If we want to analyze TV in any kind of systematic way, we have to watch it ourselves, so we have direct experience with it. This is what you will need to do for this paper assignment. Your goal will be to create an analysis of Cable TV news. There are two different ways to do this.
Watch three hours of Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC. What does this viewing teach you about the network? What does it teach you about its audience? To what extent does the network have a particular style or approach that makes it unique? What themes or topics are emphasized? How do they cover the stories they report on? Did your viewing reveal any of the biases we discussed in class last week? (These are questions to think about; you probably won’t address all of them in your paper.)
Watch two hours of two different networks and develop a comparison of them. How are they different? Similar? Think about the questions from the first option: audience, style, themes, biases.
Essentially, the first option involves you creating a kind of character sketch of one of these news networks. The second option involves developing a comparison of two networks. In both, you will need to produce a strong argument and then flesh it out with supporting ideas and specific details from and references to what you have seen.
In your paper, be sure to note the time and date of your viewing. I would strongly encourage you to watch in chunks of no more than 1 hour each, so that you’re getting at least a couple of different perspectives on the network(s). Don’t watch the network at the same time on different days, if you can help it; especially at night, you would end up getting the same program, just with different guests. If you’re analyzing MSNBC, try to avoid the sensationalistic news magazine/true crime that the network has been known to air on the weekends. On CNN, avoid documentary series like “The 90s.” Find something about current events.
It might be hard to watch and write about these networks without your own political bias coming into play, but you should try. You want to develop a “fair and balanced” assessment or comparison of the network(s) you’re watching for the assignment. It might be useful for you to admit your own political perspective if it’s relevant in your paper. The purpose of the paper is not provide a political interpretation of what you see, but it might be hard to avoid. In cases like that, it can be better to be upfront about where you’re coming from politically rather than pretending that you’re being a dispassionate, objective observer (as if that would even be possible). You can trust that I will not be considering your political position when it comes time to grade these papers. Rather, I will be evaluating the quality of your argument and the strength of the evidence and reasoning that you are able to bring to it.
A high quality paper will have the following ingredients:
A focused, unified argument that offers a comparison of two networks or an assessment of a single network
Thorough analysis of your ideas
Specific evidence to support your argument. This includes specific references to what you’ve seen.
Some insight into how cable TV news works.
Engaging writing that is free of mistakes. Proof-read; I don’t want to see mistakes that could be easily caught if you had just read the paper over once. (Like, for example, homonyms: words that sound the same but are spelled differently.) Organize the paper into paragraphs, and avoid run-ons and fragments. And don’t forget a good, descriptive title.
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