Which ultimately does more good—an article or monograph that is read by 20 or 30 people in a very narrow field, or a blog post on a topic of interest to many (such as grading standards or tenure requirements) that is read by 200,000? What if the post spurs hundreds of comments, is debated publicly in faculty lounges and classrooms, and gets picked up by newspapers and Web sites across the country—in other words, it helps to shape the national debate over some hot-button issue? What is it worth then?
My argument is not that learned monographs have no value (of course they do, whether widely read or not), or that blog posts are somehow superior as “scholarship” (of course they’re not), but simply that we might be selling online publications short if we assume they’re worthless purely because they’re online.
I don’t read academic journals, but Jenkins’ question makes me think about the relative value of blog posts to newspaper columns and magazine articles. I do subscribe to a handful of magazines and a newspaper, but easily 90 percent of the non-book reading that I do is through blogs. Not all — not even most — of those blog entries are entirely original, and most are parasitic off of what appears in magazines and newspapers. For example, I link to articles in First Things (I’m a subscriber), but if I do, and add my own analysis or commentary to something an FT article has said, I am still dependent on what appears in the magazine for my own content.
My point is that I don’t want to discount the value of old media in spreading ideas, but I do want to point out that for me, at least, and maybe for you, our exposure to these ideas is largely curated by bloggers we follow. This is not a good analogy to what Jenkins is talking about, simply because blogging in the sense I mean depends on the work of old media in the way that academic blogging in Jenkins’s sense does not. Still, in terms of spreading ideas, it is important to get your column, essay, or article in lots of places online. There are lots of columnists I used to read occasionally because they happened to be in the print newspaper I would read in the morning. But I read fairly widely online, and these columnists — liberals and conservatives both — rarely show up on the blogs I read, because the bloggers I find most interesting aren’t especially interested in what they have to say.
On the other hand, how many readers would pay for bloggers’ work? Andrew Sullivan is trying this model out now. Can you name another? If bloggers could not link to the work of newspaper and magazine writers whose salaries are paid by institutional media, would anybody read them? It’s a complicated relationship.
Why do you suppose that newspaper columnists still turn up on TV as talking heads, but bloggers don’t? Twenty years from now, will popular bloggers be as likely to be on TV as newspaper columnists are today?
[H/T: Prufrock, to which, I remind you, you should subscribe (it’s free)]