Office: Merion Hall 16
Office hours: TTh 10-12, W – 1-2,  and by appointment (e-mail)
e-mail: jlyons@sju.edu (Please allow at least 24 hours for a response. If you don’t get one by then, e-mail me again.) You can also get me on twitter at @jmikelyons.


Course Description

Media narratives have an enormous impact on how we think about crime and justice. News articles, television and movies help shape how we think about crime . In this class we will pull apart these narratives, study them and help reshape them. Students will closely examine media narratives of crime (for example, the “Central Park Five” case of the late 1980s) and their consequences for “tough on crime” legislation and prison policies.

We will also play an active role in shaping narratives through our work on The Redemption Project, a multimedia initiative that focuses on men and women serving life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles. This work requires some basic computer skills (advanced multimedia skills like video and audio editing would be great, but are not required) and the willingness to talk on the phone and perhaps in person to people who are incarcerated. Some off-campus travel is also required. These interviews will help us tell stories that place crime and incarceration in a much larger context.


This is more than a class. It involves real people doing real work outside of Saint Joseph’s University. In many cases, the work you do will have real-world consequences for the men and women we work with. Therefore, I reserve the right to ask you to leave the class (drop it or withdraw) if I believe you have engaged in any unethical behavior. This includes using the video/audio clips, images or writing for any purpose other than those spelled out for the class.

Course Objectives

• Understand and apply the theories and concepts that shape media narratives and their impact on public issues and policies.
• Critically evaluate media narratives of crime and criminal justice.
• Use digital media tools to craft narratives and campaigns narratives aimed at counterpublics.

Books, articles, films, etc.

• Stanley Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics
• Sarah Burns, The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One of New York City’s Most Infamous Crimes
• Terry Williams, Cocaine Kids

(These are all at the bookstore, but you can get them elsewhere much cheaper.)

Reading/Watching/Listening Notes

This course requires a lot of reading. I am asking each of you to take notes on each reading that we do for class and share those notes with me in a Google doc. The intention here is to help you express what you did and didn’t understand about the reading, identify some key concepts and terms that are important to know in a discussion of digital media ethics and pose some discussion questions about the readings. Your reading notes are due two hours before class.

These reading notes are a fairly substantial piece of your grade, so don’t go out to lunch on them.

Mystery Box Challenges

Three times during the semester small groups will be presented with “mystery box challenges,” to provide a chance to hone your technical skills on a real project. In the “box” will be audio, images and video that the group will be expected to turn into a polished, coherent and compelling narrative. While the name – “mystery box challenge – is kind of funny, the process is very serious and the outcome is very important. The winner of each challenge will be included onThe Redemption Project (likely with a few edits).

Courtroom Visit

This is a class on the production, deployment and consumption of media narratives.  But to understand how narratives about crime and criminal justice work, you need to experience the way the system works. So a required task in the course is to visit a courtroom in the city criminal court. But not just any courtroom. You are required to go to room 306, which is where all of Philadelphia’s preliminary hearings for murder cases are held. It is nicknamed murder court. I will fully brief you before you go.


Reading Notes – 30 percent
Mystery Box Challenges – 40 percent
Courtroom visit and essay – 15 percent
Social Media Strategy – 15 percent

Participation and Attendance

Our success as a class requires that everyone attend prepared to contribute. That means having done the readings and required reading notes.

I take attendance. You get three unexcused absences. After that, each absence will result in the loss of half a letter grade. More than five absences will result in a failing grade.


Projects are due on the date listed on the schedule. Each day late will result in a letter grade deduction. Reading notes are due two hours before class. They will not be accepted after that.

Academic Integrity

No form of academic misconduct will be tolerated in this course. Cheating and plagiarism will result in an immediate fail and you will be reported to the appropriate official in your college. Plagiarism is defined in the Student Code of Conduct as follows:

1. Submitting another’s published or unpublished work in whole, in part or in paraphrase, as one’s own without fully and properly crediting the author with footnotes, quotation marks, citations, or bibliographical reference.

2. Submitting as one’s own original work, material obtained from an individual or agency without reference to the person or agency as the source of the material.

3. Submitting as one’s own original work material that has been produced through unacknowledged collaboration with others without release in writing from collaborators.

Special Needs

As the father of a child with a learning disability, I am very sensitive to the needs of students with special needs. Please don’t hesitate to contact me about accommodations.

For those who have or think that you may have a disability (learning, physical or psychological), you are encouraged to contact the Office of Student Disability Services as early as possible in the semester. Reasonable accommodations can only be offered to students with current (within 3 years) documentation of the disability and to the extent that such accommodation does not interfere with the essential requirements of a particular course or program.

If you have any questions contact the Office of Student Disability Services.