Mass Media and Society

CMA 200 Mass Media and Society

Dr. Elizabeth Atwood

Phone: 310-696-3231; (office) 410-788-4284 (home) e-mail:

Office: 308 Rosenstock

Course information: Mass Media and Society explores the development of newspapers, magazines, radio, film and television, with emphasis on the impact of mass communication on readers, viewers and listeners.


Course objectives: This course is intended to provide students with an overview of the media of mass communications in the United States. Some attention will be given to comparative media and media origins to lay a foundation for understanding their contemporary status and the issues they confront. Recurring concerns include the economic forces that shape media content, the effects of the media on audiences, and media responsibilities, especially in regard to minorities, ethics and law. Students should become better prepared to explore mass communications in more depth and they should be better media consumers.

Required Text: Media & Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication 2011 Update by Richard Campbell, Christopher R. Martin & Bettina Fabos

Course format:
This course will be split about evenly between lectures and discussions that explore the impact of the media on society. To a large extent you will be in charge of your own learning in this course. You are encouraged to explore topics that interest you and reflect on your media experiences. You will be responsible for researching and presenting one media issue to the class for discussion. Your findings and the classroom discussion will be summarized in a written report. You will be assigned readings and exercises designed to increase your participation in the course discussions.


Because a significant portion of your grade will be based on in-class work, attendance is strongly encouraged. If any personal or health problems occur during the semester, see me about arranging extra help before getting behind on assignments. Complete the reading assignments before the class day for which they are assigned.



All work is to be submitted to Blackboard in the appropriate assignment folders. You will also use Blackboard’s Journal to record your media experiences. You will be expected to check the class site on Blackboard regularly for announcements and assignments.


Personal Journal: 40 points

Midterm: 15 points

Final: 20 points

Class presentation: 10 points

Research paper: 10 points

Participation: 5 points



I DO NOT tolerate plagiarism or fabrication of any kind. This includes failing to attribute quotations and information gathered from sources you interview and information gathered from the Internet. You may not gather quotations published in other sources and pass them off as your own. Instances of academic dishonesty will result in a failing grade on the assignment and no chance for a re-do.


Class Schedule

Week 1:

Monday, Aug. 23: Mass Communication, A Critical Approach, (Chapter 1)

Wednesday, Aug. 25: Discussion: Applying the critical approach

Week 2:

Monday, Aug. 30: Books and the Power of Print (Chapter 10)

Wednesday, Sept. 1: Discussion: Should books ever be banned? Is an e-book a book?

Week 3:

Monday, Sept. 6 Labor Day—No Class

Wednesday, Sept. 8: Newspapers and the Rise of Modern Journalism (Chapter 8)

Week 4:

Monday, Sept. 13: Discussion: Is democracy served best by objective journalism?

Wednesday, Sept. 15: Magazines in the Age of Specialization (Chapter 9)

Week 5:

Monday, Sept. 20: Discussion: The relationship between editorial content and advertising.

Wednesday, Sept. 22: Popular Radio and the Origins of Broadcasting (Chapter 4)

Watch Radio Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Listen to War of the Worlds excerpt

Week 6:

Monday, Sept. 27: Sound Recording and Popular Music (Chapter 3)

Discussion: Is Hip Hop a bad influence on kids?

Wednesday, Sept. 29: Television and the Power of Visual Culture (Chapter 5) & Cable: A Wired versus Wireless World (Chapter 6)

Week 7:

Monday, Oct. 4: Watch video clip Changes in Prime Time

Discussion: What has been lost and what has been gained in the splintering of TV viewership?

Wednesday, Oct. 6—MIDTERM EXAM

Week 8:

Monday, Oct. 11—Midterm Recess, No Class

Wednesday, Oct. 13: Movies and the Impact of Images (Chapter 7)

Watch Eadweard Muybridge film experiments, Edison films, Life of an American Fireman

Week 9:

Monday, Oct. 18: Discussion: American movies’ influence on world culture

Wednesday, Oct. 20: The Internet and New Technologies: Media at the Crossroads (Chapter 2)

Week 10:

Monday, Oct. 25: Watch Epic 2015.

Discussion: Net Neutrality. Should the internet be free of government and commercial controls?

Wednesday, Oct. 27: The Culture of Journalism: Values, Ethics, and Democracy (Chapter 14)

Begin Shattered Glass

Week 11:

Monday, Nov. 1: Finish Shattered Glass

Wednesday, Nov. 3: Discussion: Can the media be trusted? Do the media exhibit political bias?

Week 12:

Monday, Nov. 8: Legal Controls and Freedom of Expression (Chapter 16)

Wednesday, Nov. 10: Discussion: What is the difference between nationalism and patriotism?

Week 13:

Monday, Nov. 15: Public Relations and Framing the Message (Chapter 12)

Watch: Toxic Sludge is Good For You

Discussion: Devising a PR response to a problem.

Wednesday, Nov. 17: Advertising and Commercial Culture (Chapter 11)

Week 14:

Monday, Nov. 22: Discussion: Looking at brand names and product placement

Wednesday, Nov. 24 –Thanksgiving Recess, No Class


Week 15:

Monday, Nov. 29: Media Economics and the Global Marketplace (Chapter 13)

Wednesday, Dec. 1: Watch: Fear and Favor in the Newsroom

Week 16:

Monday, Dec. 6: Media Effects and Cultural Approaches to Research (Chapter 15)

Watch Media Effects Research

Wednesday, Dec. 8: Are video games harmful?


Journal topics

Week 1

Living with and without the media. Media Deprivation Day. On this day, during your waking hours, you should go out of your way to avoid exposure to the mass media. Get a friend or family member to awaken you instead of using your clock radio. Avoid the temptation to turn on your CD player or IPod the moment your feet hit the floor. Keep that television dark. Do not turn on the radio in your car. Stay away from newspapers and magazines. Make every effort to avert your eyes from billboards, logos and other forms of advertising. Look only at mail addressed personally to you. Don’t go to the movies or watch a tape or DVD. Keep that Walkman in your gym bag. Do not connect to a music link on your computer; in fact, curtain all Internet exposure, with the exception of personal e-mail sent exclusively to you. In other words, do everything within your power to avoid contact with the mass media all … day … long. During this time, maintain a journal of your activities, your thoughts and observations. Note unavoidable or accidental media exposures. Pay special attention to how you receive important information on this day. How did you know about the weather, for example? Pay attention and record your feelings as you progress through the day. Report how others react when you inform them you are avoiding media. (Note: Required exposures, such as a film in class or reading for a homework assignment, are excepted, but make note of them.)

Normal media usage day. On this day, make note of all the times you use the mass media—radio, Internet, TV, newspapers, magazines, etc. Note the time spent using each and the kinds of information you received.

Week 2

Read a book on an iPad


Look at books that have been banned (Media Literacy Exercise, pg. 331).

Week 4

Discuss: Will blogs and other Internet news services replace newspapers?


Discuss whether newspaper chains are good or bad for the future of journalism?

Week 5

What is your favorite magazine? Does it define you as primarily as a consumer or as a citizen? Why?

Week 6:

Listen to a talk radio host such as Rush Limbaugh or Tavis Smiley for an hour and record your impressions.


Choose five—and only five—single songs to include on the Soundtrack of Your Life. Describe why you picked them.

Week 7:

Interview one person from each of the following five age groups: (a) 12–17, (b) 18–24, (c) 25–34, (d) 35–49, and (e) 50–65. Ask each individual to rate his or her top five networks or cable channels and then return to class with the data.


Week 8:

Pick a current popular film that you have seen. Write a 500-750

movie critique either defending or attacking the movie as a form of

popular culture. Include plenty of examples to support your argument, and focus

on three or four significant points. Follow the five stages of the critical process to organize your


  1. Description. In preparing to write your critique, describe important plot, theme, or character

points that are relevant to your argument. (This is essentially the note-taking part of your


  1. Analysis. Analyze the particular patterns (the three or four significant points) that emerge

from your Description step and that you have chosen to examine.

  1. Interpretation. Interpret what all of this information might mean based on the evidence you


  1. Evaluation. Discuss the limits of your critique and offer evaluations of the film industry

based on your evidence and your interpretations. Evaluate the movie by judging whether it

works as high art or as popular culture.

  1. Engagement. Does your critique of the movie differ substantially from published reviews in

local or national newspapers and magazines or a Web page? (Try Movie Review Query

Engine, to find reviews.)




Watch a movie in a foreign language with subtitles that you have never seen before. Write a 500-700 word essay describing your experience. Before you begin, jot down your expectations of what you think the film will be about. After watching the movie, describe its plot and characters. In what way was the story similar or different from what you would normally find in a Hollywood film. Was there anything about the film that surprised you? Reflect on why you think foreign films are not very popular in the U.S., right now.


Week 9


Do some research using alternative search engines such as Kosmix, Powerset, and Anoox. How is your experience different than searching on Google. What are the advantages and disadvantages of these search engines?

Week 10

Watch the Daily Show or read the Onion. Do such satirical news sources make us more cynical about politics? Do they help or hurt democracy?

Week 11

Analyze coverage of the Maryland gubernatorial race by reading 8 stories that appear in newspapers, on news Web sites and in television news cast. Do you detect a political bias in the stories? Chart each story, and note whether it is positive, negative or neutral for each candidate. What, if any trends do you see?

Week 12

A lot of times we mistake the meanings of patriotism and nationalism. However, the two are often diametrically opposed.

  • Waving a flag is nationalism.
  • Dissent is patriotism.
  • “My country, right or wrong,” and “USA: Love it or leave it” is nationalism.
  • Pointing out dangerous flaws in government policy is patriotism.
  • Telling people to “Shut up and get in line with the president” or “If you don’t like it,

move to France” is not patriotism, it’s nationalism, and the antithesis of democracy.

For a better understanding of dissent and patriotism, here are some famous quotes from

some of the greatest patriots in history:

  • “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”—President Thomas Jefferson
  • “It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from the government.”—Thomas


  • “A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution.”—President

James Madison

  • “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President.”—

President Theodore Roosevelt

  • “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”—Reverend

Martin Luther King Jr.


Analyze the rhetoric of the political campaign which you see in advertisements, on TV and in print. Do you see examples of patriotism? Of  nationalism? Give examples of each and discuss why they are different.



Week 13

Can you spot a press release? Look through one or two weeks’ worth of articles in your local paper. Which articles do you think were spawned by a press release? Why do you think so? How much do you think the reporter did to alter the release to make it pass as news?


Week 14

Take a look in your closet and list all the branded clothes, shoes and accessories you’ve purchased. What patterns emerge and kind of psychographic profile do these brands suggest about you? Why did you buy each particular product? Was it because you thought it was superior quality? Was it cheaper? Was it because your friends have these brands? Have you ever purchased clothes without brands or removed logos once you bought the product? What is good and bad about brand names in our culture?




Watch a recent movie. Do you see examples of product placement? Count how many products you see and describe what they are.


Week 15

To what extent were you immersed in Disney culture? Consider recent Disney animated movies. Possible films include The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Toy Story (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1995), Tarzan (1999), Toy Story 2 (1999), Finding Nemo (2003), and Ratatouille (2007). What do you think about the culture that Disney creates around these kinds of movies? Is this synergy blatant overcommercialization that exploits children and their parents, or does it create a worthwhile shared culture for children and adults?


Week 16


Think of an issue that media industry and academic researchers should study together. Describe that issue and how you would go about studying it.

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