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Media and the Public
In this class, we will learn about what it means to be a mediated public by becoming one and reflecting on our practice. As we discuss critical and primary readings on media, democracy, and the public sphere, the class will undergo a process together. We will cultivate our own public sphere, setting rules and adjusting them as we go. The midterm and final projects are short exercises in established genres of media intervention.
- Practice participating a lively community of discussion and debate, and making significant media interventions within it
- Familiarize ourselves with past and present debates about media and democracy
- Develop habits of critical engagement with mainstream and alternative news sources
- Articulate a vision for a democratic public sphere
Each student is expected to:
- contribute every week to our public sphere, before noon on Thursday, with at least 2 posts and/or comments (at most one post per week) in the D2L discussion (including text, video, or other media) in some way that connects the readings; engagement with the current news cycle and popular culture is strongly encouraged.
- be an active participant, through listening and speaking, in oral discussions during class time.
- adhere to the agreements that we set out jointly in class.
For this assignment, draft, revise, and publish an 800-to-900-word op-ed (authored by yourself) or press release (promoting an invented initiative or product from a real organization or company) that makes an intervention in a matter of current public concern, framed in terms of democratic ideals. Through it, make clear the importance and relevance of one or more such ideal.
- For press releases, simple templates for the expected format can be found here and here. For more inspiration, try to find press releases published by the organization you choose or others like it
This project should meet the following expectations:
- Adherence to AP Style
- Adherence to standard op-ed or press release format
- Correct length, spelling, and grammar
- Responsible advocacy:
- Clarity of argument
- Support of argument through evidence, documented in the text and through hyperlinks
- Framing of the argument in comparison to contrasting positions, demonstrating a sophisticated grasp of the discourse on the topic
- Transparency about the interests and position of the author
- Articulation of democratic ideal(s)
For this assignment, draft, revise, and publish an analysis of a media campaign of your choosing, individually or as part of a group. Written projects should be between 1,400-1,600 words, and videos between 4-6 minutes. Standards for other media should be agreed on with the instructor.
Campaigns might include, for instance: an Internet meme, a politician's slogan, an iconic advertisement, a university marketing drive, a blacklisting effort, a struggle for political rights.
The medium should be a recognizable genre of some sort that attempts to make an intervention in a particular audience. You might create, for instance: a news report, an instructional video, a fictional internal corporate memo, a business case study, a presentation, a formal letter, a rant of tweets.
The expectations are as follows:
- A carefully documented and persuasive argument about the campaign, grounded in an analysis of its planning, execution, effectiveness, use of media, and relevant publics
- Engagement with some key themes, readings, and discussions in the course, such as democracy, economic models, ethics, and perspective
- Adherence to the topic, medium, and scope agreed on with the instructor
- Excellence in execution, including grammar, spelling, AP Style (if written), visual clarity, and other standards relevant to the medium
Grades will be determined as follows:
- 25 points - quality and persistence of in-class participation
- 25 points - quality and persistence of participation in online discussions
- 20 points - midterm project:
- 10 points - first draft and participation in peer review
- 10 points - revision with evidence of improvement
- 30 points - final project:
- 10 points - first draft and participation in peer review
- 20 points - revision with evidence of improvement
Each student is allotted 3 unexcused absences. After that, absences without a documented excuse will result in 5 points detracted from the class participation grade.
Badges, worth 1 extra point, will be awarded at the conclusion of each module:
- The Virality Badge goes to the thread with the largest number of views
- The Provocation Badge goes to the thread with the largest number of comments
- The Insight Badge goes to the post that, in the view of the instructor, makes an especially strong contribution to the quality of the discussion and reflects the insights of the readings
- The Reflexivity Badge goes to the post that best contributes to the self-reflection our our class public, in the form of either commentary or a concrete proposal for change
There is a limit of one badge per person per week.
Consider and compare the approaches to democracy in the following two essays:
The difference between James and Whitman can be compared to a debate that one often finds in the syllabi of courses like this, between John Dewey and Walter Lippman (summarized here).
Neither of the above visions much reflects what we tend to think of as structured, democratic governance today. Coming from a radical 1960s activist and feminist, here's a famous manifesto about why structure matters:
- Jo Freeman, “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” The Second Wave 2, no. 1 (1972)
For a more recent, theoretical expression of what democracy entails, finally, we should read this helpful series of excerpts (thanks to a pretty strange website) from:
- Robert A. Dahl, On Democracy (Yale University Press, 1998)
Private and publics
- Hannah Arendt, “The Private and the Public,” from The Human Condition (1958)
- Michael Warner, “Publics and Counterpublics,” Public Culture 14, no. 1 (2002)
- Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self (2002)
On the latter, watch at least the first two episodes, and after that only as far as you like. It's over-long and repetitive, but well-calculated to blow your mind.
Objectivity and perspective
- Robert Kaplan, “The Origins of Objectivity in American Journalism,” in Stuart Allen (ed.), The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism (Routledge, 2010)
- Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies 14, no. 3. (1988)
- Gene Demby, “How Black Reporters Report on Black Death,” Code Switch (August 20, 2015)
- Mónica Guzmán, “Journalism and the Self-Informing Public,” Reynolds School of Journalism (March 7, 2014)
On journalism, including our very own Paul Voakes:
- Paul S. Voakes, “Rights, Wrongs, and Responsibilities: Law and Ethics in the Newsroom,” Journal of Mass Media Ethics 15, no. 1 (2000)
- danah boyd and Kelly McBride, “The Destabilizing Force of Fear,” in Kelly McBride and Tom Rosentiel (eds.), The New Ethics of Journalism (CQ Press, 2013)
On public relations and advocacy:
- Sherry Baker, “The Ethics of Advocacy: Moral Reasoning in the Practice of Public Relations,” in Wilkins and Christians (eds.), The Handbook of Mass Media Ethics (New York: Routledge. 2009), pp. 115-129.
Often debates about journalistic ethics take on a very political character.
- Brent Baker, “How to _Identify_ Liberal Media Bias,” Media Research Center (1994)
- W. Lance Bennett, Regina G. Lawrence, and Steven Livingston, “Press Politics in America: The Case of the Iraq War,” When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina (University of Chicago Press, 2007)
Spend a reasonable amount of time exploring the data here:
- Amy Mitchell, “State of the News Media 2015,” Pew Research Center: Journalism & Media (April 29, 2015)
- “2015 Census,” American Society of News Editors (July 28, 2015)
- Peter Meyers, “The 2014 [Digital Marketing] Industry Survey,” MOZ
How does the current data affect how we read this debate at the start of the millennium?
- Robert W. McChesney, “Policing the thinkable,” openDemocracy (October 25, 2001)
- Benjamin Compaine, “The myths of encroaching global media ownership,” openDemocracy (November 8, 2001)
And, if you can't get enough, the response to the response:
- Robert W. McChesney, “Media corporations versus democracy: a response to Benjamin Compaine,” openDemocracy (November 14, 2001)
Here are some recent reports on the influx of Silicon Valley-style venture capital in new media platforms:
- Adrienne LaFrance, “Why venture capitalists are suddenly investing in news,” Quartz (March 12, 2014)
- Ricardo Bilton, “The case against the venture capital craze for content,” Digiday (March 28, 2014)
- Noam Scheiber, “Gawker Media Employees Vote to Form a Union, and the Bosses Approve,” The New York Times (June 4, 2015)
And even one of the country's oldest magazines was relying on exploitation:
- Blair Hickman, “Nation Institute to Pay Interns Minimum Wage,” Pro Publica (August 2, 2013)
Are you a commoner? Here are some general readings on what the commons is all about:
- Fran Korten, “No Panaceas! Elinor Ostrom Talks with Fran Korten,” Shareable (March 18, 2010)
- Jeremy Adam Smith, “How to Design the Commons (or, Elinor Ostrom Explained!),” Shareable (December 10, 2009)
- Daniel B. Smith, “What Is Art For?” The New York Times Magazine (November 14, 2008)
- David Bollier, “Introduction” and “Inventing the Creative Commons,” in http://www.viralspiral.cc/download-bookViral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own__ (New Press, 2008)
- Christopher S. Yoo and Timothy Wu, “Keeping the Internet Neutral?” Legal Affairs (May 1, 2006)
- Ivan Illich, “Silence Is a Commons,” The CoEvolution Quarterly (Winter 1983)
Filters and bubbles
Explore some of the debates about “filter bubbles” online.
- Cass Sunstein et al., “Is the Internet Bad for Democracy?” Boston Review (June 2001)
- Eli Pariser, “Beware Online 'Filter Bubbles,'” TED Talk (March 2011)
- nina de jesus, “The Filter Bubble Is a Misguided, Privileged Notion,” Geek Feminism (February 27, 2014)
- Margaret Weigel, “Ideological segregation online and offline,” Journalist's Resource (January 10, 2012)
And that was before (at least so far as we know) Facebook got into experimenting on us with our news feeds…
- Vindu Goel, “Facebook Tinkers With Users’ Emotions in News Feed Experiment, Stirring Outcry,” The New York Times (June 2, 2014)
…and replacing news platforms altogether.
- Claire Cain Miller, “Why Facebook’s News Experiment Matters to Readers,” The New York Times (May 14, 2015)
But no big deal.
- Rachel Metz, “Facebook Says You Filter News More Than Its Algorithm Does,” MIT Technology Review (May 7, 2015)
Maybe we should be more careful with which search engines we use:
- Frank Pasquale, “Dominant Search Engines: An Essential Cultural & Political Facility,” in Szoka, Berin and Marcus, Adam, eds., The Next Digital Decade: Essays on the Future of the Internet (2010).
- John Paul Titlow, “Inside DuckDuckGo, Google's Tiniest, Fiercest Competitor,” Fast Company (February 20, 2014)
A classic critique:
- Malcolm Gladwell, “Small Change,” The New Yorker (October 4, 2010)
The Arab Spring:
- Zeynep Tufekci and Christopher Wilson, “Social Media and the Decision to Participate in Political Protest: Observations From Tahrir Square,” Journal of Communication 62, no. 2 (March 6, 2012)
- Mary Elizabeth King, “Egypt’s revolution began long before 2011,” Waging Nonviolence (February 6, 2012)
#BlackLivesMatter and its discontents:
- Jay Caspian Kang, “‘Our Demand Is Simple: Stop Killing Us,'” The New York Times Magazine (May 4, 2015)
- Barbara Ransby, “Ella Taught Me: Shattering the Myth of the Leaderless Movement,” Colorlines (June 12, 2015)
- Michael Wines and Stephanie Saul, “White Supremacists Extend Their Reach Through Websites,” The New York Times (July 5, 2015)
What would a movement-made platform look like?
- Gabriella Coleman, “Indymedia's Independence: From Activist Media to Free Software”
Leaks, repression, censorship
- Jason Q. Ng, “The Diminishing Returns of Tricking China’s Censors,” MIT Technology Review (June 20, 2014)
- Jason Q. Ng, “China's Rumor Mill,” Foreign Affairs (October 6, 2015)
What makes speech dangerous?
- “World press freedom index 2014,” Reporters Without Borders (Be sure to click “read more” to access the whole summary)
- Yochai Benkler, “A Free Irresponsible Press: WikiLeaks and the Battle Over the Soul of the Fourth Estate,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 46 (2011)
The fate of Internet freedom:
- Wendy Kaminer, “The End of Free Speech at University of Colorado?” The Atlantic (September 18, 2012)
- Dane S. Claussen, “A Brief History of Anti-Intellectualism in American Media,” Academe (May-June 2011)
- Alan Lightman, “The Role of the Public Intellectual,” MIT Communications Forum
- Michael Eric Dyson, “Think Out Loud,” The New Republic (September 9, 2015)
- Evette Brown, “Why Do We Have More Female Scholars, But Few Public Intellectuals?” Bitch Media (July 8, 2013)
- Nicholas Kristof, “Professors, We Need You!” The New York Times (February 15, 2014)
Harassment, abuse, accountability
The ongoing P.C. and trigger warning debates:
- Jonathan Chait, “Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say,” New York (January 27, 2015)
- Lindsay Beyerstein, “‘New York’ Mag Writer Is Incorrect on Political Correctness,” Observer (January 28, 2015)
- Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” The Atlantic (September 2015)
- Joan Wallach Scott, “The Campaign Against Political Correctness: What’s Really at Stake,” Radical History Review 54 (1992)
- Rani Neutill, “My trigger-warning disaster: “9 1/2 Weeks,” “The Wire” and how coddled young radicals got discomfort all wrong,” Salon (October 28, 2015)
- Byron Clark, et al, “I set up my web browser…,” Twitter (August 4, 2015)
Online, harassment is real:
- Marlisse Silver Sweeney, “What the Law Can (and Can't) Do About Online Harassment,” The Atlantic (November 12, 2014)
- Caitlin Dewey, “The only guide to Gamergate you will ever need to read,” The Washington Post (October 14, 2014)
- Arthur Chu, “GamerGate rides again: Corporate arrogance just turned SXSW’s “big tent” into a three-ring circus,” Salon (November 2, 2015)
Not just for journalists, or women:
- Marlisse Silver Sweeney, “How women journalists can protect themselves online,” Columbia Journalism Review (August 13, 2015)
Two approaches to “propaganda”: first, the form of perceived imposition…
- Jacques Ellul, “Preface,” in Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes (Vintage, 1965), pp. ix-xvii
- Simon Enoch, “The Propaganda Model,” Beautiful Trouble
- Virginia Hale, “How Feminist Propaganda Is Destroying Men's Lives,” Breitbart (January 2, 2015)
…and then the insurgent kind.
- Leo Strauss, “Persecution and the Art of Writing,” Social Research 8 (1941)
- Errico Malatesta, “Anarchist Propaganda,” in Verne Richards (ed.), Malatesta: Life and Ideas (Freedom Press, 1966)
- Mark Dery, Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signs (Open Magazine Pamphlet Series, 1993)
- David Garcia and Geert Lovink, “The ABC of Tactical Media,” nettime mailing list (May 16, 1997)
This syllabus is a living document. Any part of it may be brought up for discussion and modified by agreement of those present during any official class period.
[ Notes ]