The Politics of Information Access - Instructions
201 (Section 53330)
Thursday, 4:00-4:50, 117 Lincoln Hall
Laura Quilter | firstname.lastname@example.org | 996-8974
Veronda Pitchford | email@example.com | 996-2728
Doing a paper?
- Pick out a topic. There are some suggestions below, but don't
limit yourself to them. Feel free to come up with other ideas.
Brainstorm with fellow students if you like. When you've come up with a
topic, think about what you'd like to do with it. Is it doable? Do you
think there's enough information out there on your topic? Or too much
information to digest? Obviously it should be a topic that's interesting
to you, as well as to others. If the topic is really boring it
will be hard to write an interesting paper on it!
Often it helps to frame a topic as a question. If your topic
is a question, then your research provides you the data, you analyze the
data to answer the question, and then you use your paper to tell others
- Write a short (one paragraph) description and discuss with
instructors after class, or visit them at the library (or send by email to
instructors to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com ). This is due by the
beginning of class on September 25.
- Your topic has been approved. Begin to do the research on
the topic. Look for materials on the reading list that are relevant.
Also please do literature searches for other sources -- the reading list
we've given you is by no means meant to be comprehensive. The reference
desks at the library can help you with selecting appropriate databases and
search techniques. And of course you may want to do original research
such as interviews. While you need to have opinions, they should be based
on factual information. You let us know that you have factual information
behind your opinions by referencing your sources, and having several of
them. It's a good idea to have different types of sources, too: books,
journal articles, pamphlets, other types of media, etc.
- Outline your paper. State clearly what your topic is, and
what you plan to do in your paper. Then do it. Many papers work well by
being broken into sections. Some types of papers might flow better as an
extended essay. Look at the information you're trying to convey, and
figure out the style best suited to conveying it. You don't have
to restrict yourself to the traditional style (opening paragraph that sums
up, point 1, point 2, point 3, closing paragraph that sums up again). But
if that's the best format for your work, please use it.
- Begin drafting your paper. Your rough draft is due by the
beginning of class on November 14. You can submit it by email or
as a web page. This should include the major content of your work,
including the basic topic, the conclusions you've reached. Many of your
sources should already be sketched in. We'll look at the papers and give
you feedback. If you also want feedback from other class members or other
people you should check with them at this point.
- Finish writing your paper. Flesh out the sections that
were only sketched out before. Be sure to define any terms that might be
unfamiliar to a reader. Your default audience should be a reasonable
college student who is not familiar with your material. (If you're
writing something aimed at a Martian audience you'd better have a very
good reason!) Use the word that best suits your needs -- get a thesaurus
if you have to -- but don't use words unless you're sure of how to use
them. And don't use big words when small words will do just fine. Don't
use long, complex sentences, but vary your sentence structure. Every
sentence a wanted sentence -- Each sentence should convey essential
information about your research or your views. Your goal is to create a
readable, interesting paper that expresses your research and opinions
Examine your own assumptions! Clearly state any assumptions
you make for the sake of argument. If you write an entire paper founded
on a single false or unexamined assumption you're probably in trouble.
Be consistent. If you are comparing ideas be sure to use the
Be critical and questioning of your data sources. You may wish
to not use work that seems sub-standard to you. Or you may wish to use it
but qualify your use of it.
- Polish your paper. Get someone else to review it for
readability. Be as concise as possible; don't repeat yourself -- and
don't pad your paper by restating things. Check for spelling errors and
grammatical problems. Avoid run-on sentences, comma splices, and the
usual stylistic errors. Make sure your endnotes are in order, and are all
formatted the same way. Make sure all your quotes are endnoted, and all
your cited facts are attributed. If you're attaching a bibliography of
other related readings check through it and make sure it's ok. Give your
paper a title if you haven't already. Add a "thank you" for anyone who's
been especially helpful. After you've done all this, set it aside for a
day or two and then re-read it AGAIN.
Your paper should be 1200-1700 words. These are guidelines not
rules. If you can cover your topic adequately -- and your topic is
appropriate -- in fewer or more words, do so.
- Submit your paper! There, doesn't that feel good? Go do
something fun to reward yourself for all that draining mental labor, and
bask in the glow of accomplishment. Note: If you have problems meeting
any of these deadlines you must discuss it with the instructors in
Don't want to do a paper?
If you wish to do a project of some sort rather than a paper we are not
averse to that, although you need to meet with the instructors to discuss
it well in advance. You would need to present your topic, a plan,
actually do the work, and then produce a report of your work. An example
of a project might include working with a community organization or an
alternative media project. This would be a lot of work but could be
Possible Topic Ideas for Papers
These are only some of many possible topics. Feel free to come up with
others. Also, feel free to bounce topics for papers off the listserve and
the instructors to get feedback. However, individual students must do
different papers - no two topics can be the same.
- media coverage of the Internet over the last few years. Idea:
coverage of the Internet has gone from very positive (the Internet will
democratize, revolutionize) to negative (the Internet will expose our
children to pornographers, and sell us bad shoes)
- analyze a work of fiction (one or more novels or movies or a
tv series) - examine the roles information plays in that work. Is this
the way information really flows? If the society depicted is not
contemporary US society, what aspects of the information-access and
information-flow are similar or different from contemporary US? Is the
future possible? Why or why not?
- "Computers are currently being distributed and used on a
straight class basis in this society." Discuss.
- Difference between an information society and an information
- information as a public good
- information as a commodity
- information as a natural resource
- information as a virus
- do people need privacy?
- the role of luddism in the 21st century
- using filterware (aka "censorware") in a public library
- children's rights to access sexual information vs. right of
parents to control what their children see
- economic censorship: if a major distributor or retailer
refuses to carry something is that censorship? examples: Blockbuster
Video won't carry "The Last Temptation of Christ"; WalMart won't carry
Sheryl Crow's album because of a song
- do a case study of one or more relevant incidents (such as
Blockbuster or WalMart or the Communications Decency Act or the Boston
Public Library filterware issue)
- does free speech mean you have the right to be heard?
examples: anti-abortion demonstrators at a clinic; alternative political
viewpoints on network TV (there were a lot of presidential candidates in
1996, but only two of them got in the national debates; Ralph Nader, for
instance, did not); certain political topics not covered in mainstream
- pick an issue that mainstream media has not covered adequately
and examine uses of alternative media in covering it. was the coverage
successful? helpful? possible examples: (1) Mumia Abu-Jamal (journalist
on Death Row whose commentaries removed from NPR) - his works were
released on Voyager CD-ROM, via the Internet, other alternative venues.
(2) Tibet - China releases a lot of information about Tibet that is
different from those of Tibetans; (3) information about Cuba not very
accessible in the US
- hate speech codes: violation of freedom of speech or
protection of human rights?
- why does the copyright period keep getting extended? whose
interests are benefitting? one rumor has it that Disney strong-armed
Congress to keep Mickey Mouse out of public domain. is there any truth to
- media coverage of "Ellen" coming-out episode
- evolution of "lesbian chic" in the media
- Roswell & alien visitations: government cover-up or crackpot
- critically analyze a media "product" for biases (for example,
a tv series, a news show, a film, a newspaper) - look at ownership,
producers, economic ties, etc.
- art vs. media
- go back & revisit a childhood favorite (movie, book, tv show).
analyze its biases & blind spots, and look at how it shaped who you are
- look at the media coverage of a major contemporary issue: UPS
strike, the Tupac Amaru Peruvian hostage situation (Please don't do
O.J. Simpson; everyone has done that.) Compare and contrast with
coverage of other similar events; consider what coverage would be like if
it were written by a different class of people than middle-class
professionals; or compare coverage from different media sources
(mainstream radio & tv vs. Internet vs. alternative print media).
- write your own extrapolation of the future - a very short
story or description of society - and analyze it. Is it likely? Could we
get there from here? Would we want to? Etc.
- Deconstruct a current advertising campaign. (For instance,
the ABC "yellow" billboard ads.)
- long distance education: can it, will it, should it?
- electronic "town halls" a la Ross Perot's proposal & Cokie
Robert's assertions that the Internet may destroy representative democracy
- the Star Trek communicator - will we have them? (do we want
- the future of news
- Should controversial materials be in a library? Should
factually wrong materials be in a library? "Holocaust-denial" for
example. Differences between public and academic and school libraries?
- Analyze the Unabomber's Manifesto
- Look at a popular publication and compare its content under
different owners, with different editorial policies, or with another
publication directed at the same audience. For instance, a "women's
magazine" such as Cosmpolitan compared with Ms. Or the "girl's magazine"
Sassy before and after ownership. Or ABC's news before and after its
relations with Disney.
- Analyze a recent "Project Censored" story.
- Is there a bias in the mainstream media? Left-wing?
Right-wing? Pro- or anti-business or pro- or anti-capitalist? pro- or
anti-religion? racist? other types of bias? (Be sure to define your
terms -- what constitutes "left wing" or "pro-business.") Do your own
research and tell us your opinion.
- Hackers: good, bad, or fictional?
- home-delivery of video-on-demand
- the Bill Gates plan to take over the world: is this a
good thing? (hint: he's buying lots of CONTENT right now - see
- Purpose of Publishers: distribution of ideas, to selling
content for cash, to creating purchaseable products? or is there another
way of looking at this?