Book club reports

for... COMS460: Portrayal of Journalists in Film, Fiction and Popular Culture

Oct. 19 UPDATE: See Book groups and schedule (below) and the original book-selection page at jheroes, as well as recent notes on the course overview page.

Read your novel and any professional reviews or academic articles about it you can find; talk to your "club" colleagues, then write a two-and-a-half to three-page (625 to 725 words) paper following the guidelines below.

Even if you are reading a much different book than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo thriller series, read Eric Alterman's essay, "The Girl Who Loved Journalists" for inspiration and a sense of perspective. It is about twice as long as this assignment.

Share your first draft with your book group, and decide on the most interesting or entertaining way to "present" your book or books to the class. You will have about 15 minutes for your group presentation (Oct. 22 to 29). You may want to make a "panel presentation" discussing points you made in your papers, use Powerpoint or a film clip (if the book was made into a movie), or you may want to spend most of the time giving a dramatic reading of part of the book. If you have more than one book, you might compare scenes or characters. You don't have to stand there reading your paper like a high school "book report." Tell a story. Make it fun and interesting.

(Your final written report will be short, but a little more formal. Written report deadline: Oct. 29 preferred (Nov. 3 if needed). Writing it should be a preview of your final course project, although the topic can be completely different. The final project will be a more traditional "research paper," longer and about two or more films or a mixture of films, books, radio or other media. More about that on a separate assignment sheet.)

A. Your thesis statement should be about your book's portrayal of journalism and journalists: Was it positive or negative, optimistic or pessimistic, complex or one-dimensional, stereotypical or original, etc.? Use examples from the novel to support that thesis. (Answer the "Why?" and "How do we know?" questions.) Alterman's thesis, for example, might be, "Stieg Larsson's books and the movies made from them could be the most effective propaganda vehicle for the societal significance of journalism in many years."

B. Somewhere in your paper, summarize or quote two or three passages that help establish a journalist character or two, or that describe a particularly important incident in the story, and that support your thesis.

Using those passages as examples, you may find it convenient to focus your essay using one of these approaches:

1. Discuss those passages, the characters and the overall plot in terms of myths, themes, character stereotypes and story genres Ehrlich uses in his book about journalism films.


2. Read the Society of Public Journalists' code of ethics at and discuss the character's behavior in relation to those (or other) ethical issues, using your sample passages.

C. For additional insight, search for magazine or newspaper reviews of the book, or academic journal articles about it. See whether the "portrayal of journalism" issues were discussed in published reviews of the book, or whether the reviews primarily focused on more general issues of plot, action and character. Somewhere in your paper, use (and correctly cite) those reviews. (You don't have to agree with them or quote them extensively.)

D. List your sources at the end -- in your choice of American Psychological Association, Modern Language Association, or Chicago style, whichever you are most familiar with.

To make final choices, see plot summaries or track down a copy, Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Google Books, or Worldcat. The New York Times Book Review is searchable online since the 1980s through its website and even earlier through the Proquest Historical Newspapers database at the library website. (As a bonus, you can search the Washington Post and three other papers at the same time.)

Group Presentations

Here are the presentation dates as decided Oct. 15 and 17; note that there are some loosely applied themes that actually could provide transitions:

Oct. 22 (Monday):

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (gonzo journalism, humor)

Alex Cardona, Ryan DeShazo, Sam Keltner, Alex Nason, Sean Duckett


Oct. 24 (Wednesday)

Newsflesh (humor, thriller, fantasy, sf, zombies!)

Michael Mandzak, Lauren Spencer, Eric Thornhill

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (mystery, suspense, thriller, complex characters)

Zachary Brady, Kimberly Matthews, Yacine Meyer, Zach Vaughn

The Dark Page & All the King's Men (set in the 1930s, complex character studies; the first is a murder mystery, the second a Pulitzer-winning political thriller)

Taylor Brock (TDP), Rebecca Knicely (TDP), Ryan Odom (AKM)

Oct. 29 (Monday)

The Truth (cozy fantasy, mystery, humor, with talking dog)

Maggie Comeau, Zach Luallin

Carl Hiaasin novels (mystery, humor, a touch of gonzo?)

Jessica Mason (Lucky You), Kirnelius Williams (Basket Case)

Oct. 31 (Wednesday)

The Pelican Brief (political thriller/mystery)

Daniel Childs, Melissa Cupp

Mew is for Murder (cozy murder mystery, with cats)

Keelia McCaffrey, Lindsey Piland


updated Oct. 19