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Why Academics Should Join the Popular Press

Kevin Blankinship says the popular press needs you.

Collage of headlines from popular press articles by Kevin Blankinship
Photo by Kevin Blankinship

Clickbait, fake news, and other junk deprives the world of accessible information. But you can help elevate public conversation, and Kevin Blankinship (Arabic Language and Literature) knows how.

Blankinship presented at the February 9 Humanities Center Colloquium on “Brokers of the Trust Economy, or Why and How Faculty Should Write for the Popular Press.” Being well published in various news outlets and journals, he gave reasons why professors, scholars, and experts should write public-facing texts for the popular press and ideas on how to get started.

Four Reasons Why

  • If you don’t control the search results that come up when someone googles you, then someone else will. Writing for the popular press helps build your “author platform”—or in other words, your portfolio, your reputation, or what results come up when someone googles you. 
  • The public needs experts to weigh in on relevant and crucial conversations on current issues. Scholars can elevate the public discourse. Blankinship said, “If experts and scholars are not writing, who is?” 
  • Writing for the public press can restore public trust and earn support for the humanities. 
  • When a professor isn’t feeling the “mid-career mojo” or is stalled and not sure where to go next, engaging in public discourse can be a good choice. 

A Few Tips on How

To those thinking about writing for the popular press, start small. Blankinship said that contributing to the public humanities requires skills and networks that take years to develop, so be patient and dedicated. Try it a little at a time.

Also be aware that criticism will come. Blankinship shared Seth Godin’s quote “you will be judged, or you will be ignored” and that the inevitable pushback can be scary. In Blankinship’s personal experience, the appreciation he receives outweighs the criticism. Throughout his presentation he said to remember “you get back what you put out.” The more you participate, the more you get back.

While there are many reasons to write academic-centered works, there are also good reasons for writing general interest works that let the public engage with “all the cool stuff humanities professors have access to,” Blankinship concluded. “Education needs to be useful,” and writing for the popular press makes the amazing ideas we study in the College of Humanities, and academia at large, that much more useful and accessible.