Blog Post

"I Smell Smoke": Blogging as an Endangered Species

"I smell smoke / that comes from a gun / named extinction..."

-Pixies, "The Sad Punk", Trompe le Monde, 1991


I've often said here and there that when it comes to digital publishing we are a little bit like cave men and cave women mesmerised by the fire. The flames are so bright, the warmth so comforting, the possibilities so rich that we just stare, the context blackened-out. A blinding light in the dark void. 

I've been concerned with the past, present and future of publishing (its "history") for some time, and this includes academic publishing. I have been a practitioner and advocate of blogging as a form of academic publishing for a while now, and I have also blogged no only as an academic but as a comics critic, poet, citizen and reader. As a blogger, I'm obviously pretty much aware of the monetisation issues that often relegate it to a secondary, very often amateurish activity. There is money in some forms of blogging, but academic blogging remains limited by financial constraints, which are themselves a consequence of the lack of recognition the form gets as a 'measurable' academic output with real academic and public impact. 

A very important negative consequence of this lack of recognition of blogging as a primary research/teaching output is that academic bloggers feel they cannot and moreover should not dedicate time to an activity which is in fact very time-consuming, which requires considerable expertise and that nonetheless is not recognised by those who count (funding institutions, academic committees) as academic work. These leads to academics and other specialists to start blogs (often as students) only to find themselves no longer able to maintain them properly. Often these blogs are hosted with their own domains and simply vanish off the face of the web because the fees were not paid for another year (hosting content on the web does cost money). 

I am writing this because last Saturday the comics analysis blog The Panelists announced it was "closing time". The post, written by Derik Badman, explains:

 The Panelists is no more. When our domain hosting runs out early in 2012 the site will be closing down. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t give this site the attention we hoped. The six of us had too many other places where our attention was required: work, other writing (books, articles, conferences), art, family, etc. I’m sure we all have our excuses, but, in the end, we just couldn’t keep things going.

What I would like to underscore here is that the authors of this collaborative blog had "work, other writing (books, articles, conferences)." It is clear that the blog, for them, could not take priority over the other forms of output. I still have to hear of an academic or writer who says they could not write their book because they were too busy blogging. It is also scary that once the hosting runs out the resource will disappear, leaving a series of broken links scattered around the comics web to say the least.

Beyond the crisis in digital sustainability, archiving and preservation that this situation reveals, the fact that online publishing is still not considered a primary output is perhaps one of the greatest contradictions in current scholarly communications discourse. Until online publishing, including blogging, is considered an output as important as "other writing (books, articles, conferences)" in the form of financial recognition, hundreds if not thousands of useful online resources are doomed to extinction. 

The Impact of Social Sciences blog of the London School of Economics is extremely optimistic in considering there is "a great migration" of scholars to "online publishing".  Unfortunately, it seems to me there will only be a considerable, sustainable "great migration" if there is funding for online publishing, if online publishing formats, such as academic blogging, wikis and other online resources, are recognised as primary outputs. Until that happens, it seems to me we remain pretty much prehistoric scholars, fascinated by the fire, unable to smell the smoke, still slow to contemplate strategies to save us from extinction. 

P.S. 29th November is Pay a Blogger Day. Just saying. 





Perhaps if more academics wrote scholarly pieces about the presence of scholarship in blogs, they would take off as an academic form.  Also, I do think that academia fears the ways that literature and language can be distorted once placed online (it can be reworded or manipulated, then re-circulated and the original meaning changed). Plus, using the Internet to showcase academic work still requires maintenance- think about all of those links you click on that are no longer there.  Just some food for thought. 

Thanks for this post.


I agree, blogging is an under-appreciated publishing venue in the academic venue. As you probably know, however, a blog post, no matter how well-researched, is not the same thing as an article published in a scholarly journal or a book published by a university press. In both cases, the work gets vetted by an editorial board and undergoes revision. That lengthy process is one of the reasons why such an article or a book garners the author more credit than a blog.

That said, as you point out, there are some serious academic blogs out there with worthwhile information. Their authors should receive some kind of credit for that kind of publishing--but what criteria do we use to assess the blog, since there's no editorial board giving it their stamp of approval? This is a problem and we are, as you say, cave people.

One thing I'd love to see more of are blogs where authors post their work-in-progress for comments, much as Kathleen Fitzpatrick did for her new book, [[|Planned Obsolescence.]]


Thank you very much indeed for your comments, Teresa and Elizabeth. A hurried reply below... 

Teresa, you say  that "perhaps if more academics wrote scholarly pieces about the presence of scholarship in blogs, they would take off as an academic form." There are already many who do this but yes, we need more. So the question is why they don't. They don't for many reasons, but my educated guess is that many don't precisely because the form is not recognised as a valid academic output. Many individual academics and institutions that didn't use to blog before have started blogging now because there's been funding for it-- maybe not direct funding, under the "Blogging" label, but a combination of available funding for a digital project and an open-minded and innotative attitude to scholarship can remove the "this is not recognised anyway" obstacle. (HASTAC Scholars is a successful example of this: a bit of funding, does not have to be a lot, can often be enough encouragement). 

You also mention the fear of "the ways that literature and language can be distorted once placed online", but as we all know this is not unique of online media (as we know from, say, marking student essays, or reading the newspaper, or spotting the different ways in which the same quote is cited by different authors in different otherwise respectable books). On the other hand, perhaps it is time that more academics, of all people, stopped thinking that rewording, manipulation and recirculation are negative things. You mention broken links, but these should not be a reason to distrust online publishing a priori (we should avoid links from getting broken in the first place, as much as it's possible). Broken links (or digital decay; digital rot)  are, indeed, the direct and/or indirect result of lack of digital sustainability, which can be assured, with varying degrees of success, through the implementation of policies, but for these there's the need of institutional back-up. In the case I discuss in my post, once the Panelists web site is unavailable, any resource that had cited them by linking to them will point to a broken link. This is only happening because the authors could not give the blog the priority it deserved. They couldn't , I'm sure, because the blog did not pay the bills. If it paid the bills you'd find the time... 

Elizabeth, you rightly address vetting and peer-review. As I'm sure you know, many scholars (including Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who you mention), are proving that online publishing, including blogging, does not mean getting rid of all previous methods of scholarship and academic "quality control" (a multi-authored Wordpress dashboard is a great way of having peer-review; that's what we do at the Comics Grid. We also peer review using Google Docs).

Again, my suggestion is that there is nothing intrinsic to blogging stopping it from having "the same" academic rigour as other more traditional outputs (the published monograph on print). It also has to be said that a blog is the result of ongoing work --posts--; in terms of content, a single post can of course in no way compare to either a complete book or a year's worth of blogging!

In academia today, no one denies the relevance of publications. It varies from country to country (not the same in the UK than Canada or the US, for example) but unfortunately it all comes down to a question of funding, and funding is allocated according to varying cultural paradigms. If no one got funding for writing books and articles in subscription-only  peer-reviewed journals, I can assure you many, many less scholars would publish in those venues. It's not that these outputs are intrinsically built for academic rigour (and blogging isn't); it's that having the money to do it gives you the time to do it, and having the time to do it enables better quality.

Maybe one of the reasons why our blog posts are not better written and researched is not a question of lack of scholarship and/or digital literacy, but a lack of time because we can't afford that time to write blog posts? 


You are right, Adam, we can't afford the time to write blog posts if they're not held in the same high esteem as a traditional publication. It's not about the money. There's no money in blogs, there's no money in academic publishing, there's barely money in non-academic publishing unless you are Stephen King or JK Rowling. We should all become dental hygienists.

Although some academic articles and books are funded while they are being researched and written, many are not. "Funding" for writing something might cover a semester or two, but that article / book could take much longer to write, and there's no funding for that. Funding could be considered an academic's salary, but the responsibilities extend to teaching and committees.

When an article is published, the "payment" is most likely a new entry for the author's CV, under "publications." When a book is published, the monetary compensation for that is minimal. Few people in academia publish anything to get rich or even to earn enough for a nice dinner out. We publish for recognition, to get a job, to maybe get tenure.

It is a problem that we don't get paid to generate knowledge and to think about and analyze the many facets of culture, but it's not a problem that most people outside academia think is very important.


OK, I'll forgive you for calling me Adam... 

I disagree it's not about money. Of course the average scholar does not make money directly from publications (royalties, contracts, etc) but in order to be a full time academic, employed by an educational institution, at least as a researcher, you need to publish. So you get paid to publish, even if this payment is indirect. Publishing books becomes a priority because if you don't publish a book you lose your job or you don't get the job you want. It's as easy as that. People write books because their funding/salary covers it. (Yes, of course we all love our subjects and what we do and it's not all about the money etc., but I hope we can agree on this). Fund people to blog and they will do it. 



ERNESTO--I am sorry. You should call me by some other (nice) name for the rest of the day!

I agree 100 percent-- we should be "paid to publish" blogs, even if it's indirect. For that reason, I do "pay" myself for the blog posts I make on HASTAC by listing them in my CV. They are under "Public Writing and New Media." Although I don't list every blog post, I do list the ones that seem relevant and demonstrate that I have a broad yet specific range of interests and knowledge.

Participating in sanctioned blogs, such as HASTAC or at the Chronicle, can be one way to draw attention to the importance of blogs and may help pave the way for personal academic blogs to garner more credibility in the academic world.


He he he, don´t worry! Yes, you are completely right.  Like you, I also list my online publications in my CV. By doing it we are sending out an important message, I believe. (If we don't give academic value to what we do online ourselves, who will?)

'Sanctioned' blogs are indeed a great alternative. I myself have moved most of my blogging activity to them. Unfortunately, as much as I wish I could, efforts have to be targeted and concentrated in venues with more possibilities of a wider impact, at least for the time being. 

Thank you for the feedback! It's what makes this medium unique as well... 


Anonymous (not verified)

Although some academic articles and books are funded while they are being researched and written, many are not. "Funding" for writing something might cover a semester or two, but that article / book could take much longer to write, and there's no funding for that. Funding could be considered an academic's salary, but the responsibilities extend to teaching and committees.

When an article is published, the "payment" is most likely a new entry for the author's CV, under "publications." When a book is published, the monetary compensation for that is minimal. Few people in academia publish anything to get rich or even to earn enough for a nice dinner out. We publish for recognition, to get a job, to maybe get tenure.


You are right, Peter. That's the rub:

"When an article is published, the "payment" is most likely a new entry for the author's CV, under "publications." [...] We publish for recognition, to get a job, to maybe get tenure."

And that job is paid, is it not? Tenure is the panacea in American academia because it ensures professional stability, meaning also financial stability. So, once again, I say it: recognition = payment. It does not matter if this payment is indirect: people publish books because books is the format that counts in order to get a job. There are still dozens of academic bodies that will discourage students and academics from listing online publishing (blogging or else) as a primary ouput for research. If online publishing were recognised as a primary output, more people would list it on their CVs. What I am saying as well is that many students do not blog precisely because they think that blogging will not help them get a job in academia, at least not as something that can be listed as an entry for the author's CV. 



The conversation on this interesting post by Ernesto has seemed to turn mostly on what we might consider "funding." I agree with what seems to be an emerging consensus that while we do not get paid (very much) directly for our academic writing, such writing does contribute to our efforts to secure stable, paying jobs in academia.

As Ernesto and Elizabeth have noted, one of the features of academic book and journal article publications that grant these forms legitimacy in the academic job market is the peer review process. Responding to Elizabeth's metnion of this, Ernesto wrote:

Elizabeth, you rightly address vetting and peer-review. As I'm sure you know, many scholars (including Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who you mention), are proving that online publishing, including blogging, does not mean getting rid of all previous methods of scholarship and academic "quality control" (a multi-authored Wordpress dashboard is a great way of having peer-review; that's what we do at the Comics Grid. We also peer review using Google Docs).

Kathleen Fitzpatrick's Planned Obsolescence is an excellent (and rare) example of an effort to extend peer review to a blogging platform that is both well-conceived and sanctioned by a university press.

I'd like to hear more about the two other examples Ernesto brings up: of conducting peer review

  1. through a multi-authored WordPress dashboard and
  2. through a Google Docs document.

How does peer review work in the cases involving these platforms that you (Ernesto) describe? Is it something more than just having other scholars associated with the projects look over blog posts or other writing before their publication? Or are there other forms of review that are comparable to, or different from but in some way preferable to the traditional peer review process?


Thank you Jesse for your comment and question.

I had left a lengthy response, but I was logged out after I clicked send and lost it all (must always remember to copy text onto clipboard before submitting anything written directly online...) Sigh. Anyway, I will try to say it again, but I'm afraid it won't be as eloquent. 

The usual idea is that bloggers just type the first thing that comes to their minds and click 'Publish'. The immediacy is seen as a bad thing; having other readers filters the rubbish out and ensures that what makes it as a published article or book is really good stuff. A lot to say about that, but that's for another time and place...

On the other hand, as fellow contributor and editor Michael Hill rightly said to me via email, 

I don't think we should follow the long, drawn out process of refereed journals where the article one writes spends 3 months or more with referees and then a further 2 or 3 months making changes and returning for approval, and then another 6 months or more before it's published-you know all that. 

So we publish shorter pieces and we try to publish one new article at least every two weeks (ideally one per week, but in some months we have published more than that; it depends on the group's productivity and available time).

Anyway, in what way is what we do at the Comics Grid not this same model of anyone typing whatever they want and publishing it without any type of editorial control? 

If, as the current Wikipedia definition [accessed 25 November 2011; 09:51AM GMT] has it,

peer review (also known as refereeing) is the process of subjecting an author's scholarly work, research, or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field, before a paper describing this work is published in a journal,

that's exactly what we do. Moreover, what we do at the Comics Grid, using both shared Google Docs and the mulit-author Wordpress Dashboard, is 'non-blind' peer review, because even though sometimes reviewers (or editors as we also call them) might not know the identity of a submission's author, authors always know who read them, reviewed them and edited them. 

Since it is possible to submit a draft via Google Docs anonymously (inasmuch as Google allows for anonymous or pseudonymous accounts), a certain degree of anonymity can be achieved if so wished, but we aim at transparency in terms of who is reading what and what comments are made about them. The critiques to traditional or anonymous peer review are well known so I won't go into them here. I am also aware that what we do is not completely open peer review (as it can be achieved through, say, CommentPress), because the general public can't access the reviewing process behind the scenes. In our case the openness takes place between contributors and editors. Our field is still small enough as to make blind peer review an impossibility, themes, approaches and writing styles can be easily identified; often submissions are excerpts from work already presented publicly at conferences or other academic venues, etc. We don't believe that knowing who the empyrical author behind a submission is affects negatively the quality control we expect the reviewing process to ensure. 

The way it works is already more or less described in our call for contributions.  Submissions on Google Docs are shared with reviewers with the ability to edit, and drafts are collectively discussed through the insertion of comments and modifications and tracking changes (on the document itself) and email conversations. Collectively approved drafts are transferred to the Wordpress Dashboard, where versions and revisions are tracked by author's name, date and time (and changes can always be reverted). Once an author has an account and a published article she can keep leaving drafts and submitting them for review. Once a draft has been submitted for review within the Dashboard, users with the permission to edit work on it directly, and any required changes are discussed collecitvely by email. (This logically means a User Role Editor must have been customised in advance to allow different types of permissions). 

Our reviewing process is not like an examination process where the aim is to get The Authority's approval. Our reviewing process seeks to be a learning experience where experts of different ages, levels of professional experience, native languages and nationalities work together to ensure the best scholarly version possible is achieved. Editors and registered contributors have access to two shared documents, one containing detailed editorial guidelines and another one which is an editorial checklist, where every essential aspect of a contribution for the Grid that has to be checked before approval, from the title to the references to the resolution and file types of images and including ways to hyperlink and add metadata are listed one by one. 

My idea with the Grid has been to empower authors to become active participants in the publication and promotion of their own articles. In this sense the Grid is asking contributors to "look under the hood" (as Fitzpatrick has called it), and not only to look, but to understand what is happening there, what it requires to work properly and what it can be done when things are not working as desired. We also want to encourage authors to write with the capabilities and conditions of the web in mind; not to write with paper reading in their horizon of expectations, but to think of online readers. 

The traditional way has had it that authors often simply forget about their articles once they have attached their Word file and clicked 'Send'. We don't want that with the Grid, we want authors to assume the editorial  responsibility (in online publishing terms)  of their own online publications. This also means accepting in advance to license their work with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, and to allow peers to edit and modify their original draft submissions. This implies a different attitude to authorship and authorial control. 

There are many other aspects to the process I have not mentioned here, but I hope this gives at least a clearer idea of how we are working. 




Thanks for such a long and thoughtful response. I've lost several of my own comments here on the HASTAC site by waiting too long to post them or accidentally pressing the arrow + the control or command or some other key.

It sounds like in practice the form of peer review in place at Comics Grid has at least some potential advantages over conventional peer review:

  • The ability to publish quickly,
  • The transparency gained from non-blind review,
  • The decentering, conversationality, and collectivity of a review process oriented toward a "learning experience" and the "active participa[tion]" of authors.

The speed of the system you describe seems an obvious advantage. The transparency/anonymity difference seems more like a trade-off. As you mention, there is a literature critiquing blind peer review. I also see a trade-off in a peer review system where a shifting collective of authors critique each others work. Certainly I've gotten incredibly useful comments on my writing from peers. This has occurred for me through internal review processes at journals where I have known members of the journal staff, and through my own initiative – having colleagues review my work informally. I have also gotten quite useful comments from anonymous reviewers perhaps far outside my own scholarly networks through submitting work to journals and paper competitions.

While tools such as the WordPress CMS and Google Docs facilitate processes like that in place at Comics Grid, it seems like such review processes need not be unique to blogging. And of course there are many blogs, personal and professional, individual and collaborative, without such a system of peer review.

This conversation raises provocative questions not only about the form scholarly publication takes online, but how such publishing platforms can push us to reconsider the merit of different forms of peer review to which we might subject academic writing.

Comics Grid is described on its "About" page as a "peer-edited online academic journal."  I wonder, then:

  • What might lead one to consider or name an online peer reviewed scholarly publication a blog rather than a journal, and, relatedly
  • What choices one might make about what language regarding peer review to include in the description of an online scholarly publication, with an eye to how people in charge of tenure and promotion might consider such an outlet. "Peer-edited" does seem like an apt description of the review process in place at Comics Grid. But as you point out, the process in place is a form of "peer review." Does peer review signify a specific range of conventional forms of peer review, such that it might seem dishonest to apply the verbiage to other forms of review? Are there other considerations, such as a critique of conventional peer review, perhaps, in play?

Lastly, I've shared some other thoughts on this discussion and on the advantages of blogging as a platform for scholarly publication on my own blog. Thanks for starting this conversation here, Ernesto!


Thanks again Jesse for your careful observations. You are completely spot-on that the pre-publication process we  employ is not specific to blogging. I have to say that reviewing articles on Google Docs is something we do for other publications as well (in my case, most are scholarly blogs!). 

Your last two points are key. I believe the way one chooses to describe publications is extremely important, particularly in the age of search engines. (We are pretty much focused on SEO at the Grid, and this has resulted in visits from our targeted users, instead of some random visits from unrelated queries). Our original description for the Grid, which was in use for the first I think five months, was "a blog dedicated to comics scholarship." Other contributors requested we stopped using the term "blog" and start using "journal". We also made sure we got an ISSN from the British Library.

I personally suggested the term "peer-edited" because I am aware that we are not what most people recognise immediately as a "peer-reviewed journal". This also obeys to the fact that not all contributions are, strictly speaking, "reviewed", we have a section called "Meta" dedicated to interviews and brief reviews of conferences and other academic activities of our contributors. These contributions do not require the same reviewing process as the main section, which is devoted to exploring ways in which comics pages can be "read". Nevertheless these posts are always read by others before publication, and the editorial team ensures they follow our editorial guidelines and pre-publication checklist. In publications which are not peer-reviewed or peer-edited, the editors might be specialists in a topic but they are often generalists; if an academic contributes to them the academic in question is the expert in the article's topic. In our case, everyone working for the Grid is a comics scholar, currently or formerly associated to a higher education institution and with a track record of scholarly work in the field of graphic narrative and related fields. We are all 'peers' in the academic use. 

Morevoer, as you suggest, in the way we describe ourselves and the methods we have decided to employ (Including using a blogging platform, Wordpress, to publish, for ease and swiftness) we are hopefuly making a point, which includes a positive, active critique of 'conventional' peer review as has previously and traditionally existed. 

As a final note, I should perhaps also clarify that all this notwithstanding, I also believe that academic blogs by single authors or where contributions are published directly without any pre-publication reviewing or editorial process beforehand, which are the norm, make a huge contribution to academic activity.  I think that peer review as we know it should not necessarily be the measure by which all other types of academic publications should be evaluated.