Category Archives: #literacies

Forget Defining Literacies. What’s ‘Writing’?

I’d like to talk to you about the 468th episode of This American Life. Specifically, I want to hone in to 23 and 1/2 minutes that makes up Act Two: Forgive Us Our Press Passes. I don’t recommend many things, as a habit, but this is worth your time.

In producer Sarah Koenig’s story about a company called Journatic, which outsources local newspaper stories, be whisked away into deep contemplation about what constitutes journalism, authorship and attribution, news, consumerism, the local/the global, human rights, and the list goes on.

Screen shot of Journatic’s homepage.

As I understand it, Journatic focuses on amassing large amounts of data from small towns across the United States—birth and death records, budgets, police blotters—and then outsources the writing of articles based on this data to people in other places—according to this story, a few in the US, and many in other countries such as the Philippines. Journatic sells these stories to newspaper outlets across the US and the stories are often printed with fake bylines or none at all. (Makes you take a second look at Jenny Smith’s article on last week’s town budget meeting. Do you know Jenny Smith?)

For this post, I am only going to focus on one aspect touched on in this episode, but it is the combination of these topics in one story that makes this worth a listen. So, even though this post will be focused on ‘writing,’ I am more than happy to discuss any and all of these other aspects in the comments below.

Let’s get to it. I encourage you to listen before reading on. In the embedded sound file below, Act Two begins at exactly 26 minutes. Here is a link to the episode on the This American Life website in case you want to go to the source for a listen.

(This American Life has posted two articles from Poynter.org that have more detail and an update after the airing of this episode.)  

What’s ‘Writing’?

A few weeks ago, after another fascinating #literacies chat on Twitter, I posed a follow-up tweet about the use of the word “literacy.” Kevin Hodgson (or @dogtrax on Twitter) posted a reply that I couldn’t get out of my head while I listened to this episode. Here’s our exchange:

We continued to exchange tweets, and in doing so took this idea forward, considering terms like composing and designing to capture the multiple modes with which we find ourselves composing in a digital age. In this episode of This American Life, however, I found myself thinking backward, reductionist, in fact. What can we strip away and still call the act writing?

In the following section of the episode, Sarah Koenig had interviewed the Brad Moore of The Chicago Sun-Times who had hired Journatic to fill the local sections of their papers with local news, and Brian Timpone who was a champion of Journatic as a company. Each of these gentlemen claimed that all local news stories—though they were not written locally—were ‘at least’ written in the United States. Sarah Koenig was pushing to find out what exactly was outsourced, specifically to the Philippines. (All added emphasis is mine.)

Brad Moore: Just to be clear, all of the writing and editing of everything that Journatic is doing is happening by professional journalists here in the US.

Sarah Koenig: I went around and around about this with both Brad Moore and Brian Timpone who insisted that Filipinos were not writing stories. They were more like typing information, assembling it in paragraph form, which sounds to me a lot like writing. Brian Timpone told me this was a semantic confusion I was having.

Brian TimponeReally what they’re doing is assembling and copy editing a bunch of facts, right? So they write the lead. If there’s a paragraph about a person, the paragraph is technically written by someone in the Philippines, but not written. It’s like they have to type out who the person is, right? So they have to know how to write to send it over. I mean but to say oh, it’s written in the Philippines– I mean there might be a paragraph of it that the first draft is written in the Phillipines.

Sarah Koenig: Timpone declined to put me in touch with any of his Filipino employees. But I reached out to half a dozen of them on my own.

Sarah Koenig: You yourself are writing those stories, right? You’re not just gathering the information and sending it along to an American writer or editor. You yourself are writing those.

Man: Yeah.

Sarah Koenig: That one word is all you’re going to hear from this particular worker at his request. He’s got a full time professional job. But he told me his Journatic work pays better. And he needs the money to help pay his family’s expenses. Plus he likes the work. Back in April when the Tribune announced that Journatic would be providing stories for TribLocal, some readers and media watchers instantly began to grumble about the job losses but also about the product. It was canned, they said, barely rewritten press releases and daily stories under the news section about top DVD rentals in town or where to find the cheapest gas according to gasbuddy.com. No context, no analysis.  © 2012 Chicago Public Media & Ira Glass

As I write this blog post, I keep questioning: Am I writing? typing? copying and pasting? assembling? copy editing? drafting? developing context? adding analysis? I’d love to chat about these and other questions I am left pondering:

  • As we now have more user-friendly ways to remix media and content, are we ‘writing’ less often and ‘assembling and copy editing’ more often?
  • What does ‘context and analysis’ look like in a product that is not all words, but mostly image, sound, and quoted text?
  • When does ‘typing out’ something end and ‘writing’ begin?

Please add your thoughts in the comments below!

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There’s Literacy and There are Contemporary Literacies

Where did these come from?

 Via Twitter, I came across the idea from Mrs. Baldwin and her class at Anastasis Academy to use the memo below (claimed to be given to Apple employees on their first day of work) as inspiration to do some end-of-semester reflection in a content area literacy and language development course on what it means to be literate. Above are some of the responses that all coincidentally chose a similar starting point:

There’s literacy and then there are contemporary literacies.

The letters above were typed in the online program lettrs.com, a website dedicated to creating a digital space for s…l…o…w…. composition. (And for you teachers out there, they are looking to do some pilots in 6-12th grades. Check it out!) As stated on their site:

Since the explosion of digital, we think people are communicating more, but saying less. People don’t write letters anymore and we think that is sad (and a problem). We have forgotten how to really write, see the personality in someone’s written word, and how to slow down the creation of deeper and better communication.

The #literacies Chat is Born!

Below you’ll find the birthing story of the #literacies chat, a weekly chat on Twitter bringing together educators, researchers and thinkers fascinated by contemporary literacies.

Our first chat will be June 7 @ 7:00 PM EST. Skip down below to read the post I wrote to introduce our first topic or  just head on over to the new home of our #literacies chat: http://literacieschat.wordpress.com/ 

The Birth of an Idea

If you know me as @writerswriting, my Twitter handle, chances are you know that this last semester I have been collaborating with Emily Pendergrass (@Dr_Pendergrass), a professor at Vanderbilt, who was teaching a course in New Literacies. I was teaching a course on Content Area Literacies and together we used the hashtag #literacies to engage the topic with our pre-service teachers and the wider world.

Phase One: Once the semester came to an end, we definitely wanted to take advantage of the momentum built by having so many of our colleagues think with us about the demands and dimensions of contemporary literacies. Monica Batac (@monicabatac) suggested make the hashtag a chat…and thus our new weekly #literacies chat idea was born.

First, we opened a GoogleDoc to brainstorm ideas and within a week and with over 50 contributors, the GDoc was packed with fascinating topics ranging from the seemingly wide gap between in-school and out-of-school literacies to the role of multimodality in the digital age.

Phase Two: Drawing heavily from Meenoo Rami (@mrami2) and the way she moderates #engchat, we made a website for the #literacies chat to call home. At that site we will post introductions to the weekly topic and archives of the chats.

Phase Three: This is where you come in!

Our first chat will be Thursday, June 7 @ 7:00 PM EST. Please join us to discuss, among other things:

  1. What brings you “to the table,” to the #literacies chat?
  2. What are you particularly committed to in regards to contemporary literacies?
  3. What blogs, texts, links, quotes, i.e. persons, have pushed your thinking in regards to contemporary literacies?

Below is a description of our first official chat topic! It is a repost from http://literacieschat.wordpress.com/ where you can find a description of upcoming chat topics and archives of each chat. You can also find a description of how to join us on Twitter, if you are new to the idea. We hope you join us!

June 7, 2012 #literacies Chat Topic: We are Our Relationships

I find nothing more boring than the constant diatribes against everything and anything digital—in the ways they destroy our language, our relationships, our attention, our intelligence, our morals.

If you find yourself here, reading this, you’ve connected, you’ve attended, and I feel pretty confident in claiming that you must be a smart cookie. My experience in practicing my own contemporary literacies has been filled with such connections, articulated quite well by @MaryAnnReilly (who, by the way, I only know through and because of digital technologies and the literate practices that have followed):

On Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 7:00 PM EST we will be hosting our first official #literacies chat. In the following Thursdays at 7:oo PM EST, we will host a series of topics brainstormed by 50+ contributors with whom we’ve crowdsourced and connected to through—again—digital means. For our first week, we’d like to know what brings each of us to the table, so to speak. How do our educational, research and personal interests in contemporary literacies connect and build on each other? We are bound to learn quite a bit from each other as we share insights, resources, interests and concerns, but before we dive in, let’s take a moment to get to know each other. In a blog post about what drove him to study social networks and write his book Social Network Theory and Educational Change, Alan J. Daly, an assistant professor of education at the University of California, San Diego, commented:

Relationships matter in a profound manner, and it seems the more focused we become on the technical elements of our work, the more distanced we become from the idea that the social connections are critical.

I’ve been thinking of the power of these connections for a while. Around the same time that we lost Steve Jobs, a man whose drive made many of my personal and professional connections possible, we also lost critical race theorist, Derrick Bell. It was fitting that at that time I came across a quote of his that captured exactly what I was feeling:

However self-sufficient we may fancy ourselves, we exist only in relation—to our friends, family, and life partners; to those we teach and mentor; to our co-workers, neighbors, strangers; and even to forces we cannot fully conceive of, let alone define. In many ways, we are our relationships. ― Derrick Bell, Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth (emphasis added)

Join us on Thursday, June 7, 2012 @ 7:00 PM EST to discuss, among other things:

  1. What brings you “to the table,” to the #literacies chat?
  2. What are you particularly committed to in regards to contemporary literacies?
  3. What blogs, texts, links, quotes, i.e. persons, have pushed your thinking in regards to contemporary literacies?