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July 2005, Week 3

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Subject:
From:
Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Date:
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.

Leo

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