media analysis instructions

Comparative Media Analysis
(GEOG 101: Environmental Geography)
Instructor: Don Alexander Term: Spring 2015
Date due: Thursday, November30th (outline due October 6th)
One of the themes of this course is the existence of alternative viewpoints about issues affecting the environment. An
important dimension of this is the reporting of issues in the media, and in informational materials prepared by
organizations such as governments, corporations, and non-government organizations (NGOs). In this assignment you
are required to analyze a set of media articles – or information pieces from other sources – 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 information.
What is required
Read two articles or briefs/ reports or speeches on a controversial issue on opposite ends of the spectrum: for
example, one from an industry or government perspective and one from a non-government organization (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 arguing that the environment will be protected) and the views of
environmental groups that the dangers to the environment are large and potentially irreversible. Don’t 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. Attach the two main readings to your assignment or give a web site where
they can be found. Failure to do so will result in a loss of points. Reference where appropriate, using APA
(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, as will the quality of writing and referencing. For
your proposal (October 6th), please indicate your issue, two initial sources, and a page outline/ budget. This involves
an outline of your paper, with page or partial page lengths attached to indicate how much attention you will give each
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. More specifically, how thoughtfully and respectfully do you address each point of
view? Do you apply the critical thinking tools suggested above? Are your arguments clear, and do you make your own
position clear at end?
The following are possible topics (or think up your own): ·aboriginal rights vs. conservation; ·animal testing/ animal
rights; ·aquaculture and farmed salmon; ·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; ·cell phones (are they healthy?); ·climate agreements and the economy; ·(fair
trade vs. multinational) coffee; ·(protecting) community watersheds vs. logging; ·computers and related waste;
·controlled burning and logging of beetle-ravaged forests; ·(pros and cons of) DDT; ·”food miles” (local vs. longdistance transport of food); ·(dangers of) “fracking”; ·Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal; ·GMOs and hunger (are GMOs
the answer?); ·(focusing on) habitat vs. species in conservation work; ·(pros and cons of) hunting, especially of
grizzlies; ·hydrogen as fuel; incineration vs. landfilling of solid waste; ·industrial vs. organic farming; ·(the
environmental) Kuznets curve (is the environment getting better or worse?); · (are there) limits to growth? ·local food
security vs. free market 'efficiency'; ·(effects of) neonicotinoids on bees ·Northern Gateway pipeline; ·offshore and/or
polar oil exploration; ·100-mile diet; ·palm plantations; ·peak oil; ·population vs. consumption as driver of
environmental degradation; ·run of the river projects in BC; ·sharkfin soup debate; ·sports vs. commercial vs. Native
fishery; ·(provincial government policy on) spotted owls and grizzlies; ·“sustainable fossil fuels”; ·tar sands
development; ·urban sprawl; ·voluntary measures vs. consumer pressure vs. government regulations; ·(ethics of
keeping) whales and dolphins in captivity; · (health effects of) wi-fi and microwave radiation; ·(pros and cons) of wind