The New Media Writer is an attempt to combine both the hermeneutical strengths found in other books on new media and visual studies as well as the pedagogical instruction to teach students how to make these texts for themselves. While students using this text probably won’t receive recognition at a film festival or become the latest blogging sensation, they will begin to understand how to interpret, plan, compose, revise, and disseminate new media texts that can solve problems in their daily lives, whether its standing out on a job search by creating a video resume, making flyers to help find their lost pet, or creating an “iReport” for CNN to bring attention to an important cause in their community. While they will certainly be able to use these skills toward other writing courses in their university careers, this book looks beyond the university, to where students engage with media outside of the classroom.
Both inside and outside the classroom, the definition of “writing” continues to expand to include non-alphabetic print modalities. Both inside and outside the academic curriculum, students need to know how to manipulate images in a photo editor, edit video, mix text and image, and choose the best online media for a rhetorical situation. Most of the time, students already compose these texts through tweets, wall posts, emails, and YouTube. However, they don’t always write these rhetorically, according to a thorough reading of audience and the rhetorical environment. They don’t always choose the best genre, medium, and design to fit this environment. This book addresses a rhetorical process for creating and reading new media texts, walking students through the process from traditional rhetorical questions, to ones specific for new media.
Many classes that teach new media do so in a very narrow sense, and worse, sometimes create a dichotomy between “writing” and making texts with visuals, which itself is just another kind of writing. Often, writing with new technologies focuses mainly on either the technology, or reading new media texts produced by the technology. However, few classes, and even fewer textbooks, focus on both analyzing new media works and producing them. Producing works of new media, or writing through media (which also includes alphabetic print), is of central importance for today’s students who must be able to read the visuals they see around them everyday, make sense of what they see, and relate them to their own lives. However, to be truly rhetorical and participate in a democratic society, students must also be able to produce such visuals; they need a visual rhetoric in addition to a literate one. They need to be able to write and think in images and not just in words.
This textbook separates new media (and closely related, visual rhetoric) from literacy because, stemming from the work of Gregory L. Ulmer, the typical new media texts that a student will encounter do not operate (wholly) based on a literate logic, but on what Ulmer calls electracy, a post-literate language apparatus that is emerging in the current multi-media saturated environment. Succinctly, Ulmer states that “electracy is to the digital Internet what literacy is to print.” Electracy is different than literacy because it incorporates the chief psychological component that alphabetic text is unequipped to handle—emotion. Part of the critical analysis that the visual rhetoric of new media texts should attend to is the emotional response (and what that entails for community interpretation and action) that a visual evokes. Except for Internet Invention, Ulmer’s textbook designed for upper-division hypermedia courses, no other new media textbook exists that teaches from an electrate perspective.
However, there are traditional design elements that a new media text should address. The New Media Writer covers these different design principles but does so in a culturally responsible way that looks at the rhetorical reasons for why such design principles should be used and how they should be used ethically. Students learn to read common new media texts that exist in the public sphere, what these texts try to argue, and how students can make use of such design principles for their own rhetorical purposes.
To accomplish all of this, The New Media Writer incorporates some specific features to help both you and the student create and study new media texts. Features of this book include the following:
The Rhetorical Tetrahedron
One of the traditional models used to help students think through the parts of a rhetorical interaction has been the rhetorical triangle. The triangle has traditionally been composed of writer/reader/text, or logos/pathos/ethos, depending if one focuses on the actors at play, or the appeals of persuasion. However, since new media writing extends beyond the printed essay, other rhetorical choices become as important to the writing process, such as creating a design, choosing a genre, and specifying a medium. Given these six domains of rhetorical choice, as well as ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos—the relation of time to rhetoric—this book offers the rhetorical triangle made up of six lines and four planes, no longer a triangle but a tetrahedron. In addition, by labeling the sides of the tetrahedron—and not the points—the tetrahedron more accurately models the rhetorical options that lie across a continuum of possibilities, such as:
• multiple audiences (that may be unknown, unwarranted, or unaccounted for)
• multiple designs
• multiple genres
• multiple mediums
• multiple authors (in the forms of author collaboration, remixing, blogging comments, or peer responses)
This change in orientation allows your students to move along the continuum from the singularity of one to the infinite possibilities of the many in a new media world without sacrificing authentication. The rhetorical tetrahedron becomes a more sophisticated way to display the various elements at play in a rhetorical situation, and because it exists in three-dimensional space, it is in constant motion, allowing you and your students to discuss the ever-shifting problem of a rhetorical situation. The rhetorical tetrahedron is integrated into every chapter, and it’s recommend that you use it as discussed in the introduction, for such simplicity makes it more pedagogically useful. You can, of course, take the tetrahedron, re-label it, and use it however you feel is most effective for your particular class.
Focus on Media as Writing
Many textbooks will attempt to fit new media into a print-based paradigm. However, doing so can be reductive, limiting how students understand and compose new media texts. For example, a video resume is not just a reading of a list of accomplishments to a video camera. Instead, it is a genre that uses the logic of video editing, such as cuts, montage, lighting, and other elements not found in a print resume. By taking a terminological approach that breaks teaching new media out of a traditional writing frame while still situating it within a tradition of writing, The New Media Writer helps students create and engage with new media more creatively. For example, although much of the terminology in chapter 4 might be new to students—such as ekphrasis, montage, or puncept—terms such as these help students focus on writing practices specific to mediums other than alphabetic writing and provide them more tools when producing texts in different media.
Several of the assignments in The New Media Writer are best completed by using media production software such as photo and video editors. To help you better understand how to use and teach these platforms, this book includes links to video tutorials that show the basics and some advanced techniques toward making the texts required of the various assignments. You can also share these links with your students, providing them with ready-made pedagogical aids. In addition, this book also offers a list of common programs found on most computer systems, as well as a list of software available for free online.
Although The New Media Writer stresses media production, it also walks students through examples and case studies on which they can model their own texts. Such analysis includes how the text might be composed, how it functions rhetorically, or larger social impacts that might concern its production or reception. You can also use these examples as models for the analysis of similar examples, helping students learn to read new media texts before attempting to write their own. For example, chapter 6 provides a thorough look at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and how they account for audiences that may not exist for 10,000 years. While students probably won’t have to consider this kind of audience, this in-depth analysis helps them to think through those audiences that will read their documents.
Fresh (and Classic) Examples
The New Media Writer uses contemporary examples of photographs, advertisements, videos, artwork, and other visuals to appeal to students (such as the use of memes or music videos as examples). However, the book also injects some classic examples from time to time, but avoids the overused iconic images found in many visual readers. When such images do appear, they do so to offer a new perspective or history of the image not found in other textbooks (such as the case study of the “Crying Indian” in chapter 7). Moreover, the examples are selected to be interesting, edgy, and sometimes humorous to students, helping them engage more aesthetically, emotionally, creatively, and critically.
Most of the examples in The New Media Writer include an online component made accessible through a Quick Reference code or a hyperlink. Using a smartphone, tablet, or a computer with Internet connection, students can “click” on a photo, podcast, or video still and view (or listen) to the example. This feature makes the print book more interactive, and allows you to teach new media with new media, even if your classroom isn’t equipped with computers for every student.
Since there might be some technologies or software that you or your students don’t have access to, most of the assignments in The New Media Writer can be adapted as traditional writing assignments, composed with traditional writing technologies (pencil and paper), or written within a word processor. For example, a video résumé can be adapted to a visual résumé, or an iReport can be scripted as a more traditional, written research report. Even if you don’t have all the new media tools discussed in this text, your students can still analyze new media texts, write about them, and learn how to compose them in other modalities.
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