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Public Affairs and the New Political Media

Evan Smith

The ways in which we communicate are changing by the year, the month, even by the day. Today's consumers of news choose from a variety of sources-not of all them journalistic; networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, for instance, facilitate the instantaneous distribution of information, allowing anyone with an Internet connection and a computer or phone to become a "reporter." The result is that the health and well being of the traditional media business is an open question. At the same time, politics and public affairs has been forever transformed.

This course introduces students to contemporary theory and practice surrounding public discourse and deliberation online, ranging from philosophical debates on social communications to the implications of new electronic media influencing the public affairs environment. No prior multimedia experience is required, but by the semester's end students will be familiar with the major ideas and resources guiding the 21st century public sphere. In particular, the course will explore how new technologies are impacting the electoral and policymaking process and how digital media are shaping the creation and delivery of news and information.

The course requirements will include a large semester-long new media group project, where students will divide into three groups to develop and maintain a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed on a particular topic or contemporary policy debate. Each student will be expected to make both individual and group contributions to the site. At the end of the semester, student will present a panel discussion to discuss and debate what they've learned about the modern world in new media. The course will also include a media analysis project in which each student will conduct individual analyses of new media of his or her choosing. The papers will be 8-10 pages examination of how different public policy issues or debates are constructed in the new media and what influence new media has on the framing and discussion of those issues in the public sphere. Topics can include subsets of U.S. Foreign Policy, crime, poverty, health care reform, energy, environment, race, etc.. Optimally, students will identify an issue that sparks a great deal of attention in news stories, op/eds, blogs, interest group advertising, so that a discussion of how different groups or constituencies approached an issue and why.

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