New Scholarship for a New Media:
Reaching the People Through the People's Networks
Ted M. Coopman
As I stood up to give my first-ever paper presentation at a convention,
I looked out on a sea of empty chairs and a scattering of moderately-interested
faces. The light turnout, I told myself, was due to typical San Diego weather
and the novelty of it to a majority of the convention's participants. Still,
it did little to inspire me with the worth of my research. Now that I am
an old hand, I realize that most convention papers, and journal articles,
will be greeted by such a moderately-interested (albeit small) audience.
If this is true for people within the communication discipline, what are
the chances of the lay person, or the scholar from another discipline, reading
our work? And even if the "others" stumble upon the fruits of
our labor, will they understand it?
Traditionally, the dissemination of scholarly work has been very limited
in scope. The primary method for sharing scholarship have been through professional
contacts with colleagues and through publishing research in journals. Occasionally,
scholars publish text books, or field-specific books, and very rarely get
exposure through the mass media. There are several inherent problems with
these methods. In this paper I focus on disseminating scholarly knowledge
through two emerging micro media, the Internet and micro radio. I also discuss
scholarship accessibility and accountability, two of the prime components
of the Rogue Scholar Philosophy, as they relate to utilizing these emerging
micro media. The adoption of emerging micro media by the scholarly community
can overcome the shortfalls of traditional methods of information dissemination
and improve the usefulness and reputation of academe in the eyes of the
Difficulties with Traditionally-used Media
"Still we are left with the 'motive,' the 'condition,' the 'problems'
that caused/contained/posed 'postmodernism.' What do we say? How do we prove
what we say? How will/should what we say make it better?"Michael C.
McGee, Communication Research and Theory Network Listserve (CRTNET) #2058
Traditionally, scholarly information has been disseminated in very limited
ways. The first is professionally, through journals, conventions, and personal
interaction with others in our fields. Occasionally, students rent this
information for short periods of time or have it seared into their memories
as they are socialized into their professions during graduate school. This
dissemination takes place in universities and associated environments. Although
journals may be available outside the university setting, their narrow focus
and cost usually keep them from most public libraries. If scholars are looking
to get their research to those who can use it, conventional journals are
not the answer. Scholarly association memberships have for the most part
been small, with the recipients of journals even smaller. According to the
National Communication Association (NCA) website, the membership stands
at 7,100 and produces six journals. Few members get all the journals, and
those journals members do get often sit on shelves, read only when a citation
is needed for a manuscript. Most journal articles are read by only a handful
of people and only rarely does that group include anyone outside the discipline.
Further, tightening budgets are forcing libraries to restrict the numbers
and types of journals they acquire. Journals are an expensive yearly commitment.
The second method for disseminating scholarly work is through the press.
However, the mass media have a rather restricted diet when it comes to presenting
academic work. This is especially true of broadcast media. It is important
for the "expert" to give the media what they want in terms of
"sound bites." Sometimes we get to see experts from prestigious
(or more likely convenient) institutions or the representatives from one
or more of the bigger think tanks. Regardless, a scholar sighting on the
news is rare.
Scholarly work in print media fares a little better. An editorial by
James Lull in the Los Angeles Times, or an interview with Sherry Turkle
in Wired magazine, bring a ray of hope for those in search of scholarship.
Still, in the manner of the publication style manual, media institutions
demand submissions which fit their established format and editors reserve
the right to edit. It is not the marketplace of ideas, it is just the marketplace.
According to Lull (1995), "Mass media transmit highly selective images
framed with ready-made viewpoints on many issues that lie outside most audience
members' personal knowledge and experience" (p. 21). Rather than try
and fit into this formula developed for, and by, commercial media, scholars
should seek to develop their own standards to present scholarly work. This
will doubtless mean abandoning mass media (for the most part) and moving
to newer, more fertile ground.
Disseminating Information using New Micro Media Technology
"What technology has done is to accelerate the pace of change. What
used to take decades has been trimmed down to months, days, weeks, even
hours. There is no longer a single authority guiding this process, no supreme
entity stamping an official seal of approval on ideas. The process takes
place almost exclusively in the marketplace, and thanks to the Internet
it happens at lightening speed. "
David L. Sutton, Communication Research and Theory Network Listserve
(CRTNET) #2066 (6/18/97)
The use of alternative sources for the release of scholarship has now
become a viable option. One of these emerging options is the Internet. Those
in the academic community were some of the earliest adopters of Internet
and World Wide Web (WWW) technology. As the Internet and related software
develops, the average scholar will be able to communicate and support presentation
of her/his research. To a certain extent, this has already happened with
the assistance of sophisticated browsers and simplified HTML-generating
programs. The Internet is a fast and efficient mode of communication, but
falls short in its overall reach. The use of such media brings up questions
not only of the basic readability of scholarly work and the accountability
of that information, but of actual physical access.
"I was taught that my job as a writer/speaker was to make myself
understood, that I should use a language that an educated audience can understand.
I would agree that absolute clarity is an impossibility, but writers shouldn't
muddy the waters by using a contorted writing style. A common maxim in my
undergraduate composition classes was 'Write to be understood, not to impress.'
David L. Sutton, CRTNET Listserve #2066, 6/18/97.
Jargon and writing style are discipline specific. As Stephanie Coopman
(1997) writes in her recent American Communication Journal editorial: "Even
my father, with a Ph.D. in psychology from the U of Wisconsin-Madison....got
bogged down in my book chapter on personal constructs ('I really don't know
what you are talking about, but I'm sure it's very good,' he assured me)."
Rogue scholarship seeks to eliminate the barriers that exist between the
work of scholars and those we study, as well as those who work in other
fields. In rogue scholarship, we strive to write at the level of an undergraduate
sophomore in an unrelated field. This concept of readability is similar
to that of Sutton's "educated firefighter in Peoria "(CRTNET #2066).
As more and more information travels over the web, the need for clarity
and readability become increasingly important. This is especially true if
we expect the public to benefit from our work. Lars, a character in a recent
Doonesbury cartoon, suggested that his company write software that decodes
all the over-stylized fonts and formatting making the text legible. Michael
Doonesbury replies, "If you start making text legible, what will people
discover about content?" Lars responds, "They'll discover that
most of it is banal and completely unnecessary to their lives!" (Trudeau,
1997). How close to home is that about the readability of most scholarly
writing? If our writing is too dense and cryptic, people will simply point
and click us into oblivion.
By providing on-line access to their work, scholars and scholarly institutions
can maintain their claims as storehouses for the world's knowledge. Professional
organizations, learning institutions, and university presses have an inherently
solid reputation for information reliability and validity because they are
accountable for the information they provide to each other as well as the
public. Thus, these institutions are a natural place for people to seek
out information. Scholarship is the primary source for the knowledge these
institutions possess, knowledge based on sound methodology, appropriate
references, and accessible data to back our claims. People are overwhelmed
with choices of information sources with few ways to assess the validity
and accuracy of the information or sources. Since scholarship is measured
by some level of accountability, scholars have an opportunity to make their
work a resource to the people who need it the most. Few information sources
have the credentials and histories of the Academy. Scholars should do all
they can to make sure the public knows where they are and that they can
be relied on.
The number of people getting on-line is increasing at a steady rate.
Demographic groups that started out slowly, such as women, have made gains
in the past few years. According to Nielsen Interactive Services (1997),
39% of U.S. and Canadian households have computers, with 23% using the Internet
and 17% on the World Wide Web (WWW). The potential cash avalanche from Net
commerce is fueling the drive to get as many people wired as possible. Hardware
costs are decreasing and processing speed is increasing. This "churn"
has dumped many used machines on the market as people and organizations
upgrade. Further, the push by governments to wire schools and libraries
has given a broader number of people access.
The Internet's potential as a method of information dissemination is
rooted in the question of physical access to the net. Providing Internet
access to the public has involved much of the U.S.'s recent technology efforts.
According to Burns (1997), the Web nearly doubled in size every three months
for most of the early 1990s, and is still doubling every three to six months.
The city of San Jose, CA has increased its number of terminals to 60 in
its 18 libraries and plans to add more (Witt, 1997). With the combination
of terminals in our schools, libraries, and homes, Internet access in the
U.S. is here for a growing number of people. Although some people will be
left out, at least for awhile, everyone will be affected by the information
and misinformation that percolates through the Web. Many people are replacing
traditional diversions with time on the Net. According to a Forrester research
poll in Wired magazine 5.04, the number one activity replaced by PC use
is watching television, more than four times its closet rival, eating and
Even if we are proactive and take the steps to make our scholarship more
understandable and accessible to the public over the Internet, we are still
faced with the problem of about 190 million people in the U.S. who are currently
without Internet access. The material is available, yet many people are
unable to access it. Unfortunately, those who can gather information via
the Internet and use that information for public debate and discussion,
are still a small group. One answer to this accessibility dilemma is to
use the emerging micro communications networks and stations that have been
developing since the late 1980s. With the addition of this communication
technology, the reach is greatly increased. The use of these systems, individually
and in tandem, can be an important resource for the dissemination of scholarship.
"The technology exists for these and other innovations that will
allow ordinary people to produce as well as consume media, to own the means
of media production, and communicate with others in their own language and
on their own terms."
Ted M. Coopman, Regulation and Emerging Micro Media: FCC Enforcement Difficulties
with Micro Radio. Paper presented at the 1996 annual meeting of the Speech
Micro radio refers to a specific class of unlicensed broadcaster that
appeared in the late 1980s. Such radio stations broadcast under the minimum
100 watts of power mandated for a licensed radio station in the United States.
Further, the stations are typically non-commercial, broadcast on the FM
band, and of a politically-activist nature (Coopman, 1997). These stations
are community radio in its purest form and have appeared in urban and rural
areas around the nation.
Micro radio stations exist in defiance of the Federal Communication Commission's
(FCC) prohibition on low-power radio. The status of these stations is currently
uncertain as an official challenge works its way through the federal court
system. In the interim, stations have sprung up in increasing numbers. Although
formats vary from station to station, a majority concern themselves with
alternative music, news, and public affairs programming. Many carry local
community affairs programming. An example of this is Excellent Radio in
Grovers Beach, CA which broadcasts local city council meetings.
Micro radio stations are volunteer based and non-commercial, including
various groups with divergent political views. Money primarily is generated
by fund raisers and individual donations. Many of these stations are networked
regionally and nationally, sharing programming through the exchange of cassette
tapes and news shared on the Internet. A large portion of the stations are
associated with the Food Not Bombs Network (an activist feed-the-poor organization)
and RockRap Confidential (a micro radio listserve and programming source).
These organizations serve an increased need for content by micro stations
and provide programming in exchange for donations or nominal charges. Free
Radio Berkeley, the focus of a current court challenge on the FCC's prohibition
on micro radio (Dunifer vs. FCC, No. C 94-03542) and producer of low-power
transmitter kits, has shipped over 400 such kits domestically since 1990.
Moreover, I am aware of over 40 micro radio stations currently operating
in the U.S. (Coopman, 1997).
Scholarship as Content
These stations are starved for relevant, intelligent content. A day rarely
goes by on the RockRap Confidential listserve without a request for taped
programming. As indicated by station staff comments at micro broadcasting
conferences in San Jose and Oakland, CA and in personal conversations, meaningful
content is a rare commodity. This is especially true considering the limited
financial resources of most stations. Many announcers have to provide much
of their own content. This is the perfect environment for the dissemination
of informative scholarship. Further, these stations almost exclusively service
under-represented populations, often those most in need of accurate, reliable
information. I have made contact with several of the activists involved
in micro radio and related organizations and found them interested in acquiring
such programming. This is especially true of content that covers freedom
of speech and social justice issues that directly relate to micro radio's
struggle for legitimacy.
Accessing Micro Radio
There are three ways for scholars to access this medium without violating
U.S. communications law. The first is in person, making yourself available
as an interview subject to your local station (providing you have one).
These interviews can be taped and further disseminated. The second option
is to produce your own audio tape of you (or someone else) reading your
suitably clear, concise, and jargon-free paper. This requires audio equipment
and the skill to use it and may be more in reach for faculty and students
at institutions which have recording facilities. However, a small microphone
and cassette player can often yield good results (this can give it that
"homegrown" texture favored by National Public Radio). The third
option is to provide a hard copy to the micro radio station. This can be
done through a release of the paper itself to a station or network (such
as RockRap Confidential or Association of Micro Power Broadcasters [AMPB])
or through a mass emailing to micro stations that are on the Internet. Although
many of those who run micro radio stations are suspicious of all institutions,
they many nonetheless welcome the added stamp of legitimacy afforded by
contact with a scholar or institution. It is ironic that both the scholar
and the micro radio operators gain legitimacy through each other to different
social groups. Further, as disseminators of such information, micro stations
will reinforce their arguments as providers of free speech platforms.
Conclusions and Implications
"Most of what scholars were writing in 1900, or 1925, or even 1950,
could have been understood by any literate non-scholar. It might have been
boring, but it would not have been found unintelligible. Too much of what
we publish now is both boring and unintelligible. No doubt many of our new
problems deserve to be discussed with specialists in specialists' language.
But most of our important work deserves also to be translated into a language
that will, by its very nature, teach the public that we are serious and
that what we do can be important to more than a priestly cult."
-Wayne C. Booth. The Vocation of a Teacher: Rhetorical Occasions, 1967-1988
(Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1988).
The use of micro media to disseminate scholarly knowledge is a viable
alternative to the minimal exposure our work has been given through more
traditional media. Micro media systems are open and potentially accessible
to a wide variety of people. As these new communication technologies develop,
scholars have the opportunity to participate to ensure that voices are not
excluded, as happened with the development of mass media. The Internet and
micro radio form separate, but complementary, methods of reaching a wide
audience that can benefit from the work we do.
Scholars should not only write for each other, but also for the general
public. In writing for those outside the Academy, we have an opportunity
to have an impact on the world in which we live. This is what rogue scholarship
is all about. I am not advocating that scholars abandon specialized terminology.
As McGee stated in response to Sutton's earlier argument: "If there
are in fact to be standards of academic writing, we should be condemning
engineers, brain surgeons, rocket scientists, semioticians, cultural anthropologists,
communication researchers, lawyers, etc. along with 'postmodernists'"
(CRTNET # 2066). That is, there is a time and place for these "conversations"
between specialists. But if we are going to stop just talking to ourselves,
we must take steps to make our writing understandable and report research
that is "necessary to [people's] lives."
Scholars also have the opportunity to enhance their own survival. Educators
are under increasing pressure to conform to the "corporate university"
philosophy that is becoming more popular of late (read any issue of Lingua
Franca). We might expect the public to stand up in defense of academic freedom,
tenure, and assessment not tied to the bottom line. Yet the outcry is not
there. The public does not understand what we do or why we do it.
By embracing scholarly information accessibility in style, content, and
methods of dissemination, scholars have the opportunity to revitalize themselves
and their institutions, making their work an important resource to all people.
Scholars need to reach beyond the corporations, the government, the rich,
the well educated, and each other. I am not calling for the destruction
or the marginalizing of traditional scholarship as it is practiced and reported.
A word or term can carry volumes of information. By using these specialized
languages, academics can clearly and quickly communicate complicated ideas
to each other, furthering knowledge for everyone. This type of communication
will always be crucial as scholarship moves forward.
Rogue scholars argue that there must be a way for the public, as well
as scholars in other fields, to understand and access the vast amount of
information generated by the scholars and universities of the world. Moreover,
it is important to make such understandable information available to the
widest number of people possible so when needed, the information will be
there. If we do our job, people will know where to go, or when to listen,
to gather the information they need to make decisions in their lives.
Scholars gain much in this information exchange as well. The most important
gain is allies. By often catering to government and corporations in the
past, academe has increasingly been subject to their rules and shifting
paradigms. The result is often enhancing programs which directly benefit
corporate America, downsizing or eliminating those that don't. The bottom
line is being drawn in universities all over America. The university environment
is an important safeguard in a democracy; academic institutions cannot be
run like corporations. Only by showing the public that what we do is important,
relevant to them, and to our society as a whole, can we be assured of their
support of academic freedom when it is challenged. By reaching the people
through the people's networks, scholars can help shape our society and ensure
that they have a place in its future.
Barkow, Tim (1997, April) Raw Data. Wired Magazine 5.04, p.78
Booth Wayne C. (1988) The Vocation of a Teacher: Rhetorical Occasions,
U of Chicago Press, Chicago
Burns, Joseph E. (1997) American Communications Journal, Volume 1, Number
Communication Research and Theory Network (1997, June), Issue #2066,
Communication Research and Theory Network (1997, July) Issue #2058, email@example.com.
Coopman, Stephanie J. (1997) American Communication Journal, Volume
1, Number 1, http://www.americancomm.org/~aca/acj/acj.html.
Coopman, Ted M. (1995) Sailing the Spectrum from Pirates to Micro Broadcasters:
A Case study of Micro Broadcasting in the San Francisco Bay Area, Unpublished
Coopman, Ted M. (1997) Stations List, Rogue Communication
Dunifer, Stephen (1997). Untitled October 1997 Press Release. www.freeradio.org.
Lull, James (1995) Media, Communication, Culture: A Global Approach ,
Columbia University Press, New York
Trudeau, G. B. (1997, September, 21) San Jose Mercury News
Witt, Barry (1997, September 24) San Jose Mercury News, pp. 1A, 20A.