Writing About News Reporting
(revised 11/22/05)

Visits to all of our field sites in Sociology 215 are meant to do three things:

(1) Encourage you to think about readings and class topics and to use those materials in your discussion of the field experience;
(2) Raise issues for you about participation in community life and political activity and to discuss how engagement and social responsibility, or disengagement and social irresponsibility happen;
(3) Give you field experiences to prepare you for other courses that will have more intensive field experiences, like Anthropology/Sociology 201.

Your paper is not meant to be long. Three or four pages is enough. You also should not try to write about all of the themes given below. Pick your focus, state it, and give lots of description and detail to develop your points.

One of the most important things about the time you spend observing is that you should not be passive. Be involved in activities and, most importantly, talk to people. Try especially to meet people other than the hosts who bring us into the settings. In addition to the main participants in the program (the kids in a school), seek out and talk to some of the people who are more in the background---office people, family members, custodial staff. Look at the questions given for each assignment and ask people in the setting what they think about the issues that are listed.

Writing about news reporting for this class has three objectives

1. Describe the institutional system of the news that you are observing

News organizations like television networks or newspapers are huge and complex organizations in which news collecting and reporting involves a complex division of labor. Whatever you see in your visit certainly is only a part of the whole process. As best you can, tell how a news story is generated from the time it is first conceived, through the process of data collection and writing, to the dissemination of the news through publication or broadcast. See if you can discern anything about how the method of collecting news affects the content of the news (there is a good discussion of this theme in the section of the book HEAT WAVE that deals with the news industry and why it failed to report the heat wave as a dramatic story.)

2. What is news?

Think about the distinction between news and "not-news". What must be present for a series of events to be the sort of thing news reporters would want to work on and what kinds of interesting material would not become news (it might become good sociology as an alternative---why are they different)? This is partly a discussion of why news must be "sold" and what are the requirements for being able to "sell" a story. You also ought to think, however, about the way marketability shapes the "truth" of a story. During the Katrina disaster, for example, we heard a lot about looting when retrospectively it turned out not much of that happened. Why was that such a big story and why did news agencies get that story so wrong? You want to think about how news shapes public opinion, how it is a product of public opinion, and how distortion of "facts" occurs as a result.

3. How do the media shape significant aspects of facets of life that seem separate from the news?

Some people say we live in a world constructed by the media and that in some sense there is no reality except as it is constructed by the media. For example, some would say that our body image, our ideas about gender roles, and our thoughts about appropriate and inappropriate family and sexual behavior have to do with things we see on TV or hear reported on the news. We hear a lot about how politicians "spin" the news to enhance their legitimacy or power. Both of these examples suggest that media both shapes our perceptions and that it is manipulated by self-interested actors to enhance their own interests. Consider whether you see aspects of this in your experience with newsmakers.

Writing

Write a single essay that covers the following points:

1. Write a brief summary of the events you experienced.

2. Talk about people individually, descriptively, and personally.

3. Tell about the events that caught your attention, surprised you, upset you or otherwise produced an emotional reaction. Did you expect something different than what happened? How does the difference between your expectation and the actual events help you to understand the institution?