COMM 102: Communications Today

Morgan Schwartz

office: Nugent 560, Room A
tel: 1-212-774-4865
email: mschwartz AT mmm DOT edu

FALL 2009

Section 02 Tuesday/Thursday, 5:50 - 7:10 pm

Classroom: Nugent 557


Course Description

Communication Today introduces you to the world of communication media in a myriad of forms. We will study various media, explore our interactions with them and come to a greater understanding of their influence on our social and personal environments. We will focus on two concepts: 1) finding the “me” in media, and 2) sampling from the “media buffet.” The first involves analyzing our personal media experiences through discussion and reading and writing assignments. The second concept refers to the field trips we will take throughout the semester to visit selected exhibitions and examine their form and function.

Learning Goals

By the end of the course, you will have:

  • a familiarity with current issues in the field of communications and media
  • been exposed to and reflected critically on the media environment of New York
  • developed critical abilities in reading and responding to popular press and scholarly articles about communication, technology and media issues
  • demonstrated skill in writing personal narrative essays and critical analyses
  • improved research and public speaking skills

Texts and Trips

Readings will be distributed in class or posted on the class website. Some of the trips entail an admission fee. Always carry your student ID card.


Written work is graded on how completely and creatively you have fulfilled the assignment. Carefully proofread your work so that it is free of spelling and grammatical errors.

- Unless clearly noted, I will only accept hard copies. End of story. -

- Assignments lose one grade for each week they are late. -

- I will not accept any work after the last class. -

Essays (40% of your final grade)

Complete four essays of 1200 – 1500 words each on the following topics (that’s about 4 – 5 double-spaced pages, Times New Roman, 12pt font, 1-inch margins ... I know the tricks):

  1. Analysis of a Print Advertisement, (due 9/29/09)
  2. Photography in My Life (due 10/20/09)
  3. Electronic Communication in My Life (due 11/17/09)
  4. The Television Interview (due 11/30/09)

Although you are not required to do so, you may choose to conduct additional research (online or otherwise) and include your findings in your essays. Be sure to cite your sources.

If it appears that students are not conscientiously reading the assigned selections, unannounced quizzes may be given.

Field Trip Responses (20% of your final grade)

Complete a 250 word response to each field trip and submit it to the appropriate thread on the class website before the following class - I have access to the exact time your response was submitted, anything after 5:50pm is late. Your response should take into consideration what has been written before you on the thread - think of it as a conversation. Repetition of what has already been said is discouraged. Responding to what has already been said, as well as adding new insights, is encouraged. You can use this word count tool to make sure your response is the appropriate length.

Oral Presentation (20% of your final grade)

Prepare a 5-6 minute presentation based on a biography or autobiography of an important media figure. You should focus not on the subject’s personal life, but on his or her contribution to the media landscape and the field of communications.
You must submit your topic for approval by 11/10/09.

Attendance & Participation (20% of your final grade)

There will be frequent in-class discussions of the readings, writing assignments and field trips. Your grade for participation will reflect both the quantity and quality of your contribution, i.e., how much input you offer, and the relevance of that input.

Excellent attendance and promptness are expected. Grades are subject to being lowered for poor attendance, lateness and not handing work in on time.


Students with disabilities who require reasonable accommodations or academic adjustments for this course must either enroll in the Program for Academic Access or register with the Office of Student Support Services. For any accommodation, the instructor must be presented with either a letter from the Assistant Director of the Program for Academic Access or an Accommodations Card from the Office of Student Support Services during the first week of classes.

Academic Honesty Policy

MMC fosters an academic community where students and faculty work together to create a learning experience that imparts knowledge and forms character. To achieve this, the College requires all members of the community to adhere to the policy of Academic Honesty that can be found in the Student Handbook, the College Catalogue and on the College website.


(subject to change)

09/08 Tuesday

  • Introduction, course design, etc.

09/10 Thursday

  • FIELD TRIP – Go to both of the following locations by the next class session and post a field trip report.
    • The Morgan Library & Museum
      225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street - $8.00 student admission
      Be sure to see the main room of the original library (and try to figure out where the hidden stair case is) and examine closely the special exhibit, “Pages of Gold: Medieval Illuminations from the Morgan.” This exhibit is open only until Sept. 13 so you’ll have to get their asap.
    • The New York Public Library
      Fifth Avenue and 42nd. Street – free
      Be sure to visit the periodical room, the map room and the circulation rooms on the top floor. Take a good look at the murals in the hallway on the top floor and be prepared to discuss the meanings of the images on the ceilings and walls. Very important - find Winnie the Pooh!!

09/15 Tuesday

09/17 Thursday

  • FIELD TRIP New Museum
    Emory Douglas: Black Panther July 22, 2009 - October 18, 2009
    235 Bowery, just south of Houston Street – student admission $8.00

    Spend most of your time examining the exhibition on the second floor: “Emory Douglas: Black Panther.” Consider how the work being exhibited wan intended to achieve political objectives and social change. Are you familiar with any comparable publications today? What would be today’s equivalent to these publications?

09/22 Tuesday

  • topic: Advertising
  • discuss field trips
  • due: field trip post - New Museum
  • read for today:
    • "When Sex isn't Sexy" by the girls of 3iYing (Cat Small, Jane Mai, Evelyn Lieu Rachelle Bowers, Heidi Dangelmaier, Dianne Blanchard) [link]

09/24 Thursday

  • topic: Advertising
  • read for today:
    • "Truth in Advertising" by Leslie Savan DOC
    • "Antidotes 1-5" by Shenk DOC

09/29 Tuesday

10/01 Thursday

  • FIELD TRIP Brooklyn Museum
    200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn - $6 for students with ID
    Reflections on the Electric Mirror: New Feminist Video May 1, 2009–January 10, 2010

10/06 Tuesday

10/08 Thursday

10/13 Tuesday

  • topic: Photography
  • discuss field trips
  • due: field trip post
  • read for today:

10/15 Thursday

  • FIELD TRIP International Center for Photography
    1133 Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave.) & 43rd Street – Students $8.00
    Dress Codes: The Third ICP Triennial of Photography and Video October 2, 2009–January 17, 2010

10/20 Tuesday

  • topic: Electronic Communication - Politics, Discuss 3rd essay assignment
  • discuss field trips
  • due: "Photography in My Life”
  • due: field trip post
  • read for today:

10/22 Thursday

10/27 Tuesday

  • topic: Electronic Communication - Social Media
  • read for today:

10/29 Thursday

11/03 Tuesday

  • topic: Electronic Communication - Attention Economy, Discuss oral report assignment
  • discuss field trips
  • due: field trip post
  • read for today:

11/05 Thursday

11/10 Tuesday


11/12 Thursday

11/17 Tuesday

  • topic: Television News Coverage, Discuss 4th essay assignment
  • discuss field trips
  • due: Oral Report Topic
  • due: field trip post
  • due: "Electronic Communication in My Life"
  • read for today:

11/19 Thursday

11/24 Tuesday

  • topic: The Future of Media
  • discuss field trips
  • due: field trip post
  • read for today:

11/26 Thursday

No Class, Thanksgiving

12/01 Tuesday

  • topic: Semester Recap
  • due: "The Television Interview"

12/03 Thursday

  • FIELD TRIP Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum
    91st Street and Fifth Avenue - $10 for students with ID
    Design for a Living World May 14, 2009–January 4, 2010
    Design USA: Contemporary Innovation October 16, 2009–April 4, 2010

12/08 Tuesday

  • due: field trip post
  • due: Oral reports – continue for following sessions.

12/10 Thursday

  • due: Oral reports

12/15 Tuesday


12/17 Thursday

  • due: Oral reports - LAST CLASS
leslie-savan_truth-in-advertising.doc1.7 MB
david-shenk_Antidotes-1-5.doc2.92 MB
Susan-Sontag_Platos-Cave.pdf1.28 MB


You can use this tool to check your word count.

Analysis of a Print Advertisement, due 09/29/09
1200 - 1500 words (4-5 pages, double-spaced)
Choose an ad from a magazine and analyze both the copy and the image. What is shown, and why? How do the words and pictures serve to encourage using this product? What seems to be the desired effect of the ad? In your opinion, does the ad achieve its desired effect? Identify the target audience of both the source magazine and the ad. Is there a difference between the two? Would the target audience react differently than the general population? Would anyone be put off by this ad, i.e. does it not appeal to, or alienate, a certain segment of the population? Compare it to other ads for the same type of product. Please attach a copy of the ad to your essay, and try to avoid spending too much time describing it. You might consider using a historical ad from Duke's Ad*Access Project.

Photography in My Life, due 10/20/09
1200 - 1500 words (4-5 pages, double-spaced)
Discuss the history of your interaction with photography. Who took the pictures in your family? How were they stored and displayed? What was your relationship to them? Did you take your own photographs? What was recorded (vacations, holidays, scenes of everyday life)? What are your earliest memories of photographs? What would an independent observer learn from an examination of your/your family’s photographic record? What did the photographer intend in the taking of the photographs, and what is actually accomplished? Has your relationship to photography changed over time? What is the difference between photographs and other methods of recording history (video, audio recording, writing, retelling)?

Electronic Communication in My Life, due 11/17/09
1200 - 1500 words (4-5 pages, double-spaced)
Discuss the role electronic communication has played in your life. How do you stay in contact with friends and family? What has changed in you, and in the world, since you first learned to talk on the telephone? Have your preferences evolved along with the technology you use to interact? Do you use different methods for different people? Are the rules different depending on what method you choose? Do you "archive" your answering machine messages, voice mails, emails, instant messages, etc.? Have you inherited or acquired any of these behaviors, or did you develop them on your own?

The Television Interview, due 11/30/09
1200 - 1500 words (4-5 pages, double-spaced)
Choose a person over fifty-five years of age, or one born outside the U.S. Interview that person about his or her experience with television. Here are some questions you might ask, but please feel free to come up with many more on your own. What is his earliest memory of television? How does that differ from what she sees today? How have his viewing habits changed? What are some television milestones she recalls? Who does he typically watch television with? Present the interview in the form of a report or an article, not as a question & answer session.

Final Presentation
Prepare a 5-6 minute presentation based on a biography or autobiography of an important media figure. You should focus not on the subject’s personal life, but on his or her contribution to the media landscape and the field of communications. You are free to use any and all media – photographs, recordings, the internet, etc. – to supplement your presentation. Please submit your topic for approval (title and author of book) by 11/17/09.

You will be graded on your presentation's effectiveness - how informative, organized and relevant it is - as well as how successfully you answer questions about the material.