Final take-home exam prompts

Select one prompt below as the basis for your essay. Then write an essay of 750-1000 words in response to the prompt. Your essay should have a thesis or at least a clear theme, an introduction, a body and a conclusion. You do not need to include a reference list, but you should indicate what sources and ideas from class you are drawing on: use words in the text to name the authors of readings or ideas.

The best essays will be both rich and synthetic. Richness means that an essay contains many different course concepts, accurately described and creatively applied to the examples in your text. Synthesis means that you show how ideas are connected and related to one another: either their commonalities or ways in which they are in tension or conflict.

  1. As we learned in class, George Gerbner’s chief concern was the “common cultural environment,” and the fact that (by the 1960s) that environment was increasingly constructed not in churches, families and communities, but by television. The conclusions he drew about the effects of this were mostly pessimistic: that people would develop misinformed and mostly negative views of the world (the “mean world syndrome”), and withdraw from it. In your essay, make a case for how we should understand the common cultural environment—or environments—today. What makes up the common cultural environment for citizens today? (Is there one? More than one?) What media convey the cultural environment? What kinds of messages are most dominant? What effects does today’s cultural environment have on citizens? Are you more optimistic today than Gerbner was decades ago?


  1. One theme of our class, from our discussion of the cave paintings of Lascaux and Chauvet on the very first day, has been the idea that human beings innately tell stories about themselves and the world around them. The media and techniques we use to tell those stories change, however. When archaeologists of the future, 10,000 years from now, discover our media devices and their content—with all of the journalism, advertising, social messages flowing across newspapers, books, televisions, iPhones, laptops, etc.—what will they think? What kinds of conclusions will they draw about this society that may seem as foreign to them as the cave-dwellers do to us now?


  1. Imagine you are hosting exchange students who are visiting the United States to study journalism. They are from a very different place from the United States, and they are pretty puzzled by the content they encounter when watching television, listening to the radio, surfing the internet and checking on social media. They’re especially confused by how difficult it is to tell what is true, and how many different people seem to want to convince them of things that are either not true or not exactly true—they see this in advertising, in news, in politics. Write a letter explaining American media to them, and suggesting what they can do to navigate this challenging system.


According to PolitiFact, the 2016 election was a “bridge to fake news”. The polarized environment toward the candidates and their emotional supporters “gave rise to a spreading of fake news with unprecedented impunity”, PolitiFact said. Facebook in particular was accused of ignoring the fact that fake news had spread widely on its platform, and starting in late 2016 started to take steps to fight fake news.

What has your experience of fake news been like? Have you noticed it in your social media networks, or in other spaces? What fake news stories did you see? How did you come across it? How did you feel about it?

What about efforts to mitigate fake news? Have you noticed what Facebook and others have been doing to fight fake news? Do you have the sense that it is working? How important is it anyway?

Your writing should conform to the usual short writing assignment guidelines (500 words, uploaded to turnitin by your section time during the week of May 1).

Exam 2 Study Guide

Overview of content for exam

  • Lecture material from weeks 7 through 14 (NOTE: There is only one lecture in Week 7, and one in Week 14)
  • Required readings from weeks 7 through 14
  • Professor Hernando Rojas’ guest lecture on persuasion
  • Professor Lew Friedland’s guest lecture on the journalistic ecosystem
  • Professor Young Mie Kim’s guest lecture on political advertising
  • Professor Karyn Riddle’s guest lecture on media effects
  • Professor Hemant Shah’s guest lecture on cultural studies

Format of exam

The exam will take place on Friday, April 21, in lecture. Arrive a few minutes early to be ready to start at 9:55. The exam will include a combination of multiple choice, fill in the blank, and short answer. Please bring a pen or two.

Key concepts and areas for study

This list does not include every detail you may be asked for. It is an outline of key areas and concepts. In your studying, it may be helpful to consult with peers about the details of each concept. (It also does not include all concepts from readings and guest lectures. Some concepts from readings and guest lectures are noted below; but this does not mean that others will not appear on the exam.)

You are most responsible for understanding key concepts and arguments, and being able to explain them and apply them to various contexts. You will not be tested on minute details of the topics.

  • Purposes of strategic communication (commercial, political, social)
  • Major periods in advertising, including late 19th-century, postwar (post-WWII); 60s and 70s, and today
  • Ongoing changes and challenges in advertising
  • 5-step strategic thinking
  • Surveys, focus groups and observation/ethnography, and tradeoffs of representativeness and detail
  • Different kinds of strategic goals: in terms of beliefs, attitudes, and (different kinds of) behaviors
  • Target marketing
  • Market segmentation and demographics, geographics, psychographics and behaviors
  • Ways of characterizing consumers—PRIZM and VALS
  • “Aperture”
  • “right time” in terms of time of day, seasonal, special events, associated content and other ads
  • Ratings and shares—and how to calculate them (you may be given a problem with actual numbers requiring simple division)
  • Considerations in creative message creation
  • Matching messages to audiences in terms of needs, self-conception and aspirations
  • High/low involvement products
  • Head vs. heart appeals; impulse appeals
  • ROI
  • Formal elements of visual (print) ad design
  • Critiques of advertising: 6 elements
  • Strategic communication in politics
  • Market research in politics: polling
  • Frank Luntz and the “art of listening”
  • Varieties of political ads: positive, attack, defense,
  • “Magic bullet” perspective; 2 major studies (Payne Fund and Cantril)
  • War of the Worlds broadcast: the event and its significance
  • Two-step flow perspective; 2 studies; Opinion leaders; Idea of social context mediating media messages’ effects
  • Critical theory: Frankfurt school and historical context; importance of power in this perspective
  • Cultural Studies; Stuart Hall; Representation; Resistance
  • “Common cultural environment” and how it is presented, both traditionally and through mass media
  • The rapid adoption of television
  • “Dosage” and how much television dosage most Americans have
  • The idea of perceptions of the world being affected by a “common cultural environment”
  • Perceptions of sexual behaviors, people of other race, the world as a scary place as result of cultivation
  • Possible behaviors and other outcomes, including political outcomes, as a result of cultivated perceptions
  • The idea that cultivation’s concepts could be applied to other media besides television

Short Writing Assignment #4

Last week, we focused on some of the techniques of political advertising. We learned about some of the ways in which political advertisers learn about their audiences, select targets, and craft messages. Professor Kim also described some of her research on micro-targeting based on large amounts of data collected digitally. (If you would like to learn more about this research, you can do so here:

In your 500-word short writing, reflect on the political advertising you have seen recently. Where do you typically encounter political advertising? (Television? Facebook? Browsing web pages? Radio?) Have there been any political messages that you especially noticed? If so, why?

What about targeting? Have you received any messages that you suspect might have been tailored just for you because of something Facebook, or a web provider knows about you? How do you feel about the sense that you might have been targeted in that way?

Almost all of us saw at least some political ads during the election campaign in 2016; but what about now? Are you still seeing political advertising? If so, in what way is it similar or different from what you were seeing in the fall?

Your writing should conform to the usual short writing assignment guidelines (500 words, uploaded to turnitin by your section time during the week of April 10).

Extra Credit Opportunity #6

You are invited to participate in a research study about how people judge leadership suitability of political candidates. If you decide to participate, you will view an excerpt from a gubernatorial campaign speech and answer questions about leadership suitability, and complete demographic questions.

You can earn extra credit in J201 in exchange for your participation. This study should take about 15 minutes to complete. If you do not wish to participate in this research study but still want to receive extra credit, please send an email to H. Gill, at, and an alternative research presentation will be arranged.

To participate, click on the link below.


H. Gill  (

Michael Wagner (

Media Analysis Essay #2

For this assignment, you need to select a print advertisement. We highly recommend full-page advertisements in print magazines, but other print ads can work as well. (Don’t use an online ad.)

Your task is to assess the effectiveness of the advertisement, paying close attention to its likely purpose, its context (the media product it appears in), its content, and its likely target market.

You should make a case about what the aim of the ad was, and whether it achieved that aim. You should thus consider the questions:

  • Where was it placed? Why was it placed there?
    • To learn about the magazine the ad appeared in, look for the magazine’s media kit, which will contain information about the audience of the magazine
  • What was its intended function? Why do you think this?
    • This will require a little bit of detective work: consider thinking about the nature of the product being advertised, and whom the marketers might be trying to reach.
  • How well does the ad perform that function? What is your evidence for this?

One challenge of advertisement analysis today is that advertising campaigns are spread over a variety of media. Consider looking at the broader context of the campaign of which your ad was a part; you might mention how your ad was like, or unlike, others in the campaign in your essay.

In your analysis, use at least two outside sources in the development of your argument. Outside sources include further readings and guest lectures but not required readings or Prof. Wells’ lectures. In choosing the articles to help you analyze this ad, remember: you don’t have to agree with the authors of the articles you use, but you have to show that you understand how those authors would interpret the advertisement you’ve chosen.

Your essay should be about 1500 words, uploaded to turnitin by 5:00pm on Friday, April 14. When you turn in your paper to your TA, include a photocopy of your advertisement. If color plays an important part in the ad, make it a color photocopy.

Extra Credit Opportunity #5

The School of Journalism is very lucky to have a major Center for Journalism Ethics as part of our department. Each year, the Center hosts a conference on the ethics of journalism, and this year promises to be a big deal. The topic is Truth and Trust in journalism, and there are several major national figures coming (especially Margaret Sullivan, formerly the NYTimes’ Public Editor, now at the Washington Post).

The conference happens on March 31, which is Friday 3 weeks from today, in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building.

You can earn extra credit for attending.

If you would like to attend, you should sign up for one or more sessions you plan to come to. Do that with this link:

(Don’t use the regular registration link!)

You can sign up to attend as many sessions as you like, but you can only get a total of .5 points of extra credit for attending. As always,  in addition to signing up here, and signing in at your session, write a few sentences about what you saw and heard in your extra credit log to be turned in at the end of the semester.