How to Make Meaningful Media

Categories of what we value.

If you struggle to decide on your next project, wanting to create something valuable to people, then this article will help you navigate the intentions behind your media.

It really comes down to this: meaningful media, film, video, podcast, etc, falls into four categories. A project can span more than one category, but there are essentially four forms of intention behind media. The challenge is to decipher the category of media you want to create.

1. Entertainment

This is self explanatory. In entertainment, media is created for the amusement of others.

Entertainment distracts us from our daily lives, providing an endorphin rush to the pleasure centre of our brains. It is candy for the mind. There is nothing wrong with entertainment but it is not sustenance intended to help you grow as a human being. Some people say that it will rot your insides. I’m not convinced that that is true … as long as you get doses from the other categories of media and stay critical of what you consume.

Entertainment includes most Hollywood movies, casual social media, reality tv, sit coms, game shows … you get the idea. Here is a YouTube example of something that is pure entertainment.

2. Education

The second category to think about when deciding on making meaningful media relates to teaching people.

Not to be confused with the third category (wait for it), making media that educates means to offer well researched and unbiased information.

“But isn’t all information biased?” In an era of ‘Fake News’, we have become cynical of media. However, critical thinking will help you tell the difference between information that is intended to educate and media that is trying to convince you of something. In some cases, deciphering between the two will require a lot of heavy critical thinking.

Education asks for nothing in return (unless you have to pay for it). Educationmedia is designed to help an audience learn something, develop skills, and shares common knowledge.

Online courses are an obvious form of education. Most documentaries fall under this category too. For example, Ken Burns’ documentary films on Vietnam, National Parks, Baseball, etc, are media that offers knowledge that informs its audience. YouTube is also full of videos designed to teach the viewer.

Is there anything wrong with people wanting to profit from what they teach? Absolutely not. It is still education when content is being offered to inform an audience without forcing a perspective. If it teaches you how to think, it is education. If it teaches you what to think, media intends to …

3. Exhort

To exhort is to try to convince someone of facts as-they-see-it or urge the viewer to follow a specific perspective or set of beliefs about the world. Media that exhorts is designed to draw an audience into content until they are aligned with the creator’s point of view.

To exhort does not imply that the meaning behind the media is wrong, harmful, or bad. I do not mean to say that media that exhorts is inherently negative. But on the other hand, media that does manipulates an audience for its own end is dishonest and distrustful … and there is lots of it out there. However you look at it, ‘Fake News’ is a destructive and divisive form of media.

What are some positive examples of media that exhorts? Dramatic movies with a positive, redemptive moral help us see the world from a valuable perspective. Documentaries that call for an audience to respond to the plight of others and the pollution of our plant from a well researched and balanced perspective are beneficial forms of media that exhort.

Anything that offers a constructive point of view to an audience, even though it encourages an audience to believe from the perspective of the media (including religious and political content) can be thought of as good forms of media that exhorts.

4. Edify

We often create media to show something beautiful, cool, or intriguing. Instagram and Facebook are full of images and videos that are slices of life that make us pause to appreciate something removed from ourselves. This is more than entertainment; it is something closer to art.

Media that edifies help us celebrate our world, understand what it means to be human, and appreciate the power and glory of nature. Fine art is an example of media the edifies because it helps us connect with content in a meaningful and reflective way.

Media that edifies expresses beauty. This does not mean that beauty is exclusively pretty to wonderful. Beauty incorporates flaws and the sublime.

Beauty is poetic because it suggests more than what is on the surface of the content. For example, Humans of New York tells stories of people in New York alongside their photo. These stories edify because they show the joy with the tragic. It is a celebration of life in a specific location. The content of this site leaves us with a deep emotional experience that edify these people.

Media that edifies entertains and we learn something about our world and ourselves, but that is a result, not the intention behind the content. To edifymeans that we use digital tools so the subject of our media can be shown in an honest and transparent way to an audience. We are simply showing it for what it is, warts and all. We are documenting reality.

What About Art?

I argue that art is a result of all of these categories. Art should not be judged based on the intention of the artist (I am philosophically a Heideggarian). Art reveals truth (at least good art does).

Are you placated, did you learn something, were you convinced by it, or did you reflect on it? = Entertain, educate, exhort, edify. Any of these categories (and in combination) are what art does.

What about bad art? Bad art also tries to entertain, educate, exhort, and edify but does so because it attempts to a) serve the interests of the artist or, b) is poorly crafted. While we will always argue about what is ‘good vs bad’ art, bad art done by a poorly trained artist trying to glorify themselves won’t last the test of time.

Now What?

As a media artist, what do you do with this information? (While I am giving my opinions, it is mixed with teaching = exhort + educate).

This article is intended to be used as a means for your self reflection (edify). And if you were entertained along the way, great.

What are you trying to creatively accomplish?

Do you want to entertain people with your work? Give yourself permission to do so.

Do you want to teach your audience a new skill? Embrace media as a means to accomplish this.

Do you have a message that you want the world to hear? Media is the 21st century language that will help you convince us.

Do you want to celebrate something aesthetic? Make great art with the media tools available to you.

Final Word

These categories are not neat and exclusive unto themselves, as I mentioned at the start of this article.

These four categories blend together with a lot of grey space between them. Black and white categories are rare, although there are lots of examples where the meaning of the media is clearly one or the other. (Did I mention ‘Fake News’ enough? Both sides of political debate need to be held accountable for how they negatively exhort audiences).

However, when it comes to media, I think that these four categories help us not only think about the media we consume, they help us to clarify our own messages as we try to create meaningful media.

written by Murray Stiller