This Area of Concentration addresses issues from campaign strategies to running a press office to influencing public policy.

Whether people are governing, running for office, or pushing for policy change, communication lies at the heart of politics. Courses include public affairs, campaign communication, crisis communication, and speech writing.

Area of Concentration Courses

A minimum of three courses are required to earn this Area of Concentration within the MA in Communication degree.

Communication professionals use qualitative methods to craft messages that resonate with audiences. This hands-on class exposes students to qualitative research methods that can be used on the job to guide communication efforts more strategically. Students learn how to design and conduct studies to gain insight into audience perceptions on a variety of issues. Specific techniques covered include in-depth interviews, focus groups, qualitative content analyses, and case studies. Through applied activities, students learn how to collect, analyze, and present qualitative research data. Students should take this course prior to the semester in which they begin their research for Thesis. Prerequisite: 480.600 Research and Writing Methods.

Have you ever doubted whether you are doing the right thing as a communication researcher or practitioner? Regardless of whether you realize it, you base your professional decisions and subsequent actions on morals, referring to them in different ways. For example, you may turn to your inner compass, organization’s values, or professional codes of conduct. This course will not give you quick and easy solutions; however, it will help you learn how to use an ethics framework with confidence as you move forward in your career. In particular, you will learn how to consider the one or more moral problems related to a situation, facts, options for moving forward, and values to consider throughout the process. Readings will draw from fictional and non-fictional literature, news and popular media, and industry and academic research. Not only the instructor but also other communication professionals will deliver lectures. Throughout the semester, you will work as an individual and in groups to use your critical thinking to complete various activities, including reflection, discussion, presentation, and writing based on current, real-world case studies. Your experience will culminate with a final project.

This course is designed to give students an opportunity to learn about strategic online approaches and techniques affecting and influencing public affairs. During this course, students will develop the knowledge to: Distinguish between public affairs and other forms of communication, such as public relations, Describe the different components of digital public affairs communications, Conduct basic outreach and adhere to ethics guidelines, Propose and choose from the most effective public affairs tools and tactics to achieve a client’s goals, Describe the role of stakeholders and create a target list of issue stakeholders for an issue-based organization or corporation that practices corporate social responsibility, Create a comprehensive public affairs influence plan.

No president will ever be elected again without an internet strategy. Mobile phones and Facebook are being used to organize mass protests. Thanks to YouTube, two Senators lost elections, and bloggers took down former CBS anchor Dan Rather and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Clearly, the world of political and issue campaigns has changed in the digital age. In this course students explore new strategies possible in a networked world and learn what it takes to be a digital political strategist.

From charges of fake news to viral hoaxes that spread on social media after breaking news events, it's crucial to understand and judge the credibility of the news we consume. In what has become a 24-hour news cycle, news consumers need to have the necessary skills to navigate the digital media landscape, assess the credibility of the news organizations that produce stories, determine authenticity on social media, and gain insight into how reporters produce their work. This course aims to provide these skills through a constantly updated guide to a rapidly shifting media landscape. We'll consider current challenges, including journalism's collapsing business model, the role of platforms such as Facebook and Google, and the loss of local news and the impact of the resulting news deserts. We'll also review the guidance of leading media critics, and attempts by news organizations to engage their audiences using newsletters, events, and other methods. And we'll read and assess a wide range of stories and sites, from niche news gatherers like The Information, to upstarts like BuzzFeed and Vox, to legacy sites like the The Atlantic and the New York Times.

In this class students learn about multiple social and digital media tools, such as blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, along with platforms to manage social media content and understand social media analytics. Students apply what they learn by developing a social media campaign for a company or organization that they choose. Each week, students learn how to use social media tools to effectively tell an organization’s story. Students also learn the theories behind why social and digital media shape the ways that customers, advocates, audiences and consumers are interacting with influencers and organizations. By the end of the semester, students will be able to not just answer, but inspire, the inevitable questions: Why should we care about social media? How can we put social and digital media to work for our personal and organizational brands?

This course will teach you how to critically evaluate media, create effective visual communication by identifying key elements of a visual message, and apply relevant theory as it relates to visual message design. This course provides an overview of the approaches and strategies communication practitioners use to incorporate media literacy in their practices. This course will address the following questions: What is media literacy and how does it relate to visual communication? How can visual media be used effectively to promote strategic messages or positive change? How can we critically evaluate the quality of visual messages and create effective and ethical visual communication?

How do professionals in the nonprofit/government/issue- oriented world determine what communication strategies will help their cause? Students will be introduced to various critical theoretical frameworks and sets of conditions that describe how social challenges occur. Students in this skills-based course will individually identify a social change challenge, target specific audiences and develop various communication strategies and tactics that will advocate for, and guide their desired social change. Examples are based on global real-world experiences and address some of the challenges involved in working in the nonprofit space.

This course covers strategic leadership and communication program development, management and evaluation. It emphasizes formative communication research, strategic communication objectives and message design, selection of media, development of materials, management of teams and impact evaluation. Crisis and issues management as well as the use of new communication technologies will also be covered. The course will focus on a step-by-step design of a communication program using SCOPE (Strategic Communication Planning and Evaluation) worksheets. The course requires you to develop a strategic communication plan. This course combines reality-based and conceptual approaches to provide you with the intellectual tools needed to assume senior management or outside counsel roles in developing and implementing fully integrated communications programs. You will prepare for program management by asking - and answering – appropriate questions about goals, activities, management, and measurement. There will be core readings as well as use of research and planning exercises.

Communication professionals must often grapple with issues of whether and how their fields are regulated. These concerns are magnified for organizations working in global contexts, forcing practitioners to consider issues of censorship and regulation within multiple jurisdictions. Knowing these rights and boundaries allows professional communicators to protect their work as well as to serve their audiences most effectively. Using the United States as a starting point, this course will explore legal trends and issues that affect communicators and their audiences while also comparing to international regulations.  

This course provides students with a fundamental understanding of crisis management, risk communication, media relations, and public-opinion research techniques in multiple contexts. It introduces students to crisis management principles, strategies, tactics and communication methods. Course participants work as a team to develop a crisis management plan for analysis and discussion. Successful students are able to transfer to the workplace the knowledge and skills developed in this course. Students learn to predict, manage, and control real-world controversies that they may confront as they pursue their careers. Moreover, students are able to manage effectively, participate in, and control volatile situations involving the news media.

Media outreach is a critical piece of any strategic communication effort. This course prepares students to build, implement, and measure earned media programs that achieve policy, business and philanthropic objectives. Class lectures, guest speakers, readings and assignments give students an understanding of the priorities and expectations of various types of contemporary media, and how to successfully engage them through research-based strategies and tactics designed to reach key audiences.

In this age of social media, opinions are everywhere, swirling around us like swarms of gnats. That means the art of outstanding opinion writing—producing persuasive, reasoned, sometimes emotional pieces that resonate deep and wide—remains more important than ever. In this course, we’ll delve into various forms of opinion writing: op-eds, personal essays, columns, reviews and criticism, blogs, humor and satire, and even social media posts. We’ll also examine how to avoid plagiarism, libel, and ethical breaches, how to construct a powerful argument, how to sidestep logical mistakes, and how to make your writing memorable. And we’ll discuss how to pitch editors to ensure your opinions find an audience. Above all, we’ll become more adept at shaping and conveying our opinions, helping us cut through the chatter and lend our true voices to the conversation.

Speech writing is one of the most important but least instructed skills for communications professionals. Through hands-on practice, students learn to write speeches for diverse audiences and contexts. Throughout the course, students will curate a speaker's narrative and public persona to develop a portfolio of work. The portfolio encompasses speeches for ceremonial occasions, public policy speeches and the keynote address. The course also incorporates practical considerations such as the speech writer's role in analyzing speaking situations and audiences, and collaborative drafting processes typical of large organizations.

This course demonstrates the important role market research—and the use of existing data to better understand audience and environment—plays in the overall campaign process. This course will focus on the integral steps that facilitate target audience definition and how to extract a keen understanding of this audience and its interactions within its environment to develop effective campaign strategy. The course’s structure and various assignments will often mimic a client/consultant relationship to ensure a real-world experience. To that end, the instructors will play the role of “client” in many instances, asking students to articulate how an assignment or deliverable contributes to the overall goals of the campaign.

Washington D.C. is home to thousands of organizations attempting to influence public policy. Associations, foundations, think tanks and private lobbying firms are all competing for the attention of policymakers and the public. These groups invariably need competent communicators who can help them cut through jargon, crystallize their messages and strategically communicate with the key audiences imperative to advancing their policy goals. This course introduces students to the deliberate process organizations undertake to speak out on issues and exert influence over the policies that have the potential to impact them and the way they do business. The class will cover how organizations conduct advocacy efforts and how communication is used as a tool to advance policy change. Students will gain a practical understanding of how policy groups and communications professionals operate in the field.

Students should be aware of state-specific information for online programs. For more information, please contact an admissions representative.

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