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COMM 621 (online): History of Journalism (and other mass media)

Instructor: Ross F. Collins, North Dakota State University, Fargo.


Section One
Introduction; the media today; war and propaganda
1. Beginning at the end: history as archeology.
2. Where we are today.
3. Wars, protest and propaganda.

In this section you'll get an overview of the instructor's approach to journalism history, beginning with most recent events, and working backwards. You'll learn how governments have approached media control and propaganda during wartime, and how the press responded to it.

Test yourself: What do you already know about journalism history? (Submit for 5 pts. extra credit.)

Reading Assignments
1. Section One lecture notes/topic overviews.
2. Instructor's readings, Section One:
a. Reading One.
b. Reading Two.
3. Sloan, Chapters 17, 23, 24 and 25.

Ask a parent, relative or older friend what they remember happening around the time you were born, in these categories: national/international news; local news; sports; popular culture. Compare their answers to research of your own in a newspaper or newsmagazine, either in the library or online. Submit a short report (2 pages or about 500 words, 15 pts.).


Reflective Essay
Based on your reading above and other research as you feel necessary, reflect on the historical influence of war and propaganda on today's society. (Equivalent of 3-4 pages or about 1,000 words, 50 pts.)

Show and tell

Section Two
Television; the media and contemporary political history
1. Television and the presidency
2. Watergate.

Politics and the press have always had intertwined fates, sometimes for each other's benefit, sometimes not. Here we look at press and politics through the watershed of Watergate, and through the unblinking eye of the television camera.

Reading assignments
1. Section Two lecture notes/topic overviews.
2. Begin with Watergate information online. Also take a look at the Washington Post's site. (Which is more authoritative?)
3. Sloan, chapters 15, 19.

Gather information on the Watergate scandal from the internet, either using the sites above, or from your own search. Based on a reliable source (how will you know?), prepare a general narrative covering the events leading to Nixon's resignation in August 1974. Now go to your library (or online) to find local newspapers from July and August 1974. Based on front-page stories, compare the articles you find with the events as described in the websites. Prepare the assignment as noted below.

Based on the material you've collected in the activity above, submit a report (3-4 pages, 1,000 words) on the issue, using the internet material as introductory material, and the local material to compare how the news was covered locally; 25 pts.

Reflective Essay
How did the influence of Joseph McCarthy and Edward R. Murrow in the 1950s reflect the growth and popularity of television? (About 500 words, two pages); 50 pts.

Show and tell

Section Three
Radio and jazz journalism; development of “celebrity.”
1. Development and power of radio.
2. Changing philosophies.
3. Growth of entertainment industries and mass media.
4. Introduction: how to write a research paper

The 1920s sometimes is called the jazz age, but really should have been called the age of radio. Explosive growth of the internet in the 1990s mimicked similar growth of radio in the third decade of that century. The beginning of a new medium, a miracle of voices pulled from thin air, contributed to the phenomenon of celebrity so familiar today, as did movies and music.

Reading assignments
1. Section Three lecture notes/topic overviews.
2. Reading Three.
3. Sloan, chapters 16, 18, 20.
4. “A day in early radio:” Review programming and/or listen to samples of a radio programming from Sept. 21, 1939. Sponsored and maintained as a part of the American Studies Web site at the University of Virginia. Programs included on the site include "Sundial with Arthur Godfrey," a show featuring the comedian Joe E. Brown, and several prominent radio soap operas of the day, such as "The Romance of Helen Trent" (which ran for 27 years) and "Life Can Be Beautiful." Two of the presentations are particularly notable, "Amos n' Andy" and "Major Bowe's Original Amateur Hour." "Amos n' Andy" was a extremely popular and controversial radio show (and in the 1950s, a popular television show) that featured two white men playing African-Americans and speaking in a Southern dialect. The Major Bowes show was headquartered in New York, and, while the program "discovered" only a few who went on to great fame, there was one young man who got his start there: Frank Sinatra. (Commentary excerpted from Journalism Education Discussion List.)

It’s the year 2112, and you’re a graduate student in a history course writing a biography about…yourself! Well, actually, let’s pretend you’re writing as if a student in the future were researching your life for an article. Establish a bibliography of at least a half dozen sources you might use to gather information on this famous student from a century ago. Separate the list into primary and secondary sources (see "How to write a historical research paper"). Remember that “oral history” of your parents and others won’t be available a hundred years from now! Write a short biography of yourself (2 pages, 500 words) using these sources (10 pts).

After completing Reading Three, consider topics you might wish to pursue using historical research. Formulate a Research Question you’d like to answer. Submit to instructor. 5 pts.

Note: your topic must have a local or regional context, and must include at least two primary sources. For example, if you are interested in the history of television, you can include that in your paper using secondary sources, but you also need to look at an aspect of local or regional broadcast history.

Reflective essay
Consider the development of jazz journalism, radio, movies, music, and other early twentieth-century media phenomena as influences of the popular cult of celebrity so familiar to Americans today. (About 1,000 words, 3-4 pages.) 50 pts.

Show and tell

Section Four
Advertising and Public Relations
1. Development of public relations.
2. Origins and growth of advertising.

Advertising didn’t really become important to the United States economy until after the Civil War, when the burgeoning of industrial society gave manufacturers mass-produced products searching for a market. Public relations as a profession arrived even later, with Ivy Lee, Edward Bernays, and 20th century development of a pro-active relationship between private firms and their publics.

Reading assignments
1. Section Four lecture notes/topic overviews.
2. Sloan, chapters 14, 21, and 22.

None, begin work on historical research paper, see below.

Begin work on your historical research paper. Settle on your “working” research question (open to change, if necessary). Based on that topic, gather a bibliographical list of 20 sources. Include secondary sources as well as a few primary sources. Draw up the list using standard academic reference style, either American Psychological Association (APA) or University of Chicago (more common for historical research). Include books, scholarly or popular articles, and websites in your secondary source search, general ones, if necessary. Most academic libraries subscribe to academic databases; journals such as American Journalism, Journalism History and Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly in particular will have information to help you learn more about what other scholars have written on your topic.

Size: Consider that this course requires no exams, so this research paper will be worth about one-half of your class grade. It should be equivalent of about 15-20 double-spaced pages (12 pt type), carefully edited and footnoted. If you are in doubt as to what's required, submit a draft before submitting the work for final grading. Note: They may be useful for your own background, but Wikipedia and online or published encyclopedias are not considered credible sources for academic research, and do not count as sources.

Remember that your paper must include at least two primary sources. For students at North Dakota State University, here's some advice on how to find topics of local or regional interest; you can adapt these ideas to your own community.

Reflective essay
Consider the possibility of advertising for your university or town. Fashion an appeal based on principles common in 1) early American advertising of the early 1700s; 2) Patent medicine advertising of the late 1800s. Discuss the similarities and contrasts of the two appeals. Use illustrations, if you like. (About two pages, 600 words, 50 pts.)

Show and tell

Section Five
An eruption of change: the Civil War, new journalism, yellow journalism, and technology.
1. Journalism and control in the U.S. Civil War.
1. New journalism, 1870-1900.
2. Yellow journalism and New York City.
3. Technological revolution.

Many concepts we take for granted in the mass media today developed during the U.S. Civil War, and around the turn of the nineteenth century—accredited war correspondents, inverted pyramid style journalism articles, separation of fact and opinion, color comics, non-political news and modern design. During this great age of newspapers the United States supported more than 1,000 dailies, more than the country saw before or since. Powerful press barons in New York attracted circulations of a million, attention of politicians at the highest levels, and advertising revenue by the hogshead.

Reading assignments
1. Section Five lecture notes/topic overviews.
2. Sloan, chapters 9-13.

Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World: the first day’s stories (1883):

Which of the story topics above do you think would attract readers to your local or regional daily newspaper today? Why or why not? If you planned to establish a successful newspaper or news web site for your home town, which of these stories would you use? What kind of stories would you want to add? Submit a short (500 words, two pages) essay based on your decisions as virtual editor (25 pts).

If you wish to get feedback, write an introductory page or two describing in general terms your term paper research topic (300-600 words). Submit to instructor (non-graded).

Show and tell

Section Six
Photography and photojournalism.
1. Development of photojournalism, 1925-present.
2. Beginnings of photography, 1839-1900.

The power of realism, the holy grail of western artists for centuries, saw its triumph thanks to developments in physics and chemistry. But while photographs as early as 1839 could reproduce fine detail far beyond capabilities of the brush and the pen, readers of published material could only enjoy these images by way of a copy produced by an engraver’s hand. Only with the turn of the last century did technological achievements make direct photo publication possible, and by World War I photographers became central to the power of modern journalism as a force for shock as well as for change.

Reading assignments
1. Section Six lecture notes/topic overviews.
2. Reading Four, and the PBS American Photography web site readings: See activity below.
(No textbook reading.)

Go to the PBS American Photography website. Read the seven feature articles at the site (you may also look at the “Image Lab” if you have a fast internet connection and required software). Choose from the photos accompanying the feature article one that particularly seems to give you a “sense of place and time.” Analyze what gives the image the power to evoke a certain time period in history, and a certain place in the world. Alternative: analyze one of the instructor’s photos. (Length of analysis: about two pages, 500 words, 25 pts.)

Continue work on your historical paper.

Show and tell

Section Seven
From polemical to penny press: beginnings of a new nation.
1. Development of the Penny Press and the “common man.”
2. Antebellum press.
3. Importance of political/polemical press in early United States evolution.

The revolution of journalism saw a shift from the high-priced opinion sheets of the elite to the cheap news and sensationalism designed to attract the common folk. Even in the 1830s a penny couldn’t buy very much—but it could get you a copy of Benjamin Day’s New York Sun. Day could create a niche for news based on evolution of technology that made it possible to print more, faster, and evolution of society that grew a more literate population of newly-franchised voters. Also reaching these voters were the violently polemical anti-slavery press that helped to foment the U.S. Civil War. Such opinioned journalism saw widespread influence in George Washington’s time. These early post-Revolution newspapers relied on expensive issues sold only by subscription to serve mostly as opinion-pieces for partisan causes.

Reading Assignments
1. Section Seven lecture notes/topic overviews.
2. Sloan, chapters 5-8.

Continue work on your historical paper. You may wish to present introductory pages and bibliography to instructor for critique and offer suggestions (not required).

Show and tell

Section Eight
Origins of colonial journalism: respect to revolt.
1. Influence of journalism in the American Revolution.
2. Origin of the press in colonial America.

Considering the power of the mass media in today’s society, it’s perhaps surprising to find out that journalism arrived late to the colonies. The first newspaper appeared in 1690, for a day, and no other appeared before 1704. By 1775, however, and the beginning of the American Revolution, journalism played a significant role in disseminating ideas and in building morale.

Reading Assignments
1. Section Eight lecture notes/topic overviews.
2. Reading Five.
3. Sloan, chapters 1-4.

Finish work on historical research paper. Submit for grading. Required size: equivalent of about 15-20 double-spaced pages of 12-pt. text.

Show and tell