COMM 436/636, Issues, History of the Mass Media
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Aug. 28--This week we'll be talking about the press and war. Some of you have already chosen to do an essay on this topic. Those will be due Thursday, for our class discussion. I have three books on library reserve to help you get started. Keep in mind that these essays are not formal term papers. What I'd like to see is a double-spaced essay of about four pages discussing an aspect of the topic we have chosen as a class. The essay will describe the facts and debate about the topic, and your own interpretation based on that material. For instance, let's say you choose the press and the Vietnam war. You would talk about how the press was treated by the military during that war, how the press covered the war and the controversy surrounding that coverage, and what that meant for America's succeeding wars. You would conclude with your own opinion on a big question about that war coverage, such as, "did American journalism contribute to the United States' losing the Vietnam War, as some military leaders have claimed?" Your sources can be on-line, for some, but also need to include at least a couple traditional library sources, books or articles. Five sources total, list in bibliography. Style can be whatever you are most comfortable with, although most history is written in Chicago style.
For those of you who choose not to write an essay for the week, you still need to do a little reading so that you know something about the topic discussed. Three sources are adequate. You'll need to list those three sources on paper, annotated--that means you give me a couple sentences on what they discuss--with your name on the paper, to hand in for credit.
Essay topics will be chosen Thursdays, for presentation the next Thursday or possibly Tuesday. We will see if we need to extend discussions past Thursdays into the next Tuesday. We'll at least do a little discussion on Tuesday, based on a question I post on the class bulletin board Monday. As for this Tuesday, because we're not ready yet, I'll conduct a traditional taught class.
Reading assignments: Lecture synopses one, two, and three, and textbook chapters 24 (contemporary media) and 17 (media in national crisis)
Aug. 31--Next Thursday's essay topic will be Watergate and the press. I'll need to know by Tuesday who plans to write an essay on this topic. For those who choose not to write an essay, I need you to at least know a little bit about the topic by reviewing at least three sources, and writing down those sources to hand in on Thursday. You get credit for doing this, so don't blow it off! The sources can be internet sources for those not writing an essay, but for those who choose to write, at least two of five need to be journal articles or books.
Textbook assignment to prepare for this topic: Chapter 23, "The Media in Transition." Class Lectures synopsis four.
Tuesday I'll introduce the topic. We'll also have a chance to debate these questions: How should the First Amendment, determining that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech, be interpreted during a war by both the military on the field and the government at home? When a country is fighting and under peril for its own existence, is free speech too much of a luxury? How does our knowledge of the way the press was treated during America's other wars help us to answer this question?
This and every week's question will also be posted on the class bulletin board. If you are shy in class but want to make a comment, post it to the bulletin board. I'll award two points of in-class credit for each post. Feel free to post any other comment or complaint about the class, and respond to other posts--knowing that your posts will not be anonymous!
Sept. 8--Next week's topic: television, 1950-present. Choose one aspect to study and write on. Your text really doesn't have a chapter specifically covering television, but one standard resources is Erik Barnouw's Tube of Plenty. Also you may be interested in doing some work on the McCarthy Era (Sen. Joseph McCarthy), and Edward R. Murrow. Consider posting to the class bulletin board based on this week's question.
Sept. 14--Tomorrow I'll be in Bismarck for a conference, so I want to get you going on the topic before I leave. "Jazz journalism" means journalism after World War I, basically the 1920s, and the rise of tabloid press, sensationalism, radio, consolidation of the press, and also the ideas of Walter Lippmann and the idea of propaganda/objectivity. Pick any of these topics for a research essay. Chapter 15 of your text will give you some ideas. Also check out Lecture Synopsis Eight. You also might want to talk about the idea of persuasion and propaganda in the press, which grew into a more critical area of study after World War I. Harold D. Lasswell, Propaganda technique in WWI, is an interesting background for this. There's lots on Walter Lippmann on line, and in texts.
Question on television for discussion: If television did not exist, would your knowledge of the world around you be richer or poorer? Don't just answer a fast "poorer." Keep in mind the research showing television as a primarily visual medium that reaches more directly to our emotions. Is this emotional appeal really beneficial? How? Television news is best at more superficial coverage of events. Consider the influence of ratings and profit, which more aggressively drive television programming than material in non-broadcast media, such as magazines and newspapers. Are you truly better informed?
Sept. 22--As chosen by the class, next week's discussion topic is photojournalism, 1900-present. Some interesting topics you might choose under this general heading include tabloid photojournalism and papparazzi, documentary photography, development of picture magazines like Life, photography and World War I and II, photojournalism during Vietnam, the "golden age," Farm Security Administration, or famous photojournalists such as Lewis Hine, Dorthea Lange, W. Eugene Smith and many others. You might also want to talk about the power of photography as a visual medium. Check out lecture synopsis nine on the class web site, for an introduction, and also a gallery of great photos. Also due next week: first of the three self-assessment papers. Check the syllabus for more information.
Question based on Thursday's discussion: tabloid journalism and radio grew at the same time in post-World War I America. How were the two media related in their appeal to their audiences, and in what ways did they evolve into the media we're familiar with today? One point extra credit for comments posted on the class bulletin board.
Sept. 29--Next week's topic: advertising and public relations. Advertising developed first, and very early in media history, but modern advertising as we know it, with the agency system, dates from about 1880 on. Topics you might be interested in include development of the first advertising agency (Ayers), branding (Pear's soap history is particularly interesting) department store ads (such as Wanamakers), development of image advertising (cars and smokes), adsmithing (writers), Ted Bates, David Ogilvy. Public relations grew out of advertising, was in the beginning used mostly by industry to fend off journalists after a company disaster (particularly railroads and oil companies). Ivy Lee changed the idea of PR. Topics: Ivy Lee, Edward Bernays (coined the term), Committee on Public Information (George Creel), "flacks" and controversy about public relations vs. journalism. Textbook chapters: 21 and 22.
Question for next Tuesday: As this is the first time I've taught this class as a seminar, I'd like some feedback from y'all on format and process. Do you like the format of the class? How could it be better? What do you like most? Least? Suggestions for change? Feel free to discuss on the class bulletin board.
Oct. 5--Is reading necessary? According to a Washington Post report from last year, "Literacy experts and educators say they are stunned by the results of a recent adult literacy assessment, which shows that the reading proficiency of college graduates has declined in the past decade, with no obvious explanation." Question: so what? Maybe it's not so important to be able to read at a high level anymore. For an unusual viewpoint, read the column by MSNBC columnist Michael Rogers. Make a comment on the class bulletin board.
Next discussion topic covers related areas, muckraking and yellow journalism. Along with this you might like to look at development of magazines during this period, progressivism and campaigns against "the trusts" like Standard Oil, women in journalism such as Nellie Bly, celebrity journalists such as Richard Harding Davis, as well as campaigns (mostly in magazines) against crime and patent medicine abuses. President Theodore Roosevelt coined the term "muckraking," so you could consider his relationship with the press (he also has a North Dakota connection). Yellow journalism famously concerns the Spanish-American War of 1898 (was, or was not the press responsible for that war?), development of comic strips, sensationalism, and famous publishers like Pulitzer and Hearst. If you're really interested, I consider sports journalism to also have developed during this period, so you can choose that topic. "New journalism" also covers this era, so you could also choose this option. You might check out Harper's Weekly, now available on the web from its inception in 1857! On my show and tell page is an engraving from Harper's of Fargo in 1881. Textbook chapters covering thest topics: 12, 13 (part), 15 and 16.
I'll be out of town Thursday, Oct. 12, so we'll meet to discuss this topic Tuesday, Oct. 16. The class decided to cover the second topic on Thursday, Oct. 19. This means that muckraking related topics will be discussed Tuesday, and yellow journalism, Thursday.
Oct. 6--After reading this week's essays, I've become concerned that several of us don't really understand the difference between writing an essay versus copying and pasting paragraphs from web sites. Even if you add a reference, copying paragraph after paragraph doesn't constitute an essay that you have written yourself. An occasional quote now and then, with quote marks around it, all right. Using more material is some sort of compendium of other's writing, but not yours. And if you don't include the source, well, you're then suggesting you wrote that material yourself. Some call that "plagiarism."
So, please, write your own essays. So far I have given some points anyway to the cut-and-paste folk, but I probably shouldn't be. So from now on, if I think you didn't write this yourself, I'll give you zero points, unless you can prove to me that I'm wrong, by showing how the original is different from your writing. You realize that I could invoke the university's rule against plagiarism, and believe me, you wouldn't like what can happen to you. But if this happened to you in the real world of your job, it could be worse--copy and paste will sooner or later be found out, and it will pretty much wreck your whole career. Believe me, I've seen it.
Oct. 10--Topic for Thurday, Oct. 19, as decided by the class, will be magazines. You may choose a particular magazine, or a particular genre of magazines, or a particular writer. Interesting writers of the era include Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair, who wrote muckraking articles (and later books, like Sinclair's The Jungle). Magazine development in the 19th century is also interesting. Harper's Weekly is now available on line, as noted above, with other comments on magazines. Check out the socialist and "race" publications as well, and North Dakota's own socialist-inspired weekly from th early twentieth century, the Non Partisan Leader.
Oct. 16--This week we have two topics as described above. Also, several students seem to be confused about what constitutes plagiarism in writing history. I have added a new explanation on the resources page to help you out.
Oct. 20--Next week's topic is the media and minorities. This could be African-American, Native American, women, or another minority--journalists, how the media covered this group, or the media of the group themselves. The African-American press in particular was large and important at the turn of the century. Tuesday we'll see an interesting film on the importance of this press. We'll also see how much we know compared to those who have taken this class as a standard lecture-style, by taking part of the midterm exam (but only for daily credit). Also, don't forget to make comments on the class bulletin board for extra credit.
About your essays: remember to emphasize the historical aspect, and not present practice, except as a comparison. The "present" is about the last 20 years. Also most of you by now should have a note from me indicating how many essays you've completed so far. As we are at the end of week nine, if you've only done one or two, or even none, you will have to do more work to catch up.
A student asked about the possibility of doing an extra essay to make up for a possible low grade received on one done earlier. I decided this is a good idea, so if you wish to submit nine essays, I'll drop the lowest grade.
About class participation: Just a reminder that learning in a seminar is student-driven, so is only as good as the participation from students. You will recall from the syllabus that 200 out of 760 points for your class grade are based on class participation. This is a small enough class that when you do not show up, I notice, and because class participation is an important part of your grade, I keep track of your absences. I also take into consideration the amount you contribute to class discussions. If you contribute nothing, I presume it's because you haven't prepared for class by reading or doing an essay. As you are all advanced students, you can make up your own mind about your level in participation. But keep in mind the consequences of not participating--more than one fourth of your final grade.
How much do you know compared to previous students? Take this sample midterm exam.
Oct. 26--Well, my student advising lopped over just a wee bit too far into our media history class today, and you all escaped before I could arrive to beat you back into the classroom! Okay, anyway, let's plan to do today's discussion Tuesday. Or possibly Thursday--we may have a guest lecture Tuesday, depending on if Cameron Haaland, former Spectrum editor now working for the Des Moines Register, can make it. Also due Tuesday is your second reflection paper. I'd suggested you might want to talk a little about learning based on a seminar style class compared with learning in a formal taught class, referring to how well you did on the sample midterm exam. Do you think you know more or less than students in the taught class? Or just different things? Do you think you'll be more likely to remember what you learned, or does it make no difference? If you don't want to reflect on this, you can talk about media history topics as they relate to things in your life or current events. For extra credit you might also want to post a comment on this topic on the class bulletin board.
Graduate students: a short research paper (5-6 pages) will be due at the end of the semester. You need to pick a local-related topic, so that you can do some research using primary sources in the library or archives, and not only secondary sources on the web or library materials, as we do for our essays. Read "Writing a Historical Paper" from the class web site resources page, for more information.
Oct. 30--Americans often are smug about living in "the land of freedom!" where "we can say whatever we want!" But are the American media really that free? In fact, in a Reporters without Borders ranking, the United States rates only 53rd. Number one was Finland. That doesn't mean our European neighbors like Britain and France ranked so high either (27th and 35th). Take a look at the web site, tell us what you think on the class bulletin board.
If this doesn't inspire you, okay, how about this article about religion and society? Here's a quote: "It is time to refuse to tip-toe around people who claim respect, consideration, special treatment, or any other kind of immunity, on the grounds that they have a religious faith, as if having faith were a privilege-endowing virtue, as if it were noble to believe in unsupported claims and ancient superstitions." Tell us what you think on the bulletin board.
Nov. 3--Next week's topic is the U.S. Civil War and the press (1861-65). You can choose how the North covered the war, how the South covered the war, government censorship and propaganda (north or south), technical change, development of the summary style lead, Lincoln and the press, Gen. Sherman and the press, or another aspect.
We'll still have eight essays due, as decided by the class. If you wish to submit a ninth, I will drop the lowest grade. Some of you may have to choose a topic of your own if you get too far behind on essays, and too few class discussions left.
Nov. 9--Next week's topic is "the party press and the penny press." These date from the 1830s and before, so different from the yellow journalism and the penny press of the late nineteenth century. Read chapters 5 and 7 in the text for ideas, which might include technology that made a penny press possible, the first penny newspaper, the significance of the party press in early nineteenth century politics, Andrew Jackson and the press, Benjamin Day, or other topics.
Nov. 14--The class decided to choose a topic for Tuesday, Nov. 21, considering we won't be meeting Thursday. The topic: frontier journalism. That includes western journalism, cowboy journalism, mining journalism, "boomer" journalism, or other topics. Chapter 10 of the text will give you some background.
Graduate students: keep in mind the five or so page research paper due at the end of the semester. I'd like you to give me your topic ideas soon.
Question for the discussion board: based on the list of articles in the 1883 New York World, do you think it's surprising (or not) to see that we tend to think those same topics would still make news today?
Nov. 22--Next Thursday's topic: Revolutionary press. Of course, we're talking the American Revolution here, although I guess if you want to study another country's revolutionary press, we could accommodate. Might be an interesting contrast, actually. The American Revolution may not have happened without the significant journalism of Patriots (pro-revolutionarie) such as Samuel Adams (yes, he was also a sometime brewer). For topic ideas, read textbook chapter 4.
Nov. 30--Our last topic will be the colonial press in America. Topic ideas include John Peter Zenger, Benjamin Franklin, early censorship and control, the press and postmasters, or other topics. Text chapters two and three should give you all sorts of ideas.
I have taken a look through the grade sheet, and I note that, not counting essays you may have submitted today, only seven of us have submitted more than six essays. A few of us have submitted fewer than five. Apparently procrastination has been getting the better of many of us. I'll accept essays up to the last day of the semester, Dec. 15. After that, it's too late. So get to work, even if it means some all-nighters!
Graduate students: Some of you are not giving me historical research, but work on contemporary events. Please re-read "How to Write a Historical Research Paper," and "How to Read for Historical Research," from the class resources page.
(Photo: Boats on Lake Como, Italy, 2002.)