WHAT IS “NEW” MEDIA?
The term “new media” is still new enough that it has a wide range of meanings, but I’m using it to describe the kind of tools and platforms that allow anyone to publish their own writing on the web — and by “writing” I’m including messages composed in the form of images, comics, animations, presentations, web sites, and video. )
What makes new media tools “new” is that they stand in contrast to the tools of “old” media, which are used only by professionals and those who can afford pro tools. New media tools are typically free or inexpensive (under $10) and so easy to use that everyone from fifth graders to grandparents are now using them to share their messages with the world.
“New media” also includes the platforms that allow any of us to publish content that can potentially reach anyone with web access, which stands in contrast to the platforms of “old media,” which are regulated by publishers and producers who select only a handful of submissions to publish, air on television or radio, or produce as films.
In other words, new media tools and platform allow all of us to become publishers and producers of all kinds of content, including written as well as multimedia, and that’s created a major shift in how information is distributed and who has the potential to influence large audiences. And that’s why students in a writing class should have the opportunity to learn to compose and publish in new media formats.
WHAT WAS “OLD” MEDIA?
Up until the late 1990’s, most of us were limited to using writing to communicate with audiences beyond our immediate circle, and then only if we made it past the “gatekeepers” of the publishing industry and into a newspaper, magazine, or book.
The chances of making it past the “gatekeepers” of the film and television industry were even harder, as the resources needed to communicate in multimedia were limited to professionals.
The web had emerged in the early 90’s as an alternative publishing platform, but the high level of technical skill needed and the cost of renting space from a domain host served as another kind of “gatekeeper.”
Between 2000 and 2005, a number of tools and resources emerged that made it possible for more and more people to bypass the “gatekeepers,” first by sharing their ideas in writing and then by adding multimedia as well.
Sharing & Finding Ideas: Blogs and wikis provided a way for anyone to share their ideas in writing, YouTube provided a place for anyone to share their ideas in video format, and Google developed a search engine that allowed users to discover those ideas simply by entering a few search terms.
Composing Tools: As more and more people became interested in sharing their ideas through the multiple mediums made possible on the web, developers responded by offering cheaper and easier to use versions of the multimedia tools previously limited only to professionals.
Social Media: By the time Facebook and Twitter emerged on the scene, the ability to share written and multimedia messages with broad audiences had passed out of the strict control of the gatekeepers of “old media” and into the hands of anyone with a computer or mobile device, internet access, and the digital literacy skills to use them.
In other words, the age of “new media” had begun.
IMPLICATIONS FOR WRITING INSTRUCTION
It’s taking a while for writing instruction to catch up with these changes, but what seems clear by 2014 is that the nature of writing has changed, so that it’s no longer limited to what we can share through print. Now that everyone from fifth graders to grandparents can “write” to each other through new media tools, it’s time for writing instruction to help students develop proficiency with these tools, just as they once helped students communicate using typewriters and then printers.
Questions for Further Exploration
Students in my new media writing classes will reflect on these questions:
- how do the features of a new media writing environment dictate the kind of writing and conversations that happen there? (for example, what writing is best suited to a blog? or to a social network community?)
- how do we make effective use of new media writing environments and tools to reach specific audiences?
- what aspects of the messages we want to communicate are best conveyed through written prose? through images? through sound? through hyperlinks?
- which of our “print-centered” writing habits are still valuable in digital environments, and which do we need to let go of?
- which skills from “writing for the page” apply to “writing for the screen” — and which don’t?
- what new forms of communication are possible through the combination of words, images, sounds, and video?
WHAT IS NEW MEDIA STORYTELLING?
Here’s one way to think of it: using contemporary media and methods to engage in the ancient tradition of storytelling. The following sections clarify what I mean by the terms in bold.
Ancient Tradition: Storytelling
Even before the dawn of recorded history, humans used oral storytelling to make sense of their lives and experiences, and even after the technological and scientific advances of our current age, we’re still drawn to storytelling more than any other form of communication.
At the heart of the storytelling impulse is the desire to understand the kinds of obstacles humans encounter on the path towards their goals and how to overcome them, which means that nearly all stories share a common purpose. But the narrative framework we use to tell stories — with characters, dialogue, plot, setting, and so on — gives us such a broad variety of ways to tell our stories that no two are exactly the same.
The narrative framework is particularly helpful at giving us a way to better understand our experiences, motivations, choices and beliefs, by helping us explore the turning point moments that have shaped who we are. By putting these moments into the framework of a story, we not only come to understand them better ourselves, we’re also able to share them with others in a way they can relate to or learn from.
Contemporary Media: New Media
Before YouTube was created in 2005, those who wanted to communicate with broad audiences through multimedia had to go through the gatekeepers of “old media:” the publishing, television, and film industries. YouTube made it possible for anyone to reach a broad audience and also inspired a variety of new multimedia composing tools aimed at everyday users. Now just about anyone with web access on a computer or mobile device can compose multimedia messages, ranging from videos that resemble film and television to completely new forms of communication.
In short, “new media” refers to the forms of multimedia fifth graders and grandparents are now using to communicate via the social web. If they can do it, anyone can do it, which means we all have the potential to become new media storytellers.
Contemporary Methods: Cinematic Strategies
Until the rise of new media, our choices for sharing our personal stories were limited to oral delivery or writing, both of which work well for stories delivered primarily through words.
Both methods invite the audience to use their own imaginations to visualize each scene, and both also give storytellers the opportunity to reveal the inner workings of their characters’ minds in ways that can’t easily be visualized. But oral delivery allows storytellers to enhance their words with body language and vocal inflection in a way that’s difficult to replicate in writing, while writing gives storytellers the opportunity to use literary techniques that are often too complex for oral delivery.
With the emergence of new media, storytellers gained access to a third option for sharing personal stories that was previously available only to professional filmmakers: cinematic storytelling. Because this method relies heavily on visuals and sounds to deliver the story, it’s an excellent choice for storytellers who want to bring their audiences through the kind of sensory experience that evokes emotions on a level not easily accessed by words alone. We’re well acquainted with how these stories work as viewers of movies and television, but now that we have access to new media tools we can use to create our own cinematic stories, it’s time to start experimenting with the possibilities.