cmns 331-4 news discourse as political communication

Bob Hackett & Birgit Schroeder
Fall 2009
Evaluation: (NOTE: This schema amends the brief Course outline posted in the summer)
Class Participation & Contributions, and “Quick Write” Exercises during Lectures
In-class Quizzes
Media Analysis Paper
Final Take-home Exam
The school expects that the grades awarded in this course will bear some reasonable relation to established
university-wide practices with respect to both levels and distribution of grades. In addition, the School will
follow Policy T10.02 with respect to “Intellectual Honesty” and “Academic Discipline” (see the current
Calendar, General Regulations section).
Assignments and Grades:
Class Participation and Contributions (20%): This component is divided into four portions (which the
Teaching Assistant will discuss in greater detail.):
a) Frequent short “Quick Write” exercises during Lectures. These are brief (about one paragraph) miniessays on a topic or question presented by the instructor. Based on the week’s readings and review questions,
they may invite you to apply a key concept or to offer your own informed judgement. They’ll be marked on a
pass/fail basis. Your “worst” two exercises, including any absences, will not be counted.
b) Tutorial attendance.
c) Participation in tutorial discussion. The key criteria are informed critical discussion of the readings, and
helpful contributions to the learning of other students, including asking useful questions. (Students may want
to consult the Learning Common’s handout on effective seminar participation.)
d) Tutorial presentation of a course reading. Presentations will begin in the 3rd week of class. Presentations
should include a one-page handout for tutorial members, and will be marked on the basis of integration of
weekly readings, critical analysis, and application of news media examples. The TA will explain the marking
scheme in more detail during tutorials. Students are expected to monitor the news media and bring relevant
examples to tutorial, and incorporate these into your presentation. .
NOTE: One bonus mark for attendance at either Media Democracy Day (Nov. 7), or a previous panel on Reimagining Journalism. [We hope you can attend both, but it’s still only one mark!]
In-class Quizzes (15%): Several times during the semester, there will be short closed-book Quizzes during the
lecture, in lieu of a mid-term exam. These will be based on the weekly study questions provided by the
instructor, and key concepts in the lectures, emphasizing the material covered since the previous Quiz. They
will most likely combine multiple choice and short answer questions. Note: There will be no “make-up”
Quizzes if you miss one – BUT only your top two results will be counted. Thus, you don’t need a medical
note so long as you have written at least two.
Final Take-home Exam (30%): Essay question(s) overviewing course themes, distributed in the final class.
Approximate length: 1250 words (provide a word count). DUE: WEDNESDAY DEC. 9, 3:30 p.m.
The objective of this assignment is to apply course materials, concepts, and themes to an analysis of news
media texts from the current semester. It should be approximately 2500 - 3000 words (about 10 - 12 typed
pages) in length, not counting appendices and bibliography. All papers must be word processed and double
spaced, and all must be accompanied by an appendix which includes all news materials used in the analysis.
The paper will be due at the beginning of lecture in the 11th week of class (November 18).
Objective: The objective of this assignment is to use the methods, concepts, and themes you have learned in
the course and apply them to the analysis of news media texts. While your specific topic must be approved by
the TA or Instructor, here is the general approach for selecting your topic and organizing your paper:
General Criteria:
Length: approximately 2500 – 3000 words (about 10 - 12 typed pages) not including appendices and
bibliography. Provide a word count for your paper.
All papers must be word processed and double-spaced and consistently use an academically acceptable
referencing style (including bracketed references with page numbers).
The paper will be due at the beginning of lecture in the 11th week of class (November 18).
Late submissions will lose marks daily unless you have medical or similar documentation.
Papers submitted later than December 2 will only be accepted with the instructor’s prior permission and if
accompanied by the appropriate medical or other documentation, if requested. In these cases, the student
may receive an incomplete/deferred grade for the course, and papers will be marked in the next term.
You must use material (especially from 'mainstream' media) that is mostly current in this semester.
Three approaches
The assignment is to do a comparative analysis of alternative and mainstream news by applying some of the
concepts we have used in the course. There are three main ways you can undertake a comparative analysis:
1. Conduct a general comparison of a mainstream and an alternative publication. Take each publication
as a whole and compare them using concepts we have introduced in this course that would be
appropriate for this kind of comparison: e.g.: sources/primary definers, frames, news values, mode of
address, objectivity, ideology, the characteristics of war vs. peace journalism, etc.
2. Choose a specific topic (such as politics, environment, poverty, etc.) and compare how it is covered in
both mainstream and alternative media. To do this option you will need to review at least 5 articles
from each of mainstream and alternative media. Hint: Start with articles in the alternative press, and
then look for those topics in the mainstream media. You may need to broaden your scope in order to
find similar articles.
3. Sample any 5 articles from the alternative media, on 5 different topics, and compare these to 5 sample
articles on the same or similar topics in mainstream media (“paired comparisons”). For example, one
article from the Tyee about housing in BC is matched with an article about housing from the
Vancouver Sun; then an article about health care from Canadian Dimension is matched with an article
from the Globe and Mail about health care; etc.
You may use the copy of the alternative magazine that has been provided to you for your alternative news
source, and/or use another alternative source, as long as it is approved by the instructor or TA. A list of
alternative news sources may be distributed to the class.
The sample size should be large enough to find patterns, but not too large as to make the project unwieldy.
E.g.; If you use the magazine provided, compare at least 5 articles with five mainstream articles in a
similar mainstream media, such as Macleans or the Vancouver Sun.
Try to select media of the same technological type (press, magazines, TV, etc.); we are interested in
political/ideological and semiotic rather than technological contrasts.
All examples for your sample must be Canadian, and English Language.
Append the text of the main articles that you are analyzing to your paper.
You need to produce an analytical (rather than merely descriptive) paper. Choose a few (two or three) concepts
from the course to consider in your analysis. Some examples of concepts you may wish to apply:
sources or “primary definers”
news values
news routines and practices
news frames
news management, pseudo-events, and spin
preferred readings
objectivity and its biases
ideology and/or hegemony
four ‘information biases’ and why they matter
mode of address
‘war journalism’ vs. ‘peace journalism’
Students should use the course texts, and lecture notes (include the date for lectures). Examples of news
analyses can be found in Allan, Chapters 4, 6, 7, as well as some of the readings in your course ware (e.g.
Hackett & Zhao, week 5; Mahtani et al, week 7.) [See also Yasmin Jiwani, “Covering Canada’s role in the
‘war on terror’, and Appendix, “Putting it into practice: A primer on content and discourse analysis,” in S.
Sampert & L. Trimble, eds., Mediating Canadian Politics, on Reserve.] You do not need academic readings
from outside the course, unless you find it helpful to research the background, and/or previous studies of
media coverage of your chosen issue. Web Sources can be used for finding alternative media articles or
news stories, and should be referenced using academic standards. However, normally other Web sources
must be from academic, peer-reviewed journals to be considered suitable. Talk to your instructor or TA if
you are not sure.
Look at the alternative media first, and consider how it is different from the mainstream media. We are so
familiar with mainstream media that often we cannot notice the differences without a comparison.
Importantly, " of the most valuable methods you can use [to analyze news] is comparison.
Comparison brings out the distinctive features of the object of study, by showing which of its
characteristics are unique to itself, which are common with others, and what possibilities are absent
altogether." (John Hartley, Understanding News, 1982)
Do not get caught up in an actual topic being discussed. We are looking for an awareness of the
differences in how the two types of media report on topics, not the topics themselves. It is interesting, for
example, to look at the differences in the news sources used when discussing the same topic, or the way
the topic is framed.
Make sure you have defined your key terms, especially if you are using terms such as "ideology" and
Content: seriousness of effort in analyzing media; application of course materials; relevance to course
themes; the level of difficulty of the topic you are attempting; the depth of analysis, etc. In addition, your
choice and monitoring media sources and/or researching comparisons as appropriate.
Argument: thoughtfulness; coherence of argument; systematic exposition leading to a conclusion;
consistency between the argument and the evidence offered to support it; intelligence with which course
concepts are applied and/or challenged; ability to take into account the most significant potential counterarguments to your case.
Organization: a clear and concise paper, with introduction setting out the topic and approach; coherent
structure and flow; appendix of media clippings or other relevant material (including printouts of Web articles)
Style: Clarity of expression; full and appropriate acknowledgment of sources; sentence structure, paragraph
development, vocabulary, punctuation, etc.
D. Pass: Content knowledge indicated, but little application or integration/analysis. Bare minimum of
relevant literature. Vaguely comprehensible, minimally acceptable organization and style. This grade
indicates a basic problem, e.g. lack of, or unacknowledged contradiction in, the argument; and/or ongoing
lack of clarity in expression.
C. Competent: Acceptable grasp of material, some appropriate description and basic comprehension, use of
some relevant material. Adequate organization and coherent argument. Awareness of format required,
readable. Usually C papers fall short on strong clear argument, independent judgment or analysis.
B. Good: Sound expression of ideas. Shows substantial knowledge and use of information and theory plus
analysis, synthesis and application. Clearly organized, well structured. Appropriate format. Competent in
sentence structure, vocabulary, spelling, etc..
A. Excellent: Fluid expression, original thought, high degree of conceptual integration, synthesis, critical
evaluation. Use and mastery of wide range of relevant material. Sophisticated and articulate argument,
style and structure.