SPC 490

Topics in Communication:

Chicago Media

Fall 2004. T-TH 2:00 p.m.-3:50 p.m.


Instructor: Dr. Steve Macek                                     Office Hours: MWF 10:30-12 noon;

Campus Phone: 630-637-5369                               and by appointment. 

Home Phone: 630-718-0836                                  Office: Pfeiffer Hall, Room 40

E-mail: shmacek@noctrl.edu

Webpage: http://stephen.macek.faculty.noctrl.edu



Course Description


Though often overshadowed by New York and Los Angeles, Chicago has long been a center of media production for the Midwest and an incubator of media innovation for the rest of the country. This class will examine the history, structure and current state of the city’s major media industries (newspaper and magazine publishing, radio, television and film). We’ll explore Chicago’s dominant media institutions and personalities (the Tribune Co., WGN, WLS, WBEZ, “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” and Oprah, to name only a few) as well as the city’s rich tradition of dissident, labor and ethnic media (WCFL, Studs Terkel, Chicago Defender, the Chicago Reporter, the Chicago Reader, In These Times, Chicago Indy Media, Kartemquin Films, Labor Beat TV etc.). Our emphasis will be on the dialectic (or interplay) between the mainstream media and the media at the margins.  We’ll make a number of fieldtrips into the city to visit some of these media institutions in person and to take in various course-related events (such as the Chicago International Film Festival and the Newberry Library’s fall exhibit on the history of free speech in Chicago). When we’re not on the road, the course will be run as a seminar with students leading discussion of the assigned readings. Students will also be expected to complete a significant research paper and make an oral presentation of their research.


Required readings:  


Nathan Godfried, WCFL: Chicago’s Voice of Labor, 1926-78 (University of Illinois Press, 1997)


Eva Illouz, Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery: An Essay on Popular Culture. (Columbia University Press, 2003)


You’ll also be asked to read a number of book chapters, essays and reports, some of which will be distributed in class and some of which will be available online.


Course Format. This course will emphasize class discussion. I will give a few prepared lectures and we will occasionally watch videos but most of our class time will be devoted to group discussion of course readings and particular media texts. We will also be making several class trips and will be visited by a number of guest speakers.  For class discussion to flow well, you'll have to do the required reading and make an effort to participate. In class discussions, it will be my job to facilitate and keep the conversation flowing.


Class Trips and Guest Speakers. I’ve arranged four field trips related to the themes of the course and I expect you to do your best to attend each one. We’ll be sitting in on a page one meeting at the Chicago Tribune; visiting the Robert McCormick Museum in Wheaton’s Cantigny Park; meeting with a representative from Chicago’s film board (and then, for those who have the time, attending a screening at the Chicago International Film Festival) and taking a tour of an exhibit on the history of free speech struggles in Chicago at the Newberry Library.   You are responsible for your own transportation. I’ll be riding the train in from campus for the three trips we’ll be taking into Chicago. You’re welcome to take the train along with me. Unfortunately, the only way to get to the McCormick Museum is by car. Aside from the cost of transportation to and from Chicago, you should expect to pay $7 (per vehicle) for entrance to Cantigny and roughly $10 to see a movie at the International Film Festival.


I’ve also arranged for two guest speakers to come and speak to us, Larry Duncan of Labor Beat TV and Steve Jajkowski, a leading authority on the history of television in Chicago. Judy Hoffman, a producer and documentary filmmaker who is a member of Kartemquin films, will be visiting campus on a Wednesday or Friday sometime in October to screen a film and talk about her work. You’ll receive extra credit for attending her presentation.


Written Assignments. In this class you’ll be expected to complete three short papers and one long research assignment. In your short papers (each roughly 2-3 pages long) you’ll respond to the arguments of one of the required texts, to a guest speaker or reflect on one of our trips. For the final paper (roughly 12-15 pages long with bibliography) you’ll research a Chicago media institution, personality, program and trend of your choosing. This paper will require library research (and perhaps also some interviews) and you should get started on it by the end of week 7 at the very latest. I will distribute assignment sheets with further specifications for all of these assignments when the time comes.


All writing assignments should be typed or printed in 12 point Times or New York font, double-spaced, have one-inch margins and be stapled together. They should also be relatively free of mechanical and grammatical error. If you write on a computer, be sure to back-up your work. Put your name, the date and the name of the class on all assignments. See the attached Guidelines and Standards for Written Work for more details about the writing assignments. Please note that I am always willing to give you feedback on rough drafts and outlines of your written work. This is especially true of your final papers. 


Electronic Submissions. If you like, you may submit your writing assignments by e-mail. Electronic submissions should arrive in my in-box prior to the listed due date. Send them to me as attachments, preferably in the form of Microsoft Word files. Please don’t send Word Perfect files as I can never open them


Class Presentations. In addition to the four writing assignments, you will be asked to give a short (8-10 minute) oral presentation about the topic you researched for your final paper. This will be a good way for you to both share what you’ve learned with the class and sharpen your thinking about your topic as you put the finishing touches on your papers.


Class Participation and Attendance. It will be extremely difficult for you to do well in this course if you don't come to class. I expect you to attend class regularly, to participate in discussions, to be on time and to stay for the entire session. Your record of attendance and your contributions to class discussion will determine 10% of your final grade. To receive a high score for your participation, you should not only do the reading for class but also come prepared to say something. It might help if you came to class with a list of questions or a passage from the readings you'd like to discuss.


Grades.  Your grade for the course will be based on your short papers, the final paper, your performance as a discussion leader and your attendance and class participation. Each of the short papers is worth 15% of your final grade, the final paper is worth 35%, your presentation counts for 10% and class participation counts for 10%.  On my grading scale, an A is 93% to 100% of the possible points, 90 to 92% is an A-, 87% to 89% is a B+, 83% to 86% is a B, 80% to 82% is a B-, 77% to 79% is a C +, 73% to 76% is a C, 70% to 72% is a C-, 67% to 69% is a D+, 60% to 68% is a D and anything less than 59% is an F.


Below is a breakdown of the points for each assignment or final grade component:


3 short papers @ 150 points                                                            450 points

1 final long paper @ 350 points                                                      350 points

1 class presentation  @ 100 points                                                100 points

Class attendance and participation                                                   100 points



To figure out how you are doing in the course at any time during the term, simply divide the points you've earned so far by the number of points you could've earned.


Late Work. The due dates for each of the writing assignments are clearly listed on the schedule below. Grades on late work will be lowered one letter grade for each week the assignment is overdue. I will not accept late final papers.



Course Schedule


Week 1. Intro, Overview of Chicago Media & The Tribune Co.

Tuesday, Sept. 14. Introduction to Chicago Media.


Thursday, Sept. 16. The Tribune, Robert McCormick and the Chicago Newspaper Scene.

Reading: “Market profile: Chicago” Eileen Davis Hudson (online)

“Colonel Robert R. McCormick,” Robert Smith (online)

“The Colonel and the Lady,” Joseph Epstein (online)

The entries on “Chicago Tribune,” “Chicago Newspapers” and “Chicago Journalism” from the Encyclopedia of Chicago History (online)


Week 2. Tribune continued.

Tuesday, Sept 21. The Tribune Today. 

Reading: Synergy City,” Ken Auletta (to be distributed)

Excerpts from James Squires’ Read All About It!: The Corporate Takeover of America’s Papers (to be distributed)

Tribune Company Annual Report 2003 (online)


Thursday, Sept 23 Field Trip #1.  Sit in on a Page One meeting at the Chicago Tribune. Meet in the lobby at Tribune Tower no later than 3:30. The meeting starts at 4 and usually lasts an hour. We are welcome to hang around afterward and watch the editors layout their pages.


Week 3. The Dissident and Ethnic Press.

Tuesday, Sept 28. Field Trip #2. Meet at class to discuss Tribune visit and depart for trip to Robert McCormick Museum, Cantigny Park in Wheaton at 2:30. Be at the entrance to the museum no later than 3:10 p.m.  

Short Paper #1 due.


Thursday, Sept. 30. News for the Rest of Us.

Reading: “The Chicago Newspaper Scene: An Ecological Perspective,” Jon Bekken (to be distributed)

“A Paper for Those Who Toil: The Chicago Labor Press in Transition, ” Jon Bekken (online)

“A Forgotten Leader: Robert S. Abbott and the Chicago Defender from 1910-1920,” Alan D. DeSantis (online)

“Depression in the ‘Promised Land’: The Chicago Defender Discourages Migration 1929-1940,” Felecia Jones Ross and Joseph McKerns (online)

The entry on “Chicago Defender” from The Encyclopedia of Chicago History (online)

“’The most dangerous of all Negro journals’: Federal Efforts to Suppress the Chicago

Defender During World War I,” Theodore Kornweibel Jr. (to be distributed)


Week 4. Film

Tuesday, Oct 5. Film in Chicago. 

Reading: “‘Almost Worse than the Restrictive Measures’: Chicago Reformers and Nickelodeons” by J.A. Lindstrom (to be distributed)

Entry on “Film in Chicago” in The Encyclopedia of Chicago History (online)


Thursday, Oct 7. Kartemquin Films.

Reading: “Real to reel: The struggle and success of an indie filmmaker” by Noah Isackson (online)

Explore: The Kartemquin website.

Screening: Excerpts from Hoop Dreams and The New Americans


Week 5. Film/Radio

Tuesday, Oct 12. Field Trip #3. Visit to Chicago Film Office/ Chicago International Film Festival. Details forthcoming.


Thursday, Oct 14. Radio in Chicago/The Case of WCFL

Reading: Nathan Godfried, WCFL: Chicago’s Voice of Labor, 1926-1978,  Introduction and Chapter 1.

Entries on “WLS” and “WGN” in The Encyclopedia of Chicago History

Explore: The Chicago Historical Society’s Studs Terkel  website.


Week 6 WCFL

Tuesday , Oct 19 WCFL

Reading: Nathan Godfried, WCFL: Chicago’s Voice of Labor, 1926-1978, Chapters 2-5.


Thursday, Oct 21 WCFL

Reading: Nathan Godfried, WCFL: Chicago’s Voice of Labor, 1926-1978,  Chapters 6-10

Short Paper #2 due.


Week 7 WCFL/Labor Beat TV

Tuesday , Oct 26 Field Trip #4. Visit to Outspoken: Free Speech Struggles in Chicago Exhibit, Newberry Library. Meet at the library entrance at 2:20 p.m. Tour begins at 2:30.  


Thursday, Oct 28  Finish  WCFL/ Begin TV.

Reading: Nathan Godfried, WCFL: Chicago’s Voice of Labor, 1926-1978, Conclusion.

Guest Speaker: Larry Duncan, Labor Beat TV


Week 8 TV

Tuesday, Nov 2. The Chicago School of Television

Reading: “Chicago Television: A History,” Joel Sternberg (online)

“Utopia Out of Place: Studs’ Place, Popular Front Culture and the Blacklist in Chicago Television,” Chad Raphael (online)

“Mapping the Ethereal City: Chicago Television, the FCC and the Politics of Place,” Christopher Anderson and Michael Curtin (online)

“The Puppet Master: Burr Tillstrom and Kukla, Fran and Ollie” from Ted Okuda and Jack Mulqueen, The Golden Age of Chicago Children’s Television (to be distributed)

Explore: Steve Jajkowski’s Chicago Television site and Rich Samuel’s Broadcasting in Chicago site. 

Screening:  Kukla, Fran and Ollie”


Thursday, Nov 4  The Changing Face of Chicago TV

Explore: Steve Jajkowski’s Chicago Television site and Rich Samuel’s Broadcasting in Chicago site.

Guest Speaker: Steve Jajkowski, creator of the “Video Veteran” Chicago Television website and archivist for the Museum of Broadcast Communication.


Week 9. Oprah.

Tuesday, Nov 9. The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Reading: Eva Illouz, Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery, Chapters 1 –4.


Thursday, Nov 11.

Reading: Eva Illouz, Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery, Chapter 5-9. 

Short Paper #3 due.


Week 10. Media Activism in Chicago: The Case of Chicago Media Action’s WTTW study. 

Tuesday, Nov 16.  The WTTW study.

Reading: Read the executive summary and introduction of Chicago Media Action’s study “Chicago Tonight: Elites. Affluence and Advertising.”  Skim the rest and look at the charts. Read the newspaper coverage of the study, WTTW’s ad kit and Jim Kirk’s “Running WTTW into the ground”(all materials online).

Explore: Chicago Media Action’s website 


Thursday, Nov 18. Presentations


Week 11

Tuesday, Nov 23. Final papers are due in my mailbox (or e-mail inbox) no later than 5 p.m.

Guidelines and Standards for Written Work


          All written work must be typed or printed in dark ink, double-spaced, stapled (not paper clipped) together, in 12 point Times or New York font with one inch margins and should have a title page.  It must be responsive to all aspects of the assignment, including length, and should use the Modern Language Association (MLA) system of documentation and style.

            Written work should be relatively free of mechanical and grammatical error.

            Document every reference, including page numbers whenever possible. Refer to a writer’s manual if you need guidance about how to do this.

            Support claims not common knowledge with evidence and conclusions with argument. Take time to plan your papers and devote some time to rewriting them. Always keep a second copy of your work.

            Assume your reader has not taken this course. Define all terms whose definitions are controversial or obscure. Take time to explain the theories you are using. Include as much detail as you need to support your argument. Illustrations (diagrams, storyboards, photographs, photos of still frames, etc.) are always welcome.

            Avoid racist or sexist language and cliches.

            Grades: Failure to follow any of the above guidelines will result in a lower grade. Otherwise, here are my standards:

            An "A" paper demonstrates that the writer has not only mastered the concepts of the course, but has applied them in an original, imaginative and incisive manner. The paper shows a command of the language that allows the writer to express ideas and observations clearly, effectively, in detail and with virtually no mechanical errors. The paper includes adequate documentation. "A"s are reserved for exceptional essays.

            A "B" paper demonstrates that the writer has understood the concepts of the course and has applied them with some originality. The paper shows the writer can organize a coherent essay with few errors. The paper for the most part includes adequate documentation.

            A "C" paper demonstrates that the writer has understood most of the concepts of the course but needs to pay more attention to reading or writing. Documentation is erratic.

            A "D" paper demonstrates that the writer has only a minimal understanding of the concepts of the course. Significant gaps in the writer's comprehension indicate the need for more study. The paper shows the writer's basic compositional skills are below satisfactory. Documentation is unsatisfactory.

            A "F" paper demonstrates that the writer has little, if any, understanding of the concepts of the course. Because of the writer's lack of skill or concern, the work includes gross errors as well as a lack of content. Documentation is negligible. The paper may also fail to address parts of the assignment.

            A paper may combine characteristics of different levels of work. In that case, the grade will depend on the paper's overall demonstration of knowledge of the material and of college writing skills.

            Please see me if you have questions about my standards or about any of your grades for the course.