Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Public radio can help solve the local news crisis — if it will expand staff and coverage
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Feb. 17, 2014, 1:21 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   February 17, 2014

Nick Kristof’s Sunday column was headlined “Professors, We Need You!” and argued that academics have become too inward-looking:

Some of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.

The most stinging dismissal of a point is to say: “That’s academic.” In other words, to be a scholar is, often, to be irrelevant…

Professors today have a growing number of tools available to educate the public, from online courses to blogs to social media. Yet academics have been slow to cast pearls through Twitter and Facebook…

I write this in sorrow, for I considered an academic career and deeply admire the wisdom found on university campuses. So, professors, don’t cloister yourselves like medieval monks — we need you!

The piece has generated a remarkable amount of blowback from academics, much of which I think could be fairly summarized as: Not fair, Nick. I’ve got a blog! Plenty of professors have blogs! We tweet! We’re doing our best to engage with the outside world!

And that’s a fair response — which is why I wish Kristof’s column had been reframed as: “Academia, we need you to unleash your professors!” Because — at least in my experience as someone whose job involves connecting journalism-related academic research to a broader audience that might be able to use it — the problem is less with the professors than with the tenure and advancement system that rewards some kinds of work and not others. Here’s Matt Waite, formerly of the St. Petersburg Times, now at the University of Nebraska:

The future of higher education is a subject beyond my ken, but I’d note that, like many forms of media before it, colleges and universities are seeing major shifts in their funding models, their audiences, and their competition. The key is figuring out how to make your institutional incentive structure adapt to those new realities.

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