Deck the halls of academe: Managerialism, product placement and The Conversation, featuring Troppo’s annual Christmas competition

Image result for product placementI was checking out Peter Martin’s list of Seven really bright (policy) ideas for a forthcoming article currently titled “What is a policy hack?”(It’s a good article which I recommend). When I noticed something.

All the links to the original sources are links to articles in The Conversation which Peter has recently moved to. I think he’s one of our best economic journalists, and probably our most constructive one. Good for him and good for the Conversation to pick him up.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with that restriction, but it reminds me of my own disappointing experiences with the Conversation. A while back someone asked me to jointly author something with them which I did and then we sent it to the Conversation for publication.

They asked for our university affiliation. My co-author is a researcher and consultant who’s keen on making the world a better place, but though she’s a graduate of an Australian uni, she had no affiliation with universities at the time. It was OK as it was published under my affiliation with a uni at the time.

I do appreciate that The Conversation needs a business model and that model is, as I understand it, that universities pay for the services of the Conversation. So I understand that if the Conversation just published the best stuff it could find anywhere, it wouldn’t have a business model.

But, no matter what it’s business model, journalism as we’ve known it, has always existed with aspirations which are not simply reducible to its business model. Of course journalism still has to attract revenue but good journalism has always seen itself as having a social mission of truthtelling that goes beyond that. (On that I heartily recommend this podcast discussion between Ezra Klein and Jay Rosen)

So I’d like to see The Conversation get with the zeitgeist of what was at least the early years of Web 2.0 and blogging (which is when The Conversation got going) and publish at least some of the best material that people might offer it, subject of course to its need to bring in sufficient revenue to prosper. In other words, the material I’m talking about would have to be a sub-set and probably a small subset of all the things it publishes.

On reflection, I expect that even if The Conversation were to look at this wholly from the perspective of its bottom line the optimal amount of ‘outside’ material it should publish is greater than zero percent. The managerialist flavour of The Conversation, the way I know it’s high-end PR for universities puts me off reading it. I prefer the Mandarin which is livelier and my experiences with its editorial staff have been much more collaborative – as if we’re both working to get the reader the best article we can.

It’s great that Peter’s promoting bright ideas. It’s a huge lacuna in our public discourse obsessed as it is with race calling and insider savvy. And all but one seems well worth thinking about. But I could have done without the product placement, whether intended or not.

And because it’s Christmas and Troppo runs a competition at least once a year, the competition this year is for you to guess which idea I thought was a bit on the schlocky side and why. As usual, the winner will be transported to a post-Brexit Britain in what I’m proud to say is the latest edition to Troppo’s stable of imaginary vehicles. It was a difficult negotiation, brought off with a counter-writ for plagiarism. Yes, folks, Troppo isn’t the only place where you’ll find imaginary vehicles. Or wasn’t, until we purchased Hugo Rifkind’s imaginary submarine made of cheese with a great deal of imaginary money.

The password, which will be required on entry to the submarine is “Cheese means cheese”.

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I am and will always be Not Trampis
I am and will always be Not Trampis
5 years ago

Certainly in the running for the longest title of the year

5 years ago

Is it separating the ownership of the house from the land? I can’t imagine why the owner wouldn’t jack up the rent (it is difficult to take the house with you), and the proposed solution of a fixed rent (not sure who would be well placed to determine this) seems prone to its own problems.