Media and Public Affairs

The School of Media and Public Affairs, part of Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, offers programs of study leading to the Bachelor of Arts with majors in journalism and mass communication and in political communication. Entering freshmen may be admitted to majors within SMPA through a competitive application process as specified in application materials distributed by the Office of Admissions.

In addition, a limited number of students will be admitted through a competitive application process that begins after the student is accepted to the University. Students are encouraged to apply during the first semester of their sophomore year; applications are not accepted from students with fewer than 30 or more than 75 credit hours. Minimum requirements for admission include a minimum GPA of 3.0, though achievement of the minimum GPA does not guarantee admission. Once admitted to the University, students desiring to enter an SMPA major face a highly selective process. Contact SMPA for specific information and applications; program application requirements vary and in some cases include achieving specific grades in certain courses and completion of an essay. Programs are listed below with their course offerings.

All students, both those admitted directly into SMPA and those applying after acceptance to GW, must achieve specified grades in some courses. Check with SMPA for particular grade requirements and course sequencing.

Certificate program

A graduate certificate in documentary filmmaking is offered by the School of Media and Public Affairs. Information is available at The Documentary Center.

Professors S.V. Roberts, R.M. Entman, L. Huebner, F. Sesno (Director), S.L. Livingston, S. Waisbord

Associate Professors J.E. Steele, L.S. Harvey, A.L. May III, P.F. Phalen, S. Aday, R. Russell, K.A. Gross, N. Seavey (Research), M. Hindman, C.W. Thompson

Assistant Professors J.M. Shanahan, J. Osder, C.S. Bailard, N. Usher, D.A. Karpf, W.L. Youmans, E.A. Thorson, I.M. Cheers

Explanation of Course Numbers

  • Courses in the 1000s are primarily introductory undergraduate courses
  • Those in the 2000–4000s are upper-division undergraduate courses that can also be taken for graduate credit with permission and additional work
  • Those in the 6000s and 8000s are for master’s, doctoral, and professional-level students
  • The 6000s are open to advanced undergraduate students with approval of the instructor and the dean or advising office

SMPA 1000. Dean's Seminar. 3 Credits.

SMPA 1050. Media in a Free Society. 3 Credits.

The role of mass communication in democratic political systems: informational requirements of democracy, sources of political information and the role of news media and other channels in creating and disseminating it; issues relating to propaganda and public information; and the interaction between information flows and democratic political culture. Not open to SMPA majors.

SMPA 1225. Forensics Practice (Debate). 1 Credit.

SMPA 2101. Journalism: Theory & Practice. 3 Credits.

An overview of theories and key issues in journalism in the United States. News and democracy, the historical and social evolution of journalism, news values, journalism as occupation/profession, technologies and changes in journalistic practices. Open only to SMPA majors.

SMPA 2102. Introduction to Political Communication. 3 Credits.

Basic concepts and theories of political communication; development of a framework for analyzing political communication; applications in the United States, other countries, and the international system. Open only to SMPA majors. Prerequisite: PSC 1002.

SMPA 2110W. Introduction to News Writing and Reporting. 0-3 Credits.

Fundamentals of news reporting and writing, with emphasis on the print media. News judgment, information gathering skills, and crafting news and feature stories. Regular in-class and outside reporting and writing exercises. Directly admitted freshmen may enroll in their second semester; all other freshmen need departmental permission. Laboratory fee.

SMPA 2111W. Advanced News Reporting. 4 Credits.

Reporting, writing, and computer skills for covering beats and developing in-depth news stories. Techniques in researching, observing, and interviewing to frame stories of public interest; outside and in-class reporting and writing assignments. Restricted to Journalism and Mass Communication majors or permission of instructor required. Prerequisite: SMPA 2110. Laboratory fee.

SMPA 2112. Introduction to Digital Media Production. 0-3 Credits.

Foundational introduction to digital media production, including web design and video shooting/editing, with emphasis on use in journalism and political communication. Laboratory fee.

SMPA 2120. Public Opinion. 3 Credits.

Key aspects of the literature on public opinion, with emphasis on the role of media in opinion formation and change. Topics include the meaning of public opinion in a democratic society, a review of methods used to measure opinions, and media effects on opinion.

SMPA 2151. Research Methods. 3 Credits.

Processes of inquiry within mediated communication. The concepts of framing research questions, conducting literature reviews, developing a research design, and interpreting results of cultural and social science research within a societal framework. Prerequisites: STAT 1053 or STAT 1051 or STAT 1111 or STAT 1127.   (Fall and spring).

SMPA 2173. Media Law. 3 Credits.

Freedom of the press. Changing laws of journalism and mass communication, including defamation, privacy, reporting access, obscenity and indecency, media ownership, intellectual property, advertising, and electronic communication.

SMPA 2177. Media History. 3 Credits.

American media from colonial times to the present, set against a backdrop of ongoing political, social, and economic developments. The development of press, radio, television, cable, satellite, and the Internet; government regulation and media relations; journalistic rights and responsibilities.

SMPA 3193. Selected Topics in Journalism and Mass Communication Skills. 3-4 Credits.

Topics announced in Schedule of Classes. May be repeated for credit if the topic differs.

SMPA 3194. Selected Topics in Political Communication. 3-4 Credits.

Topic announced in the Schedule of Classes. May be repeated if the topic differs, but may only count once toward the political communication major.

SMPA 3195. Selected Topics in Journalism and Mass Communication. 3-4 Credits.

Topic announced in the Schedule of Classes. May be repeated for credit if the topic differs.

SMPA 3195W. Selected Topics in Journalism and Mass Communication. 3-4 Credits.

Topic announced in the Schedule of Classes. May be repeated for credit if the topic differs.

SMPA 3196. Independent Study. 1-3 Credits.

Students pursue a program of directed reading, research, and writing under the direction of a faculty advisor. Limited to seniors.

SMPA 3197. Internship. 1-3 Credits.

Students spend at least five hours per week per credit with an approved news organization, agency, or office under the general guidance of a faculty advisor. Guidelines are available in the SMPA office and online. May be taken P/NP only. Restricted to SMPA majors and minors in the junior and senior year. May be repeated for up to 6 credits.

SMPA 3230. Reporting in the Digital Age. 3 Credits.

Understanding the emerging tools and developing the technological skills needed to analyze data for news. Students learn to find reliable information through social media and other online tools, use spreadsheets as a reporting tool, and download data for analysis, to create graphics, and to report and write stories based on the analysis. Prerequisite: SMPA 2110. Laboratory fee.

SMPA 3232. Online Journalism Workshop. 4 Credits.

Capstone production experience for SMPA majors. Provides advanced journalism and multimedia production skills needed to produce and report for a news website. Prerequisite: SMPA 2110, SMPA 2112. Laboratory fee.

SMPA 3233. Photojournalism. 3 Credits.

Elements of effective news and feature photos, including study and evaluation of slides taken by students. Picture selection, cropping, captions. Student costs include film and developing. Laboratory fee.

SMPA 3234. Publication Design. 3 Credits.

Design, editing, layout, and photo selection for newspapers and magazines. Selecting and editing stories; writing headlines and photo captions; sizing and cropping graphic materials; laying out pages. Ethics of editing. Student costs include film and developing.

SMPA 3235. Broadcast News Writing. 3 Credits.

SMPA 3235W. Broadcast News Writing. 3 Credits.

Introduction to writing television news scripts based on actual events. Using workshop techniques, scripts are evaluated for content, structure, and use of words, pictures, and sound. Extensive writing and rewriting using streaming video from professional newscasts. Prerequisite: SMPA 2110.

SMPA 3236W. Broadcast News Reporting. 3 Credits.

Advanced techniques in television news reporting and editing. Students produce, shoot, and edit news packages by teaming up to report in the field. Prerequisite: SMPA 2110, SMPA 2112.

SMPA 3237W. Broadcast News Studio Production. 3 Credits.

Hands-on workshop designed to give simulated TV industry experience. Students work together to produce and direct a simulated broadcast news program. Recommended prerequisite: SMPA 3235 or SMPA 3236. Laboratory fee.

SMPA 3239. Television News Practicum. 4 Credits.

Capstone production experience for SMPA majors. Students report, produce, direct, and edit GW student news broadcast. Laboratory fee. Prerequisites: SMPA 3235 and SMPA 3236.   (Spring).

SMPA 3240W. Washington Reporting. 3 Credits.

Examination of reporting and writing techniques employed in news coverage of the national government, with an emphasis on serving a regional readership or audience. Using Washington as a laboratory, students focus on contemporary issues and news makers in the legislative and executive branches of government. Prerequisite: SMPA 2110.

SMPA 3241W. Campaign Reporting. 3 Credits.

Development of news gathering and writing skills needed for the coverage of political campaigns. Using in-class exercises and outside assignments, students acquire reporting and writing proficiency to illuminate how campaigns work and how politics affects the lives of citizens. Prerequisite: SMPA 2110.

SMPA 3242. Investigative Reporting. 3 Credits.

Hands-on intensive training in reporting and writing in-depth enterprise news stories that expose hidden problems or wrong-doing. Prerequisite: SMPA 2110.

SMPA 3243W. Feature Writing. 3 Credits.

Learn to frame, research, and write a wide range of feature articles, including profiles, interviews and personal memoirs. Weekly writing assignments and a major final project are discussed and scrutinized in a workshop setting. Prerequisite: SMPA 2110.

SMPA 3244W. Narrative Journalism. 3 Credits.

The narrative or story-telling tradition in journalism. Students experiment with narrative techniques in a series of written exercises and a final project. Enrollment limited to 15 students with preference given to upper-class SMPA majors and graduate students. Prerequisite: SMPA 2110.

SMPA 3245W. Editorial & Persuasive Writing. 3 Credits.

Techniques of editorial and column writing; editorial page and public affairs programming; function of commentary in a free press. Prerequisite: SMPA 2110.

SMPA 3246. Specialized Reporting. 3 Credits.

Advanced reporting in specialized fields, such as business, science, medicine. Topics and instructors vary each semester. Prerequisite: SMPA 2110.

SMPA 3246W. Specialized Reporting. 3 Credits.

Advanced reporting in specialized fields, such as business, science, medicine. Topics and instructors vary each semester. Prerequisite: SMPA 2110.

SMPA 3247. Documentary Production. 4 Credits.

Advanced techniques in writing, researching, producing, and editing long-form documentaries. Prerequisite: SMPA 2112 and SMPA 3479 or permission of instructor.

SMPA 3350. Public Diplomacy. 3 Credits.

The theory and practice of public diplomacy: informing, influencing, and establishing dialogue with international publics and institutions. A conceptual and historical examination of public diplomacy, current practices, and contemporary issues, including international information dissemination, educational and cultural exchange, and international broadcasting.

SMPA 3351. Public Affairs and Government Information. 3 Credits.

Aspects of information and public affairs functions of government agencies at all levels. Role of the information specialist. Writing and editing for government publications.

SMPA 3352. Principles of Public Relations. 3 Credits.

Principles, problems, ethics, and law of public relations for government, private concerns, educational and other public institutions.

SMPA 3353. Strategic Political Communication. 3 Credits.

Origins of strategic approaches to political communication; techniques. Use of strategic communication by individuals, groups, organizations, and governments in both domestic politics and policymaking and in the international system. Prerequisite: SMPA 2102 or permission of instructor.

SMPA 3354. Political Campaign Communication. 3 Credits.

Communication aspects of political campaigns for candidates and ballot issues. Examination of techniques and channels of communication, role of communication in campaign strategy, ethics and implications of campaign decision making.

SMPA 3355. Campaign Advertising. 3 Credits.

Introduction to the theory and practice of campaign advertising. Emphasis on televised political campaign spots, but a range of campaign advertising media are included: radio, direct mail, and the Internet. Prerequisite: SMPA 2112.

SMPA 3356. Political Debate. 3 Credits.

Theory and practice of political debate. The campaign context, candidate strategies, debate issues, and debates and voter behavior. Participation in classroom debates.

SMPA 3357. Political Speech Writing. 3 Credits.

Theory and practice of public speaking in the context of mediated political communication. Students analyze, write, and give speeches.

SMPA 3357W. Political Speech Writing. 3 Credits.

Theory and practice of public speaking in the context of mediated political communication. Students analyze, write, and give speeches.

SMPA 3358. Strategic Practicum. 3 Credits.

Working in small groups, students research and develop full-scale plans for hypothetical, reality-based, strategic communication campaigns that test and apply theoretical advances in the field. Prerequisite: SMPA 3353.

SMPA 3428. Media, Politics & Government. 3 Credits.

The impact of mainstream media and online outlets on politics and the governing process. Topics include the role of social media, online advertising, comedy shows and the changing ways that voters receive information. Same as PSC 2228.

SMPA 3459. Language and Politics. 3 Credits.

Connections between language and the political world. Theory and practice of language in politics and the impact on the creation and consumption of politics.

SMPA 3460. Race, Media & Politics. 3 Credits.

Examination of the place of race in American society and politics, with attention to the role of media reporting in helping to shape understanding of race and racial matters, public opinion about race, and race and electoral politics.

SMPA 3461. Campaigns and Elections. 3 Credits.

The role of the news media in campaigns and elections. Offered in even-numbered years.

SMPA 3463. Media Bias. 3 Credits.

Exploration of empirical and theoretical understanding of media bias, its effects on power, and implications for democracy.

SMPA 3469. International Communication. 3 Credits.

A survey of theoretical themes in international communication and their practical applications: information production and circulation, global media industries, and cultures.

SMPA 3470. Comparative Media Systems. 3 Credits.

In-depth study of the developmental, regulatory, political, economic, and cultural dimensions of selected foreign communication systems.

SMPA 3471. Media in the Developing World. 3 Credits.

Contemporary views of media roles in developing nations. The role of the press and electronic media in economic, social, and national development, including media as agents of modernization, development journalism, and post-colonial responses to Western “cultural imperialism.” Media and Islam; role of the Internet; and theories of media and globalization.

SMPA 3472. Media and Foreign Policy. 3 Credits.

The emerging role of news media in international affairs and diplomacy. Globalization of news media advances in digital information and communication technologies and consequences for the international system and diplomacy.

SMPA 3474. Electronic Media Policy. 3 Credits.

Legal, technical, political, economic, and social aspects of radio, television, and cable and related delivery systems. Structure and operation of the FCC and other agencies; the role of Congress and the courts. Spectrum allocation, behavioral regulation, the trend to deregulate political influence, and current policy issues.

SMPA 3475. Media Management. 3 Credits.

Decision making, strategic planning, and daily operations of all types of media organizations. Sales strategies, promotion, and research.

SMPA 3476. Changing Media Technology. 3 Credits.

Current and likely future trends in electronic media, with emphasis on radio, television, and cable, including developments in technology, programming, and public policy and their cultural implications.

SMPA 3479. Documentary. 3 Credits.

Origins, genres, and analysis of documentary film. Power, reach, and conceptual frameworks of documentary filmmaking.

SMPA 3480. Convergence/Future Journalism. 3 Credits.

Reasons behind the decline of traditional newspaper and broadcast journalism; the impact of the web and other digital tools on traditional journalism values.

SMPA 4198. Special Honors Research Seminar. 3 Credits.

Open only to special honors candidates in political communication in the senior year. Prerequisite: SMPA 4199 and departmental approval.

SMPA 4199. Senior Seminar. 3 Credits.

Capstone course limited to SMPA majors.

SMPA 6201. Strategic Communications Skills. 1.5 Credit.

Specialized skills courses, such as writing for public affairs, video editing and production, political uses of social media, web development and strategy, speechwriting. Topics announced in the Schedule of Classes. May be repeated for credit, but up to a maximum of 6 credits. (Spring).

SMPA 6202. Media Effects, Public Opinion, and Persuasion. 3 Credits.

Theories of media effects and persuasion. Institutional functions and individual effects of mediated communication. Impacts of different textual content and format on individual thinking and emotion; forces that shape content production.   (Fall).

SMPA 6203. Information, Technology, and Political Communication. 3 Credits.

Issues pertaining to the political uses of the Internet, social media, and other new media; the effect that new information technologies have on political life and the ways in which politics shape technology development.

SMPA 6204. Strategic Political Communication. 3 Credits.

Theory, techniques, and implications of strategic communication as employed by individuals, groups, organizations, and governments to advance their interests; applications to non-electoral politics and policymaking; use of political, psychological, sociological, and other processes; methodological considerations; domestic and international applications.

SMPA 6205. Media, Development, and Globalization. 3 Credits.

Theories of media and globalization. The changing role of communication media, including the Internet and other newer technologies as well as traditional books, film, newspapers, telephone, and satellite in establishing closer relationships and interdependencies among people, their cultures, and their organizations in various countries.

SMPA 6206. Advocacy Communication and Political Networks. 3 Credits.

Cross-disciplinary approaches to global changes in the nature of governance and collective action. The role of new technology, social movements, NGOs and transnational advocacy networks. Information campaigns and advocacy communication.

SMPA 6207. Political Persuasion and Public Opinion. 3 Credits.

Major theories and perspectives in public opinion and persuasion research. Information processing, psychological models applied to politics and media research (cognition, attitudes, resistance, heuristics), public opinion dynamics.

SMPA 6208. Politics and Public Relations Fundamentals. 3 Credits.

Basic knowledge of the skills to design, implement, and evaluate public relations activities. Case studies of public relations applied to politics. Techniques and tactics used by public relations professionals.   (Spring).

SMPA 6210. Media & Foreign Policy. 3 Credits.

The effects of U.S. media on U.S. and foreign governments, and of foreign media on the U.S.; effects of other countries’ media on each other; the impact of the Internet, inexpensive global phoning, CNN, al Jazeera, and other newer technologies and networks on the stuff of international relations: diplomacy, military operations, trade negotiations.

SMPA 6220. Strategic Practicum. 3 Credits.

Design of strategy for an information and influence campaign. Research on issues and actors, identification of critical decision-making points and key constituencies, development of communication strategies more likely to achieve stated objectives of a campaign. Prerequisite: SMPA 6204. For students doing a strategic communication capstone project, this course replaces SMPA 6297.

SMPA 6221. Communication and Technology Practicum. 3 Credits.

Practicum in using digital and social media tools to advocate and communicate. A project-based course in which students develop and implement an online campaign using web, social media, and blogs. Students design campaign and message elements, create content, and manage website.

SMPA 6230. Principles and Methods of Documentary Filmmaking. 6 Credits.

Analytical and practical exploration of the elements of documentary filmmaking. The genres of nonfiction filmmaking; fundamentals of film conceptualization, documentary screenwriting, story structure, and production theory; and basic practical elements of production. Admission by permission of instructor.

SMPA 6231. Documentary Filmmaking Practicum. 3 Credits.

Intensive practical experience in documentary film production. Students produce a 10–15-minute documentary film on a selected topic. Emphasis on major markers in film production: treatment and script writing, location shooting, Final Cut Pro editing, graphics, music, and final sound mix. Prerequisite: SMPA 6230 and permission of instructor.

SMPA 6241. Research Design. 3 Credits.

Design, applications, and limitations of quantitative research as applied to the field of media and strategic communication. Framing of research questions, identification of variables and formulation of hypotheses, measurement, sampling, data gathering techniques, and preparation of research reports. Brief exposure to qualitative research.   (Fall).

SMPA 6242. Analytics and Data Analysis for Strategic Communication. 3 Credits.

Familiarity with major data analytic and analysis techniques used by strategic communication practitioners. Topics covered include basic statistical analysis, multivariate regression, experiments, focus groups, and survey research. Prerequisites: an undergraduate statistics course.   (Spring).

SMPA 6250. Topics in Media Processes and Institutions. 3 Credits.

Topics address such issues as the history of media content, institutions, and process; impact of changing communication technology on culture; history and development of mass-produced culture; and professional ideology and practice of journalism. May be repeated for credit provided the topic differs.

SMPA 6270. Topics. 3 Credits.

Topics explore such areas as social theories of public opinion and mass media’s response; and the role of mass media in constructing social perceptions of the scientific process and its relationship to cultural and material life.

SMPA 6272. Media Bias, Power, and Democracy. 3 Credits.

Consideration of the available scholarly evidence in order to develop a more sophisticated empirical and theoretical understanding of what constitutes media bias. How do we recognize and measure bias? Are there patterns in decisions about news coverage that indicate bias? Which political parties and economic interests benefit from patterns of news coverage?.

SMPA 6274. Media and War. 3 Credits.

Historic and contemporary examination of the media’s role in wartime. Topics include covering war, the role of the media in generating support for foreign intervention, propaganda, effects of war coverage on public opinion, media and genocide, and public diplomacy. Ethical, philosophical and political implications of the media’s role.

SMPA 6275. Public Diplomacy. 3 Credits.

SMPA 6292. Co-Curricular Activities in Responsible Management. 0 Credits.

SMPA 6296. Directed Readings and Research. 3 Credits.

Independent research with SMPA faculty member. Must be approved in advance by supervising professor and director of graduate studies.

SMPA 6297. Capstone Project. 3 Credits.

SMPA 6298. Capstone Project. 3 Credits.

SMPA 6998. Thesis Research. 3 Credits.

SMPA 6999. Thesis Research. 3 Credits.