The Comparative Coverage of an Event

Choose a recent event (within the last year) that received a significant amount of news coverage and analyze differences and/or similarities in coverage across three news outlets that have audiences that are both distinctly different from one another and conceptually interesting in their differences.
The primary purpose of this assessment is to demonstrate your ability to apply the course material from MDIA322 and use it to make an argument about about the nature of the news and how that shapes news content.

The choice of event and the news outlets examined are entirely up to the student and those choices are part of the grade. Students should take some time to consider how the event and the differences or similarities of the outlets will help them make an argument and how it will enable them use some aspect(s) of the material from MDIA 322 to explore why the content of the news looks like it does.

In order to encourage the engagement of topics or issues of personal interest, students will be given significant leeway in deciding what constutes an event. However the following parameters, cautions and suggestions should be included in that choice.
An event needs to be something beyond or outside the rountine reporting of news. So the coverage of a common sporting event, such as a rugby test match, is not an event. The coverage of John Key’s notoriously awkward handshake after the World Cup Final, however, worked well as an event. Similarly, routine coverage of Parliament is not an event, but an excellent paper was written about the passage of the bill legalizing gay marriage in New Zealand as an event.
While it is true that nothing happens in isolation, students should avoid picking an event that is deeply embeded within an ongoing issue that gets significant, sustained, or repeated coverage. For that reason I am going to specifically advise against choosing an event that is part of the pandemic, the 2020 New Zealand election, or has anything to do with Donald Trump. Those are indeed profoundly interesting topics, but you will find it much easier to explain the coverage of something that is less interconnected and complex.
Try to pick an event that is in the news for more than a day, but remember that something that generates more than a dozen stories in any one outlet might be too large to analyze in detail. The 2016 crash of LaMia Flight 2933, which killed a Brazilian soccer team, worked well as an event. The 2014 mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight MH370 (which is still getting a bit of news coverage) produced far, far too much coverage for a student to examine in the context of this assignment.

The choice of news outlets is similarly left to the student, with the provision that the outlets must meet the critical elements defining news. Students are reminded that the library has access to several databases of news coverage and it may be worth exploring what is available through those resources. Further notes on this:
Recall from the lectures early in the term that any outlet, conservative or liberal, that does not demonstrate a clear commitment to disseminating timely, relevant and fact-based information does not meet the definition of news and should not be used. On the basis of that academic definition of news, Fox News is not considered to be news and may not be used for this assignment. If you wish to look at a conservative perspective, a reputable business-oriented news outlet, such as the Financial Times, is often a good choice.
The chart of news outlets shown in the the lectures can help inform your selection and students are reminded that the top portion of this chart includes the primary daily newspaper and local television broacasts for most medium and large cities in free press regimes around the world.
Students can use blogs that meet the definition of news as ‘organizations committed to the dissemination of timely, fact-based information’ AND which can be argued to have a professional reputation that is of sufficient value that they would take care to avoid damaging that reputation through poor professional practices. Nate Silver’s 538 is a good example of a blog that meets these criteria.
Students should choose a pair of news outlets that provide a set of similarities and differences that will help them argue a point or demonstrate the applicability of whatever conceptual elements of the course that they wish to employ. Further, students should be able to articulate the logic behind the selection. For example, applying the point that mass audiences will tend toward the centre of their audience’s political leanings, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Denver newspapers have been previously used to explore the differences between slightly conservative, slightly liberal, and reasonably neutral news outlets. A national TV news outlet, a nationally distributed magazine, and the predominant newspaper in a country can be used to examine the effect of differences in format. Newspapers serving different locations can be used to compare the impact of geographic locations and localization to an audience. The possibilities are only limited by what you wish to argue and how best to explore the coverage related to that argument.

Shortly after introducing the thesis and the logic supporting it, students should briefly explain the logic of why the combination of event and outlets was chosen.

An argumentative thesis is essential to this paper assignment and you must structure the essay in the form of an argument. You are explaining something about the content of the coverage and you need to show how the course material enables you to explain, understand or identify things that a casual reader would not see.

322 students are expected to make use of the research articles included as required readings in this assignment. There will also be an expectation that your arguments will focus on the theoretical and conceptual elements of the course, emphasizing the how and why.

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