Argumentation in the Media
- Develop a critical awareness of the quality and effectiveness of arguments.
- Learn how to argue in written form by criticizing arguments and responding to criticism.
- Experience arguing in real time by participating in a debate simulation.
- Understand public arguments in the current networked media ecology and the threats to their freedom, responsibility, plausibility and relevance.
- Reflect on journalistic question design and its role in ensuring the argumentative quality of public accountability processes.
- Use “argument checking” as a resource to detect and counter misinformation, disinformation, extreme bias and manipulation in media content
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. Moreover, argumentation represents a resource for sound decision making within media organizations. Finally, media managers need to understand the factors impacting the quality of argumentation as they act as gatekeepers and platform providers for discussions in the public sphere.
- 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).
- Political press conferences are then explored in-depth to practice the analytical reconstruction of arguments from a dialectical and inferential viewpoint, with a focus on journalist’s critical questions, the role of implicit premises and the form of reasoning (argument scheme). At the same time, the work on press conferences will allow to appreciate the role of media argumentation in public accountability processes.
- 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 checkingin the detection of misinformation, disinformation and bias in news content.
- Thanks to a detailed case study of argumentation in the newsroom based on authentic recordings, the course then explores decision making of journalists in newsroom meetings, their writing processes, and the argumentative design of the final news products.
Apart from attending to traditional lectures, during the course the students will be asked to (1) write short argumentative opinion pieces, (2) to prepare and to participate in a debate simulation on an assigned topic of public interest.
The attendance to the lectures is not mandatory. However, 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.
Students will read select passages from the following texts:
- Zampa, M. (2017). Argumentation in the Newsroom. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: Benjamins.
- Eemeren, F. H. van. (2018). Argumentation Theory: A Pragma- Dialectical Perspective. Cham: Springer.
- Rigotti, E., & Greco, S. (2019). Inference in Argumentation: A topics-based approach to argument schemes. Cham: Springer.
Additionally, they will familiarize with the OVA platform for argument analysis http://ova.arg-tech.org/
While not required, the following book is highly recommended:
- Paglieri, F. (2020). La disinformazione felice. Cosa ci insegnano le bufale. Bologna: il Mulino