Argumentation in the Media
Argumentation is a discursive activity aimed at solving differences of opinion by presenting reasons. In an ideal argumentative context issues are solved reasonably, relying on “the unforced force of the better argument” (Habermas). The ability to craft effective and sound arguments and to critically assess arguments as they appear in the current media ecology are critical skills for media professionals.
- Dialectical Argumentation. Having introduced the basics of argument analysis, the course dwells on the requirements of a critical discussion, discussing with current examples the threats to the freedom of discussions (ad hominem, ad baculum, free speech vs. hate speech), to their responsibility (presumptions and burden of proof), to acceptability of evidence (sourcing, misinformation and “fake news”, conspiracies and debunking), to the relevance of arguments (“straw man” fallacy, undue polarization).
- Rhetorical Argumentation. Rhetoric is introduced as the essential counterpart of dialectic concerned with the persuasive appeal of arguments. Special attention is given to the notions of reputation, trustworthiness and ethos. The canonical model of the rhetorical speech is introduced as a tool for practising argument.
- Political press conferences are then explored in-depth with a focus on journalist’s question design, the role of implicit premises and the form of reasoning. This will allow to appreciate how journalists can contribute to shaping public debates and foster accountability.
- Debate 2.0. The specific challenges to reasonable debate posed by Web 2.0 (microtargeting, filter bubbles, polarisation) and the limitations of current countermeasures (filtering, debunking, fact checking) are examined. The notions of networked polylogue and standing standpoint are introduced.
- Hard news texts and related social media content will be examined from an argumentative point of view in order to highlight their upstream and downstream argumentation potential in the context of the contemporary media ecology. This will allow to move from simple fact checking to a more sophisticated form of argument checking.
- Reflect on the importance of argumentation for media professionals as a means of persuasion, decision making and critical scrutiny of information, as well as an essential component of good “deliberative dialogue” in the public sphere.
- Learn how to recognize and analyse arguments in promotional as well as journalistic discourse genres and learn how to evaluate their strenght and quality.
- Learn how to argue in written form, (a) by experimenting with the canonical template of rhetorical speech, (b) by taking the opposing view to an opinion article and criticising its arguments.
- Learn how journalists shape public debate and contribute to public accountability through their question design in interviews and press conferences.
- Experience arguing in real time by participating in a debate simulation.
- Understand how Web 2.0 changed the public sphere and the challenges it poses to reasonable public debate.
- Use “argument checking” as a resource to detect and counter misinformation, disinformation, extreme bias and manipulation in media content.
Apart from attending to traditional lectures, during the course the students will be asked to (1) write short persuasive speeches and opinion pieces, (2) to prepare and to participate in a debate simulation on an assigned topic of public interest.
During the course, the students are requested to consistently participate in the above mentioned in-course activities (1, 2) and submit in-course work in a timely manner.
In-course activities (1 and 2) will amount to 30% of the grade. The score will reflect both the level of participation and the quality of the output.
A final oral exam will assign the remaining 70% of the grade. The oral exam will consist of two components:
A) a presentation either of a case study of question-answer argumentation in a political press conference or of a case of argument checking of a potentially deceptive news story.
B) an interview on the theories and cases discussed in the course.
The two components have equal weight.