ENLS 103: Public Writing for Media: Rhetoric for a Digital Age
Who teaches it?
Kat Lecky, English
Why is it cool?
The news is such a massive facet of our daily existence. We're bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information, much of it delivered by talking heads trying to tell us which facts actually matter and how they should be interpreted. My course focuses on the rhetorical techniques used in the media sphere to advance a certain point of view. My students and I read the daily news online in light of the principles of classical rhetoric to identify how news articles draw from some tried-and-true formulas for persuasive argumentation. I then teach students how to apply those formulas to their academic writing.
My students write essays in response to the articles they read and the day's events. We pair this practical work with some readings in theories of community and otherness, which add an ethical dimension to a course that, due to the very nature of its subject matter, frequently delves into issues of social justice and cultural inequities. Students work with one another to polish their essays through multiple drafts, an essential component of the process of good writing. By the time they finish, their essays have been so well-honed that some have gone on to be published in The Bucknellian and The Counterweight, two newspapers written and read by students.
Summer 2020 has been a period of deep insecurity and unrest that is arguably unprecedented in living memory. As my students and I come together remotely to discuss these profound societal upheavals, we craft a common language to speak thoughtfully and cogently about the world around us. In this way, we can escape, to some extent, the immediacy of the polemic feedback loop driving much of mass media, allowing us to step back and see what is truly important — as well as what remains unsaid — in the news we encounter. My students become more critical readers of this incredibly influential genre, even as they become more persuasive writers who are able to appeal to multiple audiences.
At base, my course is an introduction to the principles of effective argument-driven essays: it offers students a toolkit for other college courses with a writing component. It also helps prepare them to communicate wisely about profound civic issues at Bucknell and beyond. I hope that my course inspires students to look beyond the surface of things and read deeply in order to make sense of a world that sometimes feels senseless. Ultimately, my broader goal is to help them be authors rather than spectators — leaders who can contribute eloquently to our ever-evolving narratives of the way things are, and the way they could be. — Kat Lecky