Friday, May 15, 2015

Mock Those Academics

I read (and retweeted) a The Guardian piece a day or so ago with the following hed:

Journalism academics: mocked by the
media and stifled by universities

As a PhDweeb who's taught journalism for 24 years, I've never felt either mocked (except by my colleagues, continuously) or stifled by my university. Let's dig deeper. The subhead of the piece kinda sums up the argument:
Universities seek out practising journalists to work as academics, but they limit our opportunities by separating us into researchers and teachers
I don't believe this is a just a Brit perception. But the "Anonymous Academic" author says something interesting that you don't necessarily see in the U.S., the notion that  as pros enter the academy, they are "expected to embrace academic research, become PhD candidates, and make peer review contributions to the Research Excellence Framework (Ref)." I don't know Ref, but most universities hiring pros for the classroom, at least in the U.S., expect them to teach, do service, and engage (depending on their contract) in creative enterprises, such as journalistic works. This is true even of land-grant, Tier 1 research universities. You don't hire a top pro at my shop, the University of Georgia, and expect her to publish in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, the top academic journal in my field.

To be clear, there are many of us who straddle both camps. I was a working journalist at three different daily newspapers, but I have a doctorate and I do academic research with titles required to include a colon and lots of fancy words. I am a master of multiple and logistic regression. No one knows SPSS better than I do. But I also teach basic reporting, advanced reporting, and other classes. I try to research less esoteric stuff that I can use in the classroom, but that's not a requirement. My work, for example, has focused on why people believe in conspiracy theories and whether attending to the news media helps or hurts such beliefs. I just published a big research piece in the above mentioned top academic journal on how people who use certain news outlets are surprised by their candidate losing, and the consequences of such misperceptions.

The good news is, most journalism is research. Our research/teacher camps are not brightly drawn lines, though they can be. At University of Florida, while I got my masters and PhD, you were either "grad faculty" (i.e., research), or you were not. And each side kinda looked down on the other. I doubt it's still the same, but it was obvious to the point of sad at the time I was there.

So, as more and more journalists find their way into the academy, our challenge is to find ways they can be creative and productive within the fairly strict confines of promotion and tenure and get recognition for their efforts. That's the tough part. Many big, research-oriented universities just don't know what to do with a pro. That's changing too, at least at better places, but it's a waste to expect pros who can do such marvelous classroom and creative work to labor in peer reviewed academic journals. Plus, I don't want any more competition getting published there.

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