For your summer reading pleasure: Vince Filak’s “Exploring Mass Communication”

Very little good can come from a 4 a.m. email., unless your publisher has an office in India:

To call this book a “journey” would be to call Godzilla a “lizard:” It’s both accurate and yet reductive. To put it in perspective, it took me less time to finish my undergrad degree (complete with two majors and two additional minor/sequence things) than it took to do this book. In fact, I think it took less time to finish my master’s and Ph.D. combined than it did to get this thing ready for public consumption.

It began when my editor/monorail salesperson and I were talking one summer and she did the, “I’m going to start another project… You probably wouldn’t be interested in it…” thing, and well… yeah… I bought the monorail.

For every book, I put a giant Post-It note on the wall, in which I check off chapter writing, editing and so forth. This time, I had to redo the Post-It three times, as changes and new ideas kept pouring in. We did at least six sets of chapter reviews, where we kept revising and resubmitting. (I’m working on a larger blog post on what this whole kind of process entails… It’ll be amusing, I promise.)

At one point I even asked my editor, “Look, can I like pay some kind of fee and just buy my way out of this contract?” The answer was no, which, in retrospect, was fortunate.

Here’s a sneak peek at what makes this book different from the 14 other intro texts I read at least five times each (no lie) and why I am glad we finally got here:

  • CHAPTER ORGANIZATION: One of the complaints students had about their textbooks was that they felt like they were playing a game of “Where’s Waldo?” to get the important information for the learning objectives or tests. For this book, we hit them in the face with it:
    • All learning objectives are listed at the front of the chapter.
    • Each chunk of the chapter has the specific LO listed with it.
    • At the end of each chapter, there’s a recap of the LO and the specific items that go with it.
    • In short, you know what you need to know and then we show you where to find it and how to use it.
  • PRACTICAL CONTENT: The goal of the book was to be both broadly theoretical and specifically practical in terms of application. Thus, we cover history, but we then explain WHY it matters. We talk about theories, but then we talk about HOW they can be applied. We also go through the ways in which the media interweaves in people’s lives in a variety of ways. Even more, we list off potential career options in each media field for the students.
  • INCLUSIVE APPROACH: We wanted this book to be more than a look at “the usual suspects” that we cover in many media overviews. Yes, there were a lot of straight white guys who did stuff that helped shape media today. That said, there are a lot of folks across the racial, gender and sexual orientation spectra who made huge differences and contributed in ways that often get overlooked or marginalized. (My favorite cool discovery: The first home gaming system that allowed people to use the “cartridge” approach wasn’t the Atari 2600, but was the Fairchild Channel F, created by Jerry Lawson, one of the few computer engineers of color back in the 1970s.)
    In each chapter, we tried our best to showcase the trailblazers as well as show a broader array of content that sought to be more seamless in our discussion of individuals who mattered (as opposed to loudly shouting, “Hey! Look over here! We’re featuring a Black History Moment!” every time we talked about someone other than a straight white guy).
  • TONS OF EXTRAS: Professors often want to have assignments or discussion questions available to help the students engage the material and demonstrate competence regarding the material. We dumped a boatload of options into this on the teaching website, but we also did targeted extras as well. Each chapter starts with several thought-provoking questions to “prime the pump” for students as they start reading. Each chapter also has discussion questions, activities and assignments at the end. In some of the features, we offer a “Next Step” approach to help students immediately apply what they’ve learned through a short writing assignment. And, is the case with every book in the “Filak Franchise” (I still can’t get used to that phrase…), I’m ready, willing and able to write a post, create an assignment or work with an instructor on something they want.
  • FORMATTING FUN: Not only do we break the chapters down into bite-sized chunks and simple subsections, but we also have the book available in all sorts of formats from traditional dead-tree books to online e-books and digital copies. SAGE even rolled this one into its Vantage system, which does an amazing job of integrating all sorts of resources and learning systems into the text.
    (In all honesty, I’m still not exactly sure how Vantage operates. All I know is that it’s either amazingly thorough and awesome or I’m part of a social science experiment where the people from SAGE are seeing how much superfluous stuff they can make me do by simply saying, “The Vantage System requires X…”)
    In short, if you learn better in a specific way, the book caters to it.
  • IT’S CHEAP(ER)(ISH): If there’s one thing I heard repeatedly over the past four years it was, “Textbooks cost too much money.” I get it, although after hearing in every review that “Cost will be a primary factor” in deciding whether to use the book or not, I pitched the idea to SAGE of renaming the book, “FILAK’S FIVE DOLLAR BOOK OF MEDIA STUFF” and then just writing whatever I wanted, however I wanted to do it. That was a “hard no” from the powers that be, but I did get them to price it under the others at the market and to make cheaper digital versions available¬† so that the kids don’t have to sell a kidney to read this thing.

I know that some people view textbooks (and subsequently textbook authors) as something between a door-to-door vacuum salesperson and that white stuff that grows in the corner of your mouth when you get really thirsty. That said, I’m honestly proud of what we’re trying to do here: Give instructors a good tool that can be helpful in teaching a new kind of student important material that can provide a foundation for a mass com intro class.

If nothing else, the cover is so pretty it made me smile, so that’s worth the five-year wait, right?

Despite my disdain for book pimping, if you are interested in getting a look at the book or a desk copy, hit me up through the contact page and I’ll get the SAGE folk in touch with you.


Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)


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