Delivery & Multimedia Composition: Re-claiming Agency in Digital Media for Advocacy
and Social Change
Throughout this book, you have been introduced to writing as a social process of action. You
have studied strategies of invention, research, revision, and language and style to convey
particular messages within various contexts to target specific audiences. As you were promised
in the introduction of this book, what you learn here can travel with you beyond the English 111
class; it can help you to prepare for various writing tasks in other classes, in the work place after
college, and in the social sphere. Importantly, as you will discover in in this chapter, the ideas in
this book can also travel with you beyond print-based or traditional texts. In this chapter, you
will study and practice delivery in order to understand the relationship between what a text says
and how it says it.
One of the best ways to think about delivery and its relationship to the texts we compose is to
consider mediums that are a bit less traditional because they require us to move away from the
assumptions we have about writing and toward critically considering the ways we deliver our
texts to our audience. In this chapter, we will focus specifically on multimedia composition and,
specifically, digital media composing. This focus will both  teach you how to deliver your
message to audiences in online spaces and to enact social actions of resistance, advocacy, and
social change and  give you a new perspective on how you can deliver arguments.
This chapter centers on filmmaking, web design, and social media participation as examples of
multimedia composition. While these types of composition might seem unrelated to the ways
you usually think and talk about writing, they are helpful in highlighting the relationships
between argument and medium because they deliver arguments in distinct ways. But to arrive at
a better understanding of the goals of this chapter, let’s analyze its title as it contains key ideas of
the chapter “Delivery in Multimodal Composition: Re-claiming Agency in Digital Media for
Advocacy and Social Change.” Each of the italicized terms will be introduced in turn.
In classical rhetoric, preparing for a persuasive speech requires a process of five stages (canons):
invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery (Bizzell & Herzberg, 1990). To deliver an
argument means to present it, and presenting something needs a suitable vehicle or medium for
delivery to occur. For example, when you order a pizza to be delivered to you, a person with a
car does the work of the delivery. In another case, if you order some products online, a courier
such as USPS, UPS, or FedEx will deliver your orders using mediums of planes, cars, and
employees. In the same sense, when you deliver a presentation, you might generate presentation
slides using mediums of PowerPoint, Prezi, or other kinds of software to present your findings to
your teacher and classmates. Whether in everyday life or in a composition class, you always
need a medium to deliver an argument.
Multimedia composition is about drawing on and drawing together various media—including
sounds, videos, still images, animation, and text—to create cohesive messages. The products that
are produced through multimedia composition, such as a video that has still photos and music or
a PowerPoint presentation that has text and clipart, are called multimedia products.
You might have heard or used the concepts New Media, Social Media, and Alternative Media.
The three concepts are interrelated and describe digital media in various contexts. While the term
digital media emphasizes the technicality of media technology, New Media, Social Media, and
Alternative Media emphasize the functionality of this media.
New Media emphasizes the newness of media technology compared to the technology
that preceded it.
Social Media emphasizes the social function that allows people to interact with each
other, such as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Alternative Media emphasizes the capacity of the media technologies to enable audiences
to produce and view alternatives to the mainstream media.
Each of these three concepts emphasizes one aspect of digital media within a particular context.
In this chapter, you’ll study documentary filmmaking, website building, and social media
postings to examine these three functions of delivery in digital media. While these examples in
this chapter will center on multimedia compositions, it will be important to remember that what
they teach us about delivery also applies to the print-based mediums and genres with which you
are already familiar.
In the field of rhetoric, scholars call the individual’s skills and capacity of contributing change
within her environment agency. This agency is often threatened by dominant or oppressive
rhetoric of political, cultural, and social forces. To re-claim agency means, however, to
contribute change within one’s environment despite the oppressive or dominant forces that
threaten the individual’s agency. To do so requires rhetorical strategies in composing and
distributing arguments. In this chapter, you will study and practice those strategies through
digital, multimedia composition.
To advocate for a cause means to lobby and show solidarity with others to effect change.
Advocacy thus requires agency. That is, to be able to effect change means to have capabilities of
making something about the world different. As a student of composition and rhetoric, you
have—and will develop—the skills, capacity, and capabilities that enable you to pursue social
change, if you wish, through multimedia composition/production. On one hand, you have gained
rhetorical awareness that allows you to study, analyze, and critique media. On the other, you
have the skills and knowledge to produce counter arguments to it.
Contributing resistance and social change is always a response to some kind of a rhetorical
situation (see Ch. 1: Rhetoric for Writing) and an argument about the world. One source that you
and many audiences might rely on to understand the world is mainstream media. As a rhetoric
and composition student, claiming agency requires you to keep a critical eye and ear on what you
watch and listen to because media producers deliver only a few versions of reality.
The Premise of the Chapter
Throughout this chapter you will be introduced to delivery in digital media as a strategy to re-
claim agency in response to dominant forces, in order to effect social change. What I hope to
introduce you to is multimedia composition as a rhetorical strategy of delivery to expand the
possibilities of your research and academic writing and the audiences your writing can reach. To
achieve this goal, I introduce rhetorical and multimedia theories as frameworks to study
rhetorical effects of multimodal production on specific audiences and to practice constructing
multimodal arguments that call to action for social change.
Studying and practicing multimedia composition using digital media requires studying rhetorical
arguments and their effects on audiences. Audiences of media and digital media are often
persuaded of and affected by what media producers present to be the objective truth of the world.
However, what non-critical viewers might overlook is that media producers are rhetors who have
knowledge, personal experiences, and rhetorical skills that enable them to construct arguments
about what they believe the truth to be. As you have learned in other parts of this book, any
argument has potential counter argument(s) and to construct a counter argument means to
construct some version of truth by using knowledge, personal experiences, and rhetorical skills.
Rhetorical skills imply that in constructing any argument a rhetor needs to study the rhetorical
situation: the exigence, the purpose, the message, the intended audience(s), and the cultural,
social, and political systems that rhetors
and audiences reside within. Because
constructing rhetorical arguments/truths
vary in various contexts, we, in the
rhetoric and composition fields
describe rhetorical arguments or truth
construction as contextual. Building on
that reasoning, many scholars of
rhetoric perceive rhetoric as a method
of constructing and reconstructing
truths through collaborative efforts that
are influenced by the cultural, social,
and political systems that rhetors and
audiences reside within. This means
that not one person or entity owns a
right or a more accurate view of the world than others, but that collaboratively, humans arrive at
Composition Re-claiming Agency Digital Media Advocacy Social
Study (Contextual Truths): Within U.S cultures
there is an ethical value in protecting pets such as
dogs and cats, thus people adopt them to avoid
putting them to sleep in shelters that have too many
of them. On the other hand, in other cultures around
the world, dogs and cats are eaten like beef and
chicken, thus there is not the same ethical conflict
in killing those animals.
As you study the texts of others, then, it is
important to study how values align with audiences
who are culturally situated (which you may—or
many not) share.
truths that evolve over time and through various contexts. The premise of this chapter is that
truth is multiple, contextual, and a result of human collaborative interpretations of the world.
Rhetorical Agency as Assemblages of Parts and Actions
As introduced earlier, rhetorical agency is about an individual’s skills and capacity for
contributing change within her environment. In order to act as an agent of change, any individual
needs to recognize her position within the world. For example, you might think that you have no
agency; that you are helpless as an individual and that you can’t change the world. Or, you might
think that you have agency; that you are powerful and can resist whatever cultural and political
forces that reside upon you. However, the issue might be much more complicated than that.
Bennett (2010) argues that individuals don’t have agency assigned to them at all times, but that
agency is distributed over time and space, and through assemblages of parts and actions.
To unpack Bennett’s view about rhetorical agency, let’s imagine the following situation. You
might believe that tuition at your school is higher than students could afford, and therefore you
write an essay and publish it in the student newspaper suggesting to your school’s administrators
that they should reduce tuition. Although your essay is well written, it has logical evidence, and
it voices many students’ concerns, nobody seems to care and nothing changes. Thus, you get
frustrated, and you feel helpless and that you have no agency.
From Bennett’s perspective, however, this is not an accurate evaluation of your agency. That is,
she argues that agency is distributed over time and space, which means that change will not
always happen right away (for example, as an immediate response to actions in limited spaces
such as a student newspaper). She also explains that agency is distributed through an assemblage
of parts and actions (i.e. it is how the parts and actions come together in a particular formation
that makes change). In this example, this means that agency is assigned to collaborative efforts
of multiple people who perform multiple actions and the technologies (like computers, pens, and
the web) they use to perform those actions. Such actions might be writing newspaper essays,
posting calls for action on social media sites, collaborating with the student association in their
school, and seeking support from their teachers to voice their concerns. From this perspective, it
is the assemblage of all the students who contribute multiple actions over time and space that is
capable of contributing change, thus agency is assigned to that assemblage.
Study (The Writing—and Writer—of this Chapter): Before you go any further in
this chapter, analyze the introduction (the chapter’s roadmap) to predict the writer’s
(my) stance on writing and multimodal composition.
• What are the writer’s assumptions about the missions of writing, multimodal
composition, and rhetoric?
• What might be her professional and academic experience?
• What might she assume to be her readers’ (your) roles as students of rhetoric and
• What is the exigence that might have motivated this chapter?
• How might this analysis help you analyze and comprehend the rest of the text?
There are two implications of this view of agency. First, agency is rhetorical, in the sense that it
is experienced and should be evaluated within a certain rhetorical situation, and not at all times
and in all situations. In other words, it is misleading to assume that you either have or don’t have
agency without studying the whole context in which you’re assigning to yourself agency or the
lack of it. Second, in contributing to change, every part, person, and action counts. Therefore,
you should not feel helpless after composing a single act of resistance (like writing a letter to the
editor) or even after multiple actions. On the contrary, you should keep doing what you’re doing
to inspire others to join you, to collaboratively pursue the change that you desire in cooperation
with those around you.
Views about Rhetoric, Truth(s) and Representation of Reality
In rhetoric’s history, there have been various perspectives about the relationship between rhetoric
and truth(s) or reality (realities). Bizzell and Herzberg (1990) indicate two disparate visions on
truth that stem from classical rhetoric. The Platonic view, from the philosopher Plato, suggests
that there is one objective and absolute truth that rhetoric can reveal. From another view, the
Sophists believed that absolute truth is impossible and that rhetoric is “an intellectual method, a
way of generating knowledge” (Bizzell & Herzberg, 1990, p. 22). Many modern rhetorical
theorists have elaborated on the idea that knowledge is constructed and doesn’t simply exist.
Berlin (1996), Clark (2003), and Young, Becker and Pike (1970) argue that knowledge and truth
are constructed within social, cultural, and political contexts that influence the process of making
meaning. That means that the current culture that we reside within influences our perspectives
about knowledge and truths.
While you, as a student of rhetoric and composition, might believe one vision, the Platonic or
Sophistic, rather than the other, you need to be aware that each vision has its own consequences.
Believing in one truth and absolute knowledge means that a rhetor’s mission is to search for and
present the one right vision about the world, assuming that this vision is universal and that all
other perspectives about it are wrong or at least less accurate. The rhetor thus has the authority of
a truth agent. Believing in multiple truths and probable knowledge, on the other hand, suggests
that a rhetor’s mission is to construct arguments to approach a truth in a local context without
claiming that this is the only possible truth locally or universally. In this case, the rhetor
participates in constructing a vision about the world and how it ought to be.
In her way to inspire others to enact change through writing or multimodal composition, a rhetor
needs to have a clear vision about the mission of rhetoric and rhetors in changing and
reconstructing the truths of the world. Using multimedia composition as a strategy of resistance
and social change can help her frame her actions as social and rhetorical actions, which will help
her make rhetorical choices when composing her arguments.
One dominant force that persuades audiences about truths of the world comes from mainstream
media. According to a Communication Studies Theory, the Agenda Setting Theory (AST),
mainstream media (like national newspapers and news stations) are always driven and motivated
by political agendas that exceed searching for and presenting the truth. That is, mainstream
media select particular parts of the truth to make stories, to influence their audiences that those
Study (by Comparing Perspectives): In the context of the tuition example, how
would adopting a Platonic and Sophistic vision about rhetoric’s mission impact your
rhetorical efforts in composing and distributing your arguments?
particular parts are the most important ones from all that happened in the world. As the AST
indicates, through broadcasting the same news repeatedly, mainstream media not only tells the
audience what to think about but also influences how the audiences think about the selective
stories (Littlejohn & Foss, 2010). For example, at the time of this writing, if you were to turn on
and watch Fox News or CNN—two mainstream media outlets—right now, you would probably
see footage of protesters at Donald Trump events. In the first half of March 2016 (which is when
I am writing this), this footage and accompanying analysis is playing over and over again. By
repeating it and explaining what it means, the new outlets are telling their viewers what to think
about and how to think about it.
Since every mainstream media organization selects different parts of the truth (reality) to narrate
a story, there are likely to be multiple tales about the same truth (reality) which means that
mainstream media, in total, produces multiple versions of truth or reality. Let’s, then, call what
mainstream media does constructing reality. This does not mean they are making it up or telling
lies. As the AST indicates, construction of reality is always biased and can’t encounter all
aspects of reality at any moment. With that in mind, it is important then not to rely excessively
on one mainstream media channel. Actually, being critical of media—by asking questions about
its purpose, audience, and goals—is one step toward claiming agency and constructing counter
arguments that disrupt dominant rhetorics. To claim agency and effect change requires critiquing
dominant media and investigating many resources about various claims to compare and contrast
different visions and views about the world truths before adopting any or none of them.
The Power of Delivery (Genre and Mediums) in Constructing Truth(s)
As mentioned in the introduction of this chapter, mediums deliver arguments. And every
medium can be characterized by how it circulates in the world as well as the genres it circulates.
For example, the medium of television most often uses genres that combine sounds and images.
The genre of a TV news report, for example, is often made up of visual scenes and the voice
over of a reporter. Some genres that you might have composed at school include research papers,
essays, memos, reports, and stories. Even in your daily life, you have probably created short text
messages which belong to short text message genre, or you might have created a video clip that
belongs to a specific subgenre of film or video. In academia as in everyday life, whenever you
Study (How Different Media Represents the News): Check online news of the previous week
on some mainstream news networks in the U.S. such as CNN, Fox News, NPR, FNC, or
• What are the news stories that are covered repeatedly?
• What are common stories across these networks?
• What unique stories does each network offer?
Now check Al Jazeera English online (aljazeera.com) and Democracy Now (democracynow.org)
websites for last week’s news. Compare the news stories there with news on the mainstream
• What differences do you notice between these sites and the mainstream sites?
• How would news on Al Jazeera English and Democracy Now impact your perspectives
about the world compared to American networks?
have something to express to someone, you need to think of how to deliver the idea that you
wish to express to your intended audience. The how implies several rhetorical considerations
including the medium and genre through which arguments are brought to audiences. Thus, you
may conclude that medium and genre are important concepts to focus on when studying the
delivery of arguments—both in traditional print-based texts and multimodal compositions.
When delivering an argument, it is crucial to recognize that different mediums have different
capacities for influence embedded within them. Indeed, if “the medium is the message” then the
medium is not neutral but contributes to the message itself (McLuhan, Gordon, Lamberti, and
Scheffel-Dunand, 2011, p. 107). For instance, publishing an argument in a textbook or in an
academic journal gives that argument a specific type of influence and power. Many times,
readers accept arguments simply because they trust the mediums. This is a critical effect of the
medium, because it could mislead people to adopt some arguments without using reasoning and
critical thinking in analyzing those arguments. In digital media, take the TV news channels as
examples. You might believe that the news channel is a path to transfer reality from the real
world to the TV screen. The fact that you see particular news on TV might persuade you that
what you see on TV is exactly what happened in reality.
However, in digital media, technology plays a huge role in determining the medium’s capacity to
persuade because technology helps manipulate or alter the version of truth that it presents.
Goggin and Newell (2003) remind us that although in theory the digital characteristic of
technology allows for accuracy in transferring information, in reality advanced technology also
allows an easier manipulation of information. Take, for example, editing audio in analog and
digital technologies. Although digital editing allows more possibilities for working with the
sound, these very same possibilities also allow digital editors to manipulate sounds through
external effects. The technical capabilities of audio editing in digital media and the limitations of
audio editing in analog media both affect the messages delivered in both mediums. As a result,
both the capabilities and limitations of the mediums make particular messages possible; in other
words, the medium and the messages become embedded in each other, where it is impossible to
separate the message from the medium.
To arrive at a better understanding of the power of the medium, let’s analyze a scenario from TV
news industry. Imagine that a massive car accident occurred in city X, where 3 people were
killed and 10 were injured. In a TV station, a news editor decided that this is important news to
cover. She directed her reporter to go to the scene of the accident and to make a report about it.
The reporter went to the car accident’s scene, filmed footage to show blood on the street, zoomed
in on an injured child, and interviewed a few witnesses and a police officer. The report was
broadcasted on TV at 8 o’clock that night. You watched it, and you became sure that of course
this had happened. You might have believed that the medium, the TV channel, was neutral in
Study (Genres You Use): Think of genres that you have written both inside and
outside of school both in your daily life (grocery lists, hashtags) and for more formal
purposes (resumes, letters of complaint).
• What are the characteristics of each genre that makes it unique compared to
other composition genres?
• When do you use these genres? How do you know which to use?
• How do these genres allow you to deliver your message?
delivering the accident story without altering or manipulating it. What you might have missed
though is that the mediums that were used to deliver the story step by step fundamentally shaped
the material and created the story you watched.
For example, the video camera can’t see as wide as the human eye. Thus, the dimensions of the
scene that the camera could capture are limited compared to the human eye. So if you were there
at the accident scene, you most probably would have seen the accident scene differently. Also,
the video camera has the capacity of zooming to show the details that the human eye can’t
capture. Add to that the microphone’s capacity of transferring sound compared to the human ear.
Then think of the editing software that some editor had used to cut a shot and to bring another in
a specific order, to change the voice volume, or to correct the image color. Think of the
transitions that the editor might have added between the shots, or the shots that she altered
adding video and audio effects to convey certain messages in the story. All those effects are a
result of the medium’s capacities, and they are likely to differ if another medium was used to
construct a story about the same car accident. That doesn’t mean that some reconstruction of
reality is more accurate than others, but that reality is constructed—and constructed differently—
through various perspectives and point of views. Those varieties are affected by the capabilities
and constraints of the mediums that deliver the messages that reconstruct the world for the
Application: Delivery in Multimodal Genres
Other than being critical and analytical toward mainstream media, in this digital era, you have
the opportunity to use technology to express your perspective about reality. In the sections that
follow we will introduce three forms of multimedia production (documentary filmmaking, web
design, and social media posts) and its rhetorical effects in order to explore the impact of
delivery on making arguments and making change.
Documentary Filmmaking: The Effect of Arrangement & Ethics
Delivering your argument is a rhetorical choice that depends on the rhetorical situation in which
you are making it. Thus, whether to make a film or to write a report, research paper, or
documented argument, you need to think of the best medium of delivery to convey your
message. Let’s say that you have conducted primary research about littering in your city and that
you have arrived at some causes of and solutions to this problem. To share your findings with
others, you need to think of the purpose that you wish to achieve and the audience that you want
Study (Other Mediums): Think about the mediums that you interact with often, even if you
have little (or no) experience using them (such as radio, newspaper, or podcasts).
• What are the rhetorical capabilities and limitations of each?
o Who has access to them? Who does not?
o For what purposes are they useful? For what purposes are they difficult?
Now, consider how the medium of delivery effects your answers to these questions. What is it
about the medium (like a podcast) that allows it to accomplish some purposes (telling stories,
for example) but not others (like relaying dense statistical information).
Finally, how might medium affect the construction of the news about the car accident
to reach. For example, you might target the city municipality to convince them to provide
neighborhood trash cans, post warning signs about litter, and collect fines from those who are
caught littering. In this case, you might deliver the message by speaking at the next city council
meeting or sending a written argument to your city municipality that incorporates your research
to support your argument. On the other hand, if you wish to engage the citizens of the city in the
solution by explaining the dangerous effects of littering on humans’ health, then you might write
an essay or letter to the editor of a local newspaper. If you believe that your audience might
spend a significant amount of time on social media sites, then you might decide to make a short
documentary film that shows scenes of littering and post it on social media websites such as
YouTube to inform citizens of the problem.
By definition, documentary film is a form of composition that combines videos, audios, and texts
to construct an argument about the world. It is important to note that documentary, unlike
fictional, film is concerned with documenting something. To document means to preserve and to
keep as evidence; to document is to protect something from being forgotten or lost over time.
Thus, documentary filmmaking is one method of creating a documented argument. With that
documentation comes a construction of the truths of the world based on the perspective(s) of the
filmmaker(s) and the technologies, genres, and arguments they use to deliver those perspectives.
Documentary Film as Multimedia Argument
A viewer might watch a documentary and conclude that the filmmaker provided an objective
view of reality. That is, the viewer might observe that the filmmaker interviewed real people and
used archival data to document specific events. But remember that the filmmaker, like any
researcher and writer, not only makes choices and selects particular parts of the available data
and evidence but also arranges them in specific ways to construct a cohesive story. Selecting
evidence and resources and arranging them to construct a cohesive argument about the world is
thus both a rhetorical and ethical choice.
To influence people that a particular argument is legitimate, a writer, composer, and a
documentary filmmaker should be sincere in accounting for various aspects of the truth and
present her view as a result of research and reasoning. As mentioned in Chapter 3, novice writers
often times focus on proving an existing argument by selecting data from resources that prove
their points, thereby neglecting legitimate opposing arguments. A documentary filmmaker faces
the same issue—choosing the evidence that supports her perspective rather than starting with
research to develop her perspective. While it is impossible for anybody to collect all the data
about an issue or to present every possible perspective on it, the documentary filmmaker (like all
writers) has a responsibility of representing and reconstructing the world for her audience
ethically, accounting for both her own perspective as well as others (which we might call
Like writing, filmmaking is a recursive process that requires continuous revision and critique to
produce persuasive and cohesive arguments. Through studying the process of documentary
filmmaking, you can develop a sophisticated perspective on the important of arrangement and
style in constructing cohesive and ethical arguments.
In general, filmmaking goes through three stages: pre-production, production, and post-
production. Revision occurs mostly in the first two stages, and the travel and circulation of the
argument to produce rhetorical effects occur in the third stage. In each stage of documentary
filmmaking, a filmmaker has to make rhetorical and ethical choices in constructing a truth about
the world. If you decide to deliver your research results in the form of a documentary film, you
need to make ethical choices in selecting the data, information, or evidence that you will present
and in editing and arranging this data to make your argument.
Pre- production is a stage of brainstorming for ideas to construct a cohesive argument about the
world. As a writer might do before starting a writing project, in the pre-production stage a
filmmaker needs to think of the rhetorical situation, which includes the exigence that motivates
her argument, the argument she wishes to deliver, the research she needs to conduct, the
information she will select, the audience she wishes to reach, and the tools, style, genre and
medium she will use to produce her documentary film.
Taking these rhetorical elements into consideration, a filmmaker starts her research by collecting
data from various resources—filming the materials she thinks will help her. Once she has the
initial data collected, she starts making sense of the data she collected by arranging its parts
cohesively to construct an argument.
Processes (of Documentary Filmmaking)
A storyboard is a first outline of a documentary film. It enables filmmakers to see what the final
documentary could look like. This does not mean that the final film must look like the original
storyboard. Storyboarding is like outlining in writing; it provides the skeleton of the documentary film
allowing the filmmaker to recognize whether her argument seems cohesive and rhetorically effective to
achieve her purpose. It is also like outlining the delivery of your research results, where you try to
arrange past observation and collected data to build your argument and to support it through evidence.
Wide shot of a
Mid-shot of the
Close up on a
cat eating from
Close up on an
open trash bag
and flies all over
people passing by
The camera zooms in and
stops at the scene of a big
trash can surrounded by
trash on the street and the
Jump cut to the
Jump cut to the
moves to show
the next shot
moves to their
backs to show
them going away
The background natural
transition to the
Processes (of Documentary Filmmaking)
To study the effects of arrangement in documentary filmmaking, here is an example of an
introductory scene from a short documentary that I made in 2008, “Why Omar Started
Smoking.” I made this documentary in my country of origin, Jordan, specifically in the city of
Karak, to document the story of a teenage boy, Omar, who started smoking due to living in an
environment that encourages smoking among men. The introductory scene that I present here
consists of a series of specific camera shots with explanations about their rhetorical effects and
the purposes that they serve.
A wide shot shows a wide range of a place that introduces the viewers to the larger context of
that scene. It shows many subjects in the shot without focusing on a subject. For example, a shot
might show trees, people walking, and cars crossing the road. Perhaps you are familiar with
movies and documentaries that start with a shot of a city before the camera zooms in to focus on
a more narrowed topic. Starting an introductory scene with this shot is like starting an
introductory paragraph by providing background information about the broad topic before
narrowing it down to a thesis. This wide shot introduces the audience to the environment in
which Omar lived. While the first shot shows the city, the next shot gets closer to the
documentary topic by showing three men, two of whom are smoking in public.
Mid Shot A mid shot focuses on the subject of the shot with some details about the subjects’ surroundings.
In the following example, the shot focuses on men’s smoking behavior, by showing a closer shot
of a man smoking a cigarette in the street.
A close-up shot focuses on specific detail that is important for the story.
A close-up shot is usually used to invoke strong emotion (pathos) from the viewer, where it
could be equivalent to the thesis at the end of a text’s introduction. In this shot the focus is on
Omar while telling his story to his friend about how he started smoking. The shot shows Omar’s
facial expression and emotion while telling intimate details about himself in order to attract the
audience to his struggle to quit smoking.
Extreme Close-Up Shot
Extreme close-up focuses more on the details the audience should pay attention to, such as a
hand holding a gun ready to shoot, or a baby’s face whose about to cry. The goal of this shot type
is to emphasize emotion and to get the audience’s attention.
These shots illustrate how I used various points of view in the opening scene while drafting the
storyboard, but this is only one possibility of arrangement to convey particular rhetorical effects.
Likewise, when you start writing an argument, you might outline it as a strategy for invention
and drafting, but as you start writing you should not allow the outline to limit or control your
argument. As a writer, composer, or a filmmaker, you are in control of constructing your argument
in the best way to convey particular message(s).
Pictures were removed to reduce the document size.
Production (filming and editing):
In the production stage, the filmmaker takes her planning and research and starts producing it
first by filming and then by editing her footage to construct a cohesive argument. Editing filmed
material in documentary films is like drafting and revising in a research paper. That is, the
filmmaker brings primary resources that she filmed, which is equivalent to observations,
interviews, and surveys in primary research. She also brings secondary resources of archival
footage that others previously filmed, which is equivalent to secondary resources in a research
paper. Then she rearranges the various filmed material (primary and secondary resources) to
construct a cohesive, persuasive argument.
Let’s take the following case where a filmmaker might find herself in a situation that requires
filming some incident in real time before creating a storyboard. Imagine that you were
participating in a protest and filmed parts of it, using your smartphone camera on the spot. You
might film protestors, police officers, and scenes of conflict between protestors and police
officers. You might post the footage that you have filmed right away on social media without
editing it at all, or you might do minor editing by adding previous footage of past protests about
the same cause to show how conflict between protestors and the police force is a recurring issue.
If you wish, however, to make an argument appropriate for a TV news report in your school, you
could probably interview protestors and police officers to elaborate on the conflict. You might
also add your own comments about the conflict to provide historical information about the
protest. The decisions that you make about the amount and type of editing reflect a rhetorical,
political, and ethical choice of yours.
From a rhetorical perspective, documentary filmmakers edit the raw footage to construct
persuasive arguments. Editing becomes a rhetorical choice that responds to a particular exigence
and situation. For example, in the case of a white police officer shooting a black man to death 8
times in the back in South Carolina in 2015, a video of the shooting in real time played a role in
convicting the officer of murder (see: Hezakya Newz & Entertainment, 2015). An eyewitness,
Feidin Santana had filmed the incident using his phone camera to document what happened
(Fantz and Yan, 2015). The exigence, the altercation between the officer and citizen that resulted
in the shooting, called for the witness to begin recording the scene and made it necessary not to
alter the footage by editing it so that it could be admissible in court.
If you take raw footage and start selecting particular parts over others you are making rhetorical,
political, and ethical choices and thus performing rhetorical, political, and ethical actions. In
documentaries, the viewers often times trust the footage because they perceive it as real and not
manipulated. However, while the filmed footage might be left as it is, neglecting another part of
the footage might alter the filmed event. For instance, if someone filmed an incident of a
physical conflict between two persons in the street, it is important to include the whole incident
and not only the physical violence. Failing to document the whole incident might alter what
actually happened by neglecting the parts that show:
• How the two people got into an altercation with each other
• Who started the fight
• What motivated the fight
Of course, the risk of leaving out important contextual information is a risk in all types of
delivery. For example, a person writing a scientific report might (accidentally or on purpose)
leave out significant studies that conflict with her own research. This not only undermines her
credibility but compromises the ethics of her research. Paying attention to how our perspectives
shape the information we give others is thus an ethical responsibility for all mediums.
In this stage viewers receive and view the documentary film and the film itself enacts rhetorical
agency and produces rhetorical effects. The medium as discussed before has a huge impact on
the message, thus filmmakers have to decide when and where to present and show their
documentaries to reach their targeted audiences. We sometimes refer to this layer of the medium
as a venue. This decision might also occur before they start working on the documentary where
filmmakers anticipate the best mediums to use in order to reach their intended audiences.
Filmmakers might enter their documentaries in festivals or sell them to TV stations. They might
post their documentaries on their professional websites or post trailers of their documentaries on
social media websites to attract targeted audiences to pay to watch their full documentaries. Once
a document, speech, or documentary film is released, it begins to enact rhetorical effects that
stretch beyond the intentions of the filmmaker. Many media and rhetoric scholars argue that
despite the initial intention of the author, what counts the most is the readers and what they do
with the text. For instance, Barthes and Heath (1977) announced the “death of the author” in the
sense that after the author produces a text, the readers reconstruct the meanings of the text.
Referring to this in online contexts, Hartling (2009) affirms that on the internet “the function of
an author does not disappear but is spread over different persons, which can even lead to a
‘dissociated’ authorship” (p. 199). That means that readers do not passively accept arguments but
contribute to the rhetorical construction of the truths about the world. To return to Bennett’s
(2010) concept of rhetorical agency as assemblages, readers, through their collective actions of
circulating, critiquing, and making sense of texts, contribute to the rhetorical agency of texts over
space and time. I hope that as rhetoric and composition students, you will be aware of your
capabilities of enacting rhetorical agency not only through producing texts, including multimodal
artifacts, but also through analyzing and interpreting what others produce.
Social Media: Profit Agendas vs. Collaborative Agency of Rhetorical Documents and Users
As social media keeps growing in users and audiences, ordinary people are now able to produce
and share media products online and enact actions that they were not able to do before. For
example, you might have created a post on Facebook that included a link to a video or photo
with your textual comments. You might have posted a selfie that motivated lots of replies of
textual and visual elements by your FB friends. The new medium of social media allows you and
Study (Reports in Film): Visit the NMSU online KRWG TV site and select one report
to analyze the reporter’s rhetorical, political, and ethical choices.
• How did the reporter make appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos?
• What is the political agenda that might have driven the reporter to construct her
main argument? In other words, what might the reporter’s stance on the issue be?
How did you arrive at this analysis?
• What does the reporter’s selection of data say about her ethical values? Was she
balanced? Had she accounted for counter arguments or ideas?
others to produce multimodal texts and to distribute them to a large number of audiences, users,
Importantly, this access to technology doesn’t assign power to users automatically. van Dijck
(2009), a media scholar, argues that although digital media technologies enable viewers to
respond to its products using its “same multi-modal language” (p. 43), that doesn’t mean that
viewers have more agency than those who viewed prior media such as TV and radio. In other
words, access to technology itself doesn’t make the viewers more active or critical than previous
media viewers. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development,
only 13% of internet users create and upload content to the internet, 19% critique the content and
share opinions about them, 15% save links and share them with others, 19% join social media
websites as viewers without contributing to the dialogue on social media, and the rest of users
are inactive users (as cited in van Dijck, 2009). Those numbers suggest that only a minority of
social media users contribute to action and dialogue on social media. Further, one can predict
that only a portion of those cited actually contribute action and dialogue of resistance and social
This can be perceived as a problem of active citizenship. As indicated in Chapter 1, rhetoric in
the ancient Greek era was essential for political and social participation and as patriotic action of
citizenship. From this perspective, to be an active citizen means to contribute arguments and
views about the truths of the world by critiquing social, political, and cultural oppressive forces
that act upon you and others. Failing to participate actively makes us merely media—and social
media—consumers: eating up the arguments of others without reflection, analysis, or
While social media sites present themselves as free social services, they actually make profit
from collecting and selling users demographic information as collected through the computer IP
addresses (van Dijck, 2009). But despite social media’s profit agendas, there is much that users
can do to be active citizens and content generators on the internet. As Kellner and Kim (2010)
argue, “individuals are able to exercise critical human agency through communicating with
others on [YouTube] UT by posing social reality as a problem and seeking solutions through
their discursive interaction” (p. 17). This means that being aware of and critiquing social realities
is a first step to produce social media products and dialog to change those realities. It is also a
step toward reclaiming rhetorical agency.
Remember that agency can be reclaimed through collaborative assemblages of parts and action.
For example, as people interact and socialize on social media spaces such as Facebook (FB) and
Twitter, they share and circulate lots of multimodal texts. You, for instance, might have liked a
certain YouTube video and shared it on Facebook, adding some comments to it as context. This
post might have started a conversation where your friends and their friends added their
comments and personal opinions. The result is that the video that you posted becomes altered by
the comments added to it on your “wall.” While the author of the original video had a particular
intention when creating the video, then, over time and through the collaboration of the other
authors’ new messages and ideas emerged. This is the result of collaborative rhetorical agency.
As documents circulate on social media spaces creating dialogues and causing actions, they
become agents of social change themselves despite the initial intentions and agency of the
original authors. Johnson (2008) states that “certain documents act as a locus between otherwise
unaffiliated groups and that those documents become agents who can mediate deliberation” (p.
199). A good example of the power of circulated documents to pursue social change is the case
of the Black Lives Matter Movement. The movement started with a hashtag on social media as a
response to the shooting of a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, by a white man, George
Zimmerman, in 2012, where the latter was found not guilty of murder (CNN Library, 2015).
Later, the movement that brought ordinary people and activists together became the voice for
black people against police violence. One of the three founders of the movement, Alicia Garza
I created #BlackLivesMatter with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, two of my sisters, as
a call to action for Black people after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was post-humously
placed on trial for his own murder and the killer, George Zimmerman, was not held
accountable for the crime he committed. It was a response to the anti-Black racism that
permeates our society and also, unfortunately, our movements.
Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives
are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’
contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly
We were humbled when cultural workers, artists, designers and techies offered their labor
and love to expand #BlackLivesMatter beyond a social media hashtag. Opal, Patrisse, and
I created the infrastructure for this movement project—moving the hashtag from social
media to the streets. Our team grew through a very successful Black Lives Matter ride, led
and designed by Patrisse Cullors and Darnell L. Moore, organized to support the movement
that is growing in St. Louis, MO, after 18-year old Mike Brown was killed at the hands of
Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. We’ve hosted national conference calls focused
on issues of critical importance to Black people working hard for the liberation of our
people. We’ve connected people across the country working to end the various forms of
injustice impacting our people. We’ve created space for the celebration and humanization
of Black lives.
The agency of documents as Johnson (2008) suggests is evident in this example. The document
itself, in this case the hashtag, motivated dialogue about black lives, connected people who might
Study (Social Media Rhetoric):
Search social media for effective examples of social and political resistance movements (e.g:
Arab Springs, Black Lives Matter Movement, Occupy Wall Street Movement)
• What roles of resistance did social media allow for its users?
• How did users generate and circulate multimodal texts to pursue their targeted audience
to help the groups achieve their purposes?
• How have users on social media collectively pushed a resistance dialogue forward?
• What does this suggest about collaborative rhetorical agency on social media spaces?
otherwise have not had the opportunity to connect, and overtime resulted on collaborative agency
of resistance on the ground and in the streets.
Among the internet resistance and activism spheres are personal websites and blogs. When the
World Wide Web (WWW) emerged in the early 1990s, business owners needed to hire
professional programmers to build websites for their businesses. Nowadays, with minimal
technical skills you can build a personal or business website using site builders (e.g: Weebly,
WordPress, and Yahoo site builders), some of which have free versions with limited features.
Site builders are mediums that allow rhetors to present arguments and information through the
website and blog genres. Because every site builder has unique capacities of presenting
multimodal texts, it is crucial that a rhetor test and analyze various site builders to decide which
one will best serve her purpose in delivering her argument to the targeted audience(s).
Websites (genre) and Site builders (medium) Capabilities and Constraints
As introduced in the theoretical framework, a medium’s capabilities and constraints make
particular messages possible. In the same sense, genres also constrain how arguments can be
expressed. For instance, because audiences started viewing the genre of the website through a
computer screen, it was essential for designers to consider the screen’s dimension in designing
webpages to be read easily by computer users. In the last ten years, however, since smartphones
became popular among users, web designers started optimizing webpages for small screens and
developing the genre of the “app.” Web design, therefore, is like any other kind of composition
in how it is affected by the medium and genre. Whenever you compose for any genre (e.g:
memo, email, essay, research paper, film, website), you need to consider how that genre governs
what you are allowed to express. That means that in writing for each genre, you create unique
designs even if you engage one subject across those genres.
Usability and Accessibility
Delivery in a sense means to facilitate access of the targeted audience to the messages or
arguments that a rhetor delivers. However, one challenge that lots of novice and professional
designers and web builders face is to design websites that are accessible and usable to all their
potential users and audiences. Let’s return to Burke’s argument that a rhetor must identify with
her audience to create common ground to construct a shared version of the world’s reality. If a
rhetor such as a web designer was to assume that her audience is just like her, knows what she
knows, and is capable of doing of what she’s capable of, she then puts herself before her
Practice (Composing Websites): Search the internet for free site builders and create an
account on a few and experiment with each site builder’s features. Then, make a list of each
site builder’s features.
• What would each site builder enable you to do that other site builders won’t?
• What are the limitations of each site builder?
• Which site builder would you choose to build a website that allows consumers to buy
clothes from an online shop?
• Which would you use to allow people to post their opinions about a posted topic?
Remember that your decision relies on a rhetorical choice to suit your argument and purpose.
audience and fails to identify with them because she overlooks their skills and needs (prioritizing
her own). Therefore, it is crucial not to assume that all the audience members have the same
capabilities and skills to access and use the web contents.
Among marginalized users and audiences in online spaces are people with disabilities. Goggin
and Newell (2003) raise our attention that “The World Bank estimated that 20% of the world
population had a disability in 2002” (p. xiii). Yet those users’ needs are neglected in multimodal
composition in online spheres such as higher education institutions (see, for example, Yergeau,
Brewer, Kerschbaum, Oswal, Price, Salvo, Selfe, and Howes, 2013). This negligence of different
needs which different users have counts as a discriminatory practice that marginalizes people
with disabilities and excludes them from particular places of interaction. While reclaiming
agency by designing webpages and delivering messages to a targeted audience, then, it is
important not to undermine the rhetorical agency of certain groups by preventing their access to
the messages that you seek to deliver in online spaces.
As a rhetoric and composition student, you have an ethical role in paying attention to
marginalized users when building a website or a blog. Marginalized users are not only people
with disabilities but also include users of various cultures, ages, and technical skills. For
example, if you are to build a website for a club or an organization at NMSU, you need to keep
in mind that among the website audiences are people with physical impairments such as vision,
vocal, and hearing disabilities. There are users of different ages, different levels of expertise in
utilizing the web, and different cultures and languages. Thus, to appeal to an audience of multi-
cultural backgrounds and capabilities, you need to pay attention to their various needs when
building a website, blog, or any other text.
One way a rhetor could pay attention to users’ needs is by enhancing usability and accessibility
of documents, including web sites, she generates. To borrow from technical document design,
Redish (2000) suggests that accessible and usable documents should allow users to “find what
they need [,] understand what they find [, and] use what they understand appropriately” (p. 163).
Thus, while building a website or composing any document, a rhetor needs to think of how her
rhetorical choices might affect her audience’s access to the arguments, knowledge, and
information that she presents and whether the content will be useful to them in some way to
perform some kind of action. However, relying on the rhetor’s own experience might not be
sufficient to create accessible and usable documents. The best people to tell the rhetor about the
users’ needs are the users and readers themselves.
Quality Assurance/ Testing as Revision Strategy
In technical spheres, those who test a product act as a representative sample of users, where the
tested version of the product is
called a beta version because it is
under enhancement and testing and
not published to the public yet.
Testing a product before making it
available to the public is a common
revision strategy. So far, you have
experienced peer review, where you
offered feedback on your peers’
writing and they offered feedback
Study (Physical Accessibility): Go to a website that
you use frequently and analyze it for usability and
• A person with hearing loss.
• A person with vision difficulty (e.g: color blind)
• A person whose first language is other than
What recommendations do you have for the developer
of that site?
on yours. You also have revised
your own work taking in
consideration your teachers and
peers’ feedback. However, in
testing, the writer’s target
audience, who might not be peers,
are the ones who should test the
product. In the work place, this
kind of testing is called quality
assurance, where big web
companies have specialized
departments to test each website before publishing it on the internet. What you need to keep in
mind is that enhancing a web design is like enhancing any written document: it is an ongoing
process of revision. It is hard to achieve the goal of a design that works for all the target users.
However, through responding to users’ feedback, a rhetor is likely to enhance accessibility and
usability of websites that she builds. This way, users and web designers collaboratively become
agents of social change (see Agency as Assemblages of Parts and Actions section) by enhancing
equity among users through enhancing rhetorical documents usability and accessibility.
Delivery is a critical canon/stage for rhetors in reconstructing the world truths(s). During this
canon/stage, rhetors make various rhetorical and ethical choices to deliver/ present arguments to
their intended audiences. Among the rhetorical choices that rhetors have to make is the choice of
medium and genre to present arguments through. Mediums and genres, as were introduced to
you, can never be neutral channels to transform knowledge and arguments. In the contrary, each
medium and each genre has impact on the message. Each, has features and capacities that enable
it to construct particular perspectives about the world that other mediums and genres might not
have. As a reader, I hope that this chapter will help you to critique and analyze messages, and
arguments despite the mediums and genres in which they were transformed. I hope that you will
not adopt an argument simply because it is in the news, on the internet, or in a textbook, but
because you see the argument’s legitimacy through analysis and critical thinking. As a rhetor
yourself, I hope that this chapter will help you to think the medium and genre in which you will
present/ deliver your argument, thoroughly, and to notice the effect of those on the message that
you wish to deliver, to help you to account for ethical reconstruction of the world’s truth(s)/
realities. As an ethical rhetor, I also hope that you will always make your best to identify with
your intended audiences, and to pay sincere effort in making sure that marginalized groups
among the intended audiences will have equal opportunity to access, comprehend, and use the
arguments that you present. Through being careful in your rhetorical and ethical choices during
the delivery canon/stage, you get the chance to act as an active citizen who contributes to
reconstructing the world truth(s), and thus to contribute social change. You have the chance,
whether to use this chance for rhetorical action or not is totally your choice.
Study (Linguistic Accessibility): Find a website for
a topic you are interested that is delivered in a
language you don’t speak.
What aspects of the web design allow you to access
and use the site content even though that you don’t
understand that language? What would you suggest
that the developers do to make the website content
more accessible and usable?
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