talking to ourselves
garrison keillor read from the new edition of homegrown democrat in coffman union last night, the very campus building in which he began his broadcasting career. mr. keillor, a great friend to the minnversity and public education, spun a warm yarn about being entrusted with an important responsibility during this formative period. shortly after arriving on campus as a freshman, he was given his own 15-minute radio newscast on wmmr.
i never got a newscast as a wizversity freshman, but i was similarly baptized by fire at the daily cardinal. i got to write music reviews -- complete with tickets, albums, and coveted backstage passes -- after only a few days on campus. i only completed a handful of articles, but it was thrilling to find myself writing for a mass audience of my peers. live radio must have been way more exciting for an 18-year-old.
wmmr was then a low-power "carrier current" station, broadcasting only to the dorms and other campus buildings. nevertheless, mr. keillor reported that he offered authoritative newscasts throughout the school year. unfortunately, due to a an engineering problem, he claims that his broadcasts never left the control room. so, in essence, he was talking to himself -- presenting well-written and sonorous newscasts to an audience of one.
the story may be a slight exaggeration, but it reminds me of the dissemination problem in sociology and academic work more generally. are we talking to ourselves?
well, our journal circulation figures remain in the low thousands and rarely hit five digits. for example, the american sociological review appears to have a circulation of about 11,500, sociology of education is much lower at approximately 2,800, contexts gets about 2,500, and sociological theory comes in around 2,300 subscribers. by comparison, blogs such as crooked timber likely exceed these numbers on a daily basis. for my part, i doubt that any of my academic publications have ever reached as many as the 45,000 subjected to my abominable cardinal music reviews or my goofy stream-of-consciousness blog.* i bet that the asa website gets plenty of traffic, but only a small subset of the articles are ever available online.
i know that many folks search out and read library copies of our journals, but can't we do a bit more in the age of google? i'd like to see our discipline think long and hard about how we might increase the readership and ensure distribution of the material we work so hard to write and edit and review. while i'm at it, i might as well ask for a serious analysis of the economics of free and immediate online availability, and whether such costs could be offset by new revenue streams and distribution channels. personally, i'd love to spread the word about the great new papers i read, but feel frustrated that i can't link to them for students and non-academics who stop by to read my coursepages or blog.**
but maybe that's just me. if i heard his introduction correctly, garrison keillor now speaks to 3,300,000 listeners on 586 stations per week, so his audience has increased by 3,299,999 in four decades. doesn't the very best scholarship in our discipline merit the attention of an audience that is, say, 1 percent that of the praire home companion? i'd say that 33,000 readers per week -- scratch that, i'm feeling bold; let's make it 330,000 page loads per week -- would be a reasonable start.
*jeff and i did an la times op-ed that might have reached a million readers, but that's a (too) rare occurrence in (my) academic life.
**i've got a related rant about style and presentation, which gets into thornier issues of intellectualism and anti-intellectualism, but i'll save that for another post.