Following the campaign in the classroom
Two classes at AU cover the election
Two classes at AU are focusing on how the presidential election is being covered by the news media this semester. Offered only once every four years, “Politics, Campaigns and the Media” and “Presidential Campaign 2016: Inside the War Room and the Newsroom” are a unique opportunity for students to learn about a subject in real time.
Professor Leonard Steinhorn teaches “Presidential Campaign 2016: Inside the War Room and the Newsroom.” Steinhorn has students write weekly briefs on topics including partisan media, millennials and battleground states among many others. At 11 a.m. every Thursday morning, a select few AU students gather for class in the Mckinley building’s media innovation lab. From there, the class is livestreamed on the website of WUSA, the local CBS affiliate, and students provide their detailed analysis of media coverage in the 2016 election.
“Viewers across the country are able to see this and then [WUSA reporters] do stories on the class a couple times,” Steinhorn said. “It goes beyond what they are doing in the classroom. What they are saying can have an impact on people.”
Steinhorn strongly believes that his class has a positive effect on his students that extends beyond the classroom.
“When students engage in class, they apply knowledge to consequential moments in our nation's history,” Steinhorn said. “They do this by understanding politics, history, culture, media, reporting, and examining with the same rigor that political analysts do.”
Susan Klau, a senior in SOC and a second time student of Steinhorn’s, can attest to the class’ strength.
“After taking this class, I feel like a mini expert,” Klau said. “Now people come up to me and ask me questions, like my parents will call me and be like ‘Do you think that Hillary having pneumonia is gonna kill her campaign?’ I'm not a fortune teller but I can give pretty good analysis.”
Dr. Richard Benedetto, a professor in the School of Communication, is teaching “Politics, Campaigns and Media,” focusing on the contemporary political campaign. In order to provide his students with a greater understanding of the campaigns, he teaches them the history of all presidential political campaigns.
“The textbook we use contains an outline of every campaign starting with George Washington,” Benedetto said. “We discuss the history of what's going on right now. What I want them to see was that races were nasty even then, very nasty.”
Each student follows a particular news organization throughout the semester, observing how the coverage changes throughout the election. Shani Rosenstock, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and a three time-student of Benedetto's, said she took the class because of her interest in social media and elections.
“In 2008 I became really interested in politics, especially regarding social media and the impact it was having on the election,” Rosenstock said. “Many people claim that he won the election because he appealed to young people and what was going on with social networking.”
Both Benedetto and Steinhorn have years of experience in the field and provide unique insight into the national media. As one of the first staff writers for “USA Today,” Benedetto spent years traversing the country while covering presidential elections. He talked to “regular folks” as he put it, instead of just “politicians and analysts” as some reporters do.
Steinhorn worked as a speechwriter for members of Congress before joining the AU faculty. He also founded PunditWire, a news commentary site that includes pieces from former speechwriters.
Steinhorn believes that the scope of his class goes far beyond what they cover in the day to day news.
“In political campaigns virtually everything in politics and communication are part of the DNA of political campaign,” Steinhorn said. “Study that DNA in real time and understand the decisions and why they are made, what the consequences are.”