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more journalism & public scholarship

Megan Betz

Illustration of the initial vision of the Bloomington Community Orchard by Mark Blaney.

Illustration of the initial vision of the Bloomington Community Orchard by Mark Blaney.

I started my full-time job as the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Service-Learning Program coming on two years ago now. In that time, I've become more sure than ever that the way forward for higher education and for knowledge production is a stronger emphasis on public scholarship, participatory action research, and work that centers the community as not just a site of knowledge extraction--but as a field full of experts, co-producers of knowledge, co-authors. This, along with an ache to again flex my journalism muscles and return to storytelling & narrative rather than the at time formulaic approach we bring to peer review, had me seeking new outlets for publication.

I was happy when a pitch was well received at Limestone Post. While the piece I wrote, released today and detailing the vanishing peaches, doesn't yet capture the mode public scholarship I aspire to, I was able to receive feedback from a variety of Orchard leaders to fact check and help clarify the message. More importantly, the piece reflects a tonal and audience shift. 

The publication brings to mind some of the concerns facing my colleagues as we set out on careers in academia. How do we earn living wages while completing our graduate studies? (Outlets like Limestone Post pay contributors and earn money off of advertising rather than readers, with the exception of their print edition. Meanwhile, the publications I need to bolster my presence in the discipline leave articles behind paywalls to the reader, keeping them largely free of advertising and increasing their impression of objectivity.) How do we build a name for ourselves in an increasingly competitive job market, as tenure-track positions reduce in number and the proliferation of PhD programs continues? What role will such articles, and the conversation they enable on social media, play in building my professional network? How can these publications challenge the position of the expert, level the field of knowledge production, and create more space for collaboration?

While I can't answer these questions yet, and while the concerns posed here are far from novel--are, in fact, the bulk of conversation that emerges among graduate students at conferences, from my experience--they are worth restating. I continue to chew on them. Here's what I know so far: I couldn't pass up the opportunity to put out a publication that felt useful and meaningful to my field site, to the volunteers who are managing a space I benefit from both as a community member and a researcher. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to earn money, which went toward a Scrivener license and books I can't track down through my library, doing the work I most enjoy. And I welcomed the opportunity to write in a style I hadn't had permission to use in a while.

So, the questions that linger most heavily, then, are these: What would happen if our peer-reviewed publications opened up to more form, more narrative, more engagement with craft and form? Maybe we wouldn't dread writing as much; maybe we could find our voice & more easily amplify the voices of others. And what would happen to our disciplines, our relationships with field sites, our culture in higher education and beyond, if we found a way to value writing/scholarship/engagement beyond peer review?