Introduction to Mass Media (Honors) syllabus

Manship School of Mass Communication


Fall Semester, 2014

(Tuesday-Thursday, 9:00 – 10:20am; Journalism 135)

Professor:      Steve Buttry

Office:           Journalism 117B

Phone:           225-578-7309, office, or 703-474-0382, cell

E-mail:              or

Office hours:             Tuesday & Thursday, 10:30 – 12:30 pm and by appointment

Course objectives

  1.  Understand and apply five elements of the First Amendment.
  2. Place mass communication institutions, professionals and research in a historical context.
  3. Identify key mass communication concepts, principles, platforms, issues and theories.
  4. Identify ethical principles relating to mass communication, such as truth, fairness, accuracy, diversity, competing interests.
  5. Understand the media’s function as sources of information, entertainment, social and culture currency and persuasion.
  6. Improved media literacy, including increased self-awareness of media messages, awareness of media power and pervasiveness in society, and ability to manage media messages as part of becoming responsible citizens of a mass mediated democracy.
  7. Differentiate roles in mass media professions.


Two exams will be given, a mid-term and a final. Unless you contact me about a schedule conflict in advance of an exam, you must take it on the scheduled date unless you have a documented medical excuse (and in most medical cases, you should be able to provide immediate notice of your inability to be in class for the test).

You can substitute a personal-media exercise for the mid-term. To do a personal-media exercise, you must state your intent to do the exercise at least a week before the date of the mid-term and turn it in by the date of the mid-term. Tell me in person which option you will choose. You can choose one of these options:

  1. Keep a log of your own media use for a few days. Analyze and comment on your media use, addressing topics such as the sources of your media, how you encountered it, how reliable the information is, the devices you used, the companies and individuals who produced it.
  2. Keep a log of your own advertising exposure for a few days. Analyze and comment on the messages you encounter, addressing such topics as the medium used, the advertiser, whether you were specifically targeted personally or as part of a group (and why and whether the targeting was accurate), and how the advertiser (and/or agency and/or media outlet) produced and delivered the ad.

If you want to do the personal-media exercise, discuss it with me before starting.


You are expected to read the full textbook as well as readings that will be assigned during class (not all readings will be on the syllabus and some readings may not be discussed in class).

Student projects and presentations

Each student is required to complete one project and make one presentation to the class.

Topics: You have two deadlines for selecting topics by emailing your selection to me: The first topic must be selected by Sept. 11 and the second topic must be selected by Sept. 30. No student may choose a topic for either the project or the presentation that any other student has chosen (except for debates, where pairs of students can decide to debate a topic). I will post by Aug. 29 a list of possible topics for presentations and projects in the class blog. As topics are selected, I will place them in strikethrough font, so you can still see them as examples of good topics, but you will know that you can’t choose them. I will try to update the list as soon as students select topics, but if two students choose the same topic, the one who chose it first will get that topic and the other student will need to choose a second one (you’re welcome to include an alternate selection in your email). Note in your email whether you’re selecting the topic for your presentation or your project. You are not limited to the topics on my list. Suggest a topic of your own if you wish (subject to my approval).

Project: Your project must be published on the class blog by Thursday, Nov. 13. The project can be all writing, but a multimedia or interactive project would also be welcome. If you would like to do a multimedia or interactive project, please confer with me about your plans and I will give you some feedback. You don’t need to cover all of those issues in your project, but if you won’t be addressing multiple issues, discuss your plans with me in advance to be sure your project is on the right track. Your project will count for 25 percent of your grade. Another 5 percent of your grade will be based on substantive comments you make on at least five other students’ projects.

Presentations: Your presentation will be 25 percent of your grade. When you choose a topic for your presentation, state a preferred date to present, from the dates listed on the syllabus. I will confirm the date or assign you a different date. You may choose a solo presentation or a debate:

Solo: You will have up to 10 minutes to show and/or tell the class about your research and analysis of your presentation topic. Then the class and I will have five minutes of Q&A with you about the project. You may use slides and web examples in your presentation or it may be all spoken. In the Q&A, “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer, but answers that are factually incorrect are not. Minor gaps in your knowledge exposed in the Q&A won’t hurt your grade. I’m mostly interested in what you know. You may ask me after your presentation whether a gap was minor. If it was a major gap, you will have 24 hours to provide a better answer.

Debates: To choose a debate, you and a partner must select a topic and submit together; I will not match you with a debate partner. The list on the class blog includes some possible debate topics but you may propose a topic not on the list (subject to approval). Your positions don’t need to be exactly opposite, but they should be substantially different. Each of you will have up to six minutes to make your initial case, then up to three minutes to respond to your opponent’s case or elaborate on your case, then we’ll have up to five minutes for questions and answers from the class and instructor (no more than 30 seconds per answer). After the Q&A, you will each have one minute to conclude. You will be graded on the quality of your research, analysis and presentation. For fun (but not part of the grade), the class will vote a winner for each debate. You may use slides, web examples or other visuals, but should have them ready before the debate starts. The time involved in showing them counts as presentation time.

Presentation and project grading: Both your project and your presentation will be assessed primarily on your research and analysis in the following areas: historical context, current context, information and/or entertainment nature of media studied, First Amendment issues, technology issues, business issues, audience issues, ethical issues, diversity issues, communication theories. You don’t need to cover all of those issues in your project, but if you won’t be addressing multiple issues, discuss your plans with me in advance to be sure your project or presentation is on the right track. The quality of your writing and your oral presentation will be a secondary factor in grading. If you do a multimedia or interactive project, production quality will not be a factor in grading as long as the research and analysis is understandable. Presentations will be graded on the quality of your research, analysis and presentation.


Your grade for the course will be based on the exams, project, presentation and class participation, broken down this way:

  • Participation, 10%
  • Project, 30% (25% for your project grade, 5% for substantive comments on classmates’ projects)
  • Presentation (solo or debate), 25%
  • Mid-term exam, 15%
  • Final exam, 20%

To discuss your grade, please come to my office. To protect your privacy, I will not discuss grades in class.

Personal standards

I adapted my “personal standards” section directly from David Carr’s syllabus for his Boston University course. I changed just a few words to customize it for my course, but the essence and most of the words come directly from David:

Don’t raise your hand in class. This isn’t Montessori, I expect people to speak up when they like, but don’t speak over anyone. Respect the opinions of others.

This is an intense, twice-a-week introduction to mass media, geared for honors students who have decided they can meet the high standards of an honors course. If you don’t show up for class, you will founder. If you show up late or unprepared, you will stick out in unpleasant ways. If you aren’t putting effort into your work, I will suggest that you might be more comfortable elsewhere.

If you text or email during class, I will ignore you as you ignore me. It won’t go well. You are welcome to use laptop computers to take notes or to look up sites I am showing in class or we are discussing in class or materials to contribute to class discussions. If I see you visiting Facebook, emailing or otherwise multitasking on computer, I will ask you to shut your laptop. You may tweet about what’s going on in class. Everything is on the record, unless a student or I say something is private.

I expect you to behave as an adult and will treat you like one. I don’t want to parent you — I want to teach you.

Excuses: Don’t make them — they won’t work. Whether you are preparing for a career in the media or in some other field, you need to learn in college that excuses don’t work in professional life. They are called failures and we will treat them as such.

If you truly have a personal or family emergency, your welfare comes first. But nothing short of that will have any traction with me.

If you are having trouble understanding expectations or assignments or instruction, please speak up. I care a lot about not leaving anybody behind.

Academic standards

Still adapting Carr’s syllabus:

Your work will be posted on this blog or presented in class. In any written work you turn in for me, you will transparently attribute and link to all sources, as I did attributing and linking to Carr above. If you are quoting exactly, use quotation marks (if paraphrasing, still note the derivation, as I did in saying I was adapting Carr’s work). Failure to appropriately cite the work of others is a serious matter. Work done for this class may not be submitted for another class, and the reverse is also true. Do not use friends or Wikipedia as sources (but Wikipedia is sometimes a great place to look for sources).

Academic honesty

Students are expected to uphold high ethical standards. Cheating, plagiarism, or any other form of academic dishonesty is not tolerated. All students are expected to read and be familiar with the LSU Code of Student Conduct.

Remember: Plagiarism is the act of representing someone else’s creative and/or academic work as your own, in full or in part. It can be an act of commission, in which one intentionally appropriates the words, pictures or ideas of another, or it can be an act of omission, in which one fails to acknowledge/document/give credit to the source, creator and/or the copyright owner of those works, pictures or ideas. Any fabrication of materials, quotes or sources, is also forbidden, as serious an offense as plagiarism. Be sure to cite all of the sources you use, and always use quotation marks if you are using another person’s words, and links if the source is available digitally. Plagiarism and fabrication are serious academic offenses, and university policy requires students suspected of these offenses to be reported to the university’s Dean of Students.

In the spirit of attribution, some parts of this syllabus, including this section, are boilerplate adapted heavily or lifted entirely from earlier Manship School syllabi.

Discussions of current media issues

Half of the classes, usually on Thursday, will address current media issues, sometimes as illustrations of concepts already discussed, sometimes to introduce concepts scheduled for later in the semester, sometimes covering matters not scheduled on the syllabus. I will raise some current issues for discussion, but students are encouraged to raise issues as well, and raising issues to discuss will be reflected in your participation grade.

Tentative course outline

(Dates and topics may change; additional readings will be assigned)

DATE               TOPIC                                                                                      READING

Aug. 26:         Introduction, Overview

Aug. 28:        Disruption and evolution in media                   Ch. 1

Sept. 2:           The First Amendment                                             Ch. 14, 1st Amendment

Sept. 4:           Instead of meeting in the classroom, we will meet at the French House for a speech by David Finkel, former reporter for the Washington Post. To prepare for class, read this interview with Finkel and come prepared to ask questions if he has a Q&A.

Sept. 9:          Student presentations, current media issues                          Ch. 2

Sept. 11:       Media coverage and issues from 9/11

Reading assignments for this class: Legacy media: The lost decade in six charts and Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable (note the date).

Sept. 11:           Deadline for choosing first topic for project or presentation

Sept. 16:        Technology revolutions: print & digital                                     Ch. 3

Sept. 18:         Books/Magazines, current media issues                                 Ch. 5

Sept. 23:         Newspapers                                                                         Ch. 4

Sept. 25:         Student presentations, current media issues

Sept. 30:         Broadcasting                                                                                    Ch. 8

Sept. 30:         Deadline for choosing 2nd topic, scheduling presentation

Oct. 2:             Fall holiday, no class

Oct. 7:             Music                                                                                     Ch. 7

Oct. 9:             Public relations, student presentations: Kalli Champagne, Molly Robison, Karli Walleser.

Oct. 9:              Deadline for stating intent to do personal-media exercise for mid-term

Oct. 14:           Movies                                                                                     Ch. 6

Oct. 16:           Mid-term exam

Oct. 21:           Student presentations: Brianna Robinson, Terri Smith, Danielle Christian, Coleman Perret. This date is full for presentations.

Oct. 23:          Advertising, guest lecturer Yongick Jeong                                      Ch. 11 & 12

Oct. 28:           Politics & opinion in media                                                          Ch. 13

Oct. 30:           Student presentations: Lauren deMahy, Drew White, Ana Dunning. Amanda Rabalais. This date is full for presentations.

Nov. 4:             Internet/mobile                                                                   Ch. 10

Nov. 6:             Student presentations, current media issues: Biannca Pierre, Caitie Burkes, Sarah Cazanave, Taylor Potter. This date is full for presentations.

Nov. 11:          Media ethics, 2 student presentations: Katie Gagliano, Tyler Savoy, Hayley Franklin. This date is full for presentations.                                      Ch. 14

Nov. 13:          Student presentations: Morgan Manfre, Erica Christie, Samantha Kennedy, Carrie Grace Henderson. This date is full for presentations.

Deadline for submitting project

Nov. 18:          Entertainment & news                                                        Ch. 9

Nov. 20:          Student presentations: Daniel Anton, Abby Jennings, Angela Yoon, Jonathan Gardner. This date is full for presentations.

Nov. 25:          Personal media                                                                   Ch. 15

Nov. 27:          Thanksgiving, no class

Dec. 2:             Student presentations, current media issues: John Brown, Ari Ross, Fran O’Steen, Gabby Darden. This date is full for presentations.

Dec. 4:             Concentrated study

Dec. 13:       FINAL EXAM, 12:30-2:30 p.m.


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