Henry Jenkins on Why Academics Should Blog

Henry Jenkins, a teacher, author and cultural studies scholar at MIT, has written a really thought-provoking post on a number of reasons why academics should blog. I found the essay helpful in framing different scenarios and purposes for a blog done by a students and faculty members. But I’dsay it’s good even for people who are interested in developing their skills as thinkers and writers outside the academy.

Here’s what he says about current students having blogs:

Early on, several students began to create blogs around their thesis projects — in part to motivate them to write regularly, in part to get feedback on their ideas. Ilya Vedrashko, for example, started a blog called the Future of Advertising, which quickly became a favorite among industry insiders and reporters. The blog’s visibility opened up new contacts and resources, which supported his research…Something similar has happened for subsequent student bloggers, who have gained visibility for their writing about “serious games”, hip hop culture, music distribution, data visualization, and media policy. In each case, their work brought them into contact with key thinkers and professionals. Historically, scholars might develop a reputation as public intellectuals once they became senior statespeople in their fields; increasingly, younger researchers are using blogs as resources for reputation building, especially in cutting-edge fields that lack established authorities.

Jenkins also discusses how blogging can be helpful for prospective students, alumni, getting news about the institution out quickly and of course for those who actually read the blogs! Often, as he says, readers aren’t necessarily academics, which can help students refine what they think and how they say it in a way that can be helpful for the general public. Blogging is a great way to put your research into the hands of people who can use it.

Here’s another practical tidbit he offers:

So how do you do these things? The crucial point is that running a blog is a commitment, and has to be understood as part of a larger set of professional obligations. When I first began blogging as an academic, I sought advice from other bloggers. They stressed that it was important to set a schedule for publication for your blog and stick with it. It mattered less whether you blogged once a week or once a day, so long as you were consistent in putting up material. Otherwise, on any given day it would be easy to miss a post. And over a period of time, giving over to that temptation would eventually push you out of blogging altogether. But setting deadlines and developing strategies for generating content during difficult periods insured a level of discipline that would allow one to maintain momentum over time.

I’ve found this advice to be pretty sound, yet I don’t really keep a blogging schedule anymore. I would say that blogging for me is integrated into my school life, I do see it as a part of my professional development. I also find it fun! I’d suggest that a more important thing to do than even have a schedule is know what you’re going to write about, have a focus, and work on keeping that focus. In the above quote Jenkins says that students often start blogs around their what there thesis is on, I think that’s a great way to do it. It is much easier to be all over the place in your writing, it’s far more difficult to sustain a critical eye in a particular direction. This is something I’ve struggled with and am still working through, but I think if you’re going to have a blog as an academic that remaining focused on your topics is important. Part of this comes from the fact that if you actually use your blog as a writing sample of sorts, you don’t want the person hiring for such and such an institution to drop by your site and see a youtube video of Destro or an infomercial on the Hawaiian chair, unless of course that’s pertinent to your professional interests! That is to say, seeing your blog as a personal calling card, writing sample, and journal of the work you’re engaged in will be fruitful for helping you to make connections, build friendships, get things published and who knows maybe even get a job someday!