In the winter and spring quarters of 2012, First-Year Writing students Maddie Jones and David Kummerer published their course assignments in the New York Times. As part of instructor Michael Moore’s WRD 104 class, students must write letters to the editor to learn how to write content for a non-academic audience—an audience Moore says consists of “smart, educated, skeptical, engaged readers.”
Moore uses the Times’ own submission rules as the rubric for the assignment. These rules suggest submitters “write quickly, concisely and engagingly” and “respond in a timely way to a contemporary topic.”
Letters are selected for publication because they “give readers a different take” on a previously published news story, Moore said. “They give us a smart, third way of looking at it.”
Maddie Jones, a clarinet performance major, found her letter published in the April 16, 2012 issue of the Times. Her response to David Brooks’ article “Sam Spade at Starbucks,” argues that young entrepreneurs provide services and make a difference through career paths that are not always motivated by profit.
Jones says, “I am still in disbelief that my letter was published. To me, the New York Times is the ultimate pinnacle for writing and I never imagined getting anything published by the paper.”
Jones enjoys writing, but she never considered herself to be a strong writer because of her struggles with grammar. However, Jones says having her letter published, “confirmed my writing capabilities” and showed her, “I have a place in the intellectual community.”
Daniel Kummerer, a Journalism and Communication and Media double-major, responded to Austin Considine’s article, “Two People, One Identity.” Kummer’s letter, published January 19, 2012, suggests that Considine’s article did not give a fair representation of twins. As a twin himself, Kummerer says, “The article made it seem like twins were carbon copies of each other, when that is not the case. Each twin has their own identity, as well as strengths and weaknesses.”
Kummerer says he was “shocked” when he learned his letter was to be published. He feels by publishing in the Times his writing is “validated” and he is more confident in his writing.
Moore says Jones and Kummerer’s confidence about their writing “shot through the roof” after their publication. He says he teaches about ideology and rhetoric in his classes and the experience his students gain from the letter to the editor assignment is not something they could ever receive from a textbook.