• 10.20.09

Who Benefits When Media Industries and Academics Dialogue?

In Monday’s post, I wrote about the promise for dialogue between media studies/communication academics and media/corporate communication professionals. In my experience, when media industry practitioners and academics come together to share their work, it creates a promising environment for collaboration and research.


This doesn’t mean “the industry” and “the academy” are always on the same page–nor should they be. It’s the industry’s job to challenge the ideas of the academy and to ensure that their ideas have a practical application. And it’s the job of the academy to act as a safeguard and critic to corporate-driven mass media. But sharing information and ideas can only benefit everyone involved in shaping the future of communication.


The power of these connections can sometimes be hard to put into words. Perhaps the boldest attempt to give it voice comes from Grant McCracken. McCracken, who I’ve worked with for several years through the Convergence Culture Consortium, has a book coming out later this year entitled Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation. In it, McCracken makes the argument for why corporations should care about the types of knowledge the academic world can provide–specifically, a sort of “cultural pattern recognition” that carries with it a deeper understanding of how communication and culture is changing (outside of the corporate culture and the products the corporation creates).

Is a Chief Culture Officer, a position at the C-Suite level whose job it is to understand and intersect with culture, a “should have” in a digital age? I’ll leave that up to you to decide, but McCracken’s provocative idea does create a way to debate why cultural knowledge should be a necessity for major brands. (Full disclosure: I’m profiled in Chief Culture Officer, so I have a personal and professional stake in the arguments it lays out.)

While McCracken’s book examines precisely why the academy’s mindset may be useful for industry, many academics are leery of professors and university researchers who are willing to talk with industry. Within the humanities especially, academics worry about what might be compromised when engaging in dialogue with those overwhelmingly guided by commercial interests.

When we launched the Convergence Culture Consortium, for instance, I met with resistance from some academic colleagues. One Web site said our approach was the worst possible way to conduct media studies. A colleague at MIT publicly expressed misgivings to The Chronicle of Higher Education. And we received very well-formulated critiques from people like LiveJournal’s cryptoxin. Many of these questions are ones academics should consider. However, our belief was that much could be gained from a dialogue with industry, both in hopes of influencing how brands talk to their audiences and in gaining access to data and the inner workings of brands, agencies, and entertainment properties. Ultimately, our goal as academics were and are to better understand how communication and programming decisions are made among corporate communicators and media outlets.

From our perspective, there’s a real benefit in bringing corporate media together with media studies academics. C3’s annual Futures of Entertainment conference, in particular, encapsulates this type of productive dialogue. Conversations surround major topics and trends shaping mass communication and media today, and panels are populated with speakers from “industry” and the “academy.”

See the site linked above for archives of the previous three years’ conference, including the conversation I moderated last year with UCLA’s John Caldwell, the University of Michigan’s Amanda Lotz, Grant McCracken, and Dachis Corporation’s Peter Kim. This year’s event will be at MIT on Nov. 20-21; it features sessions on concepts like “free” and “transmedia” and discussions about the future of television and audience measurement.


Now, I find myself doing academic work embedded in an industry role. More to come in this series about how I see those two worlds, and my two roles, influencing one another.

In partnership with the ARFsam ford

Sam Ford is a research affiliate with MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium and Director of Customer Insights for Peppercom, a PR agency, in their Manhattan office. Ford was previously the Consortium’s project manager and part of the team who launched the project in 2005. He holds a Master of Science degree in Comparative Media Studies from MIT (2007) and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Western Kentucky University (2005), where he majored in English (writing), news/editorial journalism, mass communication, and communication studies, with a minor in film studies. Ford has taught courses on professional journalism, pro wrestling, and soap operas at MIT and WKU and has published work on these and other areas of U.S. popular culture and television. His work focuses on media audiences and immersive story worlds. Ford has also worked as a professional journalist, winning a Kentucky Press Association award for his work with The Greenville Leader-News and publishing a weekly column entitled “From Beaver Dam to Brooklyn” in The Ohio County Times-News. He also blogs for Peppercom’s Pepper Digital. Follow him on Twitter @sam_ford.

About the author

Sam Ford is Director of Audience Engagement with Peppercomm, an affiliate with both MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing and Western Kentucky University, and co-author of Spreadable Media (2013, NYU Press). He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and a board liaison to WOMMA's Ethics Committee.