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Frenemies? Trump, Media, and Politics

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This course is no longer being offered.

Course Description

This course is designed specifically for English Language Learners interested in further developing their English skills in a challenging college-level academic setting.

This class tells that story, focusing on the relationship between the media and politics in the United States. It covers the structure of the media, constitutional questions surrounding the First Amendment, erosion of popular trust in traditional media, and the ramifications of digital media platforms (from online editions of papers of record to social media). Along the way we will discuss media bias, the rise of blogging as journalism, the ways in which media frame our view of reality, and even dabble in political satire!

"Interesting" classes have several components: they are topical, they encourage passionate discussion, and they utilize popular and engaging technologies. This class does all of those things. There is nothing more topical right now -- not just in the U.S.A. but around the world -- than the state of democracy, and the role of a free press in it. Students hear about "fake news," and a class like this one provides a space to learn just what goes into reporting. Along the way they're able to share opinions, hear from others (not just American politics, but press/political relations around the world), and discuss these questions freely.

Finally, and perhaps importantly, these students are natively digital. When I have taught this class in the past students of (roughly) this generation appreciate videos, audio assignments, and inclusion of formats such as podcasting. While these can be done in numerous classrooms, a class on media and politics is the quintessential case.

Our general focus has to be grounded in the rise of media/politics tensions in the United States and around the globe. My goal is to direct the students' attentions to three general issue areas, which we will cover through a combination of writing assignments, mixed audio/visual materials, news presentations, and in-class debates.

First let me cover the subject areas: (1) media purpose and structure, (2) who (and what) makes the news, and (3) media effects. I draw these distinctions from one of the seminal texts on media/politics, Dorris Graber and Johana Dunaway's "Mass Media and American Politics."

In section one, we cover the First Amendment, media regulation, the history of the press in the United States, and new issues such as net neutrality. In section two, we discuss how the news is made: students gain an understanding (and hopefully empathy for) difficulties in the news-making process; also we cover differences between state, local, and international coverage. A big part of this section focuses on media diversity (whether in terms of race, sex, age, or political ideology). In section three, we talk about media effects: how the press frame stories or prime individuals, and how they set the public agenda. We close by discussing media bias.

One of my goals is to introduce students, in a controlled environment, to both scholarly and popular works. Alongside selections from the Graber and Dunaway book, I use a recent text from MIT Press on "Trump and the Media," which contain readings no longer than ten pages from academics, written for a public audience. In addition to accessible readings (e.g. the New York Times, Washington Post) I assign a variety of materials. For audio/visual learners there are podcasts (e.g. the Shorenstein Center, Constitution Center) and YouTube videos (e.g. Intelligence Squared). These assignments are paired with videos in lecture that illustrate, better than I could by lecturing, some of our concepts (e.g. how different media communicate political biases).

Another of my goals is get students excited about learning, and this means meeting them where they are. This generation is natively digital, so I combine traditional short writing assignments and news presentations with a Podcasting Project. The students break up into groups of 3-5 and apply a section of course material (e.g. media bias) to the current news using an app called Anchor. The app is free, end-to-end, and easy to use.

Our first goal concerns the subject matter, itself. Given the "information abundance" of our current news environment, the ability to sift through the news intelligently is paramount.To do this we will explore concepts such as "fake news," media bias, censorship, and cover the news-making process.

The second goal -- application to current events -- comes through conversation, debates, news presentations, and writing assignments. To truly master information, students must not only be able to regurgitate it they must be able to apply it!

Our final goal is communication. Without mastering these, even the brightest ideas cannot influence the world.

Prerequisites: Students should have at least a general understanding of American government. They need not have AP government, but have taken either a civics or American course within the last two years. Those who have not can still succeed, but may need to devote extra time to topics brought up in class/news.

I do not believe there is an age requirement for this class. Students could be as young as sophomores and as old as seniors. As long as they have a basic understanding of American politics, and are interested in learning more about the media, they'll be fine.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPS0804
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information

Summer@Brown for English Language Learners

A select group of non-credit courses in the liberal arts and sciences supplemented with English language learning, two weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For University-bound English language learners completing grades 9-12 by June 2020.

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