NMA Campaign Issue: Citizenship and Writing Courses

NMA message frameworks are intended as starting points for NMA members to create their own messages. These might include (but are not limited to) letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, comments for local radio or television stations, and so on. Remember: the more locally grounded your message, the more likely it is to be included in local media. Feel free to add information based on your experience, your class, and/or your writing program.

NMA Message Framework: Citizenship and Writing Courses

The language abilities taught in college composition courses are essential for active citizenship. Careful reading and research helps students to stay informed. Critical thinking skills help students to better understand what is at issue in civic debates. Moreover, learning how to compose effective arguments gives students the ability--and confidence--to enter into those debates with writing of their own.

Helping students to be more capable citizens is among the most important reasons for teaching writing. This is especially important now, as America's youth are becoming increasingly detached from politics and government. Among 15-25 year olds,

  • Only 46% say they can make a difference in solving community problems (and 52% think that they can make little or no difference).
  • 71% believe candidates would rather talk to older, wealthier people rather than to them.

These attitudes are troubling because a healthy democracy requires an ongoing conversation among all its citizens; when such a large number of our youth feel disconnected from that conversation, something is clearly wrong.

Writing programs can help alleviate this problem. Many college composition programs, as well as a much of the research done by composition experts, treat writing as an essential element of good citizenship. Learning to express effectively one's views in writing is crucial to being an engaged citizen--that is, one ready and willing to enter into civic conversations.

Further, the content of many writing courses helps to create more informed citizens. A survey of writing textbooks and curricula reveals that much of the reading and the writing done in composition courses focuses upon current civic issues, ethical uses of language, and problem-solving techniques. However, whatever the content, learning to read carefully and critically always helps students to become more aware citizens, while the writing they do in response helps them to form positions that are well-reasoned, considerate of other citizens' views, and written in well-crafted prose.
Simply stated, good writing skills are good citizenship skills.

Statistics from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

Resources for Learning More about Citizenship and Writing Courses

  • Coming soon
  • Tips for Attracting Attention of Local Media

    • Act locally

    You are more likely to receive a hearing if the target for your media action is local -- campus and/or local newspapers, local public radio stations, even local television network. Local media are interested in local stories.

    Write what's most likely to get you heard, at least initially. In newspapers, letters to the editor and/or opinion-editorial (op-ed) pieces are most likely to be published. Issues like those in the NMA frameworks are current and timely.

    Take advantage of existing stories. It's often easier to advance a position with it's put in the context of something already determined to be newsworthy.

    Choose a local story to tell. Media outlets like details -- about programs, students, and/or classes. Choose a story in which to ground your message and make it lively.

    • Be concise and don't overcomplicate

    Writing and reading practices are complicated. When communicating with audiences outside of academe, make your case in the most clear and straightforward way possible. Avoid jargon and use clear, simple language. The NMA message frameworks are intended to help.

    Use the five Ws for your information (who, what, when, where, and why)

    Be honest and accurate. Understate your case. It is better to set reasonable expectations and then exceed them to promise more than you can deliver.

    If you are targeting radio and/or television reporters (or outlets), practice your responses before your interview. Choose key points to make, but be spontaneous in your discussions. Make sure you don't sound rehearsed.

    • Know your target

    Read newspapers, watch the television programs and listen to the radio programs you are interested in having cover issues or events that you are working on. You need to be familiar with their approach(es). You also need to use the conventions that they use for your responses.

    Understand the news planning process
    Find out deadlines and decision makers at news media organizations. Who assigns stories? What factors impact what gets covered? When are deadlines?

    Evaluate advertising. What audience is the publication or program trying to reach? Pitch stories that target a similar audience.

    • Become a resource

    Develop relationships with reports who cover your issue(s). What are they interested in? What do they want to write about?

    Be reliable. If reporters call you, return their calls as soon as possible.

    Don't overreach. If you don't know the answer to a question, say "I don't know" rather than coming up with something you aren't sure about.

    Know your opposition. Be ready and able to help reporters with alternative perspectives or stories that may not involve you or your organization so that they'll return to you as a regular source.

    *This position framework was developed by Dominic Delli Carpini. Media tips are based on and include material from Stone's Throw Strategic Communication, Manhattan Beach, CA
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