One week ago, the Bacca Foundation donated $5 million towards a new Language Arts and Media Program that will be known as LAMP. This program will serve as an addition to the Thompson Writing Program and will teach freshmen writing skills for traditional and new media.
Although there is always value gained by allocating money to already existing programs in order to improve them, we understand that donors decide how their donations are used. We laud the Bacca Foundation for recognizing the importance of language arts and media as an under-funded facet of academic life.
Writing for traditional forms of media—such as print journalism—and for new forms of media—such as Internet writing—differ significantly, and for that reason alone, there is value in a program like LAMP. There are four primary ways Internet writing differs from print journalism.
First, the Internet requires writers to fight for the viewer’s attention. Because there are external links, advertisements and other distractions online, writing must be concise and efficient.
Second, the Internet has a wider, more sporadic audience than print forms of media, such as magazines and newspapers, which often have a very specific audience. Thus, Internet writing must be simpler in order to appeal to a broader array of readers.
Third, language on the Internet is often less detailed than general paper writing. In online media, a writer must convey a point faster than he or she would have to in print journalism.
Fourth, in online media, the definition of authority or expertise changes. Social media is an expanding new source of information, in which the authors of tweets or Facebook statuses are generally not professionals, as print media authors tend to be.
For these reasons, LAMP is an important program for Duke. We have outlined three areas LAMP should examine.
First, those implementing the program should determine the ideal mix of clarity and depth in online writing, and direct the program to preserve the elegant and concise writing style often lost in much of today’s writing and particularly absent in online media platforms. The quality of writing should remain constant regardless of platform, and LAMP should attempt to preserve the essence of writing as its primary goal.
Second, LAMP should preserve the journalistic language of the past while simultaneously linking this writing to the future of media. The Internet stipulates new constraints that journalism has never had to face. Ensuring eloquent and articulate language in a medium that prompts quick scanning of articles is a difficult line to draw, and one that LAMP must attempt to define.
Third, LAMP should train students to use online platforms effectively and credibly. LAMP has the opportunity to shape how students perceive content on the Internet. Blogs, for instance, are generally considered poorly sourced opinions, and LAMP can teach students how to blog in an informative, well-sourced manner that could potentially improve the future credibility of blogs. In this way, LAMP can teach its students that, whether writing for print or online, sourcing is powerful and improves the legitimacy of an argument.
LAMP has the potential to teach Duke students how to effectively write online. In the process, the program may help to improve the credibility of online sources. We hope Duke grabs their LAMP and lights a new path forward.