Com 559 Syllabus – Current Trends in Mass Communication Research – From Mass Media to Social Media

Purdue University Fall 2017

Meeting time: Tuesday – Thursday, 12 – 1:20 PM, BRNG 2275

Office hours: BRNG 2140, 2:15 – 4 PM T-Th and by appointment

Instructor: Sorin Adam Matei, smatei  at purdue edu

Comparative Traffic of Major New and Old Media Sites, according to Alexa
Comparative Traffic of Major New and Old Media Sites, according to Alexa

According to the site, which tracks world Internet usage,  Facebook competes with Google for the most visited site in the world and Wikipedia has been for many years among the top 10 sites. In the meanwhile, an old media stalwart like The New York Times lingers somewhere between the 100th and 150th positions. The ancient Britannica keeps sinking, barely maintaining its place among the top 10,000 Internet sites. Regarding reach, on a typical day, one in two world Internet users visits Facebook, while only 1 in 100 read the online version of The New York Times. Is old media dying? Will social media replace it? How does the social media revolution impact mass media research, both concerning theoretical and methodological approaches? What kinds of theories and methods can be used to explain the media landscape the emerges around us? These are some of the issues that will be explored in this course.

The course is rooted in mass communication research, with side trips to sociological and social-psychological research. The goal is to offer a survey of the literature and to help the student acquire specific theoretical and practical toolkits for understanding and researching emerging forms of media and mediated communication.    A secondary goal is to demonstrate that media processes and institutions can also be surprisingly resilient. While media services, such as Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, Instagram, or blogs empower individuals and organizations through lateral, user-to-user connections and decentralized editorial processes, traditional media did not wholly disappear or even fail to adapt. Many media sites added social alter egos. They aim to become more participatory. Some newspapers have embraced their reader’s commentary sections with such enthusiasm that they look more like unruly bulletin boards than like your grandfather’s broadsheet. Mainstream media sites have quasi-universally integrated Twitter and Facebook badges in their sites, asking their readers to spread the word about their stories on social networking sites. The New York Times has gone as far as creating its version of Twitter, TimesPeople, which allows the readers to signal to each other what stories they are following or liking. Under these circumstances, our understanding of what “media” is and our research agendas need to change. At the same time, much of our theorizing can and should be retained.

The class will strive to integrate all these issues into a critical conversation about the meaning of “media” as a concept and practice and of contemporary mass media theory as an inquiry lens. To achieve these goals the class looks both back and forward. It re-evaluates the accumulated wisdom of past scholarship and to map out the immediate to medium future of media scholarship. The first and most substantial module of the class will discuss the manner in which older social scientific approaches to mass communication research (agenda setting, media dependency, social cognitive theory, uses and gratifications, etc.) are still relevant today and what newer trends have emerged in the last few decades. We will continue with a couple of learning modules dedicated to media convergence and new media audience theories.

One of the unique features of social media is their ability to store information about its use. This can radically change media research since for the first time we have quasi-complete, non-sample objective data on what people do with their media. What theories can be used to explore this new territory? By what methodologies?

The reading/learning modules are listed below, with some tentative dates.

Purdue University, official course listing Com 632 – Special Topics in Mass Communication


Class discussions, interactive online discussions, short papers, final paper.


There will be three main graded activities in this course:

Class activities and online discussions

Throughout the semester the students are expected to prepare 4 short documents to be shared with the rest of the class as discussion starters. The requirements and submission process for each document will vary. Details will be announced in class and posted either here or on Blackboard.

Points: 50 points each for a total of 200 points.

Deadlines: TBD

Mid-Term Essay: Looking back at the early research: how relevant is it for new media research?

Summarize in at least 1500 words your opinion about the possible relevance of the early mass communication literature on social media. Be selective, address one or two core theories as a focal point of the paper. This short essay should refer to specific readings and theories discussed so far and should indicate how and why you find them relevant to contemporary social media research. In case you find them outmoded or irrelevant feel free to state your position as such. You need, however, to support your opinion with specific and well-articulated arguments that make use of the relevant academic literature used in class or found by you through independent research. Citations APA style. Example of a successful paper previously submitted to this seminar.

Points: 250

Deadline: October 12, 11:59 PM. Delivery on Blackboard.

Pre-final paper proposal

Tentative assignment

Points: 150

Deadline: November 21, 11:59 PM Blackboard

Research proposal (Final paper)

Tentative assignment

Points: 350

Deadline: December 13, 11:59, Google Docs

Grading mechanics:  The total number of points obtained will be divided by 1000. The resulting percentage will be mapped onto the typical grading scale A, B, C, D using as a guideline the typical 10% brackets (100-90, 89-80, 79-70, 69-60, and under 59). If grades tend to cluster at the lower or higher end of a range, the natural breakpoints in the grade distribution will be identified by using Jenks’ optimization method. “+” and “-” signs will be used as needed.

Administrative details

Although I will not take formal attendance all students are supposed to attend our meetings regularly. Inform me about each class you  All materials submitted to this course are supposed to be written by you specifically for this class and cannot be submitted to any other class “as is.” All plagiarism and academic honesty policies should be followed as per our University code of conduct.

Missed assignments are graded as zero points. Late assignments will be considered only for good reasons communicated to me at least 24 hours in advance of the deadline or for documented emergencies (medical or family grief absence).

If you have a documented disability, please let me know to discuss your particular situation. Also, please contact the Disability Resource Center at: or by phone: 765-494-1247.

In the event of a major campus emergency, course requirements, deadlines, and grading percentages are subject to changes that may be necessitated by a revised semester calendar or other circumstances beyond the instructor’s control. Relevant changes to this course will be posted on the course website.  You are expected to read your email on a frequent basis.

The present document is subject to change for reasons other than emergencies, such as the specific learning needs that I might identify throughout the course of the semester. I will communicate the changes orally or in writing, as needed.

Weekly Schedule

Sorin Adam Matei

Sorin Adam Matei - Professor of Communication at Purdue University - studies the relationship between information technology and social groups. He published papers and articles in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Information Society, and Foreign Policy. He is the author or co-editor of several books. The most recent is Structural differentation in social media. He also co-edited Ethical Reasoning in Big Data,Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , all three the product of the NSF funded KredibleNet project. Dr. Matei's teaching portfolio includes online interaction, and online community analytics and development classes. His teaching makes use of a number of software platforms he has codeveloped, such as Visible Effort . Dr. Matei is also known for his media work. He is a former BBC World Service journalist whose contributions have been published in Esquire and several leading Romanian newspapers. In Romania, he is known for his books Boierii Mintii (The Mind Boyars), Idolii forului (Idols of the forum), and Idei de schimb (Spare ideas).