I’ve made this point before, and it sounds so very simple. But in light of a recent example of a national news appearance, it bears repeating: To get media exposure, you’ve got to put yourself out there.
For some, that might mean stretching one’s research to fit a current news event. Consider, for example, an economist who has written a book about the economics of immigration expanding on his work to comment more pointedly about the current situation in Arizona, which has more angles than a carpenter’s convention. Or perhaps a space-law professor giving a unique, nuanced reaction to President Obama’s recent announcement that advocated international science missions and the limitation of space junk and weapons above Earth. Neither of these examples are precisely in the faculty member’s wheelhouse, but if they’re willing to stretch to offer their knowledgeable opinion, the chances of getting national exposure instantly begin to climb.
And then, of course, there’s the web. For faculty and administrators at UNL, the easiest — and most accessible — way to put themselves out there is by blogging. And blogging. And blogging some more.
That’s what UNL political scientist Ari Kohen does. In addition to having a popular Twitter feed, Kohen hosts the weblog Running Chicken, which addresses any number of topics, from sports to academia to politics to human rights to popular culture. It’s a great mix of content that, combined with Kohen’s wisdom and festive writing style, comes off as a one-of-a-kind experience for readers.
And for media types, too. Recently at Running Chicken, Kohen put down his thoughts about a debate about whether contemporary political science is becoming irrelevant. Kohen’s blog entry was spurred by another blog entry at Foreign Policy, written by Stephen Walt, who suggests that the problem is ”the tendency of many scholars to ask smaller, less significant, and less controversial questions and to produce what he describes as ‘analyses of jewel-like precision that … generate only minor findings and arouse little interest beyond specialists.’”
At Running Chicken, Kohen disagreed a bit: “I would argue that many political scientists are engaging with such questions, but that the way in which the answers are being delivered is problematic. When we rely on advanced statistics to speak for themselves rather than explaining our findings in clear prose — or when we choose not to translate key quotations in French, German, Latin, or Greek into English — we do a disservice to our potential readers, or chase them away completely. These are choices that don’t have much to do with tenure or with controversy … and, ideally, political scientists will choose to do better.”
You know how the story goes from here: Kohen’s post came across the screen of Max Fisher of The Atlantic Monthly, who writes an excellent blog called The Atlantic Wire. And as bloggers tend to do, Fisher quoted Kohen’s thoughts on the topic and linked back to the professor’s blog, giving Running Chicken a nice new platform and certainly a host of new and first-time readers.
This is a success story for UNL, as well — and food for thought for those faculty members who wish their expertise could be tapped in relevant debates more often. You have to put yourself out there. You must weigh in on the topics of the day to which you can bring unique knowledge and wisdom. In a roundabout way, that was part of Kohen’s point regarding political science’s modern-day relevance — he suggests academics need to improve their method and execution of communicating their findings so they remain relevant. In this humble communicator’s opinion, getting online, writing for general audiences and stepping out of the protective fold of one’s narrow research interests is a good start.
In the national-news placement game, it’s common knowledge that the more lines you have in the water, the more chances you’ll land a big one. When we have faculty members who are able and willing to maintain one of those lines, we know that the chances of them getting national exposure go up exponentially. It’s not terribly complicated, but it does take time and energy. But it’s worth it, because reporters read blogs. They read them a lot. They read them for story ideas, for source suggestions and for help framing their stories before they sit down to write. We at UNL would be negligent if we didn’t encourage and promote our faculty, administrators and staff who blog and blog well.
If you don’t follow blogs, start. Then, start one of your own. Then, keep at it. Your audience will grow — and eventually, perhaps with a little nudge, the media will find you.