MEDIA 211 | News Literacy in a Digital Age

Course Description

This course will teach you to become a more discriminating consumer of news by fostering an appreciation for the history of a free press in our country and its role in our future as news is increasingly delivered via the Internet. We will look at the First Amendment and the underpinnings of an independent press. We will also examine the role of the press in wartime and the consequences of censorship. The evolution of the press as a watchdog and guardian of democratic ideals will be a theme running throughout this course. The power of information and the evolution of how this information is delivered from people who have it to people who need it to be free and self-governing in this digital age will include discussions on the difference between news and opinion, bias and fairness, and assertion versus verification. By learning the basics of good journalism, you will be able to distinguish whether a source is credible or a lead is well written.

Through readings, class discussions and numerous written assignments, you will learn how to apply your critical thinking skills to evaluate the credibility of news across all platforms: radio, television, social media, and the web. Each of you will also create your own website and establish a digital identity and personal cyber-infrastructure where you will publish your essays, classwork and evolving thoughts on news literacy. Designing your own domain will prepare you for digital citizenship and teach you about the best practices for digital publication. We will also have a class website, and our own Twitter hashtag #hunternewslit, which will help turn this course into an open, networked community dedicated to news literacy.

Required Texts

“The Elements of Journalism” by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel
“Dispatches from the Edge” by Anderson Cooper
Online subscription to The New York Times
Other Media: You are required to monitor daily a variety of broadcast and online news. You will also select a news site as your home page for the duration of the semester and sign up for mobile news alerts from this site.

Readings on Blackboard

One chapter from David Halberstam’s “The Powers that Be” on The Washington Post and The Pentagon Papers
One chapter from “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America” by John Avlon
Selected chapters from “How to Watch Television News” by Neil Postman and Steve Powers


Reading: To facilitate class discussions, reading assignments must be completed by the date that they appear on the schedule. You are also required to read The New York Times each day to stay on top of current events. Reduced rate student subscriptions are available. There will be weekly pop quizzes on current events, lecture material and reading assignments.

Writing: This course features frequent and extensive multimedia writing assignments designed to help you analyze and synthesize information learned in class and improve your writing skills. You will have five essays on topics covered in class. You will also have one major writing assignment, which will be edited and graded and then rewritten by you to help you improve your writing skills. All written work must be posted on your website and printed out for my edits. Please double space all your work and include your name, date and assignment heading in the upper left-hand corner. Deadlines are taken seriously in this course and late assignments will lose10 points per day if turned in after the start of class (9:45 a.m.) except in the case of a documented serious illness or personal/family emergency.


1. Essays: 25 percent
You will be assigned five essays during the semester. These assignments are designed to help you craft compelling, shorter-form essays that offer a thesis, evidence and conclusion. You will be assessed on how well you articulate and apply news literacy concepts and express your own ideas as well as how you present the multimedia elements of these essays online on your website. You will be graded on your ability to write with clarity and logic as well as the highest standards of correctness in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage. Your website version must include at least three multimedia elements like links to stories cited in your essay, photos, graphics, interactive comments, related podcasts and/or videos to support your insights. You will be expected to analyze relevant news stories, make judgments and consider the implications of your conclusions. You may (and should) do additional research to fully explore the topic.

2. “A Domain of One’s Own”: 10 percent
You will be creating your own website as part of this course and judged on the architecture, presentation, accessibility and content of your domain.

3. News Quizzes/Homework: 25 percent
This grade will be made up of frequent pop quizzes on current events, lectures and reading assignments as well as homework assignments.

4. Midterm Exam: 10 percent
This exam will assess your understanding of all the material covered in class through October 22.

5. Final Writing Assignment: 30 percent
This paper will be your capstone work pulling together all that you have learned in this course. This final writing assignment will be a position paper written after a month-long pursuit of reliable information on a single topic or question that is currently in the news. You will be expected to research this topic across multiple news sources and use the news literacy tools and principles we study in class to reach a conclusion or make a judgment about this issue. You will be expected to not only describe your conclusion, but how and why you reached that conclusion, what news sources and specific articles/videos you turned to, what information you rejected, as well as what information you identified as reliable and “actionable”. The point of this assignment is to answer your question in an essay that demonstrates how news literacy skills and concepts helped you arrive at your conclusion. This essay is not meant to be a critique of the media, but you are expected to note deficiencies in news sources available to you, highlighting excellence and noting when evidence or sourcing is questionable or false. For this assignment, you will post the multimedia version of your essay with links to all your sources on your website and submit a hard copy rough draft to me by the start of class on 11/12. Your work will be critiqued and graded, and you will be required to meet individually to discuss how to revise it. You will then rewrite it, post it and all your multimedia elements on your website and submit a hard copy final draft on the last day of class. The two grades will be averaged.

Tentative Schedule

WEEK 1: Introductions and The Importance of News Literacy
Thursday, August 27: Class orientation, review of syllabus, and plagiarism statement. Homework: First Tweet and Essay #1 on your 48-hour news blackout.

WEEK 2: What is News and the Mission of the American Free Press and Website Design and Essay Writing Workshop
Monday, August 31: Kovach and Rosenstiel, chapter 1.. Essay #1 due. Essay #2 on news values.
Thursday, September 3: Website design and Essay Writing Workshop.

WEEK 3: Information Neighborhoods
Monday, September 7: NO CLASS
Thursday, September 10: Information Neighborhoods. Essay #2 due.

WEEK 4: Who Decides What is News
Monday, September 14: NO CLASS
Thursday, September 17: Kovach and Rosenstiel, chapter 3. Essay #3 on comparing and contrasting editorial decisions at three news organizations. Website architecture due. Minimum requirements: home page with visual, about page with introduction and photo, essays #1-2 with multimedia elements, your Twitter feed and our class # feed.

WEEK 5: The American Press in Wartime and Issues of Censorship
Monday, September 21: Halberstam (on Blackboard), pages 563-586. Homework: 100-word statement on the arguments of the prosecution and defense in The New York Times/Edward Snowden v. the U.S. government case. Work in teams of prosecution and defense for presentation of The New York Times/Edward Snowden case on 9/24.
Thursday, September 24: Mock Trial on The New York Times release of Snowden documents.

WEEK 6: Truth and Verification: How Journalists Get and Verify Information
Monday, September 28: Kovach and Rosenstiel, chapters 2, 4. Essay #3 due. Essay #4 on Katrina Body Count story
Thursday, October 1: Cooper, pages 1-121. Verification workshop. Essay #4 due.

WEEK 7: Truth and Verification Case Studies: Katrina and Tsunami
Monday, October 5: Cooper, pages 121-222. Verification workshop. Case Study: Anderson Cooper’s reporting on the Tsunami and Katrina. Truth and Verification
Thursday, October 8: More Truth and Verification case studies. Guest Speaker: Eric Umansky, Assistant Managing Editor, ProPublica on truth and verification. Homework: Essay on Rolling Stone’s article “A Brutal Rape”, by Sabrina Erdely

WEEK 8: More Truth and Verification Case Studies: Election 2016 and Rolling Stone’s “A Brutal Rape”
Monday, October 12: Fake News in the 2016 Election
Thursday, October 15: Rolling Stone’s article “A Brutal Rape”, by Sabrina Erdely

WEEK 9: Guest Speaker on Research Strategies for Final Assignment and Midterm Exam
Monday, October 19: Meet in Hunter East 109! Review for midterm exam. Go over final assignment. Rough draft due 11/12. Sign up for writing tutorials 11/16 and 11/19. Guest Speaker Media Librarian Tony Doyle on research strategies for final assignment.
Thursday: October 22: Midterm Exam

WEEK 10: News vs. Opinion and The Myth of Objectivity
Monday, October 26: Kovach and Rosenstiel, chapters 8-9. Essay #5 on how the same issue is handled in a news story and editorial.
Thursday, October 29: Objectivity and Bias, Avlon, pages 108-143. Homework: Project Implicit Bias test.

WEEK 11: Deconstructing Print News Stories
Monday, November 2: Bias test essay due. Essay #5 due. Deconstructing print stories in class. Homework: “Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army’s Top Medical Facility”, by Dana Priest and Anne Hull, Washington Post
Thursday, November 5: In-class practice deconstructing news stories.

WEEK 12: In-class Writing Workshop Final Assignment and Deconstructing TV News
Monday November 9: In-class trouble shooting on final essay. Postman, chapters 1-3, 8. Homework: Deconstruct the Kelli Arena story on campus guns and answer questions on handout.
Thursday, November 12: Deconstructing TV news workshop. First draft of final writing assignment due. Rewrites due 12/10.

WEEK 13: More Deconstructing TV News
Monday, November 16: Post Mortem on final assignment. In-class TV news deconstruction continued. Individual Writing Tutorials 2:30-6 p.m.
Thursday, November 19: TV news deconstruction continued. Individual Writing Tutorials 2:30-6 p.m.

WEEK 14: Media Ethics Guest Speaker
Monday, November 23: Guest Speaker from The New York Times TBD
Thursday, November 26: NO CLASS

WEEK 15: “Spotlight vs. Truth”
Monday, November 30: Movie Essay due. Kovach and Rosenstiel, chapters 5,10. “Spotlight” highlights and discussion.
Thursday, December 3: “Truth” highlights and discussion. In-class exercises comparing the two examples of investigative journalism. Homework: Prepare questions for guest speaker Mike Cahill due 12/5.

WEEK 16: The Internet: Consumers and Publishers in the Digital Age and Showtime
Monday, December 7: Kovach and Rosenstiel, chapter 11.
Thursday, December 10: Guest Speaker on Challenges Ahead

WEEK 17: Class Party!
Monday, December 14: Share your domain and class party! Final assignment due.