What distinguishes a good writer from a bad writer and a good writer from a great writer?
Many people think writing is a talent. They think it is something that either you are born with and can just innately do reasonably well, even if you have to hone your ability, or it is something that simply doesn't make sense to you. Writing can be a talent to some extent, yes, but it is first and foremost a skill. A bad writer isn't someone who struggles to pen beautiful, moving prose; a bad writer is someone struggles to clearly communicate his or her ideas clearly and concisely. Understanding the basic rules of grammar; making conscious, smart choices about how to structure an argument; and having a good understanding of not only what you're writing about but what you're trying to say are the most important parts to being a good writer. Being a good writer is not about sounding like a professional, like some long lauded mainstay of the literary canon we study. All writers aspire to great writing, to chaining together sentence after sentence that flow together more sweetly and carelessly than eddies by a riverbank, but good writing is easily attainable.
How would you respond to the age-old criticisms of English studies: "Well, isn't this just sort of a bunch of nonsense? Surely authors never consciously inserted 'themes' into their works or designed them as neatly and easily as sites like Sparknotes interpret them. And if teachers say there are no wrong answers, only different interpretations, how can you be wrong about some things and right about others? Isn't it really just telling your teacher what they want to hear, what they think is right?"
The dirty little secret about studies in English is that the idea of nonsense itself is subjective. Career-academics will claim each other couldn't possibly be farther from the truth in regards to things written hundreds of years before either of their births. But this is not to say that the study of English is meaningless. Authors do not and did not consciously create a certain amount of symbols or themes in their works; writing is a product of the writer, and the writer is a product of his or her time, culture, and society. We, as people, when we write espouse all kinds of underlying ideologies without even consciously thinking about them. Were I to write what I thought to be a simple story about a little boy opening a lemonade stand, selling all of the lemonade he came with, and then going home happy and satisfied, this story could be easily considered to be staunchly pro-capitalist, even if that wasn't necessarily my intention. I live within the bounds of a capitalist society, so my brain instinctively works within that structure. This is often how writing works. Writers write and critics decipher. As long as you do your best to backup any claims, that is a worthwhile exercise in the context of studying English and you likely won't be punished.
Does digital media distinguish itself meaningfully from traditional physical media, and if so, how?
Digital media is a fundamentally different beast when compared to physical media, but not merely because of its existence solely on digital devices. We interact with digital media differently than we, as humans, as cultures, and as societies, have interacted with any other form of media across the ages. Digital media has become a social experience. Because of this, digital media has a fluidity impossible for physical media to ever recreate. For example, take an article written for and displayed on some prominent website. Say in the comments section of this article -- which essentially all sites have at this point -- there is some new piece of information the author of the original piece never came across; say readers brought up an absolutely unignorable counterargument; or say that simply a mistake that both the author and editor missed was discovered. Not only can the article be amended to immediately to clarify a mistake, fix an error, introduce something new, or even engage with a counterpoint, but the author can actually interact with the readers themselves, offering context and elaboration. Physical media simply cannot do this, which makes digital media uniquely connective and communal.