I double majored in English with an emphasis on writing and Japanese Studies. My interest lay in writing and in that hallway of the humanities writing seemed more marketable than literature. Moreover, I viewed speaking Japanese as a key to a job either teaching or translating. There was no talk of online identities, social media, or content creation. Writing fell into the realm of fiction, poetry, essays, thought and research papers. The term content could easily be confused with the feeling I had reading fiction and writing short stories.
In that year after college, after moving briefly to New Zealand, returning to Northern Michigan and jobs working in a restaurant, a vineyard, a video store, and a medical library; I went on to graduate school to pursue a degree in creative writing. That was 2002 and through a class in digital humanities I got a glimpse of the need to develop technology skills.
Now, we are all content creators. We post things (text, images, videos, events) to Facebook, tweet about TV shows, check-in to bars, and broadcast our beliefs to anyone with an Internet connection. I have an issue with that word, content. In many ways I dislike it. It cheapens the creative process; it dehumanizes the humanities. However, it does provide an interesting point of entry. It’s not just friends, colleagues, or strangers with a shared interest who take in all of this stuff. It’s companies. It’s marketers. It is all of these organizations, which are not interested in your point of view, but in your demographic and the data you provide. Facebook ads are the perfect example, as anyone can create an ad and target it to whatever demographic information a user provides.
So, if we are all content creators, are we also all publishers to a degree? Sites like Tumblr and Facebook provide the platform, but there is not an editorial board or a specific person deciding what we post. We type something, hit post, and it’s published.
Blogs, like Mashable give a list of skills for journalists and there is a larger, more up to date list from College Media Matters. What I especially like is a quote from Miranda Mulligan. She said, “Our journalism pedagogy should inspire future digital journalists to be Internauts, to continually grow, constantly teaching themselves the newest storytelling tools and techniques, instilling processes for life-long learning.”
But these posts focus narrowly on journalism students and not more broadly on English or creative writing majors. Are these skills relevant to a larger group of students? Is it important that students who focus on writing also know how to edit photos, weigh copyright issues, and design websites? I’m not arguing that students who major in English or creative writing should become journalists, but they do need to be able to compete in the digital world.
The world of writing and publishing has distinctly moved toward digital creation, consumption, and distribution. How does undergraduate curriculum adapt to this change? Or, should undergraduate curriculum change to reflect this shift?
Further Reading Miranda Mulligan: Want to produce hirable grads, journalism schools? Teach them to code