Yes, Academics Can Add To The News Ecosystem; No, It Doesn't Need To Be In Newspapers.

from the news.-not-newspaper. dept

If high-quality reporting is prohibitively expensive, why not cut the cost of labor? So goes the thinking of NYU history professor Jonathan Zimmerman whose piece in The Christian Science Monitor argues that professors should be encouraged to write for newspapers for free, much as they did historically. Instead of publishing in journals solely for academics, professors should contribute their expertise to the general public through frequent newspaper commentary on world events.

Of course, the structure of success in academia -- "publish or perish" -- motivates professors to publish in journals that are inaccessible to general consumption. Plenty of well-respected professors already publish OpEd pieces in newspapers on a regular basis, but they tend to be already tenured. (Take Amartya Sen's recent article in FT accompanied by his very lengthy piece in the New York Review of Books -- all of which are an outgrowth of his scholarly publishing.) Zimmerman suggests that if "30 or 40 prominent research universities issued a joint statement, urging their faculty to publish in popular venues," more would do so. Unfortunately, coordinating such a move would be difficult and distracting.

Instead, academia should be thinking larger. We do not need professors to write for newspapers -- the medium itself is not necessary. Academia can do two things to support a vibrant, reliable information ecosystem: support open access and support faculty blogging. Open access publishing increases the availability and reach of scholarship; the original articles are more accessible, allowing more general purpose writing to piggy-back off them. And as for academic blogging, the future of news need not contain newspapers as we know them. Plenty of brilliant professors have compelling and informative blogs, but for the most part, these are not considered positively in the tenure process, creating a disincentive to young scholars. If Zimmerman and others who care about high quality information want to promote it, they should encourage tenure committees to support academic blogging.
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