Media Audiences (COM 415), Spring 2011


Dr. Christopher Anderson                    Monday, 10:10 – 2:05
Office: 1P / Room 232A                         5N / Room 103
Office Hours: Monday 2:30 – 3:30, Wednesday 2:00 – 3:15

Required Texts

• Peters and Simonson, Mass Communication and American Social Thought
• Online course reader of collected texts.

Course Learning Objectives

• To become familiar with the academic debates surrounding the nature and construction of the audience.
• To become familiar with the history of how media industries conceive and measure audiences.
• To become a more intelligent consumer and producer of media content.

Course Description

This is a course about audiences. All of you have been members of a media audience at some point in your lives; many of you will spend more time as a member of an “audience” than you do as a member of any other single group. But while audiences are commonplace, the nature of them is not easy to understand. Does the media “brainwash” consumers? How much do media messages really matter? What is propaganda? Are people savvy consumers of media, or passive drones? What does it mean to say that media industries “construct” their audiences? And what about the internet—how is the world wide web changing the nature of the audience? These are some of the questions we will explore together in this class.

The goal of this class is to leave students with a deeper intellectual understanding of what the audience “is” and how it has been conceived over the course of modern media history. This class is not merely an academic exercise, however. In the next 15 weeks, you will gain an understanding of how the media industries think about and measure audiences. This will hopefully prepare many of you for future careers. That said, this class is not simply practical, either. We will be critical of the industries in which many of you will someday get a job. This is the nature of the college experience: to both understand the world and think critically about it. If you accomplish that in this class, you will do well.

Course Requirements

This is the grading breakdown for the course. To receive a passing grade for the class, students must meet all requirements. Missed assignments will automatically result in a failing grade.

Because this is an upper-level college class, you will have a fairly significant amount of “original” (that is, non-textbook) reading and correspondingly fewer “daily” assignments.  If you are confused by any of the readings, or are having trouble keeping up, please be certain to come see me in my office hours right away.

Participation  (15%)
In Class Drill Assignments (15%)
Quizzes (15%)
Midterm Paper  (25%)
Final (30%)

General Class Structure

If you look ahead to your schedule of classes, you’ll see that this class consists of four basic elements: readings, lectures, drills, and discussion, and class screenings:

Readings: You will be expected to complete a number of readings over the course of the semester, and your knowledge of these readings will be tested on the midterm paper and on the final. Many of the readings will be found in this book Mass Communication and American Social Thought, by John Duram Peters and Peter Simonson. The rest of your readings can be found online as part of your online course packet. You many want to print these readings out, so make sure you have access to a good printer when you download them. [note: this semester, I will most likely put all of the readings, including those in the Peters and Simonson book online]

Lectures: At least the early part of each class will consist of a lecture and some general discussion of the topic at hand.  These lectures are not a substitute for the readings, but rather compliment and expand upon them.

Drills and Discussion: On some weeks, you will be given an in-class work assignment that you will complete, and then discuss in small groups. Usually, these discussions will occur in the second half of class, after the lectures. Sometimes, the entire assignment will be completed in class; other times, there will some limited homework given the week before class in

Class Screenings: During other weeks, the lectures will be followed by an in-class screening. These screenings will directly relate to the subject mater at hand, and will often be followed by class discussion and conversation. It’s important to treat these media screenings as seriously as you would any other lecture or reading. They will be rigorously tested, as well.

MidTerm Paper

Instead of a mid-term, you will be assigned a mid-term writing assignment in late February that will count 25% of your final grade.  The paper will be due on March 11, and can either be mailed to me or placed in my mailbox in room 226 of building 1P.


The final will count for 30% of your grade, and will be given on a date TBA.  The final exam will be cumulative; you will need to know all of the material we have covered in class up until that point.


Students will be given randomly assigned quizzes during the course of the semester. These quizzes will count for 15% of your final grade


Students are expected to attend every session of “”Media Audiences.” According to college policy, unexcused absences exceeding 15% of course hours can result in a WU grade. 15% of the classes in this class would be two sessions or more. Bottom line: don’t miss class.

In the event that a student must miss a class due to religious observance or family emergency, students must provide advance notice, in writing, of days missed. In the event of class missed due to illness, students must provide the instructor with a doctors’ note. No exceptions.


Plagiarism is a major—perhaps the major—academic offense a student can commit as an undergraduate, graduate student, or as a scholar. Plagiarism is defined as either (1) failure to acknowledge the source of ideas not one’s own or (2) failure to indicate verbatim expressions not one’s own through quotation marks and footnotes. Plagiarism is a growing problem on college campuses across the nation, largely due to growing technological ease in accessing already composed papers and sources of information. For this reason, I personally will be relentlessly unforgiving regarding any suspected cases of plagiarism this semester—and I will check. There will probably not be a second chance in this regard, and I will recommend the strict enforce university policy for all cases of plagiarism. Bottom line: don’t do it. If you have any questions, please talk to me before you write rather than afterward. For more information, see the CUNY Policy on Academic Integrity. For a guide on how to cite your sources well, see this article from the CSI library.

In order to ensure a respectful and attentive classroom environment, electronic devices (mobile phones, PDAs, digital music players, etc.) must be turned off and stored during class. Use of such devices during class time is prohibited without permission granted by the professor, in cases of real emergency. Unapproved use of such devices (web-surfing, text-messaging, etc.) in class will count as unexcused lateness.

That said, there will be times when we use the internet for in-class assignments, so you should make sure you are prepared.

Schedule of Classes


January 31 Class Introduction.

February 7 READING DUE: Book I, Chapter 2, from Rhetoric (Aristotle); “Two-Minutes Hate,” from 1984 (Orwell); “The Results of Propaganda,” (Laswell), from Mass Communication and American Social Thought
LECTURE:  Magic Bullets and Hypodermic Needles: The Media’s Power Over the Audience
CLASS SCREENING: “War of the Worlds” episode of Radio Lab

February 14 READING DUE: “Between Media and Mass,” (selection), “The Part Played by People,” and “The Two Step Flow of Communication,” all from Personal Influence (Katz and Lazarsfeld)
LECTURE:  The Two Step Flow and Limited Effects: What the Media Doesn’t Do to the Audience
DRILL AND DISCUSSION: Magic bullets and limited effects; thinking about your own media consumption


February 23 [Please Note: Wednesday class!] READING DUE: “The Audience Measurement Business,” from Ratings Analysis: The Theory and Practice of Audience Research (Webster) and “The Rating Game: Defining the Television Product,” from Television Marketing: Network, Local, and Cable (Potrack)
LECTURE: Introduction to the ratings industry
SCREENING: This Film is not Yet Rated

February 28 READING DUE: “Media Sociology: The Dominant Paradigm,” (excerpt) (Gitlin); “News Coverage of the Gulf Crisis and Public Opinion,” (Iyengar and Simon)
LECTURE: From “What to Think” to “What to Think About”:  Agenda-Setting for the Audience
CLASS SCREENING: Selections from Control Room

March 7 READING DUE: “A Cultural Approach to Communication,” from Communication as Culture (Carey); “Political Ritual on Television,” from Media, Ritual, and Identity (Carey)
LECTURE: Transmission, Ritual, and Calling the Audience Into Being
DRILL AND DISCUSSION: What is a media ritual?

*** March 11: MIDTERM assignments due (by email or in mailbox)***

March 14 READING DUE: “How Twittering Creates a Social Sixth Sense,” (Thompson); “The One-Step Flow of Communication” (Bennet and Mannheim); “The Daily We” (Sunstein)
LECTURE: New Technologies, Fragmentation and Audiences
DRILL AND DISCUSSION: New technology case study: Twitter and the one-step flow


March 21 READING DUE: “On Borrowed Experience: An Analysis of Listening to Daytime Sketches,” (Hertzog); “What Missing the Newspaper Means,” (Berelson) both from Mass Communication and American Social Thought
LECTURE: What People do to Media


March 28 READING DUE: “Traffic Jam,” (Graves); “Tracking the Online Audience,” from Journalism Studies (Rogers);“Sophisticated Web Stats Give Editors Better Idea of Reader Interests,” (Outing);
GUEST LECTURE: D. Lucas Graves, Columbia University
DRILL: Short essay on metrics

April 4 READING DUE: “Encoding / Decoding,” (Hall); excerpts from Reading the Romance (Radway)
LECTURE: Critical Perspectives on the Active Audience
CLASS SCREENING: Excerpts from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The Sopranos”

April 11 READING DUE: “Produsage: Towards a Broader Framework for User-Led Content Creation,” (Bruns); “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars,” from Convergence Culture (Jenkins).
LECTURE: Beyond the Active Audience
DRILL AND DISCUSSION: New technology case study: Youtube and the “prosumption.”



May 2 READING DUE: “The Money Arrow: An Introduction to Audiencemaking” from Audiencemaking: How the Media Create the Audience (Ettema and Whitney); and “Contextualizing Audience Evolution,” from Audience Evolution: New Technologies and the Transformation of Media Audiences (Napoli)


May 9 READING DUE: “Audience Manufacture in Historical Perspective: From Broadcasting to Google,” (Bermejo); “Web Production, News Judgment, and Emerging Categories of Online Newswork in Metropolitan Journalism.” (Anderson)
CLASS SCREENING: Selections from The Social Network

May 16 Review and Conclusion

Final Exam: Time and date TBA

Leave A Comment