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Marketing Communication Department
Instructor: Alton Miller
Course number 54-2705

COURSE OBJECTIVES AND SYLLABUS                 Jump to Assignments

Course Description: In every U.S. election cycle, over 500,000 candidates run for office at the local, state and federal level -- employing millions of staffers and consultants. Millions more are paid to play -- from environmental activists to lobbyists for major corporations. This is a good class for anyone interested in getting into the game, or just trying to find out what's going on.

This class is available as a collegewide elective to all students, without prerequisites.

A video history of contemporary American politics is interwoven with discussion and analysis of political campaigns in the news. Students will analyze the government-press connection, and create their own PR campaign plan for a candidate or cause.

Course Objectives:

  1. For those who want to pursue a career in politics and government, the principal objective is to learn the fundamentals of political and governmental PR for practical application.
  2. For other PR students, the objective is to acquire skills useful in dealing with governmental agencies and other political or governmental entities.
  3. For the general student, in any major, the objective is to better appreciate the political aspect of American society, including political and governmental reporting by the major media.

The Columbia College mission is "to provide a comprehensive educational opportunity in the arts, communications, and public information..." in order to "educate students who will communicate creatively and shape the public's perceptions of issues and events..." The objective of this course is to do just that.

Class Information: The class meets once a week, Wednesday, 12-2:50pm, at 624 S. Michigan, room 807. The class typically numbers about 15.

Class Requirements: Over the course of the term, students will learn to develop a political/governmental media strategy, and will write a short (3-10 page) campaign strategy memo as a final project. The principal textbook for the course is The Government/Press Connection by Stephen Hess. Students will also read their choice of one book from a list of readings. Students are expected to read at least one Chicago newspaper daily.

Class Policies: Short quizzes will be used regularly to review discussion, readings, and other assignments, and there will be a midterm and a final exam. Grades depend approximately 1/3 on attendance and the quizzes, 1/3 on the two exams, and 1/3 on the final project.

Attendance is important, and final grades will suffer from habitual tardiness. Makeup work is always required for absences, whether or not they are excused. Late Assignments will not be accepted. All assignments are due at the beginning of class, even when the student misses class. Students in my Wednesday classes have learned that it's just as easy to do homework on Thursday as it is on Tuesday -- and the good habits acquired in the process are valuable to their career prospects.

Recommended reading

By the final week of my course in Political/Governmental PR, every student should have read at least one of these books. You can read and report on more than one book, for extra credit.

  • The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, by Daniel Boorstin
  • The Selling of the President, 1968, by Joe McGinniss
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, by Neil Postman
  • The Power Game: How Washington Works, by Hedrick Smith
  • Hardball: How Politics is Played, by Christopher Matthews
  • All Politics Is Local: And Other Rules of the Game, by Thomas P. O'Neill and Gary Hymel
  • Republic of Denial: Press, Politics and Public Life, by Michael Janeway


    This syllabus is being revised during this election year, to explore creative alternatives to the current political campaigns. Other readings will be assigned from week to week.

Class 1 - Introductions; Politics and Story

    Introductions. Overview of course objectives. Discussion of the importance of image and story in political campaigns. What are the stories in conflict in the 2004 election? Pick an issue you are concerned about and write a what-if story to explain why it's important. Post your creative writing on the course site by Sunday night. On Monday or Tuesday, read another student's work and write a one-page annotation.
    Video: Wag the Dog

Class 2 - Politics and Character

    Life stories... the importance of "character"... Research the life story of a politician that interests you, with reference to your issue... create a fictional character. Post your creative writing on the course site by Sunday night. On Monday or Tuesday, read another student's work and write a one-page annotation.
    Video: The War Room

Class 3 - Politics and Drama

    The symbolic uses of politics... the role of narrative, dramatic elements in politics; introduction to the "pseudo-event"... Create a situation that makes use of dramatic elements and write about a political event in which they are displayed. Post your creative writing on the course site by Sunday night. On Monday or Tuesday, read another student's work and write a one-page annotation.
    Video: The Candidate...

Class 4 - Politics and Myth

    Myth, archetype and stereotype... the "pseudo-event" and image manipulation... How is your character's story "mythic" in its reach? Describe your candidate's opponent in a fictional scenario. Post your creative writing on the course site by Sunday night. On Monday or Tuesday, read another student's work and write a one-page annotation.
    Video: Bob Roberts

Class 5 - Politics and Conflict

    A challenge is confronted: put all the elements together to describe a challenge and its successful resolution. Post your creative writing on the course site by Sunday night. On Monday or Tuesday, read another student's work and write a one-page annotation.

Class 6 - The Government-Press Connection

    Discussion of 2004 election results. Brief historical outline of developments in U.S. media from colonial period to 1900. Introduction to media campaigns. The "pseudo-event" and image manipulation; introduction to campaign organization; discussion of news analysis.

Class 7 - How Campaigns Are Organized

    Brief historical outline of developments in U.S. media in the 20th century; campaign styles... media consultants... polling & political research... TV ads... Political PR routines and systems...Organizing the govt. press office... top-down and bottom-up... rifle and shotgun approach ... Relationships with the media...
    Video: The Man from Libertyville

Class 8 - Campaigning and Governing

    Campaigning & governing: comparisons & contrasts... Rationale for govt. press office... Realities of public life... The power of the incumbent... first impressions...
    Video: Making of the President 1960

Class 9 - Midterm Exam

    There will be no Make-up exam.

Class 10 - PR Strategies

    PR Strategy for political & governmental programs; Setting the agenda... Developing the message...
    Video:The Democratic Party 1960-1992

Class 11 - Message Development

    Framing the issue, creating events; polarization & attack...
    Video: The Republican Party, 1960-1992

Class 12 - Developing a game plan

    Developing the game plan... Testing the message... Editing control of the script

Class 13 - Crafting the game plan

    Building campaign themes into a complete game plan... crafting the policy memo... course review...

Class 14 - Final Exam :

    Final exam will be given in Class #14. Make-up exam: the following Friday, 2:00 p.m., Room 800. Students will also be invited to work on their final project (game plan) during the course of the two weeks, from Class 13 to Class 15, and email drafts for comments and corrections as late as the Monday before Class 15.

Class 15 - Final Project

    Presentations of final projects (game plans).

Bio outline:

Part of your assignment for Class 2 is a brief biographical outline (one page is enough) organized into three topics:

I. Youth

    Your family background, where you grew up, where you went to school, etc., up through high school

II. Current life

    Your college education, work experience, interests in the past four years or so, up to the present...

III. Fall 2014

    Put yourself a decade in the future, and write about what you did, what you accomplished, in the decade 2004-2014. Be realistic, whatever that means to you...

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