But it's not hard to find help. Several magazines, Web sites and nonprofit institutions dedicate themselves to helping Americans sort through the onslaught of images and words we see and hear each day on our radios, televisions and computers.
A good first step to sorting that information is finding out who or what produces it, so a visit to the Columbia Journalism Review's online guide to what major media companies own could help jump-start your journey toward media literacy.
After you figure out who owns what, there are a myriad of ways to explore how those companies (and smaller producers of media) influence the news they report - and how accurate that news is.
Media on Media
Yes, there are magazines that report on magazines and radio shows that report on radio shows. Columbia University's bimonthly Columbia Journalism Review, is perhaps the most prominent of these media publications, but it's only one of many. The University of Maryland-owned American Journalism Review, for one , also examines coverage trends and how the media cover specific stories.
Media monitoring isn't limited to the page, though: National Public Radio's show On
the Media, for example, tackles media-related questions on the air for an hour every week.
Lest the media have only the media to monitor them, several institutions have made their sole goal watching, analyzing and evaluating the news. Many of these groups are nonpartisan, but some have a progressive or conservative point of view. And because they vary - sometimes widely - in just what they're trying to accomplish with all the media watching, there's likely to be one whose methods interest you.
One useful site, George Mason University's Stats.org, verifies or disproves the facts and figures behind the news.
And the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Media and Public Affairs conducts scientific studies of the news and entertainment media with a focus on the role they play in communicating information about health risks and scientific issues.
Another nonpartisan organization, The Center for Public Integrity Media Watch tracks trends and issues the broadcast, cable and telecommunications industry.
Meanwhile, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a progressive group, watches the media primarily to uncover and combat censorship. Other progressive media watchers include Media Matters, which claims to "monitor a cross section of print, broadcast, cable, radio, and Internet media outlets for conservative misinformation."
On the other hand, the conservative groups Accuracy in Media and the Media Research Center claim to do similar work against liberal
Independent & Alternative Media
Paying more attention to the media is likely to make you even more aware of just how much is out there. Maybe you'll even want to find some alternatives to your current fare.
If so, the online directory of the Alternative Press Index is a great place to start looking for an alternative or independent publication that suits you. And if you live near a large or mid-sized city, you'll probably be able to find a local alternative weekly through the online directory of the Association of American Newsweeklies. For more global coverage, check out AlterNet, a site that promotes independent
and alternative media worldwide, might suffice.
The most prominent independent broadcasters are and National Public Radio and television's Public Broadcasting Service, but other community and college stations span the country.
TheRecordIndustry.com has a comprehensive national radio directory. If you can't find a station near you, a visit to the Prometheus Radio project might provide you with some preliminary tools to start your own.
The organizations we mentioned above are only a few of the groups engaged in media
research, literacy and democratization across the United States. Here are some of