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On Academic Journalism, E-books and the Internet

Upon reading the articles, listing reasons on why or why not digital scholarship should be held to the same level as traditional scholarship, I was wondering what all of the fuss was about. The answer seems obvious, they are different paths that overlap and can complement each other, with one no lesser than the other.  

Trying new things is difficult, and what has worked in the past, by which I mean articles, book, journals and the like, will continue to function as they always have. New media entering the fray doesn’t change that. What is changing is how people come to expect information, and by the means of which they get it. 

Books are slow moving. It takes years to write one, months to publish one, and decades to change one. With the internet, things move much faster. The collaboration is easier, the feedback is almost immediate, and fact checking is a necessity, if only to keep the commenters happy. 

On the other hand, the internet’s reliability in terms of truthfulness can be rather suspect, as opposed to articles, which will have gone through an extensive peer review process. Anyone can put up anything, and make it look just as creditable. There is so much information put up, it is impossible to fact check everything.   

Digital scholarship is rather recent, and there are not real standards yet as to what counts as ‘scholarly work’ when compared to books. This allows for a great deal of freedom and innovation into what can be accepted. The only thing is the fight that it takes to ensure that the piece is held to a similar standard of an article or book. It would not be to the same standard, because it would be too slow to adapt to all the changes made in a digital media. 

Already, books are becoming digital, through electronic readers and the like, for the ease of access and the cost of printing make it more feasible, cheaper and wider spread. Opposed to traditional print mediums, which can drive up costs and make it hard for publishers and authors to break even, electronic texts have less risk for the same information, and more direct profits. If the technology is there, people will use it. Books can be boring, when compared to an interactive, fun website that can tell you the same information, at the rate the user wishes, as opposed to reading, or skimming, through a text to find what fact you want. 

Books will never die out completely, but the allure and appeal of the new ways of distributing information are clearly here to stay. The trouble is with finding a middle ground for both mediums to put their best foots forward.

3 replies on “On Academic Journalism, E-books and the Internet”

I like how you reconciled the discussion on what standards that digital scholarship should be held to in comparison to traditional scholarship. Coming from an outside field, it does seem a little frivolous to compare the two since they are so different and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. It seems comparable to the debate on traditional versus digital art in that. Due to the ability to resize, scale, undo, etc.- there seems to be an argument that digital art is easier than traditional. But with those abilities comes an entire new set of possibilities and techniques that need to be accounted for, even if they aren’t used.

Your point on how they can intertwine and compliment each other stood out to me as well. It reminded me of how we’ve looked at websites that serve as a landing spot for books. Is this something that ever occurs with traditional scholarships? It seems like that could be a way to assist fact-checking via crowdsourcing prior to the publication for books and journals, as well as raise awareness and an audience.

Thank you for your balanced commentary on the matter, it’s always refreshing to see a third take on what appears to be a two-sided discussion!

I believe the debate of printed and digital material in history has both sides failing to reach a compromise that benefits the end users. The technological diffusion in publishing, along with wide-reaching online retailers such as Amazon allow books to be printed and delivered after the order is placed within a few days. The long drawn-out process of traditional publishing is a dinosaur that still exists primarily as an economic benefit to the publishing industry. Any newly released book is uploaded to millions via digital files, by both legitimate retailers and digital pirates. The push to keep academic books in print is only a weak physical paywall against the digital tidal wave of the modern day. Publishers instead can look at developing digital forms of historical data to incorporate with traditional print material as a way to bridge the gap on both sides of the debate.

I do agree that books are here to stay but digital journals and projects are making an important impact on historical work. However, I don’t know if the question is so much how can we help them both succeed, but which one should we celebrate more? The one with the academic validation or the one with popular accessibility? In our current state of academia, it appears most scholars remain stubbornly in place about the merit of books rather than digital scholarship. While I do think we can have both as you say, there comes a point in your academic career where you may have to sacrifice your digital scholarship, or least not put in as much work, for your book publication.

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