JOUR 180: The News About the News

Mark Coddington
Sep 9, 2015 · 11 min read

Washington and Lee University
Department of Journalism and Mass Communications
Fall 2015

Class Schedule: Tuesday/Thursday 8:35–10 a.m.
Room: Reid 216

Dr. Mark Coddington
Office: Reid 203
Office Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 2–4 p.m.; Thursday, 3–5 p.m.
Phone: (540) 453–8430 (office)
Best way to contact me: Stop in at my office (for an in-depth request or discussion), or email (for quicker, simpler questions).

We’re living in the most chaotic period in modern journalism history. It’s a time of failure and fear, full of laid-off journalists and shuttered startups. But it’s also a time of innovation and explosive growth, when brilliant ideas for new forms of news can go from seed to fruition in a matter of months.

Everyone in the news business — from millionaire executives to fresh college graduates — is asking the same pressing questions: Can journalism survive this frenzy intact? What will it look like? How can it be supported when so many of its longstanding business models have collapsed? How can we make news relevant in a media-saturated, attention-starved environment? How can we ensure that journalism continues to inform democratic citizens and keep watch over their interests in government?

We’ll dive deep into these questions in this course. We will take a close look at how the news industry got to this point, what the landscape looks like right now, and where things might be headed. We’ll examine what’s working, what’s not, and why. By the end, you will be making your own recommendations and strategic plans to keep news healthy in the future.

You will leave this course with greater insight into the answers to those hot-button questions the entire industry is asking. And most importantly, you will leave with a keener sense of how the news you consume and interact with is produced, why that matters, and what role you can play in making it better.


There is one required book for this course:

Usher, Nikki (2014). Making news at The New York Times. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

We will read about half of this book; the rest of the readings will consist of book chapters, media industry reports, magazine articles, and blog posts; all of the readings outside of the book will be available on Sakai. Readings are listed below by class period.

It is imperative that you complete all of the assigned readings for this course. These readings are the foundation for the class discussions that form the core of the course. Participation in these discussions is a substantial component of your grade in this course, as outlined above, and it will be clear to me and to your classmates if you haven’t done the necessary readings to thoughtfully participate. Do not be intimidated by the number of readings assigned for some class periods; many of these readings are short and very engaging.


There are four major assignments in this course, plus classroom participation. More details on each of these assignments are available in your assignment descriptions on Sakai, but here are the general descriptions:

Weekly blogging on the media business: You will follow an area of the media business of your choice, keeping tabs on important news developments and emerging opinions and ideas on your “beat.” Every other week, you will write a blog post giving your analysis on some aspect of that area. Each post must be at least 500 words, and posts will be evaluated on their depth of analysis, originality, and quality of writing. These posts will be posted on your own Medium account. On the weeks in which you don’t post, you will comment on at least one of your classmates’ posts, and we will discuss several student blog posts each week in class as well. Blog posts must be published every other week by Monday night (midnight), with a link sent to me in Sakai, along with a link to your previous week’s comment.

The following is a list of potential topics; you may also submit an idea to me, such as Google, diversity in news, or the news industry in a particular part of the world, for approval. Up to three students may blog on any given topic, and they will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Please submit a list of your top 3 choices to me by midnight, September 14. Resources to begin following each of these beats are available on the assignment document in Sakai:

Data and computing in journalism
Local/community media
Media startups
Mobile media/news apps
Nonprofit/public media
Paid content online
Political journalism and campaigning
Privacy, security, and surveillance online
Public relations/strategic communication
Radio and podcasting
Social media
Sports media
TV industry
TV news (cable, network, and local)

News industry analysis paper: Using the knowledge about your media beat that you’ve built up through a semester of blogging, you will write a professional-level analysis of an issue or trend within your specialty area. This idea may build on one or more of your blog posts, but it must involve research beyond them; it cannot simply reprint or restate your blog posts. This paper will be about 8–10 pages long, double-spaced, not including references. A short proposal for your paper is due October 27, and the full paper is due at midnight Wednesday, December 16.

Group audience research analysis: In groups of 3–4, you will conduct research on audience media consumption oriented around a particular news organization or media company, then present your findings in the form of a brief report and 12–15 minute class presentation. This research may be done through interviews, survey, focus groups, or any combination of those methods. Groups will be formed in late September, and both presentations and reports will be due November 19.

Media use self-evaluation: You will conduct a self-evaluation of your media consumption habits, logging your media use for a week (with forms I will provide) and writing a short (3–4 pages, double-spaced) reflection on your own media use and news consumption. You will conduct your evaluation during the week of September 28, and the reflection is due October 13.

Your grade for this course will be made up of the following:

Final industry analysis paper: 25%
Weekly blog posts/comments: 25%
Group audience research project: 20%
Attendance and class participation: 20%
Media use self-evaluation: 10%

Expectations (Attendance, late work, technology use)

Attendance is crucial in this course. Because the class relies so heavily on participation and discussion, if you’re not here, you’ll miss not only the opportunity to be guided in thinking about these ideas more deeply yourself, but also the ability to provide insight to your classmates.

That said, I understand that life happens and you may not be able to get to every class session. You will be allowed one absence without penalty. After that, each absence will count 5% against the attendance and participation section of your grade. That is, if you have three absences, the highest attendance and participation grade you can get (if the rest of your participation is exceptional) is 90%. You are still responsible for turning in work on time, regardless of whether you miss the class period in which it’s due.

Late work will be docked 10% for each 24 hours it is late. On weekly blog posts, late work will be given half-credit. No weekly blog posts will be accepted more than a week late.

If you have some sort of extreme, extenuating circumstances that may justify late work or absence, please talk to me before the deadline, or before the absences occur, not afterward.

Phone use is prohibited in class unless as directed by me. The default position for laptops during class, and especially during discussion, is closed. Laptops may be used for note-taking, and for Internet use directly related to the discussion at hand, but I reserve the right to ask students to close their laptops at any time.

Course schedule

Individual dates and readings are subject to change

Part 1: How we got here

Thursday, Sept. 10 — Course overview

Tuesday, Sept. 15 — What’s at stake — Journalism and democracy

Kovach, Bill, and Rosenstiel, Tom. (2007). What is journalism for? In The elements of journalism: What newspeople should know and the public should expect (2nd ed.) (pp. 9–34). New York: Three Rivers.

Jones, Alex S. (2009). The iron core. In Losing the news: The future of the news that feeds democracy (pp. 1–27). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Welch, Matt. (2012). . Reason.

Thursday, Sept. 17 — Newspapers

Starr, Paul. (2009). . The New Republic.

Benton, Joshua. (2015). . Nieman Journalism Lab.

Ryfe, David M. (2012). Backstory. In Can journalism survive? An inside look at American newsrooms (pp. 29–55). New York: Polity.

Tuesday, Sept. 22 — Newspapers, cont.

Shirky, Clay. (2009). .

Doctor, Ken. (2015). Nieman Journalism Lab.

Thompson, Ben. (2014). . Stratechery.

Thursday, Sept. 24 — TV news

Downie Jr., Leonard, and Kaiser, Robert G. (2002). The network news. In The news about the news: American journalism in peril (pp. 111–156). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Sambrook, Richard, and McGuire, Sean. (2014). The Guardian.

Tuesday, Sept. 29 — The TV industry: Cord-cutting, streaming, and unbundling

Lotz, Amanda D. (2014). Conclusion: Still watching television. In The television will be revolutionized (2nd ed.) (pp. 263–271). New York: New York University Press.

Auletta, Ken. (2014). . The New Yorker.

Wolff, Michael. (2015). “More boxes” and “Finding the new economics.” In Television is the new television: The unexpected triumph of old media in the digital age (pp. 107–114, 129–136). New York: Portfolio/Penguin.

***Conduct your media use self-evaluation this week***

Thursday, Oct. 1 — Online news history

Anderson, C. W. (2013). Philadelphia’s newspapers go online (1997–2008). In Rebuilding the news: Metropolitan journalism in the digital age (pp. 15–33). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Dickinson, Andy. (2013). .

Tuesday, Oct. 6 — Online news: The participatory news environment

Rosen, Jay. (2006). . PressThink.

Shirky, Clay. (2008). Everyone is a media outlet. In Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations (pp. 55–80). New York: Penguin.

Thursday, Oct. 8 — Social media and news

Holcomb, Jesse, Gottfried, Jeffrey, & Mitchell, Amy. (2013). . Pew Research Center.

Salmon, Felix. (2014). . Reuters.

Hermida, Alfred. (2014). Twitter as an ambient news network. In Katrin Weller et al. (Eds.), Twitter and society (pp. 359–372). New York: Peter Lang.

Tuesday, Oct. 13 — Mobile media and news

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. (2015). . In Digital news report 2015.

Sonderman, Jeff. (2014). . American Press Institute.

***Media use reflection papers due***

Part 2: Where we’re going — Making news sustainable in a digital era

Tuesday, Oct. 20 — The ideology of disruption

Christensen, Clay. (2013). . Nieman Journalism Lab [Podcast].

Lepore, Jill. (2014). . The New Yorker.

Lee, Timothy B. (2014). . Vox.

Thursday, Oct. 22 — Online news business models

Rosen, Jay. (2014). . PressThink.

Grueskin, Bill, Seave, Ava, & Graves, Lucas. (2011). . In The story so far: What we know about the business of digital journalism. New York: Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

Rosen, Jay. (2009). .

Snow, Shane. (2014). . Contently.

Tuesday, Oct. 27 — Online advertising and native advertising

Zuckerman, Ethan. (2014). . The Atlantic.

Salmon, Felix. (2013). . Columbia Journalism Review.

Jarvis, Jeff. (2015). . Observer.

Rice, Andrew. (2013). New York.

***Proposal for final industry analysis paper due***

Thursday, Oct. 29 — Paywalls

Pickard, Victor, & Williams, Alex T. (2014). . Digital Journalism, 2, 195–213.

Shirky, Clay. (2012). .

Starkman, Dean. (2014). . Columbia Journalism Review.

Tuesday, Nov. 3 — Other ideas for making news pay online

Readings to be assigned individually in class.

Thursday, Nov. 5 — News startups

Usher, Nikki. (2014). . Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Farhi, Paul. (2015). . The Washington Post.

Rosen, Jay. (2015). . PressThink.

Bell, Emily. (2014). . The Guardian.

Tuesday, Nov. 10 — Aggregation, platform-based news, and clickbait

Usher, Nikki. (2014). . Columbia Journalism Review.

Marantz, Andrew. (2015). . The New Yorker.

Marchman, Tim. (2014). Deadspin.

Herrman, John. (2015). . The Awl.

Thursday, Nov. 12 — Great, so what do journalists do now?

Anderson, C. W., Bell, Emily, & Shirky, Clay. (2012). . In Post-industrial journalism: Adapting to the present (pp. 103–118). New York: Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

Klein, Ezra. (2015). . Vox.

Hilton, Shani O. (2014). . Medium.

Tuesday, Nov. 17 — Great, so what do news consumers do now?

Kovach, Bill, and Rosenstiel, Tom. (2010). The way of skeptical knowing: The tradecraft of verification. In Blur: How to know what’s true in the age of information overload (pp. 26–56). New York: Bloomsbury.

Pariser, Eli. (2012). Escape from the city of ghettos. In The filter bubble: What the Internet is hiding from you (pp. 217–243). New York: Penguin.

Thursday, Nov. 19 — Group presentations

***Group audience research reports and presentations due***


Part 3: A case study — The New York Times

Tuesday, Dec. 1 — How The Times got here

Usher, Nikki. (2014). “Setting: The news about the news: The Times in 2010” and “Participation, branding, and the new New York Times.” In Making news at The New York Times (pp. 30–48, 186–215). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

***Dec. 2, movie screening: “Page One” documentary***

Thursday, Dec. 3 — Innovation at The Times

. (2014).

Benton, Joshua, Ellis, Justin, O’Donovan, Caroline, and Lichterman, Joseph. (2014). . Nieman Journalism Lab.

Tuesday, Dec. 8 — The New York Times-related guest

Usher, Nikki. (2014). Prelude to what? In Making news at The New York Times (pp. 216–241). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Other selected readings, assigned individually in class

Thursday, Dec. 10 — Final paper discussion, course wrapup

Dec. 12–18 — FINALS

***Final papers due midnight Wednesday, Dec. 16***

The News About the News

A Washington and Lee University journalism course

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