Dr. Peffley                                            PS 101 American Government                  Spring, 2002

Short Written Assignment:  Due Thursday, April 11


     The purpose of this assignment is to apply the knowledge gained from class discussions and Lance Bennett’s book, News: The Politics of Illusion, to evaluate the nightly news on the three major networks.  In carrying out this assignment, first review your notes and Bennett’s book, paying special attention to the factors that affect the way journalists report the news and various biases in the news. Next, keep a journal describing various aspects of news stories you witnessed from watching the entire news broadcast (including commercials) on at least three separate evenings. Two evenings should be spent watching the 30 minute broadcast on the national news on one of the three major networks (ABC, CBS, or NBC;  one of these two evenings can be spent watching 30 minutes of CNN’s Headline News); AND one additional evening should be spent watching the local evening television news (at either 5 PM or 11 PM).  The journal, where you list the dates, times, and titles of the news stories (and commercials) will constitute the appendix of your paper and will provide you with the "raw data" and examples necessary to answer the following questions to be addressed in the body of your paper:

  1. About how much time in each broadcast is spent in national and local news shows covering “hard” “political” news, as opposed to “soft” news—celebrity news, the weather, or idle chit-chat (see Bennett and class notes for working definitions of hard and soft news)? 
  2. We argued in class that journalists use certain criteria for designating some events as being more “newsworthy” than others.  To what extent did the stories in the nightly broadcasts seem to be selected by these criteria?  In other words, how were the stories either consistent or inconsistent with these criteria? In this context, how important were the “visual images” associated with the news stories in making the event newsworthy?  (In other words, did attention-grabbing visuals appear to make the stories more likely to be covered in the first place?).
  3. Bennett argues that news stories tends to emphasize certain themes or biases and ignore others, such as being more dramatic than analytical, more personalized than institutional, and so on.  In what ways did the stories in the news broadcasts seem to confirm or disconfirm these biases in reporting the news?  Did you notice a difference in the local versus the national news? 
  4. Who were the sources of several of the news stories you watched (government officials, ordinary citizens, etc.), where were they located, and to what extent were the sources in the story politically “balanced”? 
  5. Provide some final assessment of the extent to which the news broadcasts you watched seemed designed to enable citizens to make intelligent political decisions versus providing entertainment. 


You will be graded on your understanding of the principles covered in lectures and readings as well as your ability to apply these principles to analyze network news stories.

     You may work in groups of 2 or 3 but remember that everyone in the group takes collective responsibility for the paper. Think of the assignment as a take-home exam, where all the materials to write the exam can be found in the readings, lectures and the nightly news.  While you are free to use outside material (in addition to Bennett), there is no expectation that you do so.  Try not to just regurgitate the readings or the lectures, but demonstrate your knowledge of the principles by applying this knowledge to the "real world" of television. 

     The paper should be about 3 pages, double-spaced, type-written, and STAPLED.  Your paper must be written in good English, use standard 1" margins, be paginated, typed and "proofed." Pay attention to the page limit, but remember quality is more important than quantity, so don't "pad' a short paper with large margins. Remember to attach your journal of news stories and commercials.

     Papers are due at the beginning of class on Thursday, April 11.