In the APSA panel on what political science offer journalists, I asked the panelists what political scientists could do to increase the “supply” of academic research that reaches journalists. Here is the advice, condensed into a convenient listicle:
As I noted in my earlier post, Ezra Klein simply urged political scientists to promote their stuff. He saw a basic “gap” in the self-confidence of political scientists vis-a-vis, say, economists. Of course, no one is advocating for intransigent arrogance, but the broader point stands: political scientists should just be more assertive about what they have learned and are learning. As Ezra also noted in the panel, this will help reporters realize not only what the “answers” are but also what questions they should be asking in the first place.
Note that this advice is not subfield-specific. The panel did tilt toward those who follow American politics and policy, often with an eye toward quantitative information such as polls. Robert Farley, who blogs at Lawyers Guns & Money, rightly asked about other subfields and those who work with qualitative data. My thought is that such research is equally if not more worthy of promotion. Qualitative work often deepens our understanding of policymaking processes, and a lot of journalism and political blogging is about policymaking. Work in international relations and comparative politics can inform reporting on lots of international trends and events—especially when political scientists bring area-specific knowledge to bear.
I am happy for self-promotion to start with an email to me or any of my co-bloggers. We are will almost always mention and link to papers that people have sent us.
2. Email people
This simple piece of advice came from Mark Blumenthal, and was buttressed by Matt Yglesias, who described how he posted something about Chinese urban policy and then was corrected by someone writing his or her dissertation on the subject (and who attached a dissertation chapter to the email). The broader point seemed to be: don’t sit around. If there are reporters whose beat—politics, the media, the environment, race, etc.—is relevant to your work, you should reach out to them. Politicians do this routinely of course, calling reporters to press their point of view. There is no reason political scientists should be any different.
3. Start blogs, or tweet, or something
There have to be more forums where political scientists can talk colloquially about what they know. Blogs are valuable because they explain academic findings in shorthand and are easily Googleable. To the extent the blog posts have passion and a ready connection to the news, there is a decent chance they will attract links. Twitter can be useful for passing along short observations and especially links. The point is that a lot of journalists and lay readers get political information from RSS and Twitter feeds. And political science has been slow to take up these forms of communication, a point I made in this blog’s inaugural post and one I still think is true. If you have begun a political science blog, email us and we will add it to the blogroll and link. We hardly drive lots of traffic, but it’s a start.
4. Eliminate paywalls
Journalists won’t read what they can’t read. And most political science is locked up behind journal paywalls. What to do?
Step #1: Ungate my heart. More research should be available on scholars’ personal webpages. Which is to say, scholars should have personal webpages.
Step #2: The political science organizations that oversee journals, in concert with the publishers of these journals, should work to make content available to those people who do not subscribe to the journals. Perhaps it’s just some content, not all. Perhaps it’s just for a few weeks after publication. But something is better than nothing. I realize that there are long-term questions about viable models of academic publishing—something I can’t get into in this post. Suffice it to say that I think that model should include do something to raise the public profile of the discipline. For example, I would be happy to give up my paper copies of journals if the revenue saved could go to public access.
Step #3: Get journals into the hands of journalists. Jeff Isaac, the editor of Perspectives on Politics, made a plea the panel that I could perhaps summarize as: I edit a journal. It’s good. Read it. It strikes me that if paper and/or electronic copies of journals are going to be sent out, they should be sent to journalists. Should we send them for free? That’s ideal, although probably unrealistic. Perhaps APSA could create an affordable rate at which journalists (or their home institutions) could become members and receive the journals that way. If so, APSA should market that offer, assuming that few journalists would join on their own.
5. Web resources
Marc Ambinder asked about some sort of reference guide that would tell journalists about research on particular areas and provide names of who to call. APSA maintains some resources, but I don’t think that many people know about them. Much more could be done. I could imagine a sort of political science Wikipedia. I could imagine more focused newsletters with accessible digests of recent research. I could imagine RSS feeds from the APSA conference paper website. Whatever it is, it needs not only to be created but to be marketed and advertised in some fashion so that the target audience will actually use it.
I welcome other ideas in comments, but please leave aside questions about my underlying premise for now—e.g., the inherent value of engaging the public sphere; whether anyone will even read political science research no matter how well it is supplied; whether journalists, policymakers, or some other group is the best audience; whether self-promotion is an unalloyed good for any individual or for the profession, etc. I will return to those questions in a subsequent post.