Are academics just content generators?

In recently hearing a radio discussion regarding how much content different kinds of media personalities generate (regular columnist vs. social media maven vs. radio host and so on), I wondered: are academics also content generators? Here are several of the kinds of content we provide:

Photo by ICSA on

-Classroom lectures and experiences. These are geared toward learning in the moment through discussions, experiences, lectures, and additional pedagogical options. This is often delivered to students in a classroom but it can be done remotely, through video, and through other formats.

-Publishing. The academic articles, books, reports, reviews, and more go through a particular academic publishing process and they come out as packaged content.

-Advising. Academics can answer a lot of questions ranging from what courses students should take to questions about life paths to inquiries about our areas of study. Such responses are not typically captured formally.

-Additional venues including academic presentations, media outlets, community forums, and more.

If content is just information or things that can occupy the attention of people, these may all qualify. There is also competition in all of these areas; could you learn from a textbook or Youtube video or on the job rather than in a classroom?

What, then, might be different about academic content?

-The classroom setting is a unique one with potential for engaging and transformative learning experiences and communities.

-The academic training and processes that informed the work. From the time spent studying to the disciplinary-specific methods and perspectives, an academic approach to a topic is different.

-The particular formats in which academics operate more often are more likely to involve schools and academic publishing processes. This does not mean that academics work outside these systems but their work is recognized and rewarded in specific systems.

If the world today is just about generating content, do we lose something by suggesting academic work needs to fit the broader need? The fate of colleges and universities in the coming decades may depend on academics expressing and living out a satisfying answer to how what they do is valuable in a landscape full of information.

The spin-to-truth ratio is rising

Mike Masnick over at TechDirt pointed me over to a “study” put out by Rick Falkvinge, a member of the Pirate Party, who claims that

for every job lost (or killed) in the copyright industry due to nonenforcement of copyright, 11.8 jobs are created in electronics wholesale, electronics manufacturing, IT, or telecom industries — or even the copyright-inhibited part of the creative industries.

Masnick has at least as many problems with Falkvinge’s methodology as I do, but the content industry plays this game too.  See this example of similarly muddled reasoning over at The Copyright Alliance Blog, which attempts to connect almost 14 million illegal downloads with the 2,000 production jobs in L.A.  Are readers really supposed to think that Hollywood blockbusters are imperiled?  If so, the Alliance Blog probably shouldn’t have picked as its example a movie that’s made over $800 million worldwide.  (At the box office alone.)

I think Masnick’s analysis is spot-on:

I don’t think anyone actually believes [Falkvinge’s] numbers are accurate. But it’s using the same basic methodology, assumptions and thought processes behind the studies in the other direction. You can also, obviously, claim that Falkvinge is biased. He is. But is he more biased than the entertainment industry legacy players who do the other studies? It seems clear that the industries are likely to be more biased, since they have billions of dollars bet on keeping the old structures in place. I think both studies are probably far from accurate in all sorts of ways, but if you’re going to cite the entertainment industry’s claims based on this kind of methodology, it seems you should also have to accept these claims. [emphasis added]

Numbers can be powerful weapons.  But it helps if they actually mean something and aren’t simply empty rhetorical flourishes.