GOVT 158: Mass Media and Politics

Fall 2010

Professor:  Dr. Kimberly Nalder

Office: Tahoe 3121                                                                              


Phone: 278-6693

Office Hours: Friday 1-3, and by appointment



Course Description

                In a democratic society, citizens must rely on the mass media as the primary source of information about the political system and the behavior of elected officials. Governments, candidates, and office-holders similarly rely on mass media to communicate desired messages to the public.  As such, many scholars argue, the media has the capacity to shape political thinking and frame the issues of the day. Additionally, mass media plays a central role in developing and passing on culture, shaping attitudes and opinions, and even creating aspects of individual identity. 

This course examines media from varying perspectives – social, psychological, political, economic, and cultural – in order to help students develop intellectual tools to engage and critically interpret and consume mass media. The course will focus on the role of the modern mass media in limiting, creating, and shaping political power. We will look at how the media covers politics and political actors, what determines which events, issues, and individuals get coverage, and how they are covered. We will explore a number of major criticisms of the media to evaluate and better understand the capabilities and limitations of the modern media as a conduit of information for voters. In addition, we will consider how politicians attempt to utilize the media for their own political gain. Ultimately, we will discuss how well our system is served by the media, the limits of media influence, and the extent to which this linkage institution could be more democratically effective.  Class sessions will make use of news clips, web site browsing, and small group discussions of controversial case studies, in addition to lectures. 



Skills Objectives

This course uses teaching methods that help students become more proficient in the following skills:

1. To engage in articulate expression through effective speaking and writing

2. To think critically and creatively 

3. To locate, evaluate, and use information effectively

4. To integrate different areas of knowledge and view ideas from multiple perspectives.

Class Policies

Attendance: Mandatory.  Should you miss an in-class activity or be absent more than twice, your grade will suffer.  Being in class is vital to your learning. If you miss 8 or more class session, you will automatically get an F in the class.

No Make-Up Exams: There will be no make-up exams offered unless you bring documentation of severe illness or a death in the family.  The same is true of assignments and quizzes.  No early exams – you know the schedule from the first day of the semester – plan accordingly.

No Incompletes: Just finish the coursework on time.  I will not give incompletes for any reason other than a death in the family or a grave illness.

Cheating and/or plagiarism: At the risk of being clichéd, you only cheat yourself when you cheat in class.  Just do the work.  The penalties will adhere to University Policy, but at the minimum will result in an F for the exam or assignment in question.  The relevant university policy can be accessed at:

Turn off Beeping Things.  Please remember to turn off your cell phones, laptop sounds, etc.  No texting or e-mailing during class!  If you just MUST chat with someone, please do it outside of class.  Our sessions are for learning.  I reserve the right to ban laptops in class if a problem develops

Courtesy.  Please be respectful of other’s opinions during discussions.  Rest assured that everyone will get a chance to express themselves. Do be conscious also of the need to allow a variety of people to speak.  In other words, don’t dominate the conversation.  Please sit near the door if you have to leave early for any reason.  Don’t come in late – it’s rude and disruptive. In short, please show respect and courtesy for everyone in the classroom.  Your participation score can be negatively affected if there are any problems in this area.

Participate!  This course covers topics that are relevant to all of our lives and our futures.  You are needed to help enliven the course meetings and to contribute to the learning environment.  Come prepared to do just that.

 Required Texts


Graber, Doris A. Mass Media and American Politics, 8th Edition,  2010 ISBN: 978-1-60426-460-9


McInerny, D.Q. Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking, 2005 (2004 is OK) ISBN: 0812971159




The New York Times. Monday-Friday editions. 1-888-NYT-COLL



Course Web Page: Course syllabi and assignments and links to the Internet readings are all online at  Additional reading/ watching assignments will be available on SacCT.




Participation: It is your responsibility to complete readings/ watchings/ listenings before class.  This means you are expected to show up every day AND actively participate.  Your attendance and enthusiasm will be rewarded with a strong participation grade.  You are responsible for all notes, assignments, and course changes missed due to absences.  More than 2 absences will negatively impact your grade. Attendance will be taken every time we meet, and is a significant portion of your grade.  This course is unique in that a great deal of the skill learning and content will be delivered in class.  Merely getting notes from someone will not be enough.


Reading/ Listening/ Viewing: Since this is a media course, you will be assigned much more than simply reading from a text.  Most weeks, there will be some sort of multi-media assignment.  It could be reading something online, watching a television program or youtube video, or listening to a radio show or podcast.  The content will shift with course content and current events.  Plan on setting at least two hours per week aside for taking in such content in addition to traditional reading.


Media Analysis Projects: This semester, you will be assigned one research project and an in-class project.  One involves analyzing the content of news programs, the other involves analyzing a public speech or debate for logical flaws.  We will discuss the details of these projects in class and formal assignment sheets will be handed out later in the semester.  You may want to get started early.


Exams: There will be 1 exam this semester.   The exam will test you on readings, multimedia content, and lecture material.  There will be no make-up exams except with a doctor’s note.   If you miss the exam, you will receive a zero.  No early exams.  The final exam will be open note, but not open book.  Therefore, you need to keep careful notes throughout the semester.


Quizzes: Every other week, there will be a quiz on the reading and multimedia assigned content for the previous 2-week period. Questions from lectures or in-class sessions are fair game as well.  These quizzes will take place on SacCT.  You will be given a limited amount of time to complete the quiz.  If you fail to complete the quiz in the time allotted, you will lose all points for that quiz.  The quizzes will be posted each Thursday, and must be completed by midnight on the following Monday.


In-class/other: There will be a few in-class assignments.  We will do group work, dissect campaign ads, etc.  Be sure to attend class, because if you are absent, you will not get credit for these assignments.  There may also be a quick out of class assignments involving media.


No Incompletes: I will not give an incomplete grade for any reason other than a documented serious illness or a death in the family.  Just finish the work on time!


Grading:                                                                             Points

                Participation / attendance                                 100

In-class projects/ other assignments                100

Media Analysis Projects                                    250 total , 125 each (due Oct. 18 and in-class Nov. 8)

Quizzes (7 total)                                                 350

Final Exam                                                          200


TOTAL                                                        1000

YOU MUST COMPLETE EVERY ASSIGNMENT IN ORDER TO RECIEVE A PASSING GRADE.  In other words, you cannot pass this class without taking the exam and completing every project.


Course Outline / Tentative Reading/Viewing/Listening Assignments       


Week of Aug 30           Introduction – Media and Democracy

                                                Graber, Chapter 1


Week of Sept. 6           The Watchdog Role

                                                Online articles                                      

                                                *Quiz posted Thursday

                                                **No class on Monday**


Week of Sept. 13           How Journalists Report and Gatekeeping

                                                Graber, Ch. 4

                                                Online TBA


Week of Sept. 20       Media Exposure: How much? What types? What consequences?

                                                Online TBA

                                                *Quiz posted Thursday


Week of Sept. 27      Political Socialization and Cognition and Opinion

                                                Graber, Ch. 7

                                                Online TBA




Week of Oct. 4        Political Knowledge: Can Citizens Get What They Need?

                                                Online TBA

                                                McInerny Part 1

                                                  *Quiz posted Thursday                                   


Week of Oct. 11          Logic and Reporting

                                                TBA online

                                                McInerny Parts 2and 4


Week of Oct. 18        Campaign Coverage

                                                McInerny Part 5

                                                TBA online

                                                *Quiz posted Thursday                                     

  **Media analysis project due Monday**


Week of Oct. 25       Electoral Effects: early reporting, priming, etc.

                                                Graber, Ch. 8      

                                                Online TBA


Week of Nov. 1         Objectivity and Bias

                                    Online TBA

                                                McInerny Part 5

                                    *Quiz posted Thursday


Week of Nov. 8      Soft news, Satire, and Web 2.0                                    

                                                Online TBA

                                **Logic project in class on Monday**


Week of Nov. 15        Reporting on Crises and Foreign affairs

                                                Graber, Ch. 5

                                                *Quiz posted Thursday


Week of Nov. 22        How Politicians Make the News

                                                Graber, Ch. 9                


Week of Nov. 29         News Business and Regulation

                Graber, Ch. 2

                *Quiz posted Thursday


Week Dec. 6              Summing it up: The Future of Public Interest Media

                Graber, Ch. 12





Final exam Friday, December 17th   10:15-12:15