Tagged: Introduction to Electronic Media

Stop Buying VALS

Earlier today, in my electronic media class, we discussed radio advertising. Specifically, we covered how radio stations develop formats to attract a segmented audience that specific advertisers are seeking. If you ever wondered why, in the blink of an eye, your favorite heavy metal station turned into a Spanish-language norteño station, it’s because the advertising market changed to accommodate one que habla español.

How advertisers segment audiences is something that I won’t pretend to have much expertise, mostly because I find it dull. I also don’t get excited about this because when I begin to talk about demographics, it seems familiar to most of my students. It doesn’t feel like I’m actually teaching. After all, who doesn’t know that age, ethnicity, gender, income and education level each determine what media you consume and how you spend your money?

Psychographics and VALS

In addition to demographics, there are psychographics. These measure less about what a listener is, such as a 38 year-old, non-white hispanic male, but instead what a listener believes. One proprietary psychographic methodology is VALS. Developed by SRI International, VALS is based on two very broad types of consumers: innovators and survivors. Within those categories are six other types related to ideals, achievement, and self-expression.


Looking at the chart of VALS, I would imagine that I would not want to be perceived at the bottom of these categories. For example, look at how they describe Survivors:

Survivors live narrowly focused lives. Because they have few resources with which to cope, they often believe that the world is changing too quickly. They are comfortable with the familiar and are primarily concerned with safety and security. Because they must focus on meeting needs rather than fulfilling desires, Survivors do not show a strong primary motivation.

When I began to review each of these, I was in a self-deprecating mood and kept comparing myself to the lower rungs of the VALS scale, such as Believers and Strivers, but those didn’t seem to fit me.

An Innovator and an Achiever?!?

To get a more precise picture of my VALS type, I took the VALS survey and had some students take it, too. Some of them shared their results with me, and now, I’d like to share my results with you.


Apparently, my primary VALS type is an Innovator. Accordingly, that means that I am a “successful, sophisticated, take-charge [person] with high self-esteem” and with “abundant resources.” I am also the type of person who is “among the established and emerging leaders in business and government” but “continue to seek challenges.” My life is “characterized by variety,” and my “possessions and recreation reflect a cultivated taste for the finer things in life.”

They can’t be talking about me, right? This sounds like a pretty important person, and I’m as surprised as anyone.

What about my secondary type? Apparently, I’m an Achiever.

Motivated by the desire for achievement, Achievers have goal-oriented lifestyles and a deep commitment to career and family. Their social lives reflect this focus and are structured around family, their place of worship, and work.

“Goal-oriented?” I have probably written that on resumés because it sounds good, but here’s some “science” to prove that, I guess. What about having “a deep commitment to career and family?” That could describe someone like me, but since I have neither of those things, I’m not sure how it could be me.

What about consumer behavior? How do we Achievers like to spend our money?

With many wants and needs, Achievers are active in the consumer marketplace. Image is important to Achievers; they favor established, prestige products and services that demonstrate success to their peers. Because of their busy lives, they are often interested in a variety of time-saving devices.

That kinda sounds like me.

And it’s better than my usual, disparaging characterization of over-educated, underachiever.

Take the VALS Survey

My Spring 2015 Classes at Fordham

Although Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not until next week and it’s 20° F outside, we’ve already started classes for the “spring” semester at Fordham. (Yes, it seems much too early to me, too.) Since my two classes there already met, I am lifting my self-imposed embargo on promoting them.1

Introduction to Electronic Media

I have taught this course five times since 2007. Despite its odd and possibly antiquated title—after all, what media isn’t electronic these days?—it is one of my favorite classes because we get to explore radio, television, and digital media with a reasonable amount of depth. It’s nice to spend several weeks to explain some nuanced concepts from these media with some detail. For someone who does a lot of survey classes, it is a rare luxury not to feel so rushed when I want to explain radio frequency allocations, dayparts, and why computers use hexadecimal numbers to undergraduate students… or anyone who will listen.

The class meets on Wednesday mornings, 8:30–11:15 AM.

Introduction to New Media

This course will someday be the foundation of a digital/participatory media concentration in Fordham’s Communication and Media Studies undergraduate major, but for now, the curriculum is still developing. As a result, the department has given me free reign over this introduction to studying digital media. However, one of my issues with a lot of digital media scholarship is that, at least to me, it resembles science fiction. I’d rather confront social and cultural issues in digital media from either a historical or contemporary perspective. Instead of poring over heavily theoretical works in an introductory class, I am relying more on texts that explain a cultural issue, such as how young people use social media, to give students an understanding of digital media with some concrete data and examples.

As I tell students on the first day of class, it’s a graduate-style class for undergraduate students.

The class meets on Tuesday afternoons, 2:30–5:15 PM.

  1. This “self-imposed embargo” was because I had not finished my syllabi until early this week. 

Adjunct Teaching: Procrastinate or Else

Earlier this summer, low enrollment cancelled two of my courses at Fordham. I was slated to teach two new offerings, The Broadcast Industry and Digital Media and Cyberculture. The two were so new that no one had taught them at Fordham before, which is probably why students didn’t enroll and the class was cancelled. I had kept thinking about materials for these courses in the back of my mind, but I never prepared a syllabus or ordered textbooks. I learned a some time ago that, because your course can be cancelled due to low enrollment, you have to be prepared to trash a syllabus you worked on over the summer. It’s better to wait until August to create that syllabus.

After the classes were cancelled I was assigned to teach TV News and Today’s World, a stalwart course of the undergraduate curriculum that I’ve never done before. A few weeks later, I was asked to fill in for a professor on medical leave and cover his Introduction to Media Industries. I was happy to do that because this is a course I’ve done many times, as recently as this past spring. I went from having two courses to zero, and then back to two. In addition, another professor was granted some course relief (sounds nice, doesn’t it?), and I was asked to cover his Introduction to Electronic Media course. Because I consider him a friend and because I have also done this course in the past, as recently as the Sandy-shortened semester of Fall 2012, I happily took the course, provided I was relieved of TV News and Today’s World.

That’s exactly what happened. At the beginning of the summer, I dreaded the thought of creating two new syllabi for courses I’ve never taught before. That’s a lot of work to do over the summer, and I was even preparing to ask for a raise when I went in to sign my contract. I was also anxious about the new courses because I suck at doing a class the first time around, or at least it feels that way to me. But then they were cancelled. With these personnel issues that arose over the summer, and that our department chair had to handle, I was able to not only substitute for two full-timers who couldn’t teach their courses, helping out the department with crucial staffing issues, but my overall workload will be much easier with these tried-and-true courses.

Sometimes, it pays to procrastinate.