An academic angle on issues in a periodical for the people

Online magazine aims to bridge gap between journals and journalism. Matthew Reisz writes

January 6, 2011

Between peer-reviewed journals and popular journalism lies a gap in which "the new knowledge, valuable critical insight, and fresh perspectives that academia produces" can be brought from behind pay walls to the wider readership it deserves.

That is the belief of the scholars behind The Public Intellectual, a new online magazine due to be launched in March, which is seeking submissions from researchers in the humanities or social sciences and plans to cover issues such as civil rights, race, feminism, sexuality, immigration and more. It is due to be published several times a year in an open-access format, although readers will have to pay for the planned iPad and Kindle e-reader editions.

The magazine is the brainchild of three American women who met at graduate school. Heather Tirado Gilligan, editor and publisher, studied for a PhD at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, before becoming a journalist, but her collaborators remain within the academy. Nikki Jones, social science editor, is an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Jane Elliott, humanities editor, a lecturer in English and related literature at the University of York.

Dr Elliott said the idea behind the venture was "to get academic research out beyond the bounds of academia, so we are not just talking to each other. People are unsure about how to break into a more public venue. We hope to re-situate debates and debunk faulty assumptions, to open out rather than close down conversations, to engage people even if they think they already know the answer."

Although the bulk of contributors will probably be US-based, she said she expects a lot of interest from UK academics, not least because of the ongoing debate about the need to demonstrate the impact of research and the need to "reach out".

The editors say the contributions they are seeking for The Public Intellectual should be "essays, not research papers". In considering submissions, they will place "a premium not just on jargon-free, intelligent language and highly informed analysis, but also on storytelling".

These ideals are made more concrete through examples posted online of the sort of article - on topics ranging from affirmative action to "a passion for pronouns" - that they have in mind.

They also set out a number of preferred categories such as "improvs" ("innovative solutions to social problems" that "can range from serious policy proposals to tongue-in-cheek satire"), "jam sessions" ("round-ups of interviews with academics on a particular topic"), "remixes" and "mash-ups".

Although writers will not be paid, the editors believe they will be attracted by a level of editorial support and speed of publication that most journals are unable to offer.

Pitches should take the form of "short query letters" set out in the submission guidelines. The deadline for the launch issue is 15 January.

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