Assignment #1: Newspaper Critique

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ASSIGNMENT #1: -- Newspaper Critique

SLUG: J200AS01Nwppr-???

DEADLINE: Tues, Oct. 5 and Wed. Oct. 6
The purpose of these assignments is to expose you to some of the published components of those sectors of the media and to develop an understanding -- if not to say an appreciation -- of how they have changed in content, design and, perhaps, audience over the years.
In the SFSU library, you will find many complete, microfilm records -- and some bound volumes -- of newspapers and magazines going back as far as 100 and more years. Here is what I would like you to do:

  1. Pick a newspaper in existence from at least 1875 to 1950 (first a newspaper and, later, a magazine; you can use non-U.S. publications if you wish) for which our library’s holdings extend back at least 30 years within that 1875-1950 period.

  1. Select a date and issue from before 1900 and, in the case of a newspaper, read at least one week's editions for that paper, noting such things as (NOTE: THE FOLLOWING ARE ONLY SUGGESTIONS. FEEL FREE TO COME UP WITH YOUR OWN METHODS OR CRITERIA TO COMPARE AND CONTRAST.):

    • Basic design components (How many columns wide? What did the type look like? Was it easy to read? Headlines -- type style, size); Artwork (Pictures? Maps? Illustrations?);

    • Advertisements (What types of products are advertised? How are the ads designed and where are they placed in the publication?);

    • Content (What kinds of stories are printed and where do they appear in the publication? What do you suspect were the editorial -- "gatekeepers'" -- decisions influencing story selection and placement? What do you notice about the writing style compared to a later version of the same publication?);

    • Who do you think was the audience for this publication? (You can make some judgments based on the type of articles, level of writing, cost of the publication, types of products advertised.);

  1. Select a week's editions of the same publication, but at least 30 years later than your first issues. Analyze these editions in a similar fashion.

  2. Write a three- or four-page (double spaced) paper comparing and contrasting these two sets of editions. Be sure to draw some conclusions about changes or lack of them. That is, why or why not were the changes you spotted made? Also, don't hesitate to comment on your perceptions in changes in quality. (For the magazine critique, you only need select two single issues at least 40 years apart.)

Below are some -- only SOME -- of the newspapers and magazines in our library's collection. Feel free, however, to examine any publications you wish.

London Times (1900-date); San Francisco Chronicle (1865- date); Pittsburgh Courier (1923-date); miscellaneous newspapers from various Southwestern states (1850-1900); New York Times (1851-date).


It is vital that you save your paper with the filename J200AS01Nwppr-??? [Replace the question marks with your initials]. The file type must be Rich Text Format (RTF). When you send me the digital copy of your work, make sure that filename with your initials is in the Subject: line of the e-mail message.

If you are not comfortable and fully confident of your knowledge and ability in knowing how to research, write and format an assignment like this, see any or all of the following sites. These papers should follow a standard format such as that described at

Your paper surely should have citations of the sources. (I prefer footnotes.) Here is a link to a great tool to create proper citations and copy-and-paste them into your work:

Just make sure that the body text is double-spaced, 12-point Courier or Courier New boldface type [ like that], that the left and right margins are 1.5 inches. Your name, filename and page numbers should be in the “header” on each page. If you don’t know what a header is, see the Help menu item in Word. Here are some links to sites related to formatting.

  • or



Give me a I-o-P (Ink-on-paper) copy of your paper at the beginning of class, but also send me the file by the beginning of class on Monday, October 13 (Make sure you use the proper file name (or “slug” J200AS01Nwppr-??? [Replace the question marks with your initials]) and that the paper is saved as an RTF (Rich Text Format) file type.

ASSIGNMENT #2: -- Magazine Critique
SLUG: J200AS02Mag-??? 
DEADLINE: Monday Nov. 15 and Tuesday, Nov. 16

See Assignment #1. The directions are the same, except you will be studying a magazine instead of a newspaper. The magazines should all be prior to 1975 and 40 years apart. Examine three or four issues per year to get a feel for the publication. Submit in the same way except that the slug will be J200AS02Mag-???


J200 Assignments #1 and #2

Here are answers to questions you might ask about writing your J200 review essays on historic newspapers and magazines1:

Plagiarism: There are many ways to avoid conscious or unconscious plagiarism. Read this document from Purdue University’s writing lab for some tips. But one easy way to avoid plagiarism is to simply supply citations for everything you write that is not yours.

Style. Consistency is what matters most. Historical papers generally follow the style outlined in A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations by Kate Turabian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973). This is a recommended text. But those suggested by the Citation Machine are fine.
Citations. Follow the simple practice of indicating a citation with a superior number, like this.2 Then, put all your footnotes at the bottom of the appropriate page. Citations should follow one of the formats suggested by Turabian, or, more easily, create and paste the forms suggested by the Citation Machine:

Page numbering. Some beefwits apparently think if they don't number the pages I won't notice that they did not make – or exceed -- the assigned length. I can count.

Title page. Put this information on a cover page: Title of paper, your name, course number (J200: Journalism and the Mass Media – Newspaper Critique [or Magazine Critique]) and the date (Spring Semester, 2004). That's all. Center it. Make it look pretty.

Errors. Errors of fact will seriously damage your grade. Spelling and grammar errors also will hurt, and, per journalism department policy, a misspelled name results in an “F.” Typographical errors will be considered spelling errors. It will behoove you to edit your papers carefully.
Two copies. One ink-on-paper, one digital in RTF format. One I will grade and return. The other I will keep on my computer and, if yours in good enough, ask if I can post it on the class site for those who follow after you.
Model research paper. I have put some good examples of what past students have submitted in the FILES folder on the Yahoo site. The requested format may have changed from semester to semester, but look at their work as an example of well-written content.

Report covers. I hate those flimsy little plastic things. I usually throw them away. Paper covers and other fancy forms of presentation are mere annoyances. Save your money. Just staple the pages together. (And please don't come to class the day that paper is to be turned in expecting me to have a stapler.)
General quality. One last, vital thing: Do not think of this as "another boring term paper." You are a student in a journalism course. Many of you want to be writers. I will be judging your paper as a piece of writing. Make it interesting. It should read like a good magazine article.
A checklist before you submit your essay

Have you saved the file with the correct filename and file type (i.e. Rich Text Format)?

Does your selected publication meet the date/time-span criteria described in the assignment memos?

Is the paper properly formatted in all ways: margins, font, and type size?

Have you edited the paper for spelling, punctuation and syntax?

Have you saved the file with the correct filename and file type (i.e. Rich Text Format)?

Do all your nouns and pronouns agree? What about the nouns and verbs?

Is your title page correct? Is your full name and e-mail address on that title page? Remember, a publication, i.e. The New York Times, is a singular noun and requires the pronoun “it.” (Did you notice that the work “the” is capitalized? It’s part of the paper’s formal name.)

Have you consistently followed the appropriate footnote style? Is everything well referenced?

Have you saved the file with the correct filename and file type (i.e. Rich Text Format)?

Have you held the paper to a maximum of four, double-spaced pages?

Did you bring the paper to class on the deadline day?

Have you saved the file with the correct filename and file type (i.e. Rich Text Format)?

Did you first practice sending the file to yourself as an e-mail attachment? Did it arrive? Can you open it on your computer screen?

Did you submit the paper – with the correct filename and file type (i.e. Rich Text Format) as an ATTACHMENT to an e-mail message to ?

1 Mostly drawn from McKeen, William. "Literary Journalism course." College of Journalism and Communications, Univ. of Florida. 29 Feb 2004. )

2 Yes, it’s a footnote, and any contemporary word processing program allows you to easily insert them. Learn how to use such tools.

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