Crossing Our C’s: New Media Communication, Composition and Creative Writing

Here are my rough notes, almost liveblogged (posted when I passed through the lobby and had momentary access to WiFi).

Laura K. Smith, journalism; TV news background and PR. English and communication arts program. Journalism and j-education going through turmoil as the profession changes in life-altering ways. Technology, convergence, multi platform; changes in our revenue streams; PEW Project for Excellence in Journalism, newspaper revenues down 41% in 3 years, TV magazines and radio, even online dropped; only cable news didn’t drop. Local news organizations are cutting back, which affect entry-level jobs. Does “citizen journalist” eliminate the need for specialized training?

CU Boulder is considering shutting down their journalism program entirely. UG program is seen by some as not rigorous enough; others say a journalism degree is no longer relevant. Some of their community leaders saw that job postings don’t require applicants to have a journalism degree, which suggests (to them) that the major is not necessary. Create a minor in journalism, but require a major in a different field? Smith says journalism is more than information, not just a different kind of rhetoric, that there are specialized styles of writing and ethical practices that require us to give it special continued attention. Journalism is not just business; it’s civic engagement, community building, etc. Some die-hard old-school journalists who used to say J-schools were irrelevant, but now say journalism education is more relevant forever; the mentoring learning-as-you-go model of on-the-job education has vanished.

Journalism is not dying; it’s a mid-life crisis, possibly a rebirth. Only a handful of print newspapers actually closed down last year, and that was in cities with more than one paper. Building new bridges with entirely new programs. Medill is considering renaming its j-school to include “strategic marketing.” Journalists can not only forge new connections, but “kindle old flames” with English and rhetoric.

The experience is messy and painful… but rebirth is a necessary task that creates value. Ended by encouraging rhet comp folks to reach out to journalism.

J. Michael Hart, “Layout and Design as an English Class?”

Described a dean’s skepticism that “visual” courses belong in an English program. Conscious that he is probably preaching to the choir. Has background in web development and digital marketing, looking at design as a rhetorical vehicle. “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments” Mary Hocks, pointing to audience awareness and transparency; in layout and design, transparency is about looking through the medium, directly towards the message; print documents and web pages do carry with them a history of other documents that influence how we interpret them. The medium usually becomes completely invisible when we read a book — we don’t usually say “What great typography” Hocks — hybridity we can use pictures and words in a way that traditional text-based books don’t usually do. Anna Wysocki.

We read and create meaning with a left-to-right, top-to-bottom hierarchy. Lots of great design doesn’t rely at all on the linearity that define our text-based rhetoric. Wysocki says visual orderings can be a vehicle for creating meaning, texts that carry with them cultural interpretations about how to define the text. Hock — we don’t think of a book as a designed document, we rarely discuss the embedded assumptions about using a book.

The “good” and “bad” of cover design and web design… the conventions that create good and bad design are so closely related to the elements of traditional rhetoric that we impart to our students that a divorce doesn’t make much sense. Document design is dependent on contrast and balance, alignment proportion, proximity. The rhetoric of design does diverge from that linearity. Hocks says a websites nonlinear structure invites participation, and the familiar left-to-right, top-to-bottom gives meaning.

What, he asks, is the familiar rhetoric that our students bring into the class? Noted a study that shows our students are comfortable reading tiny text on phone screens; what are the familiar rhetorical structures on which our students depend, and how does that differ from what our formed our generation’s expectations?

Mentioned a study that says autocorrection is dumbing down our students; affecting their language acquisition and their decision-making ability.

Young people report reading fewer words on print, but writing and reading far more text messages. Students are reading and writing text messages, but in surveys they are saying they don’t read for pleasure. They don’t consider what they are doing reading or writing, but Hart’s implication is clearly that they have experiences and strengths and motivations that we’re not, as a profession, addressing.

Best practices.. a number of liberal arts institutions may not have classes that focus specifically on design, but Yale couples journalism classes with English; Stanford has “Castles and Satanic Mills” in medieval architecture — how elements of design deliver meaning from the medieval age.

Listed some creative connections between visual and English in leading liberal arts institutions, and presented interdisciplinary as a best practice.

Katherine Durham Oldmixon

Discussing contested boundaries; director of writing and communication, coordinator of the “English area.” Students choose a communication arts track or a literary arts track; offer professional writing minor; try to offer small-scale but richly current program. Small school — 850 students overall; English programs in a department of humanities and fine arts; not everybody likes to share; negotiating boundaries takes energy. Accreditation bodies don’t encourage sharing.

A noble call for collaboration across disciplines, but clearly influenced by painful encounters with administrators and colleagues. Compared “subfields” to Donne’s “sublunary lovers”. Asked what would happen if, instead of redistributing power, we decentralized it, especially in a world that requires rapid adaptation and assimilation of new information.

Her school’s communication program was dismantled in 2003, on fears that having a TV studio and radio equipment was too expensive; concern that training students on campus to work this equipment would be prohibitive. Got pressure from higher up to do a print journalism major; found many smaller schools with journo majors integrated with English. Write a Title III grant to fund positions and equipment. Hiring the first faculty “became a disaster,” due to competing needs of people who did not have a vested interest in the communication program.

Ends with a final question, What would you do?

I’ll be honest, I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable hearing even these sketchy details of past power struggles; makes me feel very grateful to be where I am. But I don’t usually expect schadenfreude to be my primary reaction to an academic panel.

Towards the end of most 4Cs talks, I expect the speaker to wrench the topic around to “what this means to us as compositionists,” but I don’t see that happening here.

Peter Caster’s talk on “Building Bridges Instead of Walls: Rhet/Comp, Creative Writing and New Media Journalism” was the chief reason I came to this panel, but he started off right away saying his topic has changed to the creation of a student wiring handbook.

I wish him well, but this is not what I came to hear.