTHO TRI-CYCLEN can be a good choice for women 15 or over with mild to moderate acne who have reached menstruation, are seeking contraception, have no known contraindications to birth control pills, and are unresponsive to topical acne medication." 6

    Analysis: This media message appeals to a youthful consumer who may be experiencing problems with acne.


In What Ways are Media Messages Healthy or Unhealthy?

Students will be able to differentiate between healthy and/or unhealthy media messages.

A healthy3 media message is one that promotes a positive message about specific health issues or of general well being. An unhealthy3 media message is one that is conducive to poor health, is morally harmful, or displays risky and/or dangerous messages.


  1. Present students with samples of media that present healthy and unhealthy images. Ask students to identify each message and to explain why that message is healthy or unhealthy. For example:

    Media Message: "For unmarried minorities, the condom failure rate is 36.3 percent, and for unmarried Hispanics, the failure rate is as high as 44.5 percent." 4

    Analysis: This is an unhealthy example of media because the message implies a relationship between marriage and condom failure rate, and race and condom failure rate. Also, it specifically targets the Latino community. This media message portrays prejudice and relates condom failure rate to marital status and race, instead of behavior.


Suggestions for Behavioral Practice

As a homework assignment, ask students to choose a media message and to deconstruct the message using all seven critical questions of the New Mexico Media Literacy Project’s deconstruction model. Ask students to present their deconstruction to the class and to share how the deconstruction exercise changed their perception of the message, if at all.

As students deconstruct media messages, it is important to remind them of critical thinking skills and the importance they play in the deconstruction process. Remind students of skills that media literate people have: "Media literate people seek alternative sources of information." 1

Robert Ennis developed the following critical thinking check list, which will aid students through steps of making decisions based on the validity, reliability, and accuracy of the media message.

Critical-Thinking Checklist

  • Distinguish between verifiable facts and claims based on values.

  • Determine the reliability of a claim or source.

  • Determine the accuracy of a statement. To determine accuracy, check the source of the statement and the facts that support or deny the statements' claims.

  • Detect by identifying stated and unstated assumptions.

  • Identify inconsistencies in logic or reasoning.

  • Evaluate the strength of an argument. 9




1 Kipping, P. (1989). Media Literacy — An Important Strategy for Building Peace. Peace Magazine. Toronto, Canada.
2 New Mexico Media Literacy Project. (2000). Quick deconstruction of a media example.
3 Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary. (1984). Riverside Publishing Company. Boston, MA.
4 Westside Pregnancy Resource Center. (2001). Teen sex & pregnancy facts and figures.
5 National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. (2001). Sex has consequences.
6 Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals. (2001). Ortho Tri-Cyclen Tablets (norgestimate/ethinyl estradiol).
7 Trojan Brand Condoms. (2001). Magnum XL: When bigger is better.
8 Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals. (2001). ParaGard: Intrauterine copper contraceptive.
9 Ennis, R. (1962). A Concept of Critical Thinking. Harvard Educational Review. Winter: 38.