Media Literacy: A Must-Have Skill for Today’s Leaders

Karl Bimshas
5 min readOct 18, 2023
Media Literacy: A Must-Have Skill for Today’s Leaders by Karl Bimshas

Media is a powerful tool for information dissemination and significantly impacts how we view the world, so leaders must be media literate.

Effective leaders must develop the ability to discern bias in media reporting. For example, news outlets often use subtle language to frame events, issues, and individuals in a particular light. Phrases like “have died” versus “been killed” can carry distinct connotations and implications. Likewise, labels such as “protesters” versus “rioters” can influence our perception of a situation.

Leaders must become astute in recognizing such biases to make informed decisions and avoid being swayed by manipulation. By evaluating news reports with a critical eye and identifying bias, leaders can separate fact from opinion and enhance their ability to make better decisions.

Leaders are communicators and can craft their messages with greater precision by understanding how language and terminology influence public perception. Whether addressing their teams, stakeholders, or the public, leaders must be effective communicators, ensuring their messages are not misconstrued or misrepresented.

Being media literate allows leaders to maintain their credibility and the trust of those they lead. They can demonstrate their commitment to transparency by acknowledging and addressing media bias.

Understand Framing

Listening to the difference in words and phrases like “have died” versus “been killed” can help you identify potential bias when you consume the news. “Have died” sounds neutral and is a passive way of describing death, suggesting a natural or accidental cause, while “been killed” implies a more intentional, violent act. By paying attention to such language, you can gauge the tone and perspective of the media source, its point of view, and its potential bias.

Here are other examples of word choices and phrases that can help identify potential media bias:

“Protesters” vs. “Rioters” or “Mobs”

The use of “protesters” implies a peaceful gathering, while “rioters” or “mobs” suggests hostility and violence.

“Terrorist” vs. “Freedom Fighter” or “Activist”

The label given to those involved in political actions can influence public perception. “Terrorist” is pejorative, while “freedom fighter” or “activist” presents a sympathetic view.

“Undocumented Immigrants” vs. “Illegal Aliens”

These terms frame the debate around immigration differently. “Undocumented immigrants” are seen as more neutral and humanizing, while “illegal aliens” are dehumanizing.

“Climate Change” vs. “Global Warming”

“Climate change” is a broader and more scientifically accurate term, while “global warming” focuses on temperature rise and can have a different connotation.

“Enhanced Interrogation” vs. “Torture”

“Enhanced interrogation” downplays the severity of the moral and legal failings.

“Open-air prison” vs. “Hostages”

The term “open-air prison” implies a situation where people are confined, restricted, and perhaps being punished. Describing people as “hostages” suggests an urgent and victimized perspective, emphasizing their lack of freedom.

“Told to Evacuate” vs. “Death Threat”

“Told to evacuate” is a neutral description of an action taken in response to a potential threat. Conversely, “death threat” conveys a sense of imminent danger and alarm.

“Economic Stimulus” vs. “Bailout”

Depending on the context, “economic stimulus” can sound positive, while “bailout” has a negative connotation, especially when referring to financial assistance to corporations.

“Regime” vs. “Government”

The term “regime” carries a negative and biased connotation when discussing foreign nations, while “government” is neutral.

“Climate Denier” vs. “Climate Skeptic”

These terms describe people who question climate science. “Climate denier” implies a refusal of established science, while “climate skeptic” is less judgmental.

“Illegal Occupation” vs. “Territorial Dispute”

“Illegal occupation” implies wrongdoing, while “territorial dispute” suggests a neutral, even calming perspective.

“Investigation” vs. “Witch Hunt”

These terms are often used in the context of political inquiries. “Investigation” is neutral, while “witch hunt” implies unfair or biased scrutiny.

“Environmental Conservation” vs. “Resource Exploitation”

“Environmental conservation” focuses on protection, while “resource exploitation” suggests a profit-driven perspective.

“Income Tax Cuts” vs. “Tax Breaks for the Rich”

“Income tax cuts” sounds general, while “tax breaks for the rich” implies favoring the wealthy.

“Conflict” vs. “War”

“War” carries a heavier connotation than “conflict,” which is less emotionally charged.

“Natural Disaster” vs. “Climate Change-Induced Event”

These terms describe the causes of catastrophic events, with “climate change-induced event” emphasizing a link to environmental issues.

“Homicide” vs. “Self-Defense”

These terms describe the same act but with different perspectives. “Homicide” suggests a crime, while “self-defense” implies a justifiable action.

“Military Intervention” vs. “Invasion”

“Military intervention” may sound justifiable, while “invasion” suggests aggression.

“Alternative Medicine” vs. “Unproven Therapies”

These terms frame non-conventional medical approaches differently, with “alternative medicine” sounding more positive and “unproven therapies” more skeptical.

“Police Officer” vs. “Law Enforcement Officer”

The choice of terminology can affect the perception of police. “Police officer” is common, while “law enforcement officer” is perceived as formal or bureaucratic.

These examples highlight how language choices frame and influence an audience’s perception of events, individuals, and issues. Media literacy is crucial for leaders to recognize biases and make informed decisions. Being mindful of word choices can help you better assess the potential bias and the viewpoints conveyed in the information you consume.

Every leader should understand and practice media literacy for several important reasons:

  1. Critical Thinking: Media literacy helps individuals become critical thinkers. Evaluating the credibility, biases, reliability, and accuracy of the information they encounter is essential.
  2. Informed Decision-Making: Leaders must make decisions based on information and data. Media literacy allows them to discern reliable sources from unreliable ones, ensuring they make well-informed choices for themselves and their teams.
  3. Effective Communication: Leaders communicate their vision and ideas through various media channels, and strong media literacy enables them to craft clear, honest, and persuasive messages for their audience.
  4. Avoiding Misinformation: Misinformation is detrimental to leaders and their followers. By being media-literate, leaders identify and prevent the spread of false information, which can damage their reputation and credibility.
  5. Building Trust: Trust is a cornerstone of effective leadership. Leaders who practice media literacy are better equipped to build and maintain trust by ensuring their messages are accurate and transparent.
  6. Staying Current: Leaders must stay updated on emerging platforms and communication trends to remain relevant and effective in their leadership roles.
  7. Navigating Controversy: Media literacy is vital in times of crisis or controversy so leaders can navigate these situations effectively and address issues while minimizing damage.
  8. Empowering Teams: Leaders who promote media literacy within their organizations not only create critical information consumers, they create informed decision-makers.

Media literacy is an essential skill for effective leaders, as it equips them with the tools to navigate the complex media environment, make informed decisions, and communicate effectively in a world laden with information, misinformation, and, most insidious, disinformation.

About Karl Bimshas

Karl Bimshas is a Boston-bred, California-chilled Leadership Consultant and Writer. As the founder of Karl Bimshas Consulting, he provides customized leadership development resources and accountability partnering for busy professionals who want to manage better and lead well.



Karl Bimshas

Boston-bred and California-chilled Leadership Adviser | Writer | Podcast Host who helps busy professionals who want to manage better and lead well.