Why It’s Hard for Academics to Get Media Attention
By LIDA TUNESI
According to a new study, academics appear in the local news far less often than people in other “knowledge brokering organizations” (KBOs) like think tanks or unions. The researchers took a look at why this is, and analyzed profiles of the few academics who defy the norm.
Professor Nakia Gray-Nicolas of Queens College was an author on the article, which appears in Education Policy Analysis Archives.
In the age of “alternative facts,” academic researchers want to share their findings with the world more and more, but they don’t seem to be as successful at this as think tanks, advocacy organizations, or unions.
The researchers combed through four years’ worth of 367 newspapers from around New York state, counting mentions of people in academic and non-academic KBOs in the education field. The study did not assess social media presence or blogs. As expected, academics ranked near the bottom of the pile.
The authors suggest several explanations. Academics are under increasing pressure from their schools to acquire grant funding and publish papers, especially as state funding for schools declines. They’re often compelled to stick to their academic work in pursuit of tenure and to help boost school rankings, and have less time for outreach.
Even if a professor finds time to build up a social media presence or reach out to reporters, this might not be viewed favorably by the academic community, which has traditionally hoped to be a disinterested, objective provider of knowledge. To make things harder, they’re in competition with think tanks and organizations which are less research-intensive and have more resources for public relations.
However, some academics did rank higher. These were people who had cultivated local reputations over time, written best-selling books, and made themselves available to reporters. CUNY’s own David Bloomfield had the highest number of mentions among all academics. A professor at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center, Bloomfield has also served as general counsel for the New York City Board of Education and worked with the city in other capacities. He’s authored his own columns and op-eds, served as expert witness in court cases, appeared on TV, and has a way with words that makes him a popular choice for journalists.
All that aside, a significant part of Bloomfield’s media visibility is still the fact that he gained tenure at a time when faculty were under less pressure to publish, and was able to put more time toward other endeavors, the authors said. Today, academic incentive structures do not “encourage faculty to climb out of the ivory tower,” the authors said.
“Without a shift in incentive structures and infrastructure in universities,” the researchers asserted, “it is unlikely that many academics can compete for media access, and by extension, significantly influence public opinion or policy-makers.”