Blog Post

What can journalists teach academics about digital publishing and writing?

I’m very pleased to be part of the group of 2010-2011 HASTAC Scholars. It’s been great reading the blogs, and I’m looking forward to participating throughout the year.

One question I’ve been thinking recently: what can journalists teach academics about digital publishing? This topic has occupied my mind this week as an article I wrote for World Policy Journal is being published online in daily installments. The article explores the global exchange in reality TV formats. We’re currently on day two.

My goal from the beginning was to craft an article that could be meaningful both to lay audiences and specialists in my field of Film and Media Studies. I hit the jackpot when I was paired with an editor named Ryan Bradley, who has a background in magazine journalism and possesses a boundless amount of energy. Ryan hatched the plan to put the article up in installments, and we collaborated on assembling links and uploading clips that could make for a dynamic user experience. Tomorrow’s installment will be the most media-rich day—containing segments of four different versions of the TV show “Wipeout,” from Spain, Russia, Ukraine, and the Middle East.

Many academic journals have gone digital and offer similarly media-rich articles. But these still tend to be the exceptions. And frequently, even peer-reviewed web journals are regarded as less prestigious than the traditional, flagship disciplinary journals. What would it take to nudge these journals toward broadening the publishing experience? Newspapers and magazines adapted more rapidly after being confronted by dwindling advertising and subscription bases. Can change in academia occur in the absence of crisis?

I should also point out, though, that many of the pleasures of working on this article had nothing to do with digital publishing. Instead, they came from the age-old process of writing, rewriting, reflecting, and then rewriting some more. I worked with Ryan (along with World Policy Journal editor-in-chief David Andelman) on producing a piece of writing that would be both intellectually and emotionally satisfying. That blend of intellect and emotion, analysis and storytelling, is one of the things I appreciate about the best New Yorker writing. And judging from her blog post today on Malcolm Gladwell, I have a feeling it’s something that Cathy Davidson appreciates too (along with probably many other of you HASTACers). We can and should be critical when we engage with journalistic writing, just as we should with academic writing. But we can also try to utilize some of the writing, editorial, and publishing techniques that make us feel glued to the best magazine articles—not because we have to read them but because we want to finish them and, on some level, need to.  

 

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