Is learning to write the same as learning how to swim?


Institutional Communication Service

26 September 2022

What is it appropriate to communicate, and how? And what is the use of writing workshops today? There is an increasing need to question these issues, which are now an integral part of our daily lives. We spoke with Giancarlo Dillena, a journalist for over thirty years, former editor of the "Corriere del Ticino" (from 1998 to 2016), and today a lecturer in media communication for journalistic writing courses as part of Writing Workshops I and II (Bachelor in Communication) and Strategic Management (Master in Media Management).


Giancarlo Dillena, why a media writing course? Can one start with media language without exposure to other forms of writing? What are the challenges one encounters?

"Media writing is only one of the streams that make up the Workshops. The others are dedicated to corporate communication (press office, with DR S.Mazzali-Lurati) and the features of the letter, e-mail, narrative and review (with Dr S.Cariati). The idea is to make students understand the different text types through a direct and concrete approach to each problem. The goal is to learn how to write in ways appropriate to different contexts, which is not easy, partly because the impression is that school practice of writing (and, before that, reading) has become scarce today. In this sense, the workshop format (learning by doing, with rotating groups "getting a taste" of the problems posed by different situations) is particularly effective. And they are also appreciated by those involved."


Learning by doing: drawing a parallel, is it possible to say that learning to write media texts is a bit like learning to swim?

"The analogy seems spot on to me. There is often a tendency to contrast theoretical insight (proper to academia) and practice. The best way to understand the nature of problems is to engage with the practice, go back to the conceptual premises, and then return to the practice. A process not only in academia but also in the world of news media tends to follow a one-way path. This is another reason why dialogue between media scholars and information media practitioners is as crucial as ever."


In your opinion, what is the relationship that young people have with the media today?

"It is undoubtedly very different from what my generation had, for example. So much has changed, starting with the media and the advent of the interaction/fusion between producer and user (hence the produser). But I shy away from the widespread catastrophism that sees only the downside. To return to the image in the previous question, today, one swims in a different, more complicated and more agitated "media sea" than in the past. One must therefore learn to swim differently. But in the end, what matters is always the same: staying afloat and getting where you want to go. In our case, to acquire reliable and useful information to make choices. This is not only a current problem; it was already there yesterday and the day before. History gives us many examples to think about, even concerning today's situations."


"The thing with chaos is, it's fair." This was said by Joker, played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, a 2008 film directed by Christopher Nolan based on the events of the superhero Batman and his antagonist. So what does this quote suggest to you?

"The idea of chaos as a primal condition is deeply rooted in our culture (think of the Scriptures). Hence the temptation to see in it positive aspects that were later lost. The case of equity is significant. As is that of those who see in "everyone can do everything, without rules or limits", the ultimate triumph of freedom and "true" democracy. Things are somewhat different. The great disorder is also, and above all, the cradle of abuse and prevarication. It is precisely what we see in the world of media - between fake news and the return of the crudest and most primitive propaganda - that should prompt us to seek a new arrangement, based on unused balances, that can provide new answers to today's questions. 

Saying this may sound trivial, but in the end, it is still a matter of seizing on the new problems and opportunities rather than a regressive call to primordial chaos. We must know how to find new answers under the sign of courage and creative change. Which - by the way - is the exact opposite of a certain vision of equity, which tends toward a deadening, sad and colourless flatness."