Wednesday, May 10, 2017
May 10, 2017: The Scholars Strategy Network and Me: Online Writing, Extended
[Last week, I had the chance to attend a national meeting of the Scholars Strategy Network, a vital public scholarly organization of which I’ve been a Member for almost four years. So this week I wanted to share a few sides to my work with SSN, leading up to a weekend post on that national meeting and SSN’s expanding role in Trump’s America!]
On two SSN-inspired posts that extended beyond their online starting points.
In October 2015, SSN Member Lawrence Jacobs and others at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs hosted two Washington, DC events to celebrate and discuss former Vice President Walter Mondale’s “life and legacy.” Jacobs and Avi Green asked me if I would write a tie-in piece on that theme for my biweekly Talking Points Memo column, and the result was “Why It’s Time to Reassess Walter Mondale’s Place in History.” Although the piece didn’t receive a ton of views, I was nonetheless proud of how it turned out, and prouder still of two unexpected follow-ups: Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who was taking part in the DC events, Tweeted a link to the piece; and, most inspiringly of all, Jacobs wrote me that he had had the chance to share the piece with Mondale himself, who “appreciated the thoughtful analysis.” I share that latter detail not to brag (I mean, well, not only to brag), but to highlight instead how, thanks in no small measure to SSN’s connections and community, such online pieces can have significant offline stakes and meanings, can quite literally reach audiences we might never have expected.
The following spring, Jacobs and his fellow political scientist Desmond King published a controversial and important book, Fed Power: How Finance Wins (Oxford University Press, 2016), an argument that the Federal Reserve has gone far beyond its Progressive Era origins to become a far-too independent and powerful part of our federal government and society. Thanks once again to my SSN connection to Jacobs, and specifically to a request from SSN Director of Communications Shira Rascoe for tie-in pieces to accompany the book’s April 2016 publication, I wrote a review of the book for my (at the time) new gig with the Huffington Post; I hope and believe that the review was even-handed, accurate, and fair despite those professional and personal connections. In any case, and in a reflection of how online writing has become just as much a part of our social and cultural conversations as more traditional print media, quotes from my review became part of the reviews section of the book’s Amazon page, alongside quotes from a newspaper (The Financial Times) and a magazine (The American Prospect). It’s easy to think of an online, blog post book review as fundamentally distinct from a print publication one—but as the Amazon use illustrates, they’re at least part of the same spectrum, if not indeed overtly parallel.
That would be one main takeaway of mine from these two examples and experiences—that online writing, thanks in no small measure to its immediacy and accessibility, has the chance to extend to and connect with audiences and conversations well beyond its particular starting point or location (and often entirely outside of the plans or imagining of its author, which is mostly a good but occasionally a frustrating and even frightening thing; I’m referring in particular to the consistently vile and at times threatening comments on that post). But at the same time, both these specific examples and SSN’s work overall also illustrate the role that connections and community play in advancing and deepening such extensions of any individual’s writing and voice. I used to feel that “who you know” was a less than ideal side to this or any profession; but have to come to believe that there’s nothing wrong with, and a great deal that’s inspiring about, being part of communities that can help us share what we have to say with as many audiences and in as many settings as possible. Our words and works will be there in any case; we might as well be part of networks that can help get them viewed, engaged with, and responded to by as many readers as we can. Including, y’know, former Vice Presidents.
Next SSN post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Thoughts on SSN, or other organizations or efforts you’d highlight?