Just a Minute
Media criticism when everyone is a critic
Greetings, earthlings. We are writing to you from a distant planet called Medialand, a meta place where people write about people who write about what people are writing about.
It can be a silly place, but an endlessly interesting one that occasionally has profound effects on the world. Media is a lens. It’s not the only one, but as a valuable frame around human endeavors, it merits investigation of the cultural context, business interests, and political agendas behind all the messaging.
In our class, we are going to read — a bunch — and talk — a bunch — about media, media criticism and media consumption. I write about this stuff every week, so my job will be to, yes, share what I know, but then shut my piehole and find out what you know and think.
To that end, we will break into groups of threes and during select weeks, a trio will keynote a discussion in the second part of class on a piece of media with an in-class critique and presentation. For those of you who care about grades, that will be an important moment for you, so prepare like crazy. You can use handouts, PowerPoints, Medium and yes, a puppet show if you choose, to annotate and deconstruct a piece of content, explaining why it is amazing/terrible/destructive/dishonest/important.
There are no parameters on the type of content other than the fact that it should be able to be consumed by the rest of the class in a half hour or less. That means movies and books are out, but television and radio news, Web video, Twitter accounts, blog posts, newspaper stories, are up for consideration and critique.
Teams must pitch a topic at least a week before their presentation for approval. We’re going to read and learn about the history of media criticism, but the class will emphasize the present future we are in. That means that the people-formerly-known-as-the-audience — NYU professor Jay Rosen’s coinage — will be part of the feedback loop we will investigate. How things blow up on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and elsewhere is going to be part of the curriculum.
If you are not a talker, that’s going to be a bit of a challenge in this class. You have to be heard to be seen and graded in this environment. If that is not your thing, do your best to overcome shyness, or talk to me at the sidebar about other approaches.
There will be the aforementioned in-class presentation and three written assignments. You will work with your group members on your written work as well, sharing edits, thoughts and notions on Google Drive docs that your professor and teaching assistant will also have access to. Your comments, edits and helpfulness on the work of others will be part of your grade.
Each week you will be responsible for reading the column I write for Monday morning in the business section. It drops on the Web at 9 p.m. on Sunday nights and is in print following day. There are usually copies of the NYT in the lobby if you are behind the eight ball before class.
Sometimes the columns will be a backbone for the class, other times they will be very much beside the point, but no matter, you are responsible for the reading either way. Other readings meant to frame the week’s discussion will be noted below.
1–4 p.m. every Monday except for the following:
- Monday, Feb. 16 — President’s Day. We’ll meet on Tuesday, Feb. 17.
- Monday, Mar. 9 — Spring break
- Monday, Apr. 20 — Patriot’s Day. We’ll meet on Wednesday, Apr. 22. Prof. Carr will not be attending class that day, see schedule below.
As a matter of practice, class will be in two parts, with a 15-minute break in the middle.
- 25% in class presentation
- 50% three written assignments, more weight on final, due on the last day of class
- 25% class participation, collaboration on assignments and demonstrated familiarity with the assigned reading
I grade based on where you start and where you end. Don’t work on me for a better grade — work on your work and making the work of those around you better. Show industriousness and seriousness and produce surpassing work if you want an exceptional grade.
Don’t feel a need to raise your hand in class. This isn’t Montessori, speak up as you like, but don’t speak over anyone. Respect the opinions of others.
This is an intense, once-a-week immersion in media landscape. If you don’t show up for class, you will flounder. 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. Ask my students from last semester if you are still confused about that. 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. Stories are supposed to be on the page, and while a spoken-word performance might explain everything, it will excuse nothing. The assignments for each week are due by start of class without exception unless specific arrangements have made based on an exceptional circumstance.
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.
This is a web-based course. We will transparently link to all sources. Failure to appropriately cite the work of others is a serious matter. Work done for Just a Minute may not be submitted for another class, and the reverse is also true. Do not use friends or Wikipedia as sources. All other BU academic standards and the University Code of Conduct will be observed and enforced.
Before we begin on Jan. 26, you are responsible for the following readings:
- Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag, up to the end of page 32 on the PDF
- Last Call by Clay Shirky
- Writing News and Telling Stories by Robert Darnton for Daedalus
I am showing mercy — no big tomes of media history or Marxist rants on media theory. Don’t ignore these readings.
Week One — January 26
What forces are at work that shape media? We’re going to begin with your consumption habits, how you judge credibility and where you spend your attention in terms of media.
How do you know what you know? How do you know it’s true? There are business, cultural, political and power dynamics at work. And the various platforms for media all have idiosyncrasies of their own.
- When to Quit Your Journalism Job by Jay Rosen for PressThink
- Do Not Listen to This Crazy Man Telling Your to Quit Your Job by Hamilton Nolan for Gawker
Week Two — February 22
“I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man!” — Jay-Z
How stories are paid for frequently have an influence on how they are told. Trade publications are not going to break news about their industries that will fundamentally injure their relationship. Great big news organizations that rely on the government for the flow of information are rarely going to go directly at those institutions. And reporters on beats may develop great sources, but they also become captives of those same sources.
As business pressures have increased, so have the pressures to not injure relationships with advertisers. And sometimes, unholy partnerships form between media companies and the people they are supposed to be covering.
And newspapers have fallen in value so far, so fast, that some rich guys are buying them for reasons that have nothing to do with journalism.
It’s not always true. Some of the most ferocious accountability reporting on business has come from the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post has done deep, embarrassing dives into the federal bureaucracy.
- Politico’s Mike Allen, Native Advertising Pioneer by Erik Wemple for The Washington Post
- The Great Story by Dean Starkman for Columbia Journalism Review
- Chasing Armstrong with the Truth by David Carr for The New York Times
Week Three —March 2
The Politics of Media, the Media of Politics
So much of the political conversation has been taken over by organizations that have ideological agendas that the village common seems to be endangered. Between the spin, the tilt and all the ranting, are Americans actually finding out what they need to know? A discussion of confirmation bias, the filter bubble and how cable news is turning into a cartoon.
- New low for ‘Fox & Friends’: Joking about Ray Rice elevator assault by Erik Wemple for The Washington Post
- Why Do So Many Democrats Watch Fox News? By Erik Wemple for The Washington Post
Week Four —March 16
Gender … bias
The leadership of most newsrooms has historically been a sausage fest, but that’s changing. How much does the fact that men are making many of the coverage decisions influence how and what is covered? Would Gamergate have risen into the mainstream more quickly? The fact that women were at risk of sexual assault on both U.S. military bases and American college campuses took years to surface.
- The Horrific Trickle Down of Asshole Culture by Sarah Lacy for Pando Daily
- #Gamergate Trolls Aren’t Ethics Crusaders; They’re a Hate Group by Jennifer Allaway for Jezebel
- We have a rape gif problem and Gawker Media Won’t Do Anything about It by Jezebel Staff
- The Bro Whisperer of Bustle by Amanda Hess for Slate
Race and the Word
The underrepresentation of minorities in journalism is a chronic problem, but it often leads to journalistic shortcomings as well. What we cover reflects who we are, and identity will tell its own story.
- The New Republic: An Appreciation by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Blue Lives Mater by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Ubering While Black by Jenna Wortham for Medium
- The Racism Beat by Cord Jefferson for Medium
Week Five —March 23
Critic as Church Lady or When to Cry Foul on Ethics
When is okay to go after someone or some institution for a lapse in moral judgment? What makes you any more morally fit than those you would judge? Pointing the crooked finger at others is perilous, but sometimes important work.
- Newsweek’s Niall Ferguson Debacle by Ryan Chittum for The Columbia Journalism Review
- Sowing Mayhem, Once Click at a Time by David Carr for The New York Times
- Calling Out Bill Cosby’s Media Enablers, Including Myself by David Carr for the New York Times
- The Dr. V Story: A Letter From the Editor on Grantland
Tentative: first team presents in class media critique
Week Six — March 30
Platforms versus Publishers
Is crowdsourced media subject to standards and criticism? When armies assemble on the Web, they can do amazing or terrible things. Witness the hunting of the Boston bombing suspects who were not suspects at all. The New York Post published their photo, but Reddit is the one who hunted them down. Who and what is responsible when Twitter goes bad or Facebook perpetuates a myth?
- Student wrongly tied to Boston bombings found dead by Doug Stanglin for USA Today
- Bombings Trip Up Reddit in Its Turn in Spotlight by Leslie Kaufman for The New York Times
- Publishers or platforms? Media giants may be forced to choose by Jemima Kiss and Charles Arthur for The Guardian
Week Seven —April 6
Social Media Media
Reminder: Monday is Patriot’s Day. Substitute Wednesday for Monday classes.
What happens when the megaphone goes both ways? It used to be the reader’s only recourse was a letter to the editor that appeared days or weeks after a story appeared.
Now readers are everywhere … in comments, on Twitter and on their own blogs responding. And reporters now have immediate, frictionless access to social media. Should they be held to the same standards when they are tweeting as well as writing?
- At Front Line, Bearing Witness by David Carr for The New York Times
- Is All of Twitter Fair Game for Journalists? by Amanda Hess for Slate
- There is no such thing as “The Court of Public Opinion” by Aaron Bady for The New Inquiry
- The Internet’s Endless Argument and the New Shape of Debate by Navneet Alang for Hazlitt
Week Eight —April 13
New Models, New Pitfalls
Native advertising, branded content, brands as content providers, all of it, by any other name, spells trouble if it isn’t done right. As the traditional banner ads lose traction, the line between what is independent editorial content and advertising in disguise grows ever thinner. A look at patrolling the borders.
- Journalism, Independent and Not by David Carr for The New York Times
- Gigaom’s Sponsored Content: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by Sam Petulla for Contently
- The Atlantic’s Scientology Problem, Start to Finish by Erik Wemple for The Washington Post
- Inside the Buzz-Fueled Media Startups Battling for Your Attention by Mat Honan for Wired
Week Nine —April 22
Going After Those Who Go After the Press
Targets of the press frequently punch back. Sometime, an act of media criticism involves protecting the rights of others to do the same.
- Using War as Cover to Go After Journalists by David Carr for The New York Times
- When Fox News is the Story by David Carr for The New York Times
- Blurred Line Between Espionage and Truth by David Carr for The New York Times
- Glenn Greenwald: detaining my partner was a failed attempt at intimidation for The Guardian
Tentative: third team presents.
Week 13 — April 27
Final project due, review.
3/10/15: Note: this article was edited by Clinton Nguyen in light of class schedule changes.