Interpreting the Day’s News (JRNL 1150)

The Media in the Age of Trump

Syllabus and Online Reading List
Summer One 2017
Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11:40 a.m. to 1:20 aper.m.

Skip to the week-by-week schedule.

Dan Kennedy
139 Holmes Hall
Office phone: (617) 373-5187
Cell phone: (978) 314-4721
Email: dan {dot} kennedy {at} northeastern {dot} edu (best way to reach me)
Class website:
Office hours: Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. and by appointment


Interpreting the Day’s News offers an introduction to journalism, the news media and the role of the free press in a democratic society. This special edition of Interpreting the Day’s News will focus on the unique challenge to journalism posed by President Donald Trump.

On the one hand, Trump has uttered falsehoods at a rate previously unseen in presidential politics, described journalism he doesn’t like as “fake news,” castigated news organizations as “the enemy of the American People” and threatened to make it easier for public officials to sue for libel. On the other hand, Trump remains popular with the voters who elected him, and deep public distrust of the media ensures that his anti-press rhetoric will continue to receive a friendly reception among tens of millions of Americans.

By the end of this semester, you will have followed and analyzed media coverage of Trump; read or viewed some of the more important pieces of journalism regarding Trump and the media; heard from a range of guest speakers from the worlds of journalism and politics; and had an opportunity to express your own views as to whether President Trump represents a unique threat to journalism’s role or, rather, has been unfairly treated by biased news organizations.

Requirement reading for this class

There are no textbooks for Interpreting the Day’s News, but there is a considerable amount of assigned reading. The most important part of that reading is a good daily newspaper that you keep up with on a regular basis. I am requiring you to sign up for a free digital subscription to The Washington Post, one of our great national newspapers and a vital source of information about President Trump and his administration. Be sure to use your .edu email address. Instructions are online here.

As a resident of the Boston area, you should consider subscribing to The Boston Globe, which is our leading source of regional and local news. The Globe covers national politics as well, and its perspective on the Trump administration offers a contrast (although perhaps not much of one) to that of the Post. A digital subscription to the Globe is inexpensive and well worth it.

You’ll also find links to articles, video and audio here in the syllabus. I will post additional links on the class blog as topics for discussion come up. You will need to keep up with what is on the class blog on a daily basis. You can sign up for email delivery, read it through an RSS aggregator such as Feedly or simply make a note to check it at the same time every day — especially on the mornings of class days.

Finally, I’ve posted a number of links to journalism- and ethics-related websites in the blogroll. You should familiarize yourself with them so that you understand what they have to offer.

School of Journalism attendance policy

The School of Journalism requires that you attend at least 80 percent of all scheduled class meetings. If you miss 20 percent or more of scheduled classes for any reason, you will have failed to meet an important requirement of the class. Every absence will have some effect on my assessment of your class participation, which will be factored into your final grade.

Rules of the road

  • On-time performance. Each class will begin at 11:40:00 a.m., usually with a brief discussion about an issue that’s in the news. These opening segments can pop up on quizzes and tests. Please be on time. If you are consistently late, that will have an effect on your class-participation grade.
  • Personal electronics. Please do not use your cellphone during class. Put it on vibrate and leave it out of sight. You may use a laptop for taking notes or for checking information that we talk about in class.
  • Respect for all points of view. President Trump may be the most controversial person to occupy the White House in many decades, and you probably already have strong views about him, either positive or negative. As an opinion journalist, I frequently write harshly negative commentaries about him. In this class, though, we will all listen respectfully and treat each other the way we would want to be treated.

University statement regarding academic honesty

Northeastern University is committed to the principles of intellectual honesty and integrity. All members of the Northeastern community are expected to maintain complete honesty in all academic work, presenting only that which is their own work in tests and all other assignments. If you have any questions regarding proper attribution of the work of others, please contact me prior to submitting the work for evaluation.

A personal note: The two capital offenses of journalism are fabrication and plagiarism. Commit either of these and you can expect to receive an “F” for the course, with possible referral to OSCCR. My presumption is that you are honest. But as Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.”

Assignments, deadlines and grades

During the semester we will have five brief news quizzes that will cover important national and international news, with an emphasis (but not an exclusive emphasis) on President Trump. These quizzes will be held on the following Thursdays: May 18; May 25; June 8; June 15; and June 22. Each of these quizzes will count for 3 percent of your grade, for a total of 15 percent. Please mark these dates on your calendar.

We will have a take-home midterm due by email on June 2 and a take-home final due on June 26 that will each count for 25 percent of your grade.

You will write a 750- to 1,000-word paper analyzing some aspect of how the media have covered Trump. Your paper will be due on June 16 and will count for 25 percent of your grade.

The final 10 percent of your grade will be based on class participation and attendance.

Special accommodations

If you have physical, psychiatric or learning disabilities that may require accommodations for this course, please meet with me after class or during conference hours to discuss what adaptations might be helpful to you. The Disability Resource Center, 20 Dodge Hall (x2675), can provide you with information and assistance. The university requires that you provide documentation of your disability to the DRC.

TRACE evaluations

We take course evaluations very seriously. You will be strongly encouraged to participate in the TRACE evaluation process toward the end of the semester.

Semester schedule

The schedule and readings for Interpreting the Day’s News are meant to be flexible in order to accommodate guest speakers and big news stories. We will stick to the following as closely as possible, especially with regard to assignments and deadlines. Changes, updates and additional readings will be posted on the class website. Much of what we do will be driven by what is going on in the news.

Week 1: May 8, 9, 10 and 11

Week 2: May 15, 16, 17 and 18

Week 3: May 22, 23, 24 and 25

Week 4: May 30 and 31

  • Class topic: Covering LGBTQ issues during the Trump presidency.
  • Reading: “‘No One Else Is Going to Speak for Us’: LGBTQ Media Rise in Age of Trump,” by Nico Lang, Columbia Journalism Review, April 17, 2017.
  • Guest speaker (Tuesday): Susan Ryan-Vollmar, former editor of Bay Windows and former news editor of The Boston Phoenix.
  • We will not have class on Monday because of the Memorial Day holiday.
  • We will not have class on Thursday because I am assigning a take-home midterm. Your midterm will be due by email at 5 p.m. on Friday.

Week 5: June 5, 6, 7 and 8

Week 6: June 12, 13, 14 and 15

Week 7: June 19, 20, 21 and 22

  • Class topic: We will wrap up the semester with subjects to be announced — most likely news developments that have not yet happened.
  • We will have a news quiz on Thursday.

Finals week: June 26

Take-home final due at 5 p.m. on Monday.