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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2004

T C 301 • News, Civic Life and New Media - W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
39600 TTh
2:00 PM-3:30 PM
CMA A6.168

Course Description

According to a survey done by the Washington Post, Harvard University, and the Kaiser Family Foundation, America is becoming a nation of strangers who mistrust each other. This mistrust is a large reason why Americans have lost confidence in the federal government and almost every other national institution. The survey goes on to indicate that with each generation since the 50’s, Americans have become more mistrusting of human nature, and this has contributed to an outlook that has deeply corroded Americans’ social and political lives. In general Americans don’t trust government, they don’t trust politicians, and when it comes to policy issues, the majority do not have enough information upon which to make informed decisions. According to Harvard Political Scientist Robert Putnam, voter turnout declined by nearly a quarter between the 1960’s and the 1990’s, and the number of Americans who report they have attended a public meeting on town or school affairs fell by a third between 1973 and 1993. Putnam, the author of the new book Bowling Alone, writes: “By almost every measure, Americans’ direct engagement in politics and government has fallen steadily and sharply over the past generation, despite the fact that average levels of education—the best individual-level predictor of political participation—has risen sharply throughout this period.” At the same time, journalism organizations, media critics and public interest groups have been drawing attention to media credibility issues. As more and more commercial journalism outlets become owned by fewer and fewer companies, there is concern about the health of the free press. Increasing economic pressure on commercial television and radio has raised questions about these outlets’ capability of providing the public with the depth and breadth of information needed to be informed citizens. This course will give students the opportunity to grapple with the issues surrounding citizens’ lack of civic engagement while examining what role the media plays in our political process. In news delivery, new technologies such as the Internet, e-mail, handheld computers etc. have greatly changed the landscape for getting information into citizens’ hands. So students will consider the future of news and news delivery and how new news products might more effectively link viewers and readers to civic life.

About the professor: After spending ten years as a reporter, producer, manager, and photographer in television news, Associate Professor Don Heider now teaches and researches broadcast journalism. Heider's book White News, details why, in two local television markets, local news organizations did not cover communities of color, including Latinos, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, Asian-Americans and others. Heider has introduced the concept of “incognizant racism” to help explain the systematic exclusion of stories important to these communities. During his tenure in news, Heider won five Emmy Awards and a regional Edward R. Murrow Award. Heider has also recently investigated local news coverage of class and how the wide use of pornography on the internet may give us a glimpse into the future of society’s use of new communications technology.

Grading Policy

The course contains a substantial writing component. *Weekly reaction papers: Each student would be required to write a weekly reaction paper based upon the readings. From the readings as a whole, or from one particular point made, the student should engage the material and explain in detail whether they support or disagree with the idea(s) presented. *Group prototypes: Working in teams, students will be required to develop a proposal and prototype for a new media news product with the goal of encouraging audiences to learn about and participate in civic life. Students would also evaluate each member of their team. Grades would be based on the quality of this proposal and students’ evaluations of one another. *14 reaction papers would be worth 25 points each for a total of 350 points. The proposal will be worth 150 points. Grades would be calculated based upon that 500 point scale.


T.R. Cook, Governing with the News: The News Media as a Political Institution F. Denton & E. Thorson, Civic Journalism: Does it Work? R.M. Entman, Democracy Without Citizens: Media and the Decay of American Politics S.G. Jones, Cybersociety: Computer-mediated communication and Community R. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community J. Rosen, What Are Journalists For? C.Marvin, When Old Technologies were New: Thinking About Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century B.H. Sparrow, Uncertain Guardians: The News Media as a Political Institution. C. Sirianni & L. Friedland, Civic Innovation in America Community Empowerment, Public Policy, and the Movement for Civic Renewal


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