Media Commons Journals

My first impulse was to look at In Media Res, an online academic alternative publication that I often assign to my students as a preservation mini-project. In following the links from some of the sites discussed in class last week, I was reminded of its sister project, The New Everyday, because some of the people associated with the maker websites have published ‘clusters’ there. These two publications are both part of the larger Media Commons project, itself part of, or at least an offshoot of, the Institute for the Future of the Book. According to its own text on its website, the Institute for the Future of the Book is a small think tank that aims to both ‘chronicle’ the shift from print to screen as well as to drive it in positive directions, whatever that might mean. One of its founding members is Bob Stein, well known for his inventive projects that predated the e-books we know today.

The audience for the two journals mentioned, In Media Res and The New Everyday, is predominantly academic. TNE publishes journal-like articles in clusters, and functions as a blog/journal hybrid. Academic posts are open to commentary from both other scholars as well as the public, in principle. This is meant to serve as a form of public and transparent peer review. IMR works like a piece of time-based media art. A weekly topic is suggested by a scholar, who acts as curator, and 5 articles are produced around this topic. Each must feature a media clip. The articles are released one a day for a week beginning on a Monday, so the entire series isn’t viewable until Friday. As with TNE, there is space for commentary on each article. Both are available through websites hosted by NYU Libraries via the Media Commons project.

The users and creators end up being the primary audience, although the sites are publicly available online. In this case, the project is partly designed to provide a platform in which scholars can exercise and demonstrate curatorial skills with the hope that these might some day be considered for decisions such as promotion and tenure. The cluster or weekly curator is supposed select and arrange the content, both by preplanning and finding authors to contribute, but also by ostensibly arranging and highlighting the commentary that is posted in a way to further discussion and deepen understanding. In this case, the labour is primarily on the shoulders of the scholars—they write the articles, curate the sites, and often provide the majority of the commentary. Since the commentary is supposed to act as a form of peer review, they contribute their labor in this way as well.

I think the fact that these are still being actively used and maintained constitutes a success in its own right, as I first became aware of these after they were already up and running in 2010. Their original purported goals were to make inroads in changing the kinds of criteria on which scholars were judged, and I think this change has been slow in coming, if it is even coming yet at all. That is precisely where this type of project fits within the larger discourses about maker and other creative spaces that seek to highlight and encourage alternative modes of scholarly production.

In both cases, the cultural technique that is being promoted is this idea of curation—that careful arrangement renders a collection more than the sum of its parts. Both journals seek to market this as skill that should be recognized and rewarded.   I don’t know that I would consider either of these journals to be precisely in my field; I know that I have not come across the level of saturation with these journals that would indicate the critical mass of users necessary for this cultural technique to take hold in any particular field of discipline. People in LIS don’t know them; neither did people in media studies classes.

I attended a conference a couple weeks ago, whose theme was ‘teaching social justice’. One of the recommendations, from a panel on teaching social justice as junior faculty, was this idea that when working in alternative spaces, it is incumbent upon you to present work that is thoroughly and transparently rigorous. This is necessary as a sort of first line defense against mainstream voices who might otherwise dismiss the work you are doing– the old adage that you have to do things 10 times better to be considered just as good. It seems to me that in this alternative space of publication, this is very true and I wonder what such rigor would look like.   In both projects, the articles are by nature brief. The extra substance is designed to come from the interaction and commentary. But in order for this to be substantive enough that someone could make the case that such contributions be considered on the level or order of a traditionally peer-reviewed journal piece, the commentary would have to be fairly meaty with a number of comments and responses and interchanges with other scholars or public figures who could demonstrate their own expertise or credentials such that their additions to the conversations could be seen as real alternatives to traditional peer review. In my head, the way to do this is via critical mass, and saturation within a discipline to accumulate the participation of necessary voices and to encourage them to expend the time and labour on something that isn’t yet seen as valuable in the same way other uses of a scholar’s time might be.  I don’t know how to measure this or engender it.