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Journalism 468M: A Model Course

Journalism 468M Syllabus

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Journalism 468M: A Model Course

Annenberg's School of Journalism has in place a course examining the past, present and future of gay and lesbian issues as viewed through the lens of the news media.

The course, Journalism 468M: “The American Press and Issues of Sexual Diversity,” divides the study of these issues into four segments:

  1. The Past: How in the past century the media has covered or failed to cover gays and lesbians, from Oscar Wilde to Ellen DeGeneres, and how coverage has changed through the years.

  2. The Present: The current conditions of media coverage of hot issues: gay marriage, hate crimes, the struggle with the religious right, the changing AIDS story, gays in the clergy and the military, and so on. We analyze case studies and examine the ethical consequences, such as how the press covered the Dr. Laura controversy. We dissect the coverage of all media – mainstream, gay and lesbian, independent and online.

  3. The Future: What are the cutting-edge issues now? What issues are on the horizon? How are they being covered? How should they be covered?

  4. Term Projects: Students are required to examine with critical judgment the media’s coverage of a contemporary issue affecting the gay and lesbian community.

Relation to Diversity

The purpose of the course as outlined is to educate students about the past history and present status of a significant segment of American society that until the second half of the 20th century had been virtually invisible in the popular culture, specifically in the news media, which command extraordinary power as a pulpit of information and communication. Issues involving and affecting gays and lesbians are viewed in this course through a news media lens, first with regard to the omission, discrimination and stereotyping that characterized media attitudes through most of the century, and second as a major contemporary issue played out daily in the nation’s newspapers, magazines, television and radio news broadcasts. Invisibility of this segment of society for the first 60 years of the century (and for centuries prior) has given way to an extraordinary outpouring of controversy and contention as the gay civil rights movement plows into the values of powerful opposing political and religious forces.

Thus, the discussion is often cast in the media as conflict and problem-driven, with extreme arguments and epithets repeated like mantras in the press, creating an environment of disputation that obscures the serious and harder-to-define social and political issues that characterize the emergence of this now-vocal minority. The course examines these issues in an attempt to weed out the rhetoric and “shouting heads” to arm students with the tools to search for context and historical relevance.

As you can note, lectures 1 through 4 involve a 16-hour journey through the 20th century, establishing how, except for incidents of crime, violence, and caricature, gays and lesbian people were excluded from press attention in the first three-fifths of the century. There was in effect a conspiracy of silence in this country on the subject, broken occasionally by scandal or sensation, such as a society drag ball or a work of literature or theater that penetrated the curtain. The hard fought battle to bring the existence of this sub-set of our culture to public attention really began in the late 60s when the issues began to surface in the media. Gradually, painfully, gay and lesbian life “came out” to the extent it could not escape press attention, especially when the visibility prompted backlash. The remaining two-thirds of the course tracks this tumultuous social development through the eyes of the nation’s news purveyors. Those class sessions deal with contemporary issues of religion, education, AIDS, the military, family life---many of the domains that are the battlefronts of what is arguably the most visible civil rights contest of the last decade.

Students are encouraged to challenge accepted wisdom, identify stereotypes from any side, to question un-credentialed statistics and use their critical thinking to critique published material and strive for deeper layers of meaning and understanding. Racial dynamics enter the picture in the sample syllabus in the sessions on AIDS, entertainment, the race-specific class number 7; gender is laced throughout in the unbalanced presence of lesbians in portrayal, the struggle for justice being undertaken by the transgender sub-culture, and the relationship between anti-gay bias and sexism.

Concluding, the news media both reflect and affect attitudes toward all minorities, not the least the traditionally ignored homosexual community, which, it can be argued, remains the one area where public prejudice is still tolerated.

For more information, please view the syllabus and selected student papers.

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