Monday, October 19, 2015

The Professionalization of Technical Communication

Faber article is important to the field because of his exploration of what constitutes professionalism. It is a struggle (at least in Technical Communication) that we’ll read more about the rest of the semester. In recent years, the Society for Technical Communication has undertaken two initiatives to prove, if you will, the professionalization of Technical Communication. One is the effort to provide certification. They established a test that has three levels: foundation, practitioner, and expert. This timed test covers nine core areas of technical communication and it costs over $600 to take the test (regardless of which test you take). This testing was created in much the same way that plumbers, engineers, lawyers, etc. take an certification exam. One of STC’s intentions with the certification exam is to professionalize the field. The other effort is the Body of Knowledge(BOK) project. This project, which is a voluntary collaborative effort between academics and industry professionals, explicates in one place the body of knowledge, hence its name, for technical communication. As the website states, this task is difficult in Technical Communication because the knowledge is dispersed, that is so interdisciplinary, that collecting all the knowledge in one place is challenging. Both projects contribute to STC’s efforts to professionalize the field, which is good for technical writers who must defend their field on a continual basis as well as to increase their value to employers, which hopefully also increase their salaries and prestige.

The same kind of skepticism of Technical Communication that happens in industry also happens in academia. I’ve been lucky in my department to have colleagues who respect the work that I do. But many English departments don’t regard Technical Communication on the same level as Literature, for example. Although it is happening less and less, but still does happen. Part of this disdain comes from the perspective of Technical Communication as a practical discipline, when in fact it is heavily theoretical. Faber mentions this discord in his discussion about a teaching student a rhetorical approach (democratic) to their work and the capitalistic approach of the workplace. Among the “lack of theory” perspective, I experience this challenge in two ways: in the classroom, when students tell me they are only taking my classes in order to get a better job and higher wages, but in the same breath degrades the work of a technical communicator as too practical and not as lofty as an editor or creative writer. I also experience when graduate students tell me that they want to get a job in the academic realm of Technical Communication because “that’s where the jobs are.” Yet, they don’t want to take any of my classes or learn anything that technical writers really do (like document design and deep audience analysis). They think that because they have a rhetorical degree (that is, anything that has to do with the study of language) that they can easily write a technical document. If they do actually take my classes, they are shocked when they get their first writing back with a lower grade than they expected. I once had a graduate student select Technical Communication for her comprehensive exams because she thought it would be a slam dunk because she worked as a technical writer. I asked her what Heidegger meant by “standing reserve,” which is a reading from the digital literacies course and also on the comps list. Of course, she hadn’t read it and was in fact not familiar with the comps list. These instances, which are becoming fewer, demonstrate the kind of perspective nonprofessionals in Technical Communication have toward that area. If you are getting the Graduate Certificate in Technical Communication, what inspired you to seek out this degree? How much knowledge did you have about the field before applying for admission? Is your perspective different now? What changes to the program would you suggest I consider for the future?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Social Media

Well, Chapter 14 is written like all the other chapters in that it presents information in a generic, textbookish mode. Cornelissen basically provides us with definitions of the various social media until the end when he talks about opportunities, but even that section is generic. What surprised me is the very critical tone of the Nestle’s case study. I think it is the most critical of all of them in the book. On page 260, Cornelissen does talk about “social presence theory,” which sounds interesting, but he doesn’t go much beyond defining it. To me, that should have been the framework of the chapter. I also wanted to hear more about it.

What I’d like to ask you all is if I should use this textbook again and why or why not? There’s another textbook I had considered using, you might remember from an earlier post, Corporate Communication by Paul Argenti. Check out the table of contents and other information here: Of course, this book costs $125, which is why I went with the Cornelissen text, as I’ve said before. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Leadership & Change

Chapter 12 (Leadership and Change) reminded me of a movement a few years ago at UNO for faculty. Each year, we have to review our activities (teaching, research, and service) in order to qualify for merit increases. We receive two kinds of pay increases at UNO—negotiated raise and merit. Because we’re unionized, faculty receive a negotiated raise that usually anywhere from 1-3%. We also receive merit increases based on performance. In the English department, we share merit increases evenly, but I understand that not all departments/units do that. It is miniscule. Last year, I think I receive $68 in merit money. Both the negotiated raise and the merit increase are added to our base salary. Anyway, the merit review involves making a list, essentially, of what we have accomplished for the past year. We include items such as teaching evaluations, articles, and service accomplishments. A few years ago, UNO switched from the paper system of reporting merit to a digitally based system called Digital Measures. Most of the faculty hated this new system, which is likely due to the fact that it was new and different and one had to take the time to learn it. I think it works well as a reporting device because when the University needs to know certain information, such as how many articles faculty published last year, it can just run a report. This makes administrative work a lot easier. To connect it to the chapter, I thought about how the university managed this change. I don’t think they handled it poorly, but it was distinctly a top-down communication method. For about two years, we did have a system that Information Services created called myMapp. People really hated that system. But we only had it for a couple of years, I’m guess, because it was to costly to maintain ourselves. Digital Measures is a system we bought from a company (I don’t know which one.) Anyway, I think Digital Measures is an effective reporting system and not an example of Big Brother (which some faculty think).

When I read Chapter 13, I relieved that we finally have a chapter that focuses on ethics. Cornelissen’s treatment of this chapter still seems somewhat whitewashed, but as I said before, that is likely due to the genre of the textbook. When he mentioned “corporate citizenship,” I immediately thought of Citizen United, which I’ll state from the beginning that I believe should be overturned. Given that Cornelissen is European, I’m not sure he connected the two such as I am doing. But I find it difficult to view corporate citizenship as a portfolio of activities when the United States has corporations buying elections—not to bring up a political discussion. He at least was being a little more critical of corporations than in previous chapters. I’m especially dismayed with Kraft and what I see as unbridled greed. The only reason Kraft wanted Cadbury is because it was more successful, but as Cornelissen says, it also burdened Cadbury with tremendous debt. How much money does one corporation need? And to outright lie that they would take care of the employees. This is not only making me want to rethink buying Kraft products but also making me want to understand/learn more about business and how it operates. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Issues Management and Crisis Communication

Chapter 10 on issues management interested me on several levels. One, on page 185, Cornelissen offers a position importance matrix. I’m bothered that positions can be ceremoniously positioned on a matrix as if problems are currently in one quadrant or another. Most problems are messier than that; they often occupy all quadrants or at least two at a time. I think that thinking about positions in this way enables corporations to ignore certain problems. For example, insurance companies that look for ways to not cover some medical expenses. The problem of nonpayment would fit more on the “problematic” quadrant for the client and more on the “low priority” for corporations. Problems do not fit nicely into quadrants; they only do for corporations that force them to fit.

Two, the case study about the Framing of the Bonus Payments bothered me as well. I did like that Cornellissen asked a discussion question that focuses on how the reader would frame the issue, but the reader has very little agency in how that issue is represented. A better question, I think, would be how can the banks better frame the issue in ways that the public would better sympathize? To suggest that they’d lose talent if they didn’t pay outrageous bonuses is ridiculous. There are way too many talented people in industry for them to worry about that. Plus, some of the CEOs have performed horribly as CEOs yet they still receive a huge bonus.

Three, I was bothered by the use of language concerning PACs. Calling them political action committees uses positive connotations (action) to describe their purpose, which is to sway political parties to vote or create legislation that benefits them. But the language used to describe any group that doesn’t agree with them has negative connotations (anti-corporate activism or radical activism). This phenomenon is, of course, reflected throughout society, but is especially prominent now given the current presidential race, which is on my mind a lot these days.

The chapter on crisis communication reminded me of a public relations class I took in college. We watched a film about crisis communication and it showed a clip of a hospital administrator being asked about layoffs. A reporter asked a question about whether the hospital was operating at a loss and that’s why they’re laying off people. The administrator mistakenly said no, we’re operating at a profit. When she realized what she said, she just turned around and walked back into the hospital. This is why companies have to plan for a crisis, especially what communication to use.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Media Logic and Ideology

This definition of “media logic” as defined by Cornelissen stood out to me in our reading for this week: media logic is “an ideological frame of reference of a news organization which influences how editors and journalists see, interpret, and cover political, corporate, and social affairs. A logic in other words underpins media coverage including how material is organized, the style in which it is presented, the focus or emphasis and the grammar and wording of an article.”

I wonder about the ideological framework for, say, Fox news, which does not allow newcasters to report on issues like global climate change or allow any one on a show who wants to talk about it. If they do set the agenda, as Cornelissen suggests, then what kind of agenda is that? I’m sure it has to do with Fox’s financial interests and partnerships. And what kind of agenda are they setting. Of course, Fox is the only news station to shape the news for to their own benefits, but it's the first one that comes to mind for me. 

I also think about Fox as I listen to republican candidates talk (for as long as I can stand it anyway). With all the attention the media is paying to Trump, I’m wondering if they really want to elect him or if he is just the day’s entertainment. They’re not covering Bernie, I suspect, because he’s not as entertaining (in that buffoon way). Writing the news used to be all about objective reporting (at least as objective as we could make it). Now it’s all about entertainment. I wonder about the reporters who work for Fox, or stations like it. They had to get journalism degrees like any other reporter. Or maybe they don’t have to have credentials to work for Fox. Actually, I wonder about any communicators at Fox. Are they all believers?

I watch PBS Newshour. What reputation does that station have? Do they pander to what's entertaining. What I like about them is that they give people enough time to talk to finish their thought. They don't cut them off. You get the whole story with them.