COMM 112
Understanding Media

Instructor: Ross Collins, Ph.D.
Office: Minard 321A
Telephone: 17295; e-mail: E-mail messages encouraged! Understanding Media (COMM 112) is designed for communication majors and interested students who want to know more about the people who tell them what's going on, and how they do it. We'll take a look at the basic media (can you name them?) to see how they developed, and how they tell you just about everything you know about the world. We'll also look at aspects of some media in greater detail, especially those most important to students majoring in communication. After you leave this course in December, you should know:

Attendance Policy
Roll will not be taken. We are all responsible adults, yes? You do need to know that the instructor of this course does not merely parrot the text. Lectures are designed to explore some topics in greater detail, and to introduce other topics not presented in the text at all. That way, you'll get more out of this course than 2 x Text. But if you skip, you'll miss all of this wonderful additional information. Which will be on the exams, by the way.

As well, the instructor realizes that it's so easy for us to just skip all the assigned book chapters, and try to cram them in the night before the exam. But psychologists say the best way to learn is gradually.

To encourage you to learn in smaller bites, you'll have an opportunity to improve your grade (called a quiz by traditional instructors) each Friday, based on material found in that week's reading. If you skip, YOU CAN'T MAKE UP THE QUIZ. In addition, we'll do an in-class assignment from time to time. These also can't be made up, because a "deadline" is part of the assignment.

Okay, so you want a little slack? How about this: skip two quizzes or in-class exercises and the missed grades won't be counted. Think of it as your bank account of skips. If you should happen to be one of those students who has nothing better to do than come to class every time, the instructor will drop your two lowest quiz grades.

Required text

John Vivian, The Media of Mass Communication, Fifth Edition. Nice to know: the text was written by a genial man from a state university in that liberal state to the east of North Dakota who once was a faculty member at UND.


Expect two exams during term, and a final. The final will not be comprehensive, but will include questions borrowed from previous tests.
Grading system: grades are computed on a curve, based on mathematical calculation of percentage weights. Grades received will not be discussed in class, to preserve confidentiality. If you have questions, drop by during office hours, or by e-mail. Grading: First exam, 15 percent; second, 20 percent. Final: 30 percent. Quizzes, other assignments: 35 percent.

The class e-mail list!

You are invited to sign up for the COMM112 Listserv. Each week I'll post a synopsis of that week's lectures, old quizzes for review, and other things you may find useful. What's more, you can post your own media-related comments and questions for group discussion. To encourage you to join in the discussion, I'll give you one point of extra credit for each class-related post you make. The key is class-related: you don't get credit for unhelpful comments such as "Where's the party tonight!?" Or "I got sooo drunk last weekend...." Are we being clear?

Tentative schedule

Week One
Introduction, survey of the media. Read chapters 1 and 2.

Week Two
News-gathering: how it works. Read chapters 3 and 4.

Week Three
Climbing pyramids (inverted). Read chapter 10.

Week Four
Writing break; development of radio. Read chapters5, 6 and 7.

Week Five
Photography, visual communication psychology. Read chapters 8 and 9.

Week Six
Visual elements, design. First exam; (no quiz).

Week Seven
The big grin: techniques of PR. Read chapter 11.

Week Eight
Public relations continued, propaganda.

Week Nine
Propaganda, intro to advertising. Read chapter 12.

Week Ten
Advertising, persuasion cont. Read chapter 15.

Week Eleven
Media power and influence, television. Read chapter 14.

Week Twelve
Media influence, cont. Read chapter 17. Second exam (no quiz).

Week Thirteen
Media influence, cont. Writing for broadcast. Read chapters 16 and 17.

Week Fourteen
Ethics and law for the media. Really. Read chapters 18 and 19.

Week Fifteen
Media ethics and law, cont. Media research. Read chapter 13.

Week Sixteen
Libel, wrap-up.

Final exam period.

And now a word from our university....

Want to know more?

Here are just a few of my favorite classics among a huge library of possibilities:

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media. 1964.
Susan Sontag, On Photography. 1977.
John L. Hulteng, The News Media. What Makes Them Tick? 1979.
Michael Schudson, Discovering the News. 1978.

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