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July 2005, Week 3


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Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 19 Jul 2005 17:10:46 +0100
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Jeremy Butler writes:

>A very interesting piece on grad students, 
>blogging and academe turned up in the /Chronicle 
>of Higher Education/ recently: "Bloggers Need 
>Not Apply." It's been further discussed in 
>"Blogging and job prospects" in Ars 
>Technica.  In essence, the articles are about 
>the negative impact blogging can have on the job 
>prospects of graduate students.

What surprises me is the implicit belief in both 
of these articles that the recruiters of junior 
academics would either know or care if an 
applicant spent his or her spare time writing a 
blog.  I'd certainly be suspicious if someone 
made the point of telling me about it in an 
application, as this would strongly imply that 
the candidate doesn't have what it takes to 
publish its contents the conventional way.  We 
all hold beliefs and values which others disagree 
with, and most of us can work out when it is and 
isn't constructive to express those views in the 
workplace (in fact, sometimes the most effective 
thing is simply to act on them without saying 
anything out loud).  As far as I'm concerned, 
these beliefs and values are none of an 
employer's business UNLESS they demonstrably 
affect the employee's ability to do their 
job.  For example, if someone applied to be a 
lecturer in public health and had written a blog, 
sponsored by a tobacco company and extolling the 
health benefits of smoking, I'd say it would be 
legitimate to take that into account when 
assessing the application.  But if that same 
person applied to be a lecturer in film studies, 
it most certainly would not be.

All the public sector organisations I've worked 
for assess applications against a published set 
of qualifications, competences and duties, and 
only those issues which are directly related to 
those can be taken into account during 
shortlisting or raised at the interview.  When I 
took the interview panel training course for my 
institution, it was made absolutely clear that I 
could not ask any question that was not strictly 
related to the requirements of the post and the 
applicant's materials, so if writing a blog is 
not mentioned in the personal statement or CV, it isn't relevant.

Jeremy Butler writes:

>In the past 10 years, we've witnessed 
>skyrocketing subscription prices for academic 
>journals--causing college libraries and scholars 
>to cut back on the titles they 
>carry.  Simultaneously, we've witnessed the 
>growth of an inexpensive distribution system: 
>the Internet. Some e-journals have popped up in 
>our field and many of them do not charge for 
>access. Some, such as Postmodern Culture, began 
>as a free service and then subsequently came to 
>limit access to paying customers (in PMC's case, through Project Muse).

The bottom line is that academic research costs 
money to produce and distribute.  Therefore, if 
the end product is to be distributed to anyone 
who wants it without charge, someone, somewhere, has to absorb those costs.

I don't think the issue is anywhere near as 
simple as that of comparing the operation, 
content and professional standing of freely 
available online academic resources with 
traditional journals that cost up to 200 per 
year for an institutional subscription.  It 
raises the underlying question of who pays for 
academic research to be carried out, why they do 
so, and the role of the researchers themselves in all of this.

The overwhelming majority of academic research 
carried out in any discipline is - surprise 
surprise - done by people who working in 
universities and similar institutions.  These 
institutions generally pay for the books, 
journals and other paid for research products 
generated in the humanities and social 
sciences.  Thus the traditional system broadly 
works well, unless for some reason you are not an 
employee or student of one of these institutions 
and want access to their researchers' work.

Another relevant point is the intellectual 
property represented in humanities research does 
not usually have a significant cash value, which 
removes a big potential barrier to a form of 
publication which is free at the point of 
delivery.  But while the sort of research we do 
usually doesn't lead to lucrative patents and 
development, its value is more commonly assessed 
in terms of peer kudos, hence Jeremy's question, 
'Does the price on a publication affect its 
prestige? Are free publications deemed unworthy 
by tenure-review committees?'.  I'd speculate 
that the relevant criterion here is not so much 
the cost as the existence (or lack thereof) of a 
system of checks and balances before something 
gets published.  For the first decade of its life 
as a mass-medium, the Internet has been 
characterised by the culture of 
free-for-all.  Anyone can publish anything on it 
at relatively little cost (a domain name, 50mb of 
server space and unlimited bandwidth can be 
rented for as little as 100 a year); and unless 
you're a paedophile or a Moslem fundamentalist 
with some beheading videos to share, there is virtually no content regulation.

As with the blogs issue above, this culture 
carries with it the implicit assumption that 
anything published on the Internet ended up there 
because it wasn't good enough to be published the 
traditional way.  I can gradually see that 
changing as the Internet becomes more firmly 
established with a mainstream track record.  When 
websites that carry peer reviewed material and to 
which access is in some way regulated (even if 
this is simply through an institutional 
registration system and doesn't involve any money 
changing hands) have been going for 10-20 years, 
the ones which distribute meaningful research 
will have established a reputation for doing so, 
and will at that point become accepted by the 
establishment in the way that paper-based journals are now.


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