¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 And this, at last, is the point at which I get to turn to my own project: The Valve finally got the ball rolling. (Evidence, not incidentally, that contrary to much well-intentioned advice, academic blogging is good for your career.) I was contacted by Bob Stein, of the Institute for the Future of the Book, and have spent much of the last year working with them to explore the future of electronic scholarly publishing. Over the course of the spring, we brainstormed, wrote a bunch of manifestos, and planned a meeting at which a group of primarily humanities-based scholars discussed the possibilities for a new model of academic publishing. After that meeting, we went to work on a draft proposal for what has evolved into a wide-ranging scholarly network — an ecosystem, if you can bear that metaphor — in which folks working in media studies can write, publish, review, and discuss, in forms ranging from the blog to the monograph, from the purely textual to the multi-mediated, with all manner of degrees inbetween. And so, with support from the MacArthur Foundation and the Annenberg School at USC, we’re developing MediaCommons.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 1 We decided to focus our efforts on the field of media studies for a number of reasons, some intellectual and some structural. On the intellectual side, scholars in media studies explore the very tools that a network such as the one we’re proposing will use, thus allowing for a productive self-reflexivity, leaving the network itself open to continual analysis and critique. Moreover, publishing within such a network seems increasingly crucial to media scholars, who need the ability to quote from the multi-mediated materials they write about, and for whom form needs to be able to follow content, allowing not just for writing about mediation but writing in a mediated environment. This connects to one of the key structural reasons for our choice: we’re convinced that media studies scholars will need to lead the way in convincing tenure and promotion committees that new modes of publishing like this network are not simply valid but important. As media scholars can make the “form must follow content” argument convincingly, and as tenure qualifications in media studies often include work done in media other than print already, we hope that media studies will provide a key point of entry for a broader reshaping of publishing in the humanities.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 1 Our shift from thinking about an “electronic press” to thinking about a “scholarly network” came about gradually; the more we thought about the purposes behind electronic scholarly publishing, the more we became focused on the need not simply to provide better access to discrete scholarly texts but rather to reinvigorate intellectual discourse, and thus connections, amongst peers — and, not incidentally, discourse between the academy and the wider intellectual public. The financial crisis in scholarly publishing is, after all, not unrelated to the failure of most academic writing to find any audience outside the academy. While we wouldn’t want to suggest that all scholarly production ought to be accessible to non-specialists — there’s certainly a need for the kinds of communication amongst peers that wouldn’t be of interest to most mainstream readers — we do nonetheless believe that the lack of communication between the academy and the wider reading public points to a need to rethink the role of the academic in public intellectual life.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 With that as preamble, let me attempt to describe what we’re currently imagining for MediaCommons. In October 2006, we began the gradual rollout of the network, starting with a planning site on which we spent a couple of months thinking out loud about the features that MediaCommons will present, and through which we got a chance to test drive a couple of those features. MediaCommons, as of right now, has three basic modules: the blog, where the thinking out loud is taking place; the call for “papers,” which invites media studies scholars to submit proposals for projects to be developed as the first round of publications within the network; and ” In Media Res,” the first of the features that we hope will be a continuing feature on the network once fully launched. In this feature, each week a media scholar posts a short video clip of some very recent media text that they’ve been thinking about, along with a very brief commentary, designed less to fully explicate the clip than to provoke discussion. This feature highlights for me two of the primary reasons for developing a network like MediaCommons: to foster multivocal conversation amongst scholars, and to allow ways that scholarly conversations about new media texts can take place at something approaching the speed that the media itself moves. (A recurrent half-joke in television studies, for instance, is that this year has seen an enormous efflorescence of scholarship on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and just in time, too: the series ended two and a half years ago.)
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 As I say, though, MediaCommons is very much in the planning stages, and though new features will gradually come online over the next few months, the development process is being taken purposefully slowly, as we attempt to build our network of scholars at the same time we build our digital network, trying to get as much investment and direction from our membership as possible. Given that, much of what follows is speculative; no doubt we’ll get into the development process and discover that some of our desires can’t immediately be met due to technological or financial limitations. We’ll also no doubt be inspired to add new resources that we can’t currently imagine. This indeterminacy is not a drawback, however, but instead one of the most tangible benefits of working within a digitally networked environment, which allows for a malleability and growth that makes such evolution not just possible but desirable.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The various nodes that we’re imagining as part of MediaCommons will support the publication and discussion of a wide variety of forms of scholarly writing. Those nodes will likely include:
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 — electronic “monographs,” which will allow editors and authors to work together in the development of ideas that surface in blogs and other discussions, as well as in the design, production, publicizing, and review of individual and collaborative projects (Mackenzie Wark’s GAM3R 7H30RY, pre-published online by the Institute for the Future of the Book, and now coming out in print from Harvard, is a key model here);
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 — electronic “casebooks,” which will bring together writing by many authors on a single subject—a single television program or theoretical approach, for instance—along with pedagogical and other materials, allowing the casebooks to serve as continually evolving textbooks;
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 — electronic reference works, in which a community collectively produces, in a mode analogous to current wiki projects, authoritative resources for research in the field;
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 — electronic forums, including a wealth of blogs, through which a wide range of media scholars will be able to discuss media events in something like real time. These nodes will promote ongoing discourse and interconnection among readers and writers, and will allow for the germination and exploration of the ideas and arguments that will lay the groundwork for more sustained pieces of scholarly writing.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 1 Many other such possibilities are imaginable. The key elements that they share, made possible by digital technologies, are their interconnections and their openness for discussion and revision. These potentials will help scholars energize their lives as writers, as teachers, and as public intellectuals. Such openness and interconnection will also allow us to make the process of scholarly work just as visible and valuable as its product; readers will be able to follow the development of an idea from its germination in a blog, though its drafting as an article, to its revisions, and authors will be able to work in dialogue with those readers, generating discussion and obtaining feedback on work-in-progress at many different stages. Because such discussions will take place in the open, and because the enormous time lags of the current modes of academic publishing will be greatly lessened, this ongoing discourse among authors and readers will no doubt result in the generation of many new ideas, leading to more exciting new work.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 1 Moreover, as each user will have their own profile page within the site (the image is a screenshot of my profile page from the prototype MediaCommons site), they’ll be able to maintain their own personal repository of all of the writing they’ve done on the site, allowing the kinds of work, like peer reviews, that currently have no public life or utility whatsoever, to become part of the overall scholarly production for which we receive some kind of “credit.”
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 We’re of course still in the process of designing how MediaCommons will function on a day-to-day basis. MediaCommons will be membership-driven; membership will be open to anyone interested, including writers and readers both within and outside the academy, and that membership have a great deal of influence over the directions in which the network develops. The network’s operations will be led by an editorial board composed of me and my co-coordinating editor, Avi Santo, overseeing the network as a whole, and a number of area editors, whom we’ve just finished recruiting, who will have oversight over different nodes on the network (such as long-form projects, community-building, design, etc), helping to shepherd discussion and develop projects. The editorial board will have the responsibility for setting and implementing network policy, but will do so in dialogue with the general membership.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 MediaCommons will also, crucially, serve as an intervention into the processes of scholarly peer review. Our plan is to develop and employ a process of “peer-to-peer review,” in which texts are discussed and, in some sense, “ranked” by a committed community of readers. How exactly this peer-to-peer review process will work is open to some discussion, as yet. The editorial board will, at our first meeting later this month, develop a set of guidelines for determining which readers will be designated “peers,” and within which nodes of MediaCommons; these “peers” will then have the charge to review the texts posted in their nodes. The authors of those texts undergoing review will be encouraged to respond to the comments and criticisms of their peers, transforming a one-way process of critique into a multi-dimensional conversation.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Because this process will take place in public, we feel that certain rules of engagement will be important, including that authors must take the first step in requesting review of their work, such that the fear of a potentially damaging critique being levied at a text-in-process can be ameliorated; that peers must comment publicly, and must take responsibility for their critiques by attaching their names to them, creating an atmosphere of honest, thoughtful debate; that authors should have the ability to request review from particular member constituencies whose readings may be of most help to them; that authors must have the ability to withdraw texts that have received negative reviews from the network, in order that they might revise and resubmit; and that authors and peers alike must commit themselves to regular participation in the processes of peer-to-peer review. Peers need not necessarily be authors, but authors should always be peers, invested in the discussion of the work of others on the network.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 So this is where things are with the project today. We’ve established our editorial board, which will be coming together to begin the process of creating network policy next month. We’ve begun the development from our early planning site to the foundations of MediaCommons proper. We’ve gotten a number of very exciting proposals for projects (including one that seeks to enable scholars of cinema studies to produce their scholarship as video essays, one that will collect, annotate, and discuss texts of media theory written by politically engaged media practitioners, and one that will bring together student media projects as the foundation of a sort of pedagogical reverse-engineering for media studies). Our hope is to begin rolling out new network nodes during the spring, moving toward a full launch of the first MediaCommons projects this fall.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 1 MediaCommons won’t solve all our problems. There are some major questions yet to be answered, for instance, about the network’s ongoing mode of financial support. But it’s clear to all of us working on the project that the humanities have a long way to go in catching up to the sciences in dealing with the current crisis in scholarly publishing, and we’re hopeful that MediaCommons might provide one useful model for reimagining the ways that scholarship gets done in the age of the internet.