Digital Media Issues and Theories

Course (graduate seminar)Jour 8003 Digital Media Issues and Theories

Department: School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota

Most recent syllabusSpring 2015



Digital media technologies, it seems, are everywhere. Media industries, institutions, and identities appear in flux amid a continual evolution and negotiation of information technologies, work practices, distribution mechanisms, and audiences/users—not to mention ongoing changes in the larger socio-cultural, political, economic, and regulatory contexts for mediated communication. How are we, as scholars, to make sense of digital technologies and their implications for media and public life?

The purpose of this class is to introduce graduate students to theories and concepts for understanding media technologies in the digital era, and for conducting empirical research in this area, whether of a qualitative or quantitative nature. In a single semester, it is impossible to complete an exhaustive tour of the “digital media and society” terrain, which encompasses many approaches and epistemologies. Thus, we will explore select research domains that will you give a sufficient lay of the land, drawing on an interdisciplinary lens that acknowledges the contributions of post-positivist (quantitative) and sociocultural (qualitative) perspectives alike. To some degree, primary emphasis is given to the sociology of (digital) media, which examines the social influences that go into shaping media work and the roles that media play in society. We’ll use this vantage point to scrutinize developments at different levels of analysis and across different aspects of media production, distribution, and representation.

My goals are three-fold: (1) to help you become familiar with key theories and concepts for understanding digital media technologies and their implications; (2) to help you develop the analytical skills necessary to critically evaluate work in this area and integrate it within your own area of specialty; and (3) to provide you case studies from which you can draw inspiration for your own research, in this seminar and beyond. Bringing together these goals is the capstone of the course: an original research paper that examines some phenomena in the changing media environment, using a theory, concept, or perspective elaborated in this course.



This course is designed to help students achieve certain learning outcomes and competencies. At the conclusion of the semester, students should be able to:

  • Describe changes affecting media industries, institutions, and individuals, from a scholarly perspective.
  • Articulate seminal theories and concepts in the study of a changing media environment, connecting them to contemporary social, cultural, economic, political, and technological conditions and concerns.
  • Challenge, defend, or resolve discrepancies within such theories and concepts, based on the academic literature.
  • Explain such theories and concepts within the framework of their own areas of interest, the field of mass communication, and the interdisciplinary study of new media at large.
  • Apply the conceptual and methodological tools of research to an empirical study of phenomena related to a changing media environment.