J201 – Spring 2018 – Research Paper #1: Newspaper Analysis
New note: You may use first-person, as long as the paper is still academic (“I argue such-and-such…”). If it doesn’t work, your peer reviewers can let you know to change it for the next draft.
This assignment requires you to compare and contrast coverage from two different newspapers on one of the four stories listed below, having to do with campus unrest at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your essay must critically assess the similarities and differences in coverage between the newspapers on your chosen topic, with an academic audience in mind. That means that you won’t be giving your own opinion, but you will come up with your own argument, or thesis.
1. News Topics
Focus your essay around coverage of one of these stories:
- October 1967 – protests against Dow Chemical
- December 1968-February 1969 – Demands by black students and boycott of classes
- August 1970 – Sterling Hall bombing
- April 1972 – Madison riots
Your essay should have a focused argument, or thesis, with evidence to support it.
In section, you and your TAs will be discussing how to craft a good thesis. Your argument will come from the sources, rather than the other way around. (Meaning, do your research with an open mind, then decide on your argument.)
3. Requirements for both drafts
- 1400-1600 words
- Times New Roman, 12pt font, double-spaced
- A title
- A clearly stated thesis that is underlined in your text
- Evidence to support your thesis
- APA style for in-text citations and reference list
- A heading that is formatted like this at the top-left of your paper and has all the same components:
J201 – Section 307
February 22, 2018
Word Count: 1565
- Appendix that includes copies of the newspaper articles you’re citing in your paper. Keep in mind that Turnitin only allows you to submit one document, so you’ll want to combine all your materials into one file, as a single PDF or Doc.
- Readings and lectures, especially from Weeks 2 and 3, should inform your work and be cited in your paper. You may also consult additional outside sources (meaning, in addition to the newspaper articles) as long as you include them in your reference list and give proper citation.
First draft is due to Turnitin and to your peer reviewers by email on Thursday, February 22nd by midnight. (Your TA will assign peer reviewers during Week 4.)
Final draft is due to Turnitin on Thursday, March 8th by midnight.
This assignment requires you to compare and contrast coverage from two different newspapers on one of the four stories listed above. Use the Library Research Guide to learn how to find articles.
It’s possible to do this assignment well with your research entirely online. Not all newspapers are digitized, though, including the UW-Madison student newspapers, so some of you may wish to visit the libraries in person to look at microfilm. Your options are detailed in the Library Guide.
Keep in mind that a news story is rarely confined to a single article. You are likely to see news articles, columns, editorials, letters, and other content about the story over a period of time. So be sure you are comparing apples to apples when comparing and contrasting two newspapers. For example, a letter to the editor in one newspaper should not be directly compared to a news article in another. You’ll want to demonstrate that you understand the different elements of a newspaper and types of coverage.
After you’ve read enough to learn the context of the event being covered, narrow down your selection to about three to five articles from each of the two newspapers you’ve selected. You’ll include copies of these articles as an appendix to your drafts. Then do close readings of your articles to come up with your specific topic and argument.
An argument typically answers a question. For example, for this essay, you might ask:
- Was the news coverage fair?
- Accurate? Transparent? Use your readings and lecture notes to help you determine what makes for fair coverage. Was the story put in context? What sources were used and how does this shape the coverage? Are there differences in facts between the stories?
- What is the big picture the newspaper is conveying with their coverage?
- In other words, are they presenting it a as a story of a riot? Of an attempt for social justice? Of a battle between police and protesters? Something else?
You will not answer all of these questions in your essay, and you can come up with your own question to answer. We encourage you to be creative and take intellectual risks with your thesis! (If the risk doesn’t work, you can always try a different approach in the next draft.) There’s no one right way to approach this essay as long as you meet those requirements listed in section 3.
6. Close Reading
A close reading means you’ll analyze, among other aspects of coverage, the language used, the quotes selected, the sources, the order of information. Drawing from two different newspapers and noting the differences and similarities should help you determine what aspect of the news coverage you’d like to focus on. For instance, maybe you want to make an argument about straight news in a conservative versus liberal paper. Maybe you’ll want to situate your paper in a question about race by looking at a white newspaper and a black newspaper. You might find you want to make an argument about specific language, or about sources, or about fairness.
To that end, you may consider some of the following questions when critically assessing the articles:
- What is the purpose of the piece?
- To inform the public, to offer analysis, to investigate, to create a public forum?
- What kind of article is this?
- Is it an editorial or a news article? Straight news or news analysis? (Keep in mind it might not be labeled.) If it’s news, is it from the AP or UPI wire services, or is it a reporter for that newspaper? If it’s AP or UPI, in what other newspapers did this article appear at the same time and in what ways was it altered? Are there differences in headlines? If so, what can you conclude about the way the editors of that paper are shaping their coverage?
- What kind of newspaper is this?
- Daily? Weekly? Local? National? Were its editorials generally thought to be conservative or liberal? Is it a black newspaper or a white newspaper? Is it a student newspaper and if so, do its editorials lean conservative or liberal? Are any of these factors shaping coverage?
Again, you should NOT answer all of the above questions in your essay, and instead should have a focused argument, or thesis, with tailored evidence, but these can help get you started.
Library Research Guide: