Fall 1999 -- Course ID# 24975
Tom Johnson, instructor
Phones: 415-305-9305 (home) and 338-7431 (office)
Office (HUM 525): Mon. 2:30-5 p.m.; Tues 3:30-5 p.m. By appointment









You may not have given it much analytic thought, but you are being loaded with a tsunami of messages and images suggesting messages from the media every moment of your waking day. In this course, we will be considering where those messages and images come from, who puts them together, and how they effect your individual life and society.

At the end of the semester -- if you have done the reading, completed the assignments and taken part in class discussion -- you will have enough background to be a very shrewd and questioning recipient of all those messages. You will know why those words and pictures are delivered as they are, who the intended audiences are, and, some of the time, how those audiences will react to those messages. You also will know a lot about journalism, widely defined, should you be interested in a career in the business.

We will begin by reading and talking about some elementary communications theory. As quickly as possible, we will begin to investigate a variety of media. The course will be, I hope, intellectually demanding: I will be disappointed if I don't think you have had to stretch your minds. It also will be fun.

TEXT [ Top ]

Turow, Joseph. "Media Today: an introduction to Mass Communications


E-MAIL [ Top ]

I hope you have noted the footnote that should have been attached to the listing for this course in the Fall course schedule. Should you have forgotten, it should say: "Students should sign up for a university computer account before semester begins at academic computing sys, Adm. 110."

If you’ve gotten this far, you probably already have an e-mail address, so we’re in good shape. The entire information environment is changing rapidly, especially for journalists and scholars. Consequently, to help you become accustomed to that digital world, I will rarely give you any ink-on-paper (IoP) handouts. Most everything you need will be found on this web site. If you don't have an e-mail address, and check your mail and this URL every day, you will simply be out of the information loop. Take some time to explore this site. It will be used for a lot of data and information exchange throughout the semester. 

If you don't have an SFSU e-mail account, click here and fill out the application form.

Then, be sure to go immediately to's class sign-up form.htm

Please fill out the "unofficial registration" form there and click the "submit" button to sent it to me so I will know who’s who in this class.



The course calendar -- found under the menu button "Course Documents" on the far left -- indicates the various reading assignments in the text, Media Today, by Joseph Turow, plus other readings that are posted to the web site. I expect you will have read the daily assignment before coming to class. (Be sure to do a little reading each day instead of trying to cram it all in at the end of the week or semester.) 

I also expect you to read The New York Times each day, either online or the IoP version. (To learn how to subscribe to The Times at a deep, deep discount, click on the "subscribe" link.) If you choose to read it online (but I recommend a regular subscription), you will have to "enroll" to the online version (remember your login name and password), but its content is free online on the day of publication. The Times is a good way to keep track of the world’s news, and especially major stories about the media.

You also will find it useful to be familiar with standard trade and research publications such as: Editor & Publisher, Brill’s Content, Broadcasting and Cable, Advertising Age, Online Journalism Review; Publishers Weekly, Writers Digest, Presstime, Columbia Journalism Review, American Journalism Review, Journal of Communications, Journal of Broadcasting, Quill, ASNE Bulletin, Journalism Quarterly, Public Opinion Quarterly, Utne Reader Media; Critical Studies in Mass Communication, Journal of Mass Media Ethics, Newspaper Research Journal, Mass Comm Review, Journal of Popular Culture, News Media and the Law, Journal of Marketing, Public Relations Journal, News Photographer and Folio. Many, or most, of these are now online, so you can read most of there content there. (I’ve included the links to Editor & Publisher and American Journalism Review because they both are good "jump stations" to newspapers, magazines and media trade press sites.)

It is important that you do the reading because the bulk of your grade will depend on your quiz scores plus your class participation. Obviously, you must attend the classes and visit the online site in order to participate. Also, my lectures will usually enlarge upon -- not directly repeat -- material from the text. You, however, will be responsible for knowing all the text material and the lecture material for quizes and exams.

You also should read at least one local daily newspaper and one weekly news magazine and watch one of the local and national news shows daily because the weekly quizzes will usually include current events questions. These will be simple -- multiple-choice, true and false or shot answer -- quizzes, but, collectively, they are your grade.



[ Format ] [ Asgn#1 ] [ Asgn#2 ] [ Asgn#3 ]

All written assignments must be written in MS Word 97 and submitted via electronic mail. I will not accept them any other way. ( If you don't know how to use Word, click here to reach )

You submit the assignments via the "Student Drop Box," in CourseInfo. You will find that under the "Student Tools" button on the left menu. (Yeah, I know. "Drop Box" is a confusing term in our university culture, but here it means "Drop off the assignment." ) Note that if you’re not sending your assignment from the computer you used to write it, then you will have to have the file on a floppy disk. This isn’t a bad thing: it in effect requires you to have a backup copy of your work. 

That raises another point. I am never responsible for lost or damaged work. It’s your job to make sure you have adequate backup copies. If I lose your assignment, I will just say, "Send me another, please." And, you being the bright and clever person you are, will send me another copy.


Due Tuesday Nov. 30

In the first few weeks of the semester, you should determine the topic for your research project (Due Sept. 23). The purpose of the project is twofold: to teach you the rudiments of scholarly investigation, research, analysis and presentation. This project shall represent original research done specifically for this course. You may not submit work prepared for any other course, either this semester or any in the past. The first step in all of this is for you to read the entire little book, Donald Mulkerne, The Perfect Term Paper. It's in the bookstore, probably the reference section. 

Click on the subhed above to see the details on the research paper assignment.


Students (and faculty and journalists, for that matter) are not expected to know everything, but you are expected to know where and how to FIND all data and information. One of the basic places -- the mother lode of information -- is the traditional ink-on-paper library. And we need to know our way around that rich gold mine. The SFSU Library has a fine, self-guided tutorial to help you learn its nooks and crannies. Go to the window/booth near the Rapid Copy center during the next 24 hours and buy the tour workbook. After you have completed the tour -- it will take five or six hours -- you will turn the workbook in to the library staff and receive a certificate of completion. You must bring a Xerox of that certificate to me on Oct. 9. That's not much time, so get on that mission immediately. 


All work must be submitted before or on the deadline. LATE WORK WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. 

You should expect quizzes every week. They usually will be 10- or 20-questions covering the assigned readings and current events in the news. The cumulative value of the quizzes will be 30 percent. The cumulative value of the assignments will be 30 percent. The midterm is worth 20 percent and the final is worth 20 percent toward your final grade. NO INCOMPLETES ARE GIVEN.

I will try to regularly post the class grades in the CourseInfo site so you can see how you’re doing. Here’s the gradesheet: 

The University's grading policy (and mine, as well):

A = Outstanding work ("...truly unusual accomplishment....")

B = Above average work ("exceptional accomplishment")

C = Average performance ("successful completion of all course requirements, no significant weak nesses..." [A "C" or "C+" in the Journalism Department should not be interpreted as a poor grade.]

D = Below average ("completion of course requirements but with significant weaknesses...")

F = Failure ("course requirements not met.")

As to the question: "Should grades represent quality and a level of accomplishment? Or effort? Or Progress?", here is what the university says:

A. Grades reflect the instructor's judgment of the quality of the student's performance. Grades should not merely be awarded for effort, attendance, native ability, etc., notwithstanding the fact that all of these may affect performance and become a part of the evaluation.

B. Students who elect the CR/NCR system are not to be give fewer, or easier, assignments than those who are on the A-F system; such practice makes grades reflective of the quantity rather than the quality of the student's performance. [NOTE: If you are, or intend to become, a Journalism major, you should only take this course -- which is required for the major -- for a letter grade.]

C. Students may not be guaranteed "at least a C" or a "B," etc. in advance or by a contract related solely to the quantity of assignments completed, as evaluation is a post-performance function rather than a pre-performance contract.


My first and, I hope, my last word about plagiarism. It is quite easy to detect when you have submitted work that is not your own; when you have bought a term paper or lifted material directly from another work. It is, of course, permissible to use material from other sources, but those sources must be fully cited (in footnotes or within the text).

If I can prove to my satisfaction that you are guilty of plagiarism, you will fail this course. Among other things.

ETC. [Top]

My office is in HUM 525. My office hours are:

  • Mon. 2:30-5 p.m.; Tues 3:30-5 p.m.
  • By appointment on Tuesdays or Thursday (or any other day, if necessary) 
  • If these hours are not convenient for you, don't hesitate to ask me for an appointment at some other time. My office phone number is 338-7431, and the number of the Journalism Dept. is 338-1689 if you need to leave a message. My mailbox is in the Journalism Department mailroom (HUM 307). My home phone is 
  • Feel free to call me at home anytime after 10 a.m. and until midnight. 
# # # [Top]]



As you will learn, each assignment should have a name only eight characters long or less. As in "fire." (That "name" also is called a slug in the journalism business.)

Each file name also can have an extension -- a period followed by three characters. So, when opening a file for a story, give it an eight-character (or less) slug: the assignment number, a hyphen, your THREE initials, a period, and "200". For example, if J. T. Johnson were filing assignment #10, he would call it:


Ergo, the top left corner of the first page of your assignments should like like this:

Yourlastname, Yourfirstname 

YOUR ASSIGNMENTS MUST BE TYPED (do NOT use an italic type style) AND, OF COURSE, WELL-WRITTEN AND DEVOID OF SPELLING AND GRAMMATICAL ERRORS. Your assignments should clearly indicate the sources for all your work. I suggest simply learning how to use the footnote function of any word processor.

Here is the style you should use to format your assignments:

  • Set both left and right margins at 1.5 inches 
  • Use Times Roman (or similar) type at 12pt bold or New Courier at 10pt. bold (or similar) 
  • The body text should be 1.25 inches from the top of the page; bottom margins should be 1.25 inches from the bottom. 
  • Use a header to show the slug, author and page number. 
  • Submit the file in a Word 98 or older version. 
  • Avoid fancy type or inserting graphics unless they are necessary to make you point.
TODAY'S HOT TIP: Your grade will be partially based on your writing skills and the appropriate use of university-level style, i.e. footnotes, bibliographical citations, etc. Hence, get a copy of The Perfect Term Paper in the bookstore reference section) and refer to it. 


ASSIGNMENT #1: -- Newspaper Critique [Top]
SLUG: AS1-???.200 
DEADLINE: Tuesday, Oct. 12, 11 a.m.

The purpose of these assignments is to expose you to some of the published components of those sectors of the media and to develop an understanding -- if not to say an appreciation -- of how they have changed in content, design and, perhaps, audience over the years.

In the SFSU library, you will find many complete, microfilm records -- and some bound volumes -- of newspapers and magazines going back as far as 100 and more years. Here is what I would like you to do:

1. Pick a publication (first a newspaper and, later, a magazine) for which our holdings extend back at least 50 years, that is pre-1949.

2. Select a date and issue from at least 50 years ago and, in the case of a newspaper, read at least one week's editions for that paper, noting such things as (NOTE: THE FOLLOWING ARE ONLY SUGGESTIONS. FEEL FREE TO COME UP WITH YOUR OWN METHODS OR CRITERIA TO COMPARE AND CONTRAST.):

  • Basic design components (How many columns wide? What did the type look like? Was it easy to read? Headlines -- type style, size); Artwork (Pictures? Maps? Illustrations?);
  • Advertisements (What type of products are advertised? How are the ads designed and where are they placed in the publication?);
  • Content (What kind of stories are printed and where do they appear in the publication? What do you suspect were the editorial -- "gatekeepers'" -- decisions influencing story selection and placement? What do you notice about the writing style compared to a later version of the same publication?);
  • Who do you think was the audience for this publication? (You can make some judgments based on the type of articles, level of writing, cost of the publication, types of products advertised.);
3. Select a week's editions of the same publication, but at least 40 years later than your first issues. Analyze these editions in a similar fashion.

4. Write a three- or four-page paper comparing and contrasting these two sets of editions. Be sure to draw some conclusions about changes or lack of them. That is, why or why not were the changes you spotted made? Also, don't hesitate to comment on your perceptions in changes in quality. (For the magazine critique, you only need select two single issues at least 40 years apart.)

* * *

Below are some -- only SOME -- of the newspapers and magazines in our library's collection. Feel free, however, to examine any publications you wish.


London Times (1900-date); San Francisco Chronicle (1865- date); Pittsburgh Courier (1923-date); miscellaneous newspapers from various Southwestern states (1850-1900); New York Times (1851-date).


American Mercury (1925-1975); Architectural Record (1891- 1942); Atlantic Monthly (1857-date); Ebony (1945-date); Esquire (1947-date); Harper's Magazine (1850-date); New Yorker (1925-date); Newsweek (1923-date); Print (1940- date); Scientific American (?-date); Time (1923-date); Fortune; Life.


ASSIGNMENT #2: -- Magazine Critique [Top]
SLUG: A5-???.200 
DEADLINE: Tuesday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m.

See Assignment #1. The directions are the same, except you will be studying a magazine instead of a newspaper.



ASSIGNMENT #3: -- President Resigns; Press Covers [Top]
SLUG: AS3-???.200 
DEADLINE: Tuesday, Nov. 16, 11 a.m.

You may have heard that once upon a time a president of the United States, during the 20th century, was forced to resign the office or face charges of impeachment.

Your assignment: 

  • Find out who that president was. 
  • Find out what day he tendered his resignation 
  • Study how one publication or broadcast outlet reported that resignation 
  • Write a two-page, double-spaced memo (approx. 450-500 words) describing that coverage employing some of the eight questions we have been discussing deemed valuable for analyzing the media.