Today, Just TV turns five years old, having launched in November 2006, on Middlebury’s installation of MoveableType. It moved here to WordPress a few months later, the digital equivalent of becoming potty trained -managing spam on MoveableType definitely felt like changing diapers! Since launching, I’ve accumulated 268 posts, 1,365 comments (and exponentially more spam), and over 300,000 page views. I can say with certainty that no professional decision has had more of an impact on my career than starting this blog, aside from the major geographical & personal shifts of choosing a graduate school and accepting a job.
I started as a reluctant blogger. A few faculty at Middlebury who were quite forward-thinking technologically encouraged me to try blogging when I arrived in 2002, but I was skeptical – after all, shouldn’t I spend my time writing something that “counts”? But in retrospect, no writing has counted more than what I’ve posted here, both in the measurable counts of readers and commenters, and harder-to-measure sense of professional impact. I thought I’d celebrate this anniversary by reflecting on what this blog has meant for my career, providing a walkthrough of its changing place in my scholarly life, and perhaps helping to persuade any academic readers who have not made a place to self-publish and collect their work to make the leap. This post serves as a kind of sequel to an earlier piece about how my career came to be what it is, in which I purposely overlooked the role of the blog in anticipation of this forthcoming anniversary.
I launched the blog after years of mulling what I would do with such a site in large part because I had started feeling frustrated by the lag in academic publication. My first book Genre & Television came out in 2004, after having started as my dissertation, which I finished in 2000 and started gestating parts of as early as 1994. In academic terms, four years is fairly short from dissertation to book, but over those four years, I grew sufficiently distanced from the topic that the book’s publication felt anti-climactic – my interest in, and thinking about, the topics explored in the book had shifted enough that the major accomplishment of publishing a book felt more like an (important, no doubt) achievement than an act of communication and argumentation. I didn’t want to recant anything I wrote, but I’d moved on intellectually. So I decided then that I didn’t want my future academic projects to get stuck in that time warp between writing and publication, although I hadn’t quite figured out how to avoid that trap yet.
When starting this blog, I had already started my next major project, officially kicked off by publishing “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television” in Fall 2006 (having started writing it two years earlier), and I was eager to start talking about this work before the book eventually came out – as we see today, that would still be years away (hopefully in 2012…)! Especially since I was working on a contemporary topic, I felt that it would be useful to have a space to post some random thoughts (as the blog’s subtitle still says) on the topic, or anything else related to television that might strike me as timely. And the first year of posting was primarily in that “random thoughts” mode of links, brief commentary, and the like.
As I’ve learned through various life events, progress is often triggered by a mishap, and breakthroughs are often unintended consequences rather than grand plans. In Spring 2007, I came down with appendicitis just before the Society for Cinema & Media Studies conference, so I had to cancel my trip. My scheduled presentation did happen, as my co-author Jonathan Gray was able to present our work on Lost spoiler fans, but to combat my sense of absence from the conversation, I posted about the presentation and explored some of the points that didn’t make the presentational cut, which resulted in a more-robust-than-usual conversation in the comments based on what was at the time my longest blog post.
What happened by medical accident became more of a blog norm for me: longer posts, including posting full versions or excerpts from conference presentations. This was soon followed by posting a full draft of a book chapter, my piece on The Wire as a videogame, which yielded much more conversation and readership than anything I’d yet written. While I’d not planned for the blog to function as a pre-publication site for my more conventional scholarship, the pleasures and usefulness of posting works-in-progress for feedback and conversation soon became clear. And notably, it seems to be what is most compelling to readers as well: of my 11 most read posts, 7 are full-length essays that eventually would be published conventionally (or not, in two cases!). (And it goes without saying that being able to have such metrics about what bits of writing are most read, discussed & linked to is another huge benefit of the blog versus conventional publishing.)
Having this blog as a venue to workshop and share my scholarship has undoubtedly raised my profile and led to professional opportunities much more than any conventional publications. I doubt I would be on a fellowship in Europe without having used my blog to share my work on television narrative, as most of the official publications of that scholarship has been in a couple of journals with limited readership and assorted book chapters. The odds that anyone would discover most of those venues and piece together a profile of somebody as an “expert” on television narrative is quite slim, while this page assembles all the work into a easy-to-navigate menu of writing that is far more accessible in today’s information environment than even a book.
While I’m not ready to say that publishing a piece on a blog is “worth” more than a conventional journal article or book chapter (at least if you’re invested in being a conventional tenure-track academic – if you’re not, blogging is definitely much more worthwhile!), I do think that I’ve gotten more tangible value from my blog in terms of invitations to give talks and other academic accomplishments than from my standard publications alone. And this “alone” is key – for me, the blog serves as a means to make my scholarly work more timely, more accessible, and more conversational, but it has not stopped me from publishing in books and journals. In talking to academics who do not have blogs, I often get the sense that they view blogging and publishing in an “either/or” relationship, as if anything posted to their blog then becomes tainted for publication. Some publishers may think that, but many do not – after all, NYU Press is letting me self-publish an entire draft of my forthcoming book online. And those presses who are not supportive of open access like this will discover that they will not be able to publish my work, and that of many other scholars who sign onto the open access movement.
For me, the excitement of any new piece of scholarship comes from the writing process and the close-to-immediate reaction I get from posting it here. When there is work that I cannot post immediately (for a range of reasons), I get frustrated. (For instance, I wrote an article about Phineas & Ferb a couple of months ago that I’m itching to release to the world! Soon…) The physical publication of a piece in a book or journal is less exciting, as the ideas are more distanced and I’ve already (hopefully) had a conversation about it here, or at least known that people have discovered it. I’ve published six book chapters in the past three years, and have no idea whatsoever how much they’ve sold or been read in print, but I know precisely which essays resonate more here based on blog traffic and comments. Blogging more closely resembles the immediacy of the classroom or conference presentation, but with the greater precision and control of the written word coupled with the flexibility of when & how the ideas are consumed that comes from reading.
I will say that I do miss the proliferation of “random thoughts” that the blog offered in its earlier years. Much of that energy has been taken over by Twitter, where conversation flows quickly and thoughts are very random, but its more ephemeral form lacks the sense of “saying something” that a blog post offers. These days my writing has been so focused on book projects that briefer asides for the blog have become much less common. But one of the wonderful things I’ve come to realize about having a blog is that it can serve whatever function you need it to at that moment in your writing life – if my time and energy shifts to allow for more frequent brief posting, I can do that without creating a new venue (or even redesigning the look here, which has been static for years).
So even though my posting frequency has lagged, the importance of this site to my intellectual and professional life has not. Happy birthday, Just TV, and many thanks to all the readers – dedicated, sporadic, and even the spambots for often amusing me with nonsensical comments – for spending time here for the last five years. Much more still to come…
Filed under: Academia, Media Studies, Meta-blogging, New Media, Not Quite TV, Publishing | 6 Comments
random thoughts from media scholar Jason Mittell
Check out my books:Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling How To Watch Television Television & American Culture
Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture
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