four major elements of your source: its editorial direction, its network of authors, its range of topics and modes, and its semantic profile (or “the lay of its language”). Even if your source does not appear on the lists of commentators or periodicals, you will still want to consult the “The Political Spectrum” appendices for commentators, periodicals, publishers, or research institutes that are mentioned or cited in your source.
Editorial Direction: Who produces this source? Is it affiliated with another publisher or institute or enterprise? Do the publisher, directors, or editors have any current or previous affiliations that would indicate the political standpoint of this source? Does this source have a mission statement that explicitly lays out its standpoint? Can you infer or confirm anything about this standpoint from the organizations or enterprises that advertise in this source? Do the advertisements tell you anything about the intended audience for this publication? Does that tell you anything about its political standpoint?
Network of Authors: Who writes for this source? (There may be a very high overlap between “contributing editors” and reappearing authors. It would be good if you could examine more than one issue in order to check this.) Do any of these authors have any recognizable affiliations with institutes, publishers, or other periodicals? Does this network include authors from opposing political viewpoints?
Range of Topics and Modes: Does this source address a clearly defined (whether implicitly or explicitly) set of topics? What are they? In what ways does it address these topics: editorials? feature articles? news analyses? regular columns? book, film, or art reviews? cartoons? photographs? diagrams?
Semantic Profile (or The Lay of the Language): After reading a cross-section of pieces from this source: Would you describe the language, generally, as impartial and objective (denotative)? Or as partisan and subjective (heavily connotative)? What are the honorifics commonly found in this source? What are the terms of dismissal? Are there key words that define the arguments made in this source? Are there recurring figures of speech or analogies? Do the pieces published in this source engage opposing sources/arguments fairly? Does the source present two or more pieces that argue on the different sides of an issue? How regularly does this occur? What else stands out for you after analyzing this source?
Note that these are just the bare essentials, and that there are other things that can and should go into a solid analysis of a source. For example, the history of the source (when it was founded, how it has changed over time, etc.) often has an important influence on the viewpoint it takes on current issues.
Furthermore, one could also give some thought to how the source views itself and its mission and purpose in relation to the rest of the media market, and the culture in general – What kind of source is it trying to be? What is it trying to accomplish in the marketplace of ideas and information? How does it compare and relate to other similar sources? Who are its competitors? Etc., etc.
It would also be a good idea, of course, to look at multiple issues or editions of the source in question, so that you can detect any patterns or variations in its output.
Lastly, keep in mind that this is a chance for you to show off your critical skills, so don’t just pick an “easy mark”: do not just look at the “political spectrum” supplement and agree with what the table tells you. For example, you will not receive great credit for showing your reader that Reader’s Digest is a conservative, right-leaning publication, or that the New York Times is politically centrist, or that it shows a slight “liberal” bias, because these things are obvious. You will receive credit for showing your reader what the nuances of a source’s biases are – for example, that the NYT’s biases are sometimes subtle and complex, or that they vary from topic to topic, or that its supposed liberal bias is really an inaccurate characterization, etc., etc. – these are the ways that you can really demonstrate your ability to think critically about a source.
Suggestions for the Presentation of your Analysis:
Introduce the source, briefly, by noting how long it has been published and by reviewing the essential information you have collected regarding its editorial direction.
Select a few representative authors as a way to describe the source’s network and their affiliations with other publications, publishers, or institutes.
Describe the Range of Topics and Modes in a couple of paragraphs that list the typical features to be found in each issue of the source and that illustrate, with sample titles, its primary interests.
Use short quotations to illustrate your findings regarding the semantic profile of your source. But be fair. Note, in particular, any prominent or recurring terms or metaphors. Observe how this source treats other sources.
Conclude by locating your source in the political spectrum and by noting the topics/issues on which you find this source credible and those on which you don’t.
You will be making a claim; support it with reasons!
Include a copy of a page or two from a representative article