Tuesday, October 25, 2005
TEST QUESTIONS: Journalism Issues -- MCLA for Oct. 27, 2005
MCLA / ENGLISH 328-31
ISSUES IN JOURNALISM Bill Densmore
Question selections for mid-term, in-class essay exam
INSTRUCTIONS: Review these 13 questions over the next 48 hours. On Thurs.,
Oct. 27, you will have the 75-minute class period to write essay answers
to three of them. One will be a question you've chosen yourself. The other
two questions will be assigned by the instructor at the start of the exam
period. You will receive a letter grade based roughly one-third on your
writing and grammar, one third on your knowledge of our readings or
discussion of the subject, and one third on evidence of original thinking,
or independent, unassigned study of the topic. You should refer to the
posts on the journalism-issues.blogspot.com . if possible. Please write on
8-1/2 x 11 inch paper and put your name and email address in the upper
right corner. SEE YOU THURSDAY!
1. After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, some commentators
accused the government and the media of racial bias in their initial
cleanup and coverage of the disaster. From our discussions and your
thinking about this issue, what would you personally define as an
exhibition of racism by the government or by news organizations? Explain
why you feel such acts did, or did not occur in New Orleans. What did you
conclude after our discussion about the two photos of "looting" vs.
"taking"? Is the situation ongoing?
2. In postings and discussions, we have considered the fact that
cutbacks in newsroom staff at the nation's newspapers are making it harder
to find international news and in-depth, original news (as opposed to
meeting coverage or rewritten news releases. Merrill Brown, who is running
the Carnegie Corp.'s improve-journalism-school initiative, writes: "The
questions raised by the young people abandoning the news go to the heart of
how we'll learn about the complex world we live in and make informed
decisions about its future." Discuss the relationship between so-called
"watchdog"journalism and the functioning of participatory democracy.
3. As "blogs" proliferate on the web, more and more people are acting
like journalists in publishing via the Internet their analysis and
commentary on current events. Legislation introduced by Sen. Richard Lugar
and Rep. Mike Pence would allow certain people and entitles to decline to
testify in court about the identity of their news sources. If you were
writing such a law, how would you define "journalist"? Discuss the
implications of you language choices. Are you licensing the press? Or
creating a rating service so that consumers can professionally evaluation
the quality of their news? Says Pence of bloggers: "It [It] would be hard
to argue to anyone that privilege applies to those people just because they
have a Web site." Are the "citizen journalists" at OhMyNews journalists?
4. Consider the so-called "uncovered topics" chosen by the Project
Censored over the last year. Describe three briefly, tell why you think the
Project Censored judges picked them as worthy of spotlighting, reveal your
opinion about whether the story was undercovered, and provide advice, as
if you were speaking to Project Censor's director, about ways to gain the
project more publicity and noteriety. Do you think Project Censored is
having an impact on changing the way editors and producers assign stories?
Why or why not?
5. Consider Craig's List: What are the elements of Craig's List which
draw users away from the classified-advertising columns of major daily
newspapers? Can these elements be reproduced by daily newspapers either
alone or collaboratively with other newspapers? Do you think Craig's List
has a responsibility to mix professional reporting with its free commercial
listings? Why or why not?
6. Orville Schell, dean of the UC-Berkeley journalism school, has
written that it is "increasingly less realistic to expect commercial
broadcast outlets to effectively serve two masters: the public interest and
corporate bottom line." Why does Schell believe this? If he is right, then
please make some suggestions however wild -- for ways that broadcasters
might be compelled by the government, or by the marketplace, to provide
journalism which encourages viewers to become more active as public citizens.
7. View this URL:
Is a story about Iraqi war vets at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in
Washington, D.C., worthy of front-page treatment in major newspapers? If
yes, then provide a theory as to why it hasn't been there. If not, explain
what about the story left you feeling it was not a "front-page" candidate.
8. The Judith Miller/Valerie Plame case is in progress, with many
unanswered questions. Imagine you are an editorial writer at a
50,000-circulation daily. Your publisher has asked you to write an
editorial about Judith Miller's imprisonment, and release, and her relation
with the New York Times and her editors. Write the short editorial,
choosing a point of view and then sticking with it. As you write, try to
explain to the newspaper's readers the principles involved in the case.
9. In his book, and in the speech excerpts we played in class, Prof.
Robert McChesney argues that the U.S. media system is "not natural".
Explain what he means by this and talk about his role as a media
reformer. Do you think McChesney's prescription for media "reform" is
enough? Will it succeed? What is required for success? Is his rhetoric
effective? Inspiring? Confrontational?
10. Put yourself in the position of editor of a once-great American
newspaper which has recently suffered newsroom job cuts and declining
circulation. Tim McGuire is the former editor/publisher of the Minneapolis
Star Tribune, a major daily, who now researches and advises the newspaper
industry. In a recent speech, he said newspapers must reinvent themselves.
1) The reinvention must be radical.
2) We must build the broad democratic (small D) community with integrity.
3) We must cultivate citizen journalism, but serve as an authenticator.
4) We must reaffirm our watchdog role with a return to great writing
5) We must choose thoroughness, completeness and sophistication.
How would you proceed, as editor?
11. Consider the journalism graduate students who recently toured
campus nuclear facilities for ABC News. When a person works as a reporter,
must they always identify themselves as a reporter in all interactions with
the public? Does this apply when they are "on duty" at their job, or at any
time? What if they are in a place, behaving in a manner, or are otherwise
positioned in a way that any member of the public might be? If a reporter
must always identify herself, does that mean an undercover police officer
is by definition unethical?
12. In covering government, should reporters focus on politics and
personality, or policy? The dilemma is that many editors believe readers
and viewers aren't interested in policy. But policy coverage CAN be made
interesting, can't it? And which is more likely to foster informed voting
by the public? Why?
13. Under the Sedition Act, which no longer exists, Anthony Haswell, a
Bennington, Vt., publisher, was jailed for supporting another jailed editor
who opposed the president. Imagine you are the editor of a small, urban
weekly newspaper which serves a Muslim community in a U.S. city. You write
a column in support of a Muslim cleric in the city who has been missing for
five days and who family members claim was arrested by federal
agents. Three days later, FBI agents come to your newspaper office with a
warrant for your arrest, citing Section 411 of the USA Patriot Act which
makes it a federal crime to "support terrorism." What do you do or say?
14. On Oct. 5, 2005, former Vice President Al Gore gave a keynote
speech to news executives and web entrepreneurs at The Associated Press
headquarters. In it, he declared, "The Republic of Letters has been invaded
and occupied by television." He added that the Internet "still doesn't hold
a candle to television" in terms of the amount of time the public spends
with it. The "marketplace of ideas" has become inaccessible to the average
citizen; entertainment has replaced journalism; but the Internet holds
promise so long as it remains open and accessible to all. Discuss your
understanding of Gore's speech and its significance and explain why you
think it was not covered by any major news organization other than The AP,
or displayed prominently in any newspaper.