I attended World Views Conference on the Media and Higher Education in Toronto last week (#WV2011 on Twitter). I will leave it to my friend, @qui_oui (whom I finally met face to face, along with @Mary_Churchill) to comment about how higher education is portrayed in the media. What I want to talk about is the question of legitimacy in both the media and academic publishing. It's something else both fields have in common.
I was struck during the conference how many members of both the university and traditional media spoke about social media like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. One panelist spat the word Twitter like it was poison, while another dismissed social media as fleeting tools for the young, all while lamenting that no one reads/funds/pays for newspapers anymore. When one speaker commented that there may, indeed, perhaps, exist "legitimate bloggers" out there, I had had enough. What makes a blogger legitimate? Who decides? And why, if the model is failing, are we still holding on to it for dear life?
We see the same thing happening in the world of publishing in higher education. Traditional university/academic publishers are closing down and losing money, as are traditional journals. More and more paywalls are going up while library budgets are going down. Scholarship, however, is increasingly using multi-media techniques, as illustrated by the presentation at the 2011 Digital Humanities conference. The old systems are failing, and we are slow to embrace new means of sharing our research while still maintaining the "legitimacy" required for hiring, tenure, and promotions.
Why can't a cultural anthropologist receive credit for carefully making a documentary? Part of the reason, one can imagine, is because filmmaking is seen as a commercial enterprise. Making money is a definite no-no in academia, especially in the humanities. Blogging is seen as a bit of a waste of time, as well as effort not only because it is not legitimate, but also because, as Dr. Davis at Teaching College English discovered, some still see it as a commercial enterprise. Even if it was, is it such a bad thing? Why shouldn't an academic make money with their writing?
There are two very powerful forces at work when it comes to your writing and research, whether you're an academic or "journalist" - the idea of the public good and the ability to pay your bills and keep a roof over your head. Does the Huffington Post, who is about to make a ton of money off of their sale to AOL, owe it to the hundreds of bloggers (this one included) who contributed material for free? What about Big Media's request for volunteers to go through all of Sarah Palin's emails, for free as well? I'm all for crowdsourcing, but when does it cross over into exploitation?
As an academic, I do blog here about teaching and general issues in higher education and about my research on another blog. I applaud new initiatives that seek to make research more open, available, interactive, and dynamic. I am very excited by the announcement, made today, about PressForward, an effort to create and support "legitimate" online publishing opportunities and ventures. The more we start including things like blogging on our C.V's, the more people will become aware of the value of the activities, and thus become more legitimate. Why can't I receive credit for co-creating and moderating the #FYCchat on Twitter?
This summer, I have been really obsessing over the question of legitimacy, in our publications, our writing, and the way we write. Heck, I'm even thinking about it for my (traditional) academic article I'm writing. But one issues I haven't seen addressed (nor have I really addressed it myself) is the question of money. If 75% of us are off the tenure-track, then how we make ends meet with the work we produce is the elephant in the room.