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

Purdue University Fall 2015

Meeting time: Wednesday, 6 – 8:45 PM, BRNG 1248 

Office hours: BRNG 2132, 12 – 2 PM Wednesday and by appointment

Instructor: Sorin Adam Matei, smatei  at purdue edu, 1 754 494 3429

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 Wikpedia 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. In terms of 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 in terms of theory 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 tool kits for understanding and researching emerging forms of media and mediated communication.    A subsidiary goal is to demonstrate that media processes and institutions can also be surprisingly resilient. While media sites, such as Facebook, Wikipedia, Slashdot, Twitter, Instagram, or blogs empower individuals and organizations through lateral, user-to-user connections and decentralized editorial processes, traditional media did not completely 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 gusto 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 own 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.

In the last module we will look at the future. One of the unique features of social media is their ability to store information about its use. This has the capacity to 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? What methodologies? The class will illustrate this emerging research trend with an overview of the current theoretical and methodological literature dedicated to Wikipedia.

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 a 5 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.

Points: 50 points each for a total of 250 points.

Deadline: 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 for 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 10, 11:59 PM. Document will be created for you in your Google Drive, titled Last name, 559 FA 15, Midterm.

Pre-final paper proposal

Updated assignment posted on Google Docs

Points: 150

Deadline: November 23, 11:59 PM Google Docs

Research proposal (Final paper)

Updated assignment posted on Google Docs

Points: 350

Deadline: December 16, 11:59, Google Docs

Administrative details

Although I will not take formal attendance all students are supposed to attend our meetings regularly. 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.

Weekly Schedule

  1. August 26 Introduction
  2. Sept 2 What is a theory? What is a theory of mass communication?
  3. Sept 9  The origins of media research: the effects paradigm
  4. September 16 From two-step flow, to diffusion of innovation and social media contagion theory still?
  5. Sept 23 What can uses and gratifications theory tell us about social media?
  6. September 30 Does agenda setting theory still apply to social media?
  7. October 7 Looking back at the early research: how relevant is it for new media research? Midterm preparation and writing period
  8. October 10, 11:59 PM – Midterm
  9. October  14  Can media system dependency account for social media? Or should communication infrastructure theory take care of it?
  10. October 21 The social impact of social media: creator or destroyer of social capital?
  11. October 28 Social media and identity: From Goffman to Sherry Turkle, Meyrowitz and beyond
  12. November 4 Social cognitive theory, social learning, self-efficacy and social media
  13. November 11   Nov 1 Knowledge Gap / Digital Divide Theories
  14. November 18 Spiral of Silence / Echo Chamber Theory
  15. November 23, 11:59 PM, Prefinal paper proposal – Google Docs
  16. December 2 Cultivation and related theories
  17. December 9    Can social entropy theory explain social media? Final paper/project discussion
  18. December 16, 11:59 PM – Final paper – Google Docs

Sorin Adam Matei

Sorin Adam Matei - Professor of Communication at Purdue University - studies the relationship between information technology and social integration. 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 Ethical Reasoning in Big Data. He also co-edited Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , both 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).