Current Events Journal Guidelines
PLS 140—Spring 2019
Throughout the semester, you are required to keep a journal about current events.
When Are Entries Due?
Your entry for a given topic is due by the deadline listed below, by 10:20 am (with the
exception of Topic 10, which is due by 5:00 pm). Entries posted after the deadline might not
be counted as valid submissions, so make sure to post by the deadline. Here is the schedule
for the course:
Collective Action & Civil Society
Presidentialism & Parliamentarism
Electoral & Party Systems
National & Subnational Identities
Due Tues. Jan. 29
Due Thurs. Feb. 7
Due Thurs. Feb. 14
Due Thurs. Feb. 28
Due Thurs. March 14
Due Thurs. March 28
Due Thurs. April 4
Due Tues. April 16
Due Tues. April 23
Due Fri. April 26
What Kinds of Topics Are Appropriate for Each Week?
A number of topics might be especially challenging. Here are some notes:
Topic 1 (The State): Anything on the functioning of the state or debates over what the state
should do. An obvious topic might a news story that highlights a problem that is caused by
state weakness (keep in mind that news stories rarely use these kinds of terms).
Topic 2 (Authoritarianism): Anything on politics in an authoritarian regime, relating to the
nature of the regime (e.g., political repression). Note: Any country rated as “not free” by
Topic 3 (Democracy): You can be *very* broad here. Focus on how democracy works in
some country. There might be a democratic election somewhere, or some debate in a
national legislature, or some issue about basic freedoms being protected (or not being
protected), or debates about what freedoms should be protected in a democracy. (Hint: This
last kind of debate is very common in coverage of US politics. e.g., Should democracies be
allowed to spy on their citizens, in the name of public security?) Here, you should focus on a
country rated as “free” by Freedom House: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedomworld/freedom-world-2018
Topic 4 (Regime change): This doesn’t have to be about an actual regime change that
happened as we were discussing the topic. (Such an event is highly unlikely!) It could be
about the aftermath of a regime change that occurred in recent years (e.g., events in Burma,
Egypt, the Gambia) or people fighting for regime change (e.g., democratic activists in China
or Democratic Republic of Congo), etc. You could also write about issues related to
democratic decline or reversals (e.g., Ecuador, Hungary, Poland, the United States,
Topic 5 (Economic Regimes): This week can be broad. Anything related to political economy
is acceptable. This could involve debate over state spending, changes in the way a country
is structuring its economy, changes to the social welfare state, an economic crisis, etc.
Topic 6 (Collective Action & Civil Society): Anything about protest movements, organized
groups getting involved in politics (or trying and failing to get involved in politics), etc.
Topic 7 (Presidentialism & Parliamentarism): Unless some country is going through a
constitutional change, it’s unlikely you’ll find something direct about presidentialism or
parliamentarism. Therefore, you should find some news story about the relationship
somewhere between an executive (i.e., a president or a prime minister) and his or her
Topic 8 (Electoral & Party Systems): Again, unless some country is going through a
constitutional change between systems, it’s unlikely you’ll find something direct about
electoral systems. Therefore, you should find some news story about electoral competition
(maybe an election coming up, an election that recently occurred, or controversy over one
that recently occurred).
Topic 9 (Political Identity): Anything about the politics of identity; these kinds of stories are
very common in US mass media, but they are also found in many other countries with great
frequency. It can be related to race, religion, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation,
caste, ethnicity, etc.
Topic 10 (Intrastate Violence): This could be about a civil war, but it could also be about
violence that doesn’t reach the level of a civil war (e.g., riots, terrorism, etc.). Remember,
though, that since the topic is intrastate violence, the violence must be carried out by one
citizen of a state against another from the same state.
How Many Entries Do I Need to Make?
There are ten topics this semester for which entries are due. You are expected to do
an entry for each of these topics. However, we will count the seven entries with the highest
grades (see below on grading) in figuring out your total points for this assignment.
Therefore, it is up to you to decide whether you want to write only seven entries (i.e., not
submit for three topics), or whether you’d like to write more, so that some entries you
might’ve made with lower points will be dropped. You will not get extra credit for writing
more than seven perfectly scored entries.
How Often Can I Make an Entry?
Only once per topic.
What Kinds of News Stories Are Appropriate?
1) The news story should be related to some topic that we’re covering this semester. In
other words, stories about politics (e.g., elections, corruption, coups, civil wars and
other violence, terrorism) are appropriate, as are stories about social issues (e.g.,
health, women’s rights, children’s rights, LGBTQIA issues, labor, the environment)
and the economy (e.g., foreign investment, international economic cooperation, trade,
poverty). This means that stories about sports, the arts, celebrity sex scandals,
natural disasters, etc. are generally off limits, unless they have a clear tie to an
appropriate topic. For example, if a story about a mudslide discusses how the state’s
poor/good response cost/saved lives, then it is an appropriate topic.
2) The story must have been published or aired no more than ten days before the date
you hand it in.
3) You will often come across news stories that are only a few sentences long. These are
probably not going to give you enough background to make an entry. You will need
to find something that is at least a few paragraphs.
What Needs to Go In an Entry?
Each entry needs to have four things:
1) A link to the story you are using, if it is available on the web. If you find a story in
a print publication, you should be able to find and provide the link to it online.
Many radio and television stories also likely have web links to listen or watch.
2) A short description of the event being covered. You do not need to get in great
detail here. Just tell enough to cover the main points of the story. This need not
be more than 2-3 sentences.
**Important: Do not cut and paste text from the story itself and use that as your
summary. This constitutes plagiarism. The summary must be in your own
3) Somewhere, in either the summary or the questions, you need to make it clear
why you see a connection between this particular event or news story and the
topic we have just covered. For example, one could write an entry on a story about
the poor condition of roads in Kenya and how that has contributed to a recent
traffic accident there. However, you should also make clear that you understand
that this story is related to the topic of The State (if you’re writing for that
particular topic), in that even minimalists think that states should maintain roads,
and the fact that Kenya does not do that very well is some indication of a weaker
4) At least 2 questions that came to mind as you read the story. I anticipate that these
will mostly be “how” or “why” questions. For example, if you’ve read a story about
ethnic violence in Myanmar (Burma), a question might be, “Why did Group A
attack Group B?” If civilians, or even children, were targeted in the attack, a good
question would be “Why did the attackers target children?”
A really good question integrates significant amounts of context from the story.
For example, if you were reading a story from August 2013 about the elections in
Zimbabwe, and the story mentioned how then-President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF
party won quite a few seats in opposition strongholds (such as Masvingo
Province), and how the last election in 2008 had involved significant violence
against members of the opposition there, you could ask, “Why did people in
Masvingo Province, who had voted for the opposition in the past, vote for
Mugabe’s party in this election? Wouldn’t the violence people in the region
suffered at the hands of ZANU-PF supporters in 2008 have made them unlikely to
ever vote for ZANU-PF?”
These questions should be something that intrigues, puzzles, or even confuses you
about the story. After a few weeks of this, you will hopefully be asking the types
of questions that political scientists try to answer in their work.
Bad questions (for the purpose of this assignment) would be ones that are more
strictly factual in nature. For example, if you read an article on the 2013 election
in Zimbabwe, and it mentioned that ZANU-PF won in Masvingo Province, a good
question would *not* be, “How many people voted in Masvingo Province?” Other
inappropriate questions would be, “When did Zimbabwe get its independence?”
“How old is Robert Mugabe?” “What are the main crops grown in Masvingo
Also, avoid questions that simply ponder what will happen in the future. For
example, “How much longer will authoritarianism last in Zimbabwe?” is not a
good question for this assignment. Political scientists mainly focus on analyzing
things that have happened in the past.
How Will I Be Graded?
You will receive a 0, 1, 2, or 3 for each entry. Your TA will use the following guidelines
when grading your entry:
0: Entry not completed, or seriously deficient (i.e., only a link to a news story posted,
inappropriate story, etc.).
1: Entry completed, but not sufficient (i.e., no questions about event or no summary
of event, summary extremely unclear, questions extremely unclear, only one
2: Entry completed and nearly sufficient (i.e., complete and generally clear summary,
but one or more questions inappropriate) OR good summary and questions, but
the news story is not explicitly linked to the topic.
3: Entry completed and sufficient (i.e., complete and generally clear summary, at
least two appropriate questions), and the news story is clearly linked to the
You can earn a maximum of 21 points throughout the semester.
What if I Miss the Deadline for an Entry?
The Dropbox for a given topic will disappear from your calendar after the deadline,
but you can still access it to make a submission (see How Do I Make an Entry? below).
However, entries will be penalized .15 points if they are turned in after the 10:20 am
deadline, but before 10:20 am on the following day. An additional .15-point penalty will be
assessed for each additional 24-hour period the entry is late. For example, if an entry is due
at 10:20 am on Thursday, February 7, but you submit it to D2L at 8:25 am on Monday,
February 11, your entry will be penalized .6 points (i.e., 4 days late). In this example, if you
would have received a 2.0 on an entry, your grade after the penalty would be 1.4.
The maximum penalty an entry can be assessed is 1.5 points. (This follows a betterlate-than-never philosophy.) This means that you can submit an entry at any point during
the semester (before Friday, April 26 at 5:00 PM) and still receive some credit (provided that
the quality of the entry would be enough to earn you at least a 1.75. If your entry would
normally have earned a 1.0, and it is handed in, say, 2 weeks late, you will receive a 0.).
However, no entries will be accepted for credit after the final exam.
Will Anyone Else Be Able to See My Entry?
Besides the course staff (instructor, TA), no one else will be able to see your entry,
nor will you be able to see anyone else’s.
Where Can I Find News Stories?
Here are a number of places to get stories from around the world, but don’t feel
limited to them. If you look elsewhere, make sure that the source of your story is reputable
(i.e., it cannot be some random person’s blog post).
BBC News (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world/ )
The Economist (www.economist.com)
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (www.irinnews.org)
Al Jazeera (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/ )
5) New York Times (www.nytimes.com)
6) Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/home-page)
7) Christian Science Monitor (http://www.csmonitor.com/)
How Do I Make an Entry?
1) Type up your entry in a word processing file (e.g., Word) and save it. Note: Do
not uses Pages, as those files typically cannot be read on D2L. If you use a word
processing program other than Word, save your document as a PDF before
2) Do not include your name or PID in the document
3) On D2L, you can get to the Assignments folder for the event several ways:
a) Go to the Calendar entry for the assignment, and click on Current Event
Journal Entry due, OR
b) Go to the topic’s content page (i.e., where all the reading questions, notes,
and reading assignments are posted), and scroll to the bottom, OR
c) Click on Assessments, then Assignments.
4) Click on the link next to Post entry here
5) Click Add a File
6) Upload your file
7) Click Add
8) Click Submit
9) You will get an email receipt when you have submitted successfully
How Do I View My Grade?
1) When your entry has been graded, you will see a notification at the top of your
2) On the top menu, click Assessments, and choose Assignments
3) Under Score, you will see the points (between 0 and 3) allocated to your entry
4) Under Feedback, click on View to see the comments on your entry. The teaching
assistant responsible for your entry will enter feedback from a pre-established
list of possible responses, in most cases.
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