Syllabus

JOURN 494MI: Media, Technology and Culture (Fall 2014)

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.

Hasbrouck Lab, room 228

Instructor: Razvan Sibii

E-mail: razvan [at] comm.umass.edu

Office Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. and by appointment

COURSE DESCRIPTION:

This course aims to provide you with a framework for critically examining the intersections between media messages, the digital revolution and the wider sociocultural environment. That journalism has been profoundly impacted by the development of Web 2.0 applications is nowadays axiomatic. However, the precise ways in which such “new media” phenomena as Facebook & Twitter, the personal blog and the smart phone have transformed news gathering, packaging, dissemination, and reception still need to be researched and understood.

You will be asked to reflect critically on the manner in which your communication (e.g., your use of language, imagery and technology) creates and, in turn, is determined by, the social and cultural world(s) in which you live. Investigating your meaning-making processes in this way should translate into an increased awareness of the causes and consequences of your storytelling choices.

The course readings will deal with such issues as social responsibility of the media, media frames, media representations, identity formation, social and cultural diversity, linguistic and technological determinism, the politics of technology, ritual, perception and subjectivity, and cultural competency.

COURSE GOALS:

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Place your work as a journalist in a wider sociocultural context, thus increasing your awareness of how your work is determined by – and, in turn, contributes to – the values, beliefs, norms, expectations and assumptions that make up the culture in which you are performing your journalism. This course should prompt you to reflect on how your journalistic practices have been impacted by your assumptions about society, culture, democracy, technology, and the social responsibility of the media. You will hopefully recognize that being a storyteller is a privilege, and will then take responsibility for the cultural footprint of your journalistic work.
  • Give some consideration to the thesis that storytelling is humanity’s premier mechanism for meaning-making. If you agree with this thesis, you should, by way of consequence, recognize the ethical burden carried by all storytellers (e.g., journalists, teachers, parents, the Muppets, etc.), insofar as the stories they tell are responsible for the creation and maintenance of much of the reality that we all are living in.
  • Realize the ways in which your technological choices at all levels of journalistic production (i.e., story selection, framing, reporting, story assembly and dissemination) affect the stories you are telling, as well as the manner in which they are received by “the people formerly known as the audience.”

THE INTEGRATIVE EXPERIENCE:

This class fulfills the Integrative Experience (IE) GenEd requirement. The IE is meant to provide “a structured context for students to reflect on their own learning and explore the connections between the broad exposure provided by General Education and the more focused exposure of their major” (GenEd website). As such, this course will ask you to put some serious thought into the role that your UMass education has played so far in your development as a liberal arts intellectual, a journalist, and a citizen of Massachusetts, the United States and the world.

SPECIFIC INTEGRATIVE EXPERIENCE OBJECTIVES (according to the GenEd website):

  • “Providing a structured, credited context for students to reflect on and to integrate their learning and experience from the broad exposure in their General Education courses and the focus in their major.” This IE goal will be fulfilled primarily with the help of periodic reflection papers. Each reflection paper will examine one personal journalistic project through one or more disciplinary lenses. For example, one assignment will ask you to interrogate journalism’s contribution to the creation of social values, beliefs and norms. To that end, you will examine the manner in which one of your stories perpetuates certain narratives of “normality” by pointing out “abnormality” to the audience (since that which is “news-worthy” is, in effect, that which is unexpected and transgressive, yet still intelligible). For this paper, you will have to explicitly draw on the knowledge acquired in one or more SB GenEd courses (e.g., sociology, linguistics, communication, economics, political science, anthropology). Another assignment will ask you to chart the historical trajectory of “journalistic objectivity” and examine the specific ways in which the “view from nowehere” is put into practice in the hard news stories that you wrote in Journ 300: Newswriting and Reporting. For this assignment, you will be asked to leverage your understanding of historiography, linguistics, etc. A third assignment will require you to analyze the ways in which the story told in one of your multimedia projects has been impacted by your choice of technology. You will then be asked to imagine alternative treatments of the same topics and discuss the ethical implications of each one of them.
  • Providing students with the opportunity to practice General Education learning objectives such as oral communication, collaboration, critical thinking and interdisciplinary perspective-taking, at a more advanced level.” Much contemporary journalism is the result of teamwork bringing together reporters, editors, interactive designers, etc., so chances are that you will have had ample opportunity to work in a group of your peers in other Journalism classes. Many of the assignments for this class will require you to discuss not only the final products of your journalistic work (e.g., a specific multimedia story), but also the process whereby those products were conceived, created, assembled and disseminated. You will thus have to reflect on how working in a group differs from working on your own in terms of division of labor, story framing, and “journalistic voice.” You will also be asked to work in groups during class sessions, in the class blog, and for the final Wikipedia project.
  • “Offering students a shared learning experience for applying their prior learning to new situations, challenging questions, and real-world problems.” Most of your assignments will deal with published stories – that is, stories that have gone through an editorial process and have had some sort of public reception, be it an enthusiastic reception (as manifested perhaps in positive online comments), an outraged reception, or a tepid/indifferent reception. Every story analysis, regardless of the theoretical lenses applied to it, will include a “lessons learned” component, to be leveraged (hopefully) when mapping out new stories and new journalistic products.

COURSE MATERIALS: There are no required textbooks for this class. You must be able to access the class blog on a regular basis.

 

COURSE GUIDELINES:

 

  • Attendance: Given that this is a course that relies heavily on class discussion, everyone’s contribution to each class is extremely important. Absences due to emergencies will receive proper consideration. Please get in touch with me as soon as possible if you must miss a class session.
  • Deadlines: Please keep all deadlines. Since this is a journalism class, deadlines are near sacred. Please give yourself plenty of time to complete each assignment, so as to be able to deal with any emergency that might occur. Missed assignments cannot be made up, except in case of a legitimate, documentable emergency.
  • Participation: The class is designed in such a way as to give each student the opportunity to contribute to class discussion. Participation is expected of everyone on a regular basis, both in class and in the course blog.
  • Academic honestyYour student handbook has formal statements on plagiarism. Please familiarize yourself with them.

 

CONSULTATION: I respond to my e-mail daily. I am available for consultation after class for as long as necessary. Please do not hesitate to ask for my help. At some point in the semester, I may conduct an anonymous survey with regards to possible improvements to the course.

 

ASSIGNMENTS:

Total points: 100 points (+10 bonus points)

  • 6 Reflection Papers (5 points each)…………………………….. 30 points
  • 10 Short Quizzes (4 points each + 1 bonus question)…… 40 points (+10)
  • Wikipedia Final Team Project …………………………………… 20 points
  • Attendance and class & blog participation………….……… 10 points

 

GRADING SCALE:

A 100-92             A- 91-90         B+ 89-88          B 87-82          B- 81-80         C+ 79-78

              C 77-72%           C- 71-70         D+ 69-68         D 67-61           F 60-0

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF ASSIGNMENTS:

Reflection Papers: The required length of the response papers is three to five pages. They are due every Tuesday, at the end of class. There will be a total of 12 response papers assigned; you only need to complete 6 of them. If you complete more than 6, I will drop your lowest grade(s). A week before each response is due, I will create a post in the blog with one or more questions that you are to answer in the response paper. Late papers will not be accepted (except in the case of documented emergencies/legitimate absences). Some of your responses will be subjected to peer review as well as in-class group analysis. Do not write anything in these papers that you would not want to see on the front page of the Collegian!

Short Quizzes: At the beginning of every Tuesday class, you will spend five minutes taking a mini-quiz that will consist of five questions: four multiple-choice questions testing your comprehension of the week’s readings, and one bonus question testing your knowledge of current events. There will be a total of 12 quizzes assigned; you only need to take 10 of them. If you take more than 10, I will drop your lowest grade(s). These assignments cannot be made up.

Wikipedia Final Team Project: The final project will require that you research, write, post and edit a Wikipedia entry. The subject of your entry (to be chosen by you and approved by me) will fall into one of two categories: 1) “Media representation of X” (where “X” will be a demographic group [example 1, example 2, example 3]), or 2) “[Storytelling technique] in journalism” (for example, “Animation in journalism,” “Multimedia journalism,” “Comic books in journalism”). You will work in teams of 2 or 3 people. On Sept. 30, we will go to the DuBois Library to take a researching workshop.

Course Blog: For the full 10 points, each student must respond to one of my/other student’s posting at least three times during the semester. In addition to that, each student must make his/her own post (and initiate a discussion) at least twice during the semester. During first week, I will circulate a sign-up sheet for the latter. Participation in the class blog is meant to complement your participation in class discussion. If you are a bit shy or simply can’t get a word in edgewise during class, this is the place where you should make your voice heard. All students should post in this blog on a regular basis so that we can have the in-depth, meaningful discussions that we might not have time for in class. The posts or comments must deal, in some fashion, with either the journalism profession or the media industry. They can relate some interesting observation or they can discuss some argument made in one of the required or recommended readings.

 OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:

  • At the beginning of some classes, we may discuss the day’s news. Please stay up-to-date on the news  – I strongly suggest you read at least one legitimate news source daily.
  • Please bring to class any questions or observations you might have about your interactions with the media or the day’s news.
  • The material discussed in class will be adapted to whatever outside event manages to catch our collective attention.
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