Three-D Issue 19: A new model for academic publishing?

Richard Keeble
University of Lincoln

Journalism examines the here-and-now, the major issues and personalities of the day. And yet the production of academic books can often take up to two years (or even longer) between conception and actual publication. The peer review process can last months as can also the editing and publication process. As a result, academic texts tend to focus on the broader, theoretical and conceptual issues and lack the urgency and vitality of more ‘journalistic’ books. Clearly a new model of academic publishing is needed if the requirements of journalism academics, students and those members of the public interested in deepening their knowledge of journalism matters are to be met.

Seven books edited by Professor Richard Lance Keeble, of the University of Lincoln, and John Mair, Journalism subject leader at Northampton University, over the last three years are proof enough that academic texts on major contemporary media issues can be produced quickly while remaining original, rigorous and packed with contributions by internationally acclaimed writers. Published by Abramis, of Bury St Edmunds, they have focused on:

  • the coverage of the great financial crash of 2008;
  • the reporting of the war in Afghanistan;
  • the impact of the internet on journalism;
  • the state of investigative journalism internationally;
  • the reporting of the ‘Arab Spring’, and
  • the phone hacking scandal and the ethics of journalism (two editions).

Afghanistan War and the Media: Deadlines and Frontlines featured a preface by Huw Edwards of the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News and original pieces from frontline correspondents such as Allan Little, of the BBC, Alex Thomson, of Channel Four News, Stuart Ramsay and Alex Crawford, of Sky News, and freelance Vaughan Smith, founder of the Frontline Club.

In addition there were more reflective and academic pieces from distinguished, international authors including Alp Ozerdem, of Coventry University, Corinne Fowler, of Leicester University, Oliver Boyd Barrett, of Bowling Green State University, Ohio, and Donald Matheson, of Canterbury University, New Zealand. Freelance Hanan Habibzai presented a critical Afghan perspective.

On the Afghan war book, Tim Luckhurst, Professor of Journalism at Kent University, wrote in Times Higher Education of 2 December 2010: ‘The book contains the testimony of Britain’s best front-line correspondents set in historical context alongside detailed academic analysis. It is rigorous, relevant and timely.’

All the texts have been launched at sell-out events in central London and have been widely discussed on websites such as journalism.co.uk and pressgazette.co.uk – and are the subject of much Twitter activity.

Chapters from the first edition of the book on the phone hacking scandal were given unprecedented publicity being serialised by Professor Roy Greenslade on his Guardian blog over 25 days earlier this year – receiving up to 2.5 million hits. Chapters from some of the 30-plus internationally acclaimed academics and journalists in the second edition were also serialised in the blog.

Sir Harold Evans, former editor of The Sunday Times and Times, who in 2001 was voted the all-time greatest British newspaper editor, in the second edition contributes an exclusive and highly revealing chapter on the links between journos and politicians; freelance Glenda Cooper examines the ethical issues involved in journalists’ use of social media while Professor Ivor Gaber, of City University, examines the appalling campaign of vilification against a professor led by the Daily Mail and its Sunday sister newspaper.

All the texts have been hailed by critics. On the first edition of the Hackgate text, for instance, Professor Bob Franklin, of Cardiff University, commented: ‘It is hard to overstate the importance of this book for discussions of journalism and democracy’; Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC from 2004 to 2012, described it as ‘a brilliant piece of entrepreneurial journalism’ while Phillip Knightley, veteran investigative journalist and former Visiting Professor at the University of Lincoln, commented: ‘If you want to know how newspapers really work, read this book.’

Many of the texts have emerged from conferences organised jointly by Coventry University (where John Mair formerly worked), the BBC College of Journalism and the University of Lincoln’s School of Journalism. The last two books on the Leveson Inquiry followed the annual conference of the Institute of Communication Ethics (of which Prof. Keeble is a director and Mair the chair) in London. At these events top mainstream and alternative journalists, academics and students (at undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD levels) present brief papers. Some journalists, such as Bob Woodward of Watergate fame (talking on investigative journalism), Jeremy Paxman, of the BBC’s Newsnight (on the Afghan war) and Oliver Poole, of the London Evening Standard (on the reporting of Libya and the fall of Col. Gaddafi), link up via Skype. Their contributions are then written up for the book – with the work of others added to make up the final text (normally with 30 chapters). The editing process is extremely rigorous – those submissions not matching the high standards are rejected.

Abramis, publishers of the series, create a PDF of the text and then simply publish ‘on-demand’. Publisher Richard Franklin comments: ‘I think the Keeble/Mair series has finally awakened people to the possibilities of on-demand publishing. It certainly saves on investing in a big initial print run. The model might not be suitable for the big traditional companies who publish in much larger numbers – but for specialist academic work and for trialling books it is excellent.’

This radical new publishing model is certainly helping to bring together mainstream and alternative journalists and the academy in a creative, critical dialogue. As Prof Luckhurst concluded: ‘Abandoning the idle pretence that excellence and speed are incompatible helps us to engage with the world. As higher education confronts intense new pressures, maximising such engagement will be crucial.’

 

Posted by Einar Thorsen