Syllabus for David Offer's News Literacy Jan Plan

January 2009 | Diamond 261

This course is designed to teach students to become more discriminating news producers and consumers. We will explore the difference between news and propaganda, news and opinion, bias and fairness, assertion and verification and evidence and inference in news articles and broadcast reports. It will help students develop critical thinking skills. Students also will learn how the journalistic process works and how journalists make decisions.

The text is The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel.

Most of the other reading for the course comes from newspapers and magazines. They are listed in this syllabus with URL listings so you can find them on the Internet. Other material will be provided.

The class will meet from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday.

There will be several written assignments, mostly one-page reaction pieces. Each will be  turned in at the start of class and returned the next day. In addition, a copy should be sent to me AS A WORD ATTACHMENT by e-mail at dboffer@colby.edu.

Grades will be based on:

  • Papers 33%
  • Class participation 33%
  • Final exam 33%

UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED, ALL ASSIGNMENTS ARE DUE FOR THE NEXT CLASS.

Class Schedule

Monday, Jan. 5
1) WHAT IS NEWS LITERACY – AND WHY IT MATTERS
Introduction and overview.
Students leave this first class with an understanding of the goals of the course and the core definition of news literacy: The ability to judge the credibility and reliability of news reports from all sources, and why this matters to them.

Assignnments:

Tuesday, Jan. 6
2) THE POWER OF INFORMATION
We explore the universal need to receive and share information and the function news has played in society: To alert, to connect and to divert. Disaster stories, political stories, even weird pet stories all are part of the need to be informed. We will examine the role of technology in providing information through history (from smoke signals to the Internet) and discuss the global battle to control information. Students leave the class with a clear understanding of why there is a need for a free flow of information and why some people are willing to kill (and some journalists are willing to die) in the battle to control information.

Assignments

Wednesday, Jan. 7
3) WHAT IS JOURNALISM AND WHY IT IS DIFFERENT – KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD. WHO IS A JOURNALIST AND WHO IS NOT?
We examine the attributes of news, propaganda, advertising, publicity, entertainment and raw information. Each can be considered a “neighborhood” where different forms of information live. Knowing the neighborhood is the key to determining what level of trust to place in what is presented to the reader/listener/viewer.

Students will debate whether Jon Stewart is a journalist and whether YouTube is a journalistic outlet. Together, students complete and review the Information Grid.

Assignments

Thursday, Jan. 8
4) WHAT IS JOURNALISM (continued) and THE MISSION OF THE PRESS IN THE UNITED STATES
We continue the discussion of who is a journalist and the information neighborhoods and then consider the philosophical and practical base of a free press in the United States and the ongoing tension in a democracy between the press and the government. We review the First Amendment and what freedom of the press really means, looking at landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases (Near v. Minnesota, Pentagon Papers and others) and consider the role of the press in wartime, issues of censorship and press responsibility and the role of the press as a “watchdog.”

Students will debate whether the New York Times acted responsibly or committed treason in disclosing Operation Swift.

Assignments:

Monday, Jan. 12
5) WHAT IS NEWS AND WHO DECIDES
What makes some information news? We examine news drivers, news values and how the news process works. What determines whether a story is printed or broadcast or put on the Internet? What is the role of the editor in the traditional media – and the significance of the lack of an editor in evolving media? Are news decisions in the “main stream media” driven by the profit motive or social responsibility?

Are the media accountable? What is the role of press ombudsmen, press critics, bloggers and Web sites?

As a case study of the decision making process, students will form news teams to create  front pages of Colby Today, a daily campus newspaper, debating the merits of stories from lists to be provided. We will compare and discuss the decisions made by each group.

Assignments

Tuesday, Jan. 13
6) VERIFICATION – WHAT IS JOURNALISTIC TRUTH AND HOW DO JOURNALISTS VERIFY INFORMATION
We explore the process used by journalists to verify information – and clues consumers can use to evaluate verification. What is the difference between direct and indirect evidence, why are some sources reliable and others not? We examine the important difference between assertion and verification, evidence and inference and how news consumers can assess journalistic evidence.

Assignments

Wednesday, Jan. 14
7) FAIRNESS, BIAS AND OPINION
This class explores one of the most controversial issues surrounding the press. Are the media – some, all, none – fair and balanced? What do those terms mean? How can a news consumer tell? What is bias? What is the difference between media bias and audience bias?

We also examine the difference between news and opinion within the journalism neighborhood. What is a columnist or commentator? How can you differentiate between news and opinion on television and on the Internet? How do you classify bloggers? How can a news consumer tell the difference, and does it matter? What is an editorial and who decides what to write or say?

We also examine the role of editorial endorsements – historically and in the recent election.

Naomi Schalit, opinion page editor of the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel, will participate in this discussion.

Assignments

Thursday, Jan. 15
8) ETHICS
We will discuss the ethics of journalism and their application to decision making. Student groups will use case studies for class discussion of ethical questions.

Assignments

Monday, Jan. 19
9) DECONSTRUCTING THE NEWS—OR, HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE GETTING THE TRUTH FROM THE NEWS MEDIA
This key class examines how to “deconstruct” news stories to judge their credibility and reliability by asking a series of key questions. The class reprises previous discussions on evidence, sources and fairness but also explores context, transparency, thoroughness and clarity.

We will “deconstruct” several stories in class.

Assignments

  • Read Chapter 11 in Elements of Journalism
  • Further assignments will be provided by Reid MacCluggage, past president of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association and retired publisher and editor of The Day, New London, Ct., who will speak on Jan. 20.

Tuesday, Jan 20
10) DECONSTRUCTING THE NEWS (continued)
Reid MacCluggage presentation.

Assignments

Wednesday, Jan. 21
11) THE INAUGURATION and POLLING OR HOW TO QUESTION NUMBERS
We examine coverage of the inauguration of the president across all platforms, looking for differences in approach, using the principles developed in this class for evaluation.

In the second half of this class we will consider the use and misuse of polls and how a news consumer should evaluate reports based on polling.

Assignments

  • Read: No Joke: Jon Stewart takes aim at 24-hour cable news ‘beast’
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/25/AR2008082502186.html
  • Read: Watching Fox News: Don’t have a cow, man
    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2008/10/09/watching_fox_news_dont_have_a_cow_man/
  • Choose a story from a newspaper and then watch coverage of the same story on television news. Compare and contrast them in a one-page paper.

Thursday, Jan.22
12) HOW TV NEWS WORKS
How is TV news different from other kinds of news? What special challenges and pressures go into the process of creating TV news reports and how does that determine what viewers see? What is the job of the television reporter, producer and anchor? What is the difference between network and local news, between cable and network news and why is this important to news consumers.

Assignments:
NOTE: THESE VIDEOS ARE IN MOODLE.
YOU WILL NEED TO DOWNLOAD REALPLAYER TO SEE THESE VIDEOS.

  • View video clip on FBI abuses, using the deconstruction principles to evaluate it.
  • In a brief paper, answer the following questions:
    1. Give an example of direct evidence used in this report.
    2. Is the report fair? Explain your answer.
    3. What should a news consumer conclude about the FBI’s continuing practice of intercepting telephone conversations of U.S. citizens in this country? Explain.
  • View the video on the man accused of choking a baby to death. In a brief paper, answer the following questions:
    1. How would you characterize the mother as a source in this story? As a news consumer, how much weight should you give her comments?
    2. What other sources might have made made this a stronger report?
    3. This report illustrates both the strength and the weaknesses of television’s use of video. Explain how.
    4. Is this report fair? Explain your answer.
    5. What can a news consumer conclude about the guilt of the man arrested?
  • In preparation for our discussion of Internet news, each student will be assigned to examine and report on one Web site. Those reports, about one minute each, will be presented in Class 14. Each student also will submit one paragraph about the Web site to a discussion on Moodle.

Monday, Jan. 26
Pizza and Film
In addition to the regularly scheduled class, we will meet tonight at 6 to see the film “Shattered Glass” – and to enjoy some pizza.

Please see me to arrange for alternate showing of the film if you are unable to attend.

Monday, Jan. 26
13) DECONSTRUCTING TV NEWS
We will apply the principles of deconstruction to several examples.

Assignments:

Tuesday, Jan. 27
14) NEWS ON THE NET
We look at the revolutionary changes the Internet has brought to news and how the principles of deconstruction work in a Web-savvy world.

We consider how to evaluate news Web sites and avoid deception.

Are all blogs created equal and how does the news consumer evaluate blogs?

Wednesday, Jan. 28
15) THE IMPACT OF NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY | SHATTERED GLASS DISCUSSION
We examine how photos shape our perception of the news and how modern technology has made it easier to manipulate visual images. We discuss the ethics of photojournalism (and some breaches of it) and the issues of taste, balance and ethics.

Thursday, Jan. 29
16) FINAL EXAM