Stay Free! magazine


Stay Free! High School Media Literacy Curriculum

Now available: the book! If you've found this curriculum useful, you'll appreciate the up-to-date companion, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture.

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Note: I developed this course for 12th graders at the Berkeley Carroll School in 2002-3 and am putting it online for other teachers to use as they may. If you find something particularly useful, please let me know. Thanks! -- Carrie McLaren

Course Introduction: Powerpoint "Alphabet" exercise
On the first day of class, I ask students to try and identify several plants and trees common in our Brooklyn neighborhood. They generally fail to name one. Then I show a slide of the alphabet comprised entirely from brand logos and they name almost all of them. The purpose here is to illustrate the invisible influence of our cultural environment. | ANSWERS

GRATUITOUS PLUG: The artist who created the alphabet used above, Heidi Cody, has made a poster of it, which you can buy at a discounted rate via our order page.

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Screening: Merchants of Cool
Before screening the film, ask students to be thinking about: What perspective are the filmmakers coming from? What is their slant? Is this film from the point-of-view of the music business, concerned parents/social critics, or teens themselves?
Homework writing assignment | Notes for discussion

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Robert Hinkley, "Corporations and Social Responsibility," adapted from original article in Business Ethics, Jan./Feb. 2002.

James Potter, Media Literacy, 1998, pp. 205-6.

Optional readings: Leo Bogart, Commercial Culture: The Media System and the Public Interest, 1995, pp. 15-6.

Peter Sandman, David M. Rubin, and David Sachsman; Media: An Introductory Analysis of American Mass Communications; 1972; pp. 6-9.

Rough notes for discussion

What are media and why are they important for democracy?
What is the primary purpose of a media corporation?
What are "economies of scale"?

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Most people think that the purpose of mass media is to entertain or inform. For media owners, however, the purpose is to turn a profit, usually by selling audiences to advertisers. This lesson points out how audiences' perception of the media's role differs from that of the producers of media.

James Twitchell, Adcult USA: The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture, pp. 92-3.

Frank Ahrens, "In TV's Numbers Game, Youth Trumps Ratings; But Some Question the Marketing Priorities," The Washington Post, March 13, 2002.
This article was especially helpful. It discusses ABC's bid to replace Nightline with David Letterman, even though Nightline had higher ratings. Why would it do such a thing? Two reasons: because Letterman's audience was younger and because the content of his program is more conducive to consuming (and therefore attracting advertising). The class returned to this example again and again.

Carrie McLaren, "How to Tell You're a Details Reader and Other Secrets of Magazine Advertising," Escandalo: The Matador Records Newsletter, May 1997

Powerpoint slideshow
Contains images for this discussion, including sample pages from Seventeen magazine's media kit and trade advertisements from Advertising Age. Requires Powerpoint software.

Maxim Magazine media kit
Sample media kit. A behind-the-scenes look at how magazine producers view (and sell) their readers. Pass these out to students and use for in-class discussion.

Homework assignment | Rough notes for discussion

Commercial media's primary function is to deliver audiences to advertisers
Why does television cater to young audiences?
What ultimately determines the success of a commercial TV show or publication?

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Blake Fleetwood, "The Broken Wall: How newspapers are selling their credibility to advertisers," Washington Monthly, September 1999

Robert Berner, "A Holiday Greeting Networks Won't Air: Shoppers Are Pigs," The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 19, 1997.

Note: You can view the commercial mentioned in the above article at the Adbusters website.

Eben Shapiro, "On MTV, Studios Find No Such Thing as a Free Plug," The Wall Street Journal, May 29, 1998.

Memo from Coca-Cola's advertising agency

Homework: Magazine analysis | Notes for discussion

What is market censorship?
What effect does advertising have on media content?
What types of content are most likely to be censored by advertisers?
How can the public find news and information that isn't favorable to advertisers?
Media want not only to appeal to audiences but to appeal to them in a way that is conducive to consuming.
What sort of content is advertiser-friendly and what isn't?

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"The New Auteurs," Harper's Magazine, June 1993, pp. 34-45. (Students particularly enjoyed this article. If your library carries Harper's, I'd recommend digging up the print version since it has lots of neat sidebars and graphics.)

Rough notes for discussion

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Screening: Behind the Screen (a documentary about product placement, available from Media Education Foundation)

Michael F. Jacobson and Laurie Ann Mazure, "Blurring the Distinctions," Marketing Madness: A Survival Guide for a Consumer Society, Westview Press, Boulder, Co, 1995, pp57-66.

Optional: Lawrence Goodman, "Celebrity Pill Pushers," Salon, July 11, 2002

Homework: Product placement assignment

Notes for discussion - Marketing Madness

Notes for discussion - Product Placement

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Target Marketing

"A Quick Introduction to Target Marketing"

Mark Lewyn, "Database Marketing: A Potent New Tool for Selling," Business Week, September 5, 1994

John Stauber, "Other Uses of Target Marketing: Political Campaigning," adapted from Toxic Sludge is Good for You, Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1995.

Targeting Assignment

Powerpoint slide show

Rough notes for discussion

What's the difference between mass marketing and target marketing?
How do companies get information about consumers?
How do political groups like the Christian Coalition use target marketing?
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of target marketing for consumers?
Why do media outlets target people in the same way that product marketers do?
Be able to identify target audiences of particular media content and advertising.

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Carrie McLaren, "Positioning," from Stay Free! No. 14, 1998

Frank Mankiewicz and Joel Swerdlow, Remote Control: Television and the Manipulation of American Life, New York: Times Books, 1978, pp. 242-3.

Rough notes for discussion

What is positioning?
What are parity goods?

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T E S T !

Educators: email me if you'd like to see the test.


Why are American media so commercial?

Anna Wilde Mathews, "Clear Channel Uses High-Tech Gear To Perfect the Art of Sounding Local," The Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2002.

Rough notes for discussion

What are three key factors causing increased commercialism?
Understand the main types of media regulation and how they have shifted to favor industry:
First Amendment
Spectrum space
Public interest standard
Ownership rules

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Homework: Media Regulation
Students are asked to express their opinions regarding various kinds of media regulation. Followup with a discussion.

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Ben Bagdikian, "Conquering Hearts and Minds: the Lords of the Global Village," The Nation , June 12, 1989

Robert McChesney, "The Big Media Game Has Fewer and Fewer Players," The Progressive, November 1, 1999

The Nation, "Big Ten" media companies chart, January 7, 2002

Rough notes for discussion

What are the reasons for increased media concentration?
What is media concentration's effect on democracy?
How is government regulation affecting media concentration?
Vertical integration
Horizontal integration
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

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A Brief History of the Public Interest Standard
Should corporations be free to broadcast whatever they want to broadcast? What if that means no coverage of national elections or corporate crime? And what about quality? Should stations be obligated to run high-quality programs, even if they aren't profitable? These questions are at the heart of the debate over "public interest" standard. As we shall see, government's response has shifted dramatically in the past three decades.

"The Fairness Doctrine," adapted from P. Sandman, David Rubin, David Sachsman, Media: an Introductory Analysis of American Mass Communications, (1972), pp199-200.

Michael K. Powell, "Markets and Consumer Welfare: Bunking the Myth," June 21, 2001

Homework Assignment | Rough notes for discussion

Why are print and broadcast media regulated differently?
' What was the public interest standard and why was it considered important to its advocates?
What happened to the public interest standard in the 1980s?
What is the marketplace model? How does it compare to the public interest standard?
How has the "public interest" concept shifted over time?
Are the media democratic? Why or why not?

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Homework: Copyright Handout

Charles C. Mann, from "Who Will Own Your Next Good Idea?" The Atlantic Monthly, September 1998

Tamar Lewin, "When Does a Creative Idea Become Intellectual Property?" The New York Times, March 27, 1983

"What Is 'Fair Use'?"

and Fair Use Checklist

"What Is the Public Domain?"

Rough notes for discussion

What is copyright and what is its purpose?
What is the public domain?
What are the tests for "fair use" of copyrighted material?

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Siva Vaidhyanthan, Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity, New York: New York University Press, 2001, pp117-129.

Siva Vaidhyanathan, "Why Thomas Jefferson Would Love Napster,", July 3, 2001

Rough notes for discussion

How has copyright changed over time?
How does copyright serve the public interest?
What are the four democratic safeguards of copyright law?
What does the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act do?

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Tues. Nov. 19: David Mills, "Black Bart Simpson: The Hip-Hop T-Shirt Star," The Washington Post, June 28, 1990

Debbi Wilgoren, "Bootlegging 'Simpsons' T-Shirts," The Washington Post, April 2, 1990

Interview with Alice Randall,, June 22, 2001

James Surowiecki, "Righting Copywrongs," The New Yorker, January 21, 2002

Rough notes for discussion

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Screening: Willful Infringment
Excellent documentary about copyright, the arts, and the First Amendment.

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Homework: First Amendment

Vicki Brower, "Media Play Role in Copycat Suicides," Reuters, June 12, 2002.

Jay Huber, "The High Cost of Free Speech," Stay Free! issue 17, June 2000.

Rebecca Buckman, "Utah's Cottage Film Editors Have Hollywood Crying Foul," Wall Street Journal, September 19, 2002

:The Media Made Me Do it," Stay Free! issue 20, November 2002.

Notes for discussion

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Charles Black, "He Who Cannot Hear: the Plight of the Captive Auditor," Columbia Law Review, 166 (1953)

Notes for discussion


The Marketing of Diamonds: How a successful cartel turned a worthless rock into a priceless gem -- abridged version of original article by Edward Jay Epstein

Rough notes for discussion


Screening: The Ad and the Ego

Homework Assignment: Low-res | Hi-res (8.9 mb)
Carefully study the ads shown here. What do the older ads have in common? What do you see as the most fundamental differences between the old and new? The newer advertising strategies have been developed through a great amount of research that shows them to be more effective. Why do you think their strategies might be more effective than the old?

Stuart Ewen, "Encyclopedia Billboardica," PR! A Social History of Spin, New York: Basic Books, 1996.
Ewen is writing about how public relations practitioners started using images to persuade people instead of print. What Ewen describes applies to advertising as well. In fact, many of the people who create advertising have also worked in public relations; there is a lot of overlap in the fields.

Notes for discussion | Powerpoint slide show

Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, New York, Quill, 1984. pp 1-16, 114-118, 140-159, 167-177, 188-194.
Rough notes for discussion

Max Sutherland and Alice K. Sylvester, Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why, Allen and Unwin, 1993, chapters 1, 2, 4, and 6.

Homework: Analyze Advertisements | Powerpoint slide show
Students find five print ads and analyze them for homework. After they had turned everything in, I scanned one or two ads from each student and showed them to the class. Each student introduced his/her own ad, then others were invited to chime in.

Rough notes for discussion

How has advertising strategy evolved over time? (Be able to discuss some of the primary factors, including rational and emotional appeals, the focus on the consumer, the changing role of text and images.)
What is salience and what does it have to do with persuasion?
Who was Pavlov and how do his studies in conditioning relate to advertising strategy?
Association (or suggestion)
How have TV commercials changed over time?


Culture Jamming - reading from Naomi Klein No Logo
Powerpoint slide show
Photos of doctored billboards and various ad parodies

Homework: Make an ad parody


What are zines?
This article by Jim Romanesko explains.

Class Zine Project
This project takes 2-3 weeks. First, I brought in a bunch of zines and students scanned them during class. Each student selected one to take home and review. Next students came up with ideas for a zine they could work on together. After debating the theme for the zine in class and voting on one, each student was responsible for coming up with 2-4 pages that fit the theme. Ideas had to be approved by me beforehand. Students also had to turn in drafts of their pages, which fellow students and I gave feedback on. After all the pages were turned in, I put them together, photocopied them, and gave each student a few copies to share with their family and friends.

The readings provided above have not been specifically authorized by the copyright owners. They are provided here in accordance with FAIR USE as defined in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.