Courses offered at The University of Virginia

History of American Broadcast News

This course traces the development and evolution of radio and television news from its origins in the 1920s to the current era. We’ll examine themes such as “sensationalism” versus “seriousness” in this journalistic form; the development of celebrity anchors; the convention of “breaking news;” debates over “consensus” news versus “liberal bias.” 

We’ll examine how radio and TV news has handled the coverage of war and crisis events; how presidents have attempted to bend the medium to their political advantage, and how social change movements, like the civil rights movement, have used the medium as a platform for their causes; how gender and race concerns have been handled by the medium historically, along with the fact that women and minority groups have long been underrepresented in radio and TV newsrooms. 

We’ll debate the extent to which broadcast journalism should be regulated; whether satire can be considered a form of journalism; if Americans would historically have been better served with a publicly-funded system rather than a commercially-run industry. We will also periodically engage with entertainment media texts that have taken as their subject matter the medium of radio or TV news. 

We’ll use discussions of those entertainment texts to explore contemporary anxieties or hopes about what this journalistic medium meant at specific moments in history. 

Finally, we will always grapple with what is truly new and not new about our current “new media” environment. How can an understanding of the development of American broadcast news help us better understand, navigate, and intervene in our current news media system – as news media users and as (potentially) news media workers? 

Media and Protest: The 1960s

Civil rights marches. Black Power. Anti-Vietnam war mobilizations. Campus-based student uprising. Countercultural youth rebellion. Women’s liberation. Revolutionary urban guerrillas.  It all coalesced into the catch-all term “the Movement.” The 1960s in the United States has been defined as an era of protest and turbulent transformation.  The social, cultural, and political waves of that era continue to ripple through the American body politic and its cultural imagination. To paraphrase William Faulkner, the era of the 1960s isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.  In our contemporary moment: Occupy. Black Lives Matter. Antifa. Indivisible. Women’s March. The new catch-all term for this period of renewed protest and activism is “the Resistance.”

This course will explore the protest movements of the 1960s through the lens of media coverage both in the mainstream press of the day – newspapers, general interest newsmagazines, photojournalism, television, popular culture, as well as the Movement’s own burgeoning underground press.  We do so not only to understand an endlessly fascinating and often misunderstood moment in American history but also, crucially, to investigate what that period of protest can tell us about our current moment of protest and activism. Since the Occupy movement against income inequality and, more significantly, the Black Lives Matter movement, and now, most recently, the protests against Trumpism, white supremacy, and the emergence of the so-called “alt-right,” we are in a period of dissent, demonstrations, and mass movement unseen since the 1960s.  Contemporary protest movements, mass mobilizations, and confrontations are garnering media attention similarly unseen since the media pre-occupation with the activism of the 1960s.  Are there useful lessons we can learn? Are there legacies we can trace? Are there ways in which our contemporary moment and its media environment are fundamentally different? To what extent can “making sense of the Sixties” help us make sense of our similarly turbulent moment?

This discussion-heavy course will adopt a bit of a workshop approach. The instructor, an expert on the social movements of the 1960s and the era’s media landscape, will bring that expertise to the classroom. Students will be responsible for bringing research, questions, information, artifacts, and ideas about the contemporary media environment and current protest movements and activism to classroom discussion.  This will be an active, two-way, and participatory endeavour.

MDST 4106 The Kennedy Era and the Media

The presidency of John F. Kennedy spanned less than three years, yet the Kennedy era continues to live on powerfully in the American imagination almost fifty years after his January 1961 inauguration. Kennedy was the first president to fully exploit television; as such, mass media and American popular culture have helped to keep Kennedy and his era alive for succeeding generations of Americans. Kennedy’s assassination, which the vast majority of the American public experienced via television, also continues to reverberate. This course examines mass media – network television, journalism, advertising, cinema – both during the Kennedy years and after to explore the impact, ideas, ideals, and iconography of this presidency. 

The first part of the course examines mass media in the early 1960s around questions of political campaigning in the new media era; shifts and changes in both entertainment and news programming in television under the influence of “the New Frontier;” mass media’s response to the revolution in race with the impact of the civil rights movement; media response to the nascent challenge of the feminist movement and the sexual revolution; sixties-era advertising; and Hollywood cinema’s negotiation with the Cold War. 

We will then spend a few weeks examining one of the greatest American traumas of the 20th century: John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas as he rode with wife Jackie in an open limousine. How did television, as the dominant mass medium turned to by citizens, cover the crisis? How did Americans respond? How was the assassination mediated by television, by amateur video, by news photography, by visual culture? 

We will then examine the culture of conspiracy that arose in the wake of the assassination. How does the assassination fit with what historian Richard Hofstadter famously described as “the paranoid style in American politics?” We will focus particularly on the manifestation of conspiracy culture in Hollywood cinema, most notably with filmmaker Oliver Stone’s hugely successfully and massively controversial conspiracy drama, JFK

We will then turn to the politics of nostalgia and remembering. Finally, we will explore why American culture to this day continues to manifest a longing for “Camelot” and the presumed “innocence” and “idealism” of the Kennedy era. We will use the highly regarded cable TV series Mad Men to explore some of the ways Americans are encouraged to remember this period. 

We end the course with student-generated examples of America’s continuing fascination with the Kennedy presidency and era as we enter its 50th anniversary.

MDST 4109 Civil Rights Movement and the Media

The Civil Rights Movement benefited from and, to a significant extent, required attention from national media in order to achieve its political and social objectives. How did the media respond to, engage with, and represent this most powerful of social change movements? 

We will examine a variety of media forms: Hollywood cinema, network television, mainstream newspapers, photojournalism, the black press, and news magazines in order to explore the relationship between the movement and the media. We will examine media artifacts as primary documents for what they can tell us about American race relations during this period. Through intensive classroom discussion, students will hone their abilities to interpret and analyze media artifacts as historical documents, as aesthetic forms, and as ideological texts.

MDST 3106 History of U.S. Broadcasting

This course examines U.S. broadcasting in historical perspective, not only as an industry, but also as a vital component of American culture and everyday life. We will examine the technological, social, political, industrial and cultural forces influencing the development of broadcast media and we will link these forces to the programs created and the audiences served. Students will complete this class with a better understanding of the many economic, regulatory, social and cultural factors that led to the development of radio and television in the US, as well as the role that broadcasting has played in the shaping of American culture.

MDST 3050 History of Media

All media were once “new media.” This course investigates what it meant for societies – their political decision-making, their cultures, their economic systems, and the individuals within them – when they found themselves grappling over what “new media” meant and what new technologies of communication were supposed to do. Almost every new form of media has generated both utopian hopes and promises along with anxieties and fears. And we will see many of the same optimistic promises and fearful anxieties crop up over the centuries. We will also see that communication media do not necessarily determine how they will be used or what kinds of media regimes will result. Political, legal, and cultural interventions are often decisive in fixing the societal and economic fate of new forms of media. By examining when “old media” were “new,” we gain a necessary perspective on our current “new media” environment. We can ask what is really new. We can also evaluate decisions that previous societies made that can usefully inform our contemporary era.

MDST 3000 Media Theory and Criticism

How can we think productively about the media – the industries that produce it, the audiences that receive it, the representations circulated by it, and the social, cultural, and political impact mass media have on the contemporary social order? This course provides students with conceptual and analytical tools for understanding how and why “media matters.” Using a broadly historical lens, we will explore the dominant “schools” of media and mass communication thought as they have developed over the 20th and 21st century, looking at how these different schools dialogue with each other as well as how they provide different ways to think about the phenomenon of mass media. In seminar-style, we will discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of these schools of thought, grounding our discussions as much as possible on examples of media culture brought to class by both students and instructor.