Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Communication Applications: Of Presidents and Politicians

From the perspective of a Communication Applications class (taught by a historian!), presidential speechwriting is not only historically interesting, but also of considerable saliency. Words matter. History matters. Context matters. And, this goes without saying, but communications matter. (If you are wondering, yes, that's a pun.)

Presidential speech writing is a modern convention, inaugurated in the early twentieth century (two puns and counting). Throughout the decades, different speechwriters and different presidents collaborated in countless ways to craft policy suggestions, crisis speeches, inaugural addresses, and various other orations for other occasions.

Here you can find more about the short reading in class today from Robert Schlesinger's recently published White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters. You will find a five-minute clip of Schlesinger on The Daily Show customarily comical and interesting, and you should also consult a New York Times review of his book.

Also, the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University had a Presidential Speechwriting symposium, and in what is clearly no laughing matter, read these humorous anecdotes from presidential speeches. There's also a PBS forum on Presidential speechwriting related to George W. Bush's first inaugural.

To continue our discussion of persuasive speeches, tonight's HOMEWORK requires you to analyze recent (major party) presidential candidate speeches. You will analyze the text of a speech, and then analyze the video footage of a speech (or clips), filling out the forms I handed out in class.

In essence, I want you to "grade" the candidates in terms of how they communicate, and be prepared to discuss your analysis in class.

A good place to start your search is at each candidate's website. Find John McCain here, and visit Barack Obama here. I will also give you the option of analyzing Hillary Clinton speeches, found here.

You'll easily find the text of previous speeches at each candidate's website, but I would suggest a Google search for candidate speeches to locate video versions, or visit American Rhetoric (see links).

You will analyze two speeches; however you must pick a different candidate (or former candidate) for each speech.

[Photo credit here.]

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Communication Applications: Marketing, Advertising, and the Science of Selling

One of the most interesting fields of communications involves marketing, advertising, and the science of selling. Advertising uses specific kinds of communication devices, and its aims are to convince consumers that they need something, as well as stoke the desire for something.

This assignment requires you to familiarize yourself with the history of advertising in America, and identify, explain, and discuss advertising and marketing in its multiple manifestations.

This assignment has 6 parts.

1. First, read about advertising here. List 5 new facts you learned about advertising.

2. Second, follow this link to learn more and after clicking on "Browse" you will be able to find examples of advertising from America's past. Select one advertisement, print it out, and be prepared to discuss what it is communicating and why you chose it.

3. Third, pick a decade in American history and search for commercials and/or commercial clips on YouTube or Google Video. For example, use the search terms "1980s commercials" (or its many variations) and see what you find. Be prepared to show a 2-4 minute commercials clip in class, and discuss.

4. Fourth, in a print publication or from an on-line publication, find an example of "religious" or "spiritual" advertising. Bring your example to class, and be prepared to discuss. For expert commentary on this subject, see what you can find at media studies scholar Mara Einstein's weblog "Brands of Faith."

5. Think about what product you enjoy consuming (i.e., buying) most. For example, you may have a favorite brand of clothing or footwear, or you may love eating a particular kind of food, or eating at a particular restaurant. Be prepared to discuss how you would market or advertise your favorite product.

6. Discuss with parents and/or family members about how advertising and marketing informs the choices they make about what they buy, where they live, what they drive, etc. Be prepared to discuss in class.

If you have time, you may also want to finish viewing the Frontline documentary on advertising, "The Persuaders."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Communication Applications: This I Believe

This post considers a national communications project called "This I Believe."

From its website: "This I Believe is a national media project engaging people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values and beliefs that guide their daily lives. NPR [National Public Radio] airs these three-minute essays on All Things Considered, Tell Me More and Weekend Edition Sunday. This I Believe is based on a 1950s radio program of the same name, hosted by acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow. In creating This I Believe, Murrow said the program sought 'to point to the common meeting grounds of beliefs, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization.'"

I've long listened to "This I Believe" essays on the radio driving into school each day (after all, one needs something to help pass the time in Houston traffic), and I occasionally check in at the This I Believe website to read what people have to say. Always, I find the essays--both written and spoken--interesting, noteworthy, and intriguing.

I don't always agree with what I hear or read, but I'm always eager to learn something new, to see how someone else views the world or to hear someone else's story. To use the parlance of this class--I relish playing the role of both sender and receiver.

For tonight's blog assignment, I'd like you to explore the This I Believe website (hyperlinked above), simply to see what's there. Then, find an essay from the 1950s that you think is interesting, and then find a more recent essay that you find intriguing. (As you will see, on each page there are multiple search options.)

Print both essays out, and bring to class tomorrow prepared to discuss WHAT the essays are about and WHY you found the subject interesting or intriguing. This will provide a discussion context to work on your own "This I Believe" essay.

Also, if you are interested, tonight on PBS the program Frontline has a show on Christianity in China. It airs at 8pm. These reports are always informative and interesting. Here's a list of shows so far in 2008. If you catch the China special, please leave your thoughts.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Communication Applications: Embodying and Inhabiting the Subject

With everything we've discussed in class about communications--from senders to receivers to feedback to subject matter for speeches to oral and written critiques--what is the best way to learn about something you don't know, or even dislike? And how does one communicate this effectively, intelligently, respectfully and thoughtfully?

Perhaps Googling something you don't know about comes to mind, or typing it in at Wikipedia. But let's move beyond a cyberspacial understanding to literally walking in someone else's shoes--I call it embodying and inhabiting the subject. Sociologists and ethnographers think about subjects this way, as do anthropologists, marketing gurus, and even some historians.

So, what does it look like if one walk's in the shoes of someone else--literally?

Meet A.J. Jacobs. (Check out his blog here.) He's a journalist, an author, an innovator, and ultimately a COMMUNICATOR--I call him a journalistic sociologist. He applies himself to his craft in inventive, interesting ways.

A recent project of his involved taking the moral imperatives and prescriptions for living from Bible literally. The result is a book titled The Year of Living Biblically. Read and listen to an excerpt here. Read a review of the book here. Listen to an interview, too.

As you listen and you read think about this experiment in terms of what you can learn about communications from it.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What, if anything, about Jacobs's background led to his experiment? Why did he want to conduct such an experiment? To what extent did Jacobs live in the shoes of those in the Bible who preceded him? What did he learn? What was most transformative, interesting, and/or challenging? How did people respond to Jacobs? If you could ask Jacobs a question (besides "Why?"), what would you ask him? Why?

Could you ever see yourself conducting this kind of experiment? If so, what subject would you embody and/or inhabit? Why or why not? By what means would you communicate knowledge of your subject? Why?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section (post before 8:30am 6/24/08).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Communication Applications: Concerning Coffee

In today's world, communication involves many things--images, symbols, words, gestures, smells, location, etc.
Starbucks is a recognizable brand--and expensive--and puts significant thought into what to communicate about itself and how to communicate its message. Here's a fascinating presentation by historian Bryant Simon discussing the cultural meaning of Starbucks, and the social meanings of coffee, consumption, and commodification. No doubt his forthcoming book on Starbucks will stir up great discussion--conducted over a cup of coffee of course.
While I want you to listen for content, your assignment is two-fold: list the ways Simon communicates his message, and list the ways that Starbucks communicates its message. Be prepared to discuss.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Communication Applications: Ears to Hear, Eyes to See

Today's class focused on the art of listening. After taking a listening inventory and discussing why and how we listen, we applied the practice by interviewing a classmate.

Tonight's assignments asks you to listen critically to a speech, analyzing its vocabulary, subject matter, delivery style, and overall presentation ("Listening Critically" worksheet).

You will listen to Ronald Reagan's 1986 speech about the Challenger explosion. Before listening to Reagan's speech, however, read this brief account of the disaster (the Wikipedia entry on the subject is helpful as well), and then watch this short video clip of footage of the explosion.
What were the most effective ways Reagan communicated in this speech?
DUE: Before 8:30am on Wednesday 6/18.
[Photo credit here.]

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Blogging (in) the Past

Thirsty for more? Hungry for history? Leave your feedback in the comments section.

1. What were your expectations about the class blog in August? Were those expectations met, exceeded, or unmet? Why?

2. What is the best thing about having a class blog? The worst? Why?

3. What was your favorite post and why?

4. What would you change about the blog? Why?

5. Additional thoughts?