media analysis instructions

Comparative Media Analysis
(GEO 101: Environmental Geography)
Instructor: Don Alexander
Term: Spring 2013 Date due: Friday, April 5th
One of the themes of this course is the presentation of alternative viewpoints about issues
affecting the environment. An important dimension to this debate is the reporting of issues in
the media, and in informational materials prepared by international organizations such as nongovernment organizations (NGOs). In this assignment you are required to analyze a set of
media articles – or information pieces – and to apply some of the thinking you have been
exposed to in the course so far, as well as standard 'critical thinking' (as described in the box
below). By comparing the arguments and formats that these media pieces bring to bear on the
problem, you can uncover faulty arguments, unsubstantiated positions and clearly biased
What is required
Read two articles or briefs/ reports or speeches on a controversial issue of environment or
resource management: for example, one from an industry or government perspective and one
from an NGO. These are just suggestions; they don’t have to be from industry, government or
NGOs. The important thing is that the two pieces should take opposing perspectives – for
instance, statements by the Harper government on the benefits of the Northern Gateway
pipeline (which argues that the environment will be protected) and the views of environmental
groups that the dangers to the environment are large and irreversible. You are encouraged to
not confine your reading to these two pieces; other readings may help you to decide which
side of an issue is more credible. Please use such sources to inform your judgement. If
possible, attach the two main readings to your assignment or give a web site.
Reference where appropriate, using APA or Chicago (parenthetical style) – see
Answer the following questions in approximately 8-10 typed, double-spaced pages;
remember that double-sided printing or re-use of scrap paper already printed on one side is
encouraged. If you prefer, you may answer the questions together in an essay format. Each
question is weighted equally.
In a paragraph or two, briefly describe the positions taken in each article using
only the information provided. Write this as a short summary for an audience
unfamiliar with the two positions.
Using what you have learned in class and from the textbook, do you feel the
pieces are biased or incomplete in any way? Identify where arguments may be
slanted or where important information is not included.
Based on the information presented, what do you see as the strengths and
weaknesses of each perspective? What is your perspective now that you have
looked at both sides?
If you feel a reader needs more information to make an informed judgment
about the issue in question, what kinds of material would be useful and what
would this look like?
Addressing all the above points is essential to getting a good grade. For your proposal
(January 30th), please indicate your issue, two initial sources, and a page outline.
Some Help
Completing this assignment requires critical thinking about what you read. The box below
contains a few tips to help you in developing this type of thinking. Note these suggestions are
to guide you only.
Steps in Critical Thinking
-Identify and evaluate premises and conclusions in an argument.
-Acknowledge and clarify uncertainties, vagueness, equivocation and contradictions.
-Distinguish between facts and values (can assertions be 'tested'?).
-Recognize and interpret assumptions (do these reflect bias?).
-Distinguish the reliability or unreliability of a source (how expert are the sources?).
-Recognize and understand conceptual frameworks (where is the author coming from?).
(Source: based on work by Karen Warren)
Symptoms of Doubtful Assertions and Weak Arguments in Media Articles
-The main point is unclear.
-Evidence provided to support the argument is inadequate.
-Analogies used are illogical.
-Opinion and fact are intermingled.
-Uses celebrity to endorse argument.
-Vague references are used in place of specific references, e.g. "Most dentists agree that …"
-Author is unaware of own biases.
-Author is affiliated with or seeks to profit from a stakeholder in the argument.
-Graphs are used to distort the appearance of results.
-Evidence from an experiment fails to mention the 'control' group.
-Attributes stereotypical characteristics to members of a particular group.
-Scientific information may contain misconceptions or be misleading.
-A percentage or fraction is given without the total sample size, e.g. "9 out of 10 dentists …"
-Small sample size is used to represent a precise representation.
-Single explanations or conclusions are presented with no mention of other possibilities.
(Source: compiled by Marcie Dumais and Tamara Hansen)
Remember: You are marked on both content (as specified above) and style, so strive for a
consistent writing style and organize your work in a clear way.
The following are some possible topics (or think up your own): ·aboriginal rights vs. conservation;
·animal testing; ·aquaculture and farmed salmon; ·are people willing to make radical voluntary
changes? ·banning cosmetic pesticide use; ·banning plastic bags; ·battery vs. free-range chickens;
·(how to handle conflict between) bears and humans; ·(the strengths and weakness of) biofuels as an
alternative to petroleum; ·biological pest controls; ·bottled water (for and against); ·bulk water exports;
·carbon offsets; ·carbon taxes/ quotas/ trading; ·(usefulness of) ecological footprint or carrying capacity
concepts; ·cell phones; ·(transport of) citrus fruits and/or kiwis; ·(fair trade vs. multinational) coffee;
·community watersheds vs. logging; ·computers and related waste; ·controlled burning and logging of
beetle-ravaged forests; ·(pros and cons of) DDT; ·factory vs. organic farming; ·”food miles”; · (dangers
of) “fracking”; ·GMOs and hunger; ·(focusing on) habitat vs. species; ·(pros and cons of) hunting;
·hydrogen as fuel; incineration vs. landfilling of solid waste; ·(the environmental) Kuznets curve (is the
environment getting better or worse?); ·climate agreements and the economy; ·(are there) limits to
growth? ·local food security vs. free market 'efficiency'; ·Northern Gateway pipeline; ·offshore and/or
polar oil exploration; ·100-mile diet; ·peak oil; ·population vs. consumption; ·(does it make sense to
shoot) predators preying on marmots?; ·run of the river projects in BC; ·sharkfin soup debate; ·sports
vs. commercial vs. Native fishery; ·(provincial government policy on) spotted owls; ·(arguments for and
against) urban sprawl; ·“sustainable fossil fuels”; ·tar sands development; ·voluntary measures vs.
consumer pressure vs. government regulation; ·(ethics of keeping) whales and dolphins in captivity.