5 Projects Helping Open Media Studies To The World

Academic research has traditionally only been shared in campus talks, at conferences largely attended by professors and graduate students, and through publications available primarily only to professors and academic libraries. That’s changing.


Back in 2010, I wrote Fast Company piece called “How to Reform Academic Research in a Digital Age (and Why We Should Care).” Many great strides are being made on the teaching side of the equation, such as experimentation at Stanford University and MIT. But there remain a variety of questions of how to open academia to the world outside the “ivory tower,” so to speak.

My branch of academia is media studies, in which the research is often of great potential interest to citizens, to educators, to companies, to governments, and others who are interested in better understanding media audiences, the nature of storytelling, media innovations in a digital age, and a variety of other issues being actively explored by academics.

In media studies–as with many disciplines–academic research has traditionally only been shared in campus talks, at conferences largely only attended by professors and graduate students, and through publications available primarily only to professors and academic libraries. As such, much great research never makes it into the hands of journalists, industry professionals, and citizens who might be highly interested in the insights provided by people who have devoted their careers to studying the media industries and storytelling across multiple media platforms. However, I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to participate in a few key endeavors explicitly aimed at making academic research more accessible, more available, and more approachable by those outside of academia. Below, I highlight five of these initiatives:

  1. In Media Res. In Media Res is part of the MediaCommons project, which is dedicated to “new forms of publishing” in the field of media studies. (See more here). In particular, In Media Res publishes one new piece each weekday, with an expert providing a short video clip of their choice and a short analysis (350 words or so) of that video clip and what it might teach us about media and entertainment. These curators are most generally academics but also include critics, journalist, media industries professionals, fans, and other key voices. The result is a site that allows for very current analyses of media texts and which open up discussions happening within the world of media studies to a much broader audiences, in short analyses which make them much easier to spread online. This past week, I had the pleasure of taking part in In Media Res’s Future of Soap Opera week, with five pieces looking at the current state and key questions about the future of the U.S. soap opera. Given the recent end of long-running soaps All My Children and One Life to Live, the pieces were timely and published on a much faster turnaround than one could ever achieve from a traditional academic journal, with the ability to share a clip of what was being discussed directly.
  2. Transformative Works and Cultures. This peer-reviewed journal focuses particularly on “fan studies,” with research looking at the work and activities of fan communities. (“Transformative works” refers to the stance that fan creations are not violations of copyright law and, in fact, are new commentary and “transformative” reactions to media texts, which should be protected.) I’ve been proud to both publish in the journal and serve on its editorial board, which is comprised of professors at institutions around the world, as well as independent scholars. The journal publishes in open access online, with two new issues each year, and it aims to generate readership not only from academic circles but also among fan communities themselves and often features analysis from a variety of voices outside traditional academia.
  3. Flow. This online journal is maintained by graduate students in the Department of Radio-TV-Film at the University of Texas. Flow publishes a journal every two weeks from academics, graduate students, and others, aimed at current events and issues of concern for media studies scholars and students. It has provided a key forum for media studies researchers to publish research-in-the-making; to generate key discussions in the comments section; and to make their work more timely and open to a wider audience. The project, which launched in 2004, has featured hundreds of authors throughout its run and has also hosted multiple conferences, at which I’ve had the pleasure of participating.
  4. The Media Studies Blogosphere Perhaps not surprisingly, media studies scholars were among the first to use online channels of communication to share their work. A wide range of prominent media studies scholars blog. Some of the tops of my list have been the blogs of my mentor and upcoming co-author Henry Jenkins, Middlebury College’s Jason Mittell, the University of Kansas’ (and soon to be Microsoft Research’s) Nancy Baym, and Antenna, the blog operated by grad students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which I’ve had the pleasure to contribute to.
  5. The Futures of Entertainment. Finally, I’ve been proud to help coordinate The Futures of Entertainment Fellows, a group of leading media scholars and practitioners who put together an annual conference at MIT (see video from the last event here) and who collaborate on projects throughout the year. The FoE community originated through a research project called The Convergence Culture Consortium and has aimed to bring media industries professionals, marketers, and media scholars together to discuss changes to media and storytelling in a digital age.

These five initiatives are just a few of the many ways in which media studies scholars, and projects across the humanities, are seeking to break down the barriers separating disciplines within academia and which often make the work of academics inaccessible to audiences outside the university world. Don’t get me wrong; we’ve only scratched the surface and only begun to find ways to make academic writing and research more publicly available. But I’m excited to have a small part in these efforts and to see what many of my colleagues will be doing next.

Sam Ford is Director of Digital Strategy for Peppercom Strategic Communications, a Futures of Entertainment Fellow, a research affiliate of the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, and an instructor with Western Kentucky University’s Popular Culture Studies program. He was named 2011 Social Media Innovator of the Year by Bulldog Reporter and serves on the Membership Ethics Advisory Panel for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. Sam is co-editor of The Survival of Soap Opera with Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington and coauthor of the forthcoming book Spreadable Media with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green. Follow him on Twitter @Sam_Ford.

[Image: Flickr user j.o.h.n. walker]


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