Choosing Textbooks for “Mass Communication & Society”

Choosing Textbooks for “Mass Communication & Society”

I didn’t manage to blog last week, and this week’s post is going to be a bit different; it’s probably most relevant to my fellow journalism and media educators. I’ve been struggling with the question of which readings to assign for my introductory course called “Mass Communication and Society” (admittedly not the title I’d choose), which is a course enrolling about 100 students per semester and that I’ve taught in various iterations at three institutions for the last six (six! wow – time flies) years.

Here’s our course description at CSU Fresno:

Examines the political, economic, cultural, and behavioral impacts of mass media in national and international contexts. Analyzes the historical factors that have shaped the structures, practices, and products of mass media industries, and assesses contemporary trends in media-society relations. G.E. Breadth D3.

That “G.E.” bit at the end means this is also a general education course that satisfies graduation requirements beyond just those of majors in our department – so the course needs to be of interest, and ideally lasting value, to students who may never take another media or journalism course.

The book selection project.

One of the biggest challenges for me in teaching this course has been choosing readings that are contemporary, interesting, well-written and thoughtful. I have skipped around among textbooks in my six years of playing with this course: from Media/Impact by Shirley Biagi when I taught at a community college, to Media Today by Joseph Turow when the course was required to have a more media economics focus, to The Media of Mass Communication by John Vivian in my first year at Fresno State, and then to Media Literacy by W. James Potter this year.

I’ve just never been satisfied with any of these books, though the Potter textbook has come the closest to fulfilling my hopes. I like its focus on timeless media literacy skills that will be applicable regardless of the evolution of media in the coming years, and I like its rather critical approach to media overall. But its writing style is not especially compelling to students, and it’s a bit heavy on media effects and employs a specialized terminology that I think overwhelms students, especially early on in the semester when that material is covered.

Inspired by this post by Joshua Kim at Inside Higher Ed, I started thinking more about how I could use popular nonfiction to bring both breadth and depth to this course, while also allowing myself a chance to catch up on major nonfiction relevant to my field that I could explore with my students. So then the question became: which books?

Given that incredibly broad course description, it might seem I could choose just about anything. But here’s the list I’ve come up with, and the rough order in which I might use the books this semester:

Look like a lot of books? It’s about 1,800 pages, which averages out to about 60 pages per class session (and only $59 for all used copies). I think it’ll be manageable, and all of these books are written in language that should be accessible to most freshmen and sophomores. I also like that most of these books have gotten enough public attention that I can find ample articles, videos and interviews online to supplement our class discussions.

Have a suggestion of a book I should substitute or subtract? A resource that would complement one of these? I’m looking forward to keeping this class on the cutting edge by exploring these texts next fall.

8 Replies to “Choosing Textbooks for “Mass Communication & Society””

  1. Hello — I’m teaching a Mass Media and Society class for the first time this fall. Choosing a text is tough. Are you familiar with Mass Communications-living in a media world by Ralph Hanson??
    I like your idea of using one of those nonfiction books.
    Have you given any thought to The Dumbest Generation or Socialnomics (how social media transforms the way we live and do business)
    Would like to brainstorm with you further, particularly about interesting student projects.
    Thanks for the blog!

    1. Good luck with your new class! I have seen the Hanson book, and just never have felt happy with any of the textbooks. I think they’re too focused on media history and the vocational aspects of the media, and perhaps not enough on a critical perspective on media that I feel students need today. The one that comes closest for me is Media and Culture by Campbell, Martin and Fabos.

      I came across The Dumbest Generation in my search, but didn’t look at it in detail. The title put me off and could offend students too – but maybe that would be a good starting point for discussion! I have not looked at its content. I wasn’t interested in Socialnomics because it is more business-focused, rather than looking at cultural changes – which I’m more interested in. Business students would probably like it, though.

      Let me know what you end up deciding!

  2. I’ve been using Media Now!: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology
    By Joseph Straubhaar, Robert LaRose, Lucinda Davenport for my Interactive Communication Forms class. It seems to do a good job with the problem areas you have described. Probably worth checking out, though I do like the concept of using popular non-fiction. Not only does it bring home the concepts, but it gets students into the habit of reading books.

    1. Interesting! Thanks for the tip. I like your point about getting students into the habit of reading books; I don’t think popular nonfiction is a genre they really consider reading much, so maybe this will indeed get them rolling on a career of reading. That would be great.

  3. Hi Susan….you made my night reading about the popular nonfiction you are going to use in your teaching. I put Ad Nauseam: A Survivor’s Guide to American Consumer Culture on my Amazon wish list (I wish Audible had a version)…I’ve read and really enjoyed most of your other choices.

    Will be very interested to hear how this works out for you. I find it an uphill cultural struggle to include popular nonfiction in our syllabi.

    Thanks again….glad I found you online. Josh

    1. Hi Josh! Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for inspiring me to get going on this new approach to teaching my course. It will be a fun experiment. I’m looking forward to delving into the books this summer, and will report back on the experience here.

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