Publishing @ SFU Instructor Hannah McGregor Answers Questions About Accessibility, Peer Review, and Audience Backlash During Her Presentation Green College, UBC
During the Q&A period for her October 3, 2019 presentation at Green College (UBC), SFU’s own Hannah McGregor, Assistant Professor of Publishing, elaborated on the potential and pitfalls of her podcasting work, both as a feminist and a scholar. Speaking at length on a range of questions from the audience, McGregor spoke with characteristic levity and intimacy about difficult subjects. McGregor’s presentation was centred upon the possibilities of scholarly accountability when podcasting is employed as a feminist method, and led to questions about accessibility, the peer review process, and navigating backlash when producing high risk public work.
Hannah McGregor is an Assistant Professor of Publishing at Simon Fraser University, where her research focuses on podcasting as scholarly communication, systemic barriers to access in the Canadian publishing industry, and magazines as middlebrow media. She is the co-creator of Witch, Please, a feminist podcast on the Harry Potter world, and the creator of the weekly podcast Secret Feminist Agenda, which is currently undergoing an experimental peer review process with Wilfrid Laurier University Press. She is also the co-editor of the book Refuse: CanLit in Ruins (Book*hug 2018).
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Q: If podcasts do become an acceptable academic endeavor, do they become [institutionalized and de-radicalized inherently]? Is there a possibility they will be put in a position of less accessibility, just like journals are today (e.g. paywall, jargon, etc)?
HM: For sure, such is the endless hunger of the institution, right? That it takes anything that’s, like, interesting and it’s like [chomp!] “It’s mine now! It’s mine now and guess what it’s in the university so it’s bad now!”… So yes, absolutely, we need to think about institutionalization and the impact that it has, and we need to think about, whether or not, you know, podcasting will just get sucked into exactly the same systems… which is why it’s been really important to me in this project to make my podcasts as podcasts first – that they live on the open web; are published and circulated via RSS feeds; are accessible everywhere [to anybody] who would get podcasts; are never paywalled;…you don’t have to know how to access scholarly systems in order to find them – you find them the way you find podcasts. And that has been really fundamental to me, that “I am making a podcast, and then we are peer reviewing it,” rather than “I am doing scholarship, and then we’re putting it onto a podcast.”
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Q: I was just starting to think about the difference between public and your peers, and I just wonder if you have plans in the next season for trying to challenge who are considered “peers” and sending [an invitation to critically review your podcast] out to the public…as opposed to waiting until people come to you?
HM: We actually did that in Season 1. So right up front, I was way more skeptical about peer reviewing the podcast than Siobhan was, [who had] great faith in peer review as an actual mechanism to make work better… via the process of this project, I have come on board … because the peer reviews that I’ve received have [been] so genuinely helpful. So at the end of Season 1 [of Secret Feminist Agenda], I put out a call to my listeners to say, “I would like a peer review from you, and here are my three questions… please post your responses in the comments.” And I got, like, 75-80 responses, from people… answering the questions and thinking it through, and really explicitly saying that they loved being involved in the process… [and of being told] that I was thinking of them as public and peers… I asked for that again at the end of Season 2 and got very little response… (and I didn’t even try it at the end of Season 3). And the reason [for the little response] I think, is that I now have an active and ongoing engagement with my listenership such that they’re giving me that feedback constantly, right? They are responding to episodes, they are asking me questions, they are commenting, they’re suggesting readings… so that interaction is now… just now an iterative part of how I engage with my listeners and they engage with me.
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Q: I was thinking about a public who does come to your podcast with very aggressive anti-feminist agenda. As scholars we’re [expected to make our scholarship accessible, [but] we’re not really given training on dealing with [that backlash]…what are your thoughts on the drawback of doing scholarship publically on this subject?
HM: So we are increasingly demanding that academics do our work publicly – particularly young graduate students…[are pressured to], like “be public! Be public facing! Be on Twitter! Be out doing things! Be in the media!” and then it’s like, “but if people get mad at you… you’ve got nothing”… We want people to be public until there’s any consequences to the publicness of their work… We need to have better conversations about how departments can support faculty members when there is backlash for their work… The more that we are interested in engaging publics, the more we need to understand what the consequences look like when we do that work.
What I will say is that…for the most part, podcasts are very hard to troll. [They] are significantly less trolled than a lot of other media, and there’s one really good reason for that – and that is that you cannot, like, command+F and look for words that make you angry in a podcast recording. And that’s mostly what people are doing when they’re trolling women’s public work, or public feminist work, right? They’re looking for the word “feminist”…they’re looking for words that make them mad, finding that word, and then going after you based on that word, and you can’t do that with a podcast—you would have to listen to it. And the fun thing about misogynists is that they don’t want to listen to women talk! So, it’s like, it’s great! All of my ideas are hidden here in my lady voice! And you would have to listen to it, to like, get to the ideas!
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If you’re interested in getting the kind of education in publishing that allows for challenging yourself and others, consider applying for the Master of Publishing Program at Simon Fraser University before February 1st.
Canzine West 2016, organized by Broken Pencil magazine, takes place on Saturday November 5, 2016, 1pm-7pm in Vancouver.
Volunteers needed: If you’re interested in volunteering for Canzine West, please email email@example.com
Canzine West features more than 100 zine and comics vendors as well as two events in the afternoon. It is free to attend, and takes place at Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (SFU Woodwards), 149 West Hastings Street.
2:00 pm | Panel | Advancing Your Cause Through Self-Publishing and Zinemaking
A host of experts from Vancouver’s community activism and zinemaking scenes will share how independent publishing helps connect and amplify their mission.
Featuring: Stefania Seccia, the managing editor of Megaphone Magazine, and reporter for The Tyee’s Housing Fix team; Dana Putnam a Library Technician in the Inspiration Lab at VPL; Hannah McGregor, an Assistant Professor of Publishing @ SFU and co-producer and co-host of Witch, Please; Jenn McDermid, a founder and director at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Art Collective and an Associate Editor at online feminist magazine Fembot; Jessica Todd, a founder and director of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Art Collective and an outreach worker for SAFE in Collingwood.
4:00 pm | Radical Reading Series: Blanket Fort Edition
Featuring: Adèle Barclay, whose debut poetry collection, If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You, was shortlisted for the 2015 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry; Carleigh Baker whose first book, a collection of short stories titled Bad Endings, is forthcoming with Anvil Press in spring 2017; Jill Mandrake, a writer of strange but true stories and a librarian at SFU; and Kevin Spenst, the author of Ignite (Anvil Press, 2016), Jabbering with Bing Bong (Anvil Press, 2015) and over a dozen chapbooks.
New faculty member Hannah McGregor will be leading a hands-on workshop for podcasting on September 21, 2016.
This half-day workshop will focus on the fundamentals of podcasting, and will provide hands-on-training on how to use podcasting software (Hindenburg editing software) and guide participants in making their first podcast. There will also be the opportunity to hear about the exciting ways scholars have been using podcasts in their research and teaching.
The workshop will be held at SFU’s downtown Harbour Centre campus on Wednesday, September 21, 2016 from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm. Led by Dr. Hannah McGregor, Assistant Professor of Publishing at SFU and co-creator of Witch, Please, the workshop is open to graduate students, faculty, and staff at SFU, UVic, and UBC. Access to the podcasting software will be provided as part of the workshop.
Space is limited to 25, so make sure to register soon to ensure a seat.
“Only nerds would want more episodes about print culture” tweets the scholarly duo behind the podcast Witch, Please.
Hannah McGregor (Ph.D., Literary/Theatre Studies, University of Guelph) is one half of that duo, and Publishing’s newest Assistant Professor.
Blending public scholarship and cultural phenomena is the magic that makes the fortnightly podcast so beloved by its 3500 listeners. To Hannah’s surprise, it also proved to be an asset in the job market, particularly with the publishing program at SFU.
“Marcelle [Kosman] (Hannah’s partner in the podcast) and I were aware, when we started the podcast, that it was a potentially risky move. We’re proud of the work we do, but it also doesn’t always look or sound ‘professional.’ We get drunk, we make dirty jokes, we cry about an owl dying. We knew that certain kinds of university departments would look at Witch, Please and dismiss us as serious academics. But we also came to the decision that those kinds of institutions would probably not be the best fits for us, anyway. The Publishing program values the things I value: experimenting with new forms, building things, public engagement, and of course pushing against the limitations of what constitutes scholarly production.”
Pulling examples from the Harry Potter series, the podcast explores issues such as print culture and propaganda (through the evolution of simplistic narrative into the emergence of critical thinking). By following, for example, the texts Hermione chooses to read and her realization of the ways words can be used to advance the ends of particular political forces in the wizarding world, the listener becomes more aware of the critical thinking process.
Does that mean students can expect a new course on Harry Potter? Maybe.
“There’s been some talk of a possible podcasting course — I would love to (re) introduce students to the medium of podcasting through the framework of media studies, while also teaching them how to produce their own podcasts. I wonder what a Harry Potter publishing course would look like… perhaps an analysis of the book’s publication and circulation history, alongside engagement with its vibrant fan production community (since, as we all know, fan production is itself a kind of publishing). Oh, and a whole unit studying the rise and fall of Pottermore and what that can teach us about authors attempting to seize control over fan communities.”
Hannah is also quite aware of, and involved with, the power of the public space; the enormous power of social platforms for sometimes unheard voices, as well as the virtual power of anonymity.
“On a historical scale, the digital space is still a very new kind of public space, and I think we’re all (users, creators, scholars) trying to figure out how to navigate it. And one of the most troubling dimensions of digital space has been the enormous amount of abuse and violence that women, trans people, queer people, people of colour, and other minoritized groups have faced when trying to carve out a chunk of that space for themselves. At the same time, digital publishing platforms and social media have turned into radical tools of community organization and alternative storytelling. I’m interested in how women navigate this space — both its risks and rewards — and how we might teach students to interact with digital tools and platforms in more conscious and critical ways.”
Most recently, Hannah was a full time instructor in English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, but knew, that with her background in Canadian Literature and the digital humanities, coupled with her drive to explore digital publics, there were likely many more academic niches to explore.
“I’ve always fit uneasily into a certain version of English studies. I’ve always been drawn to the kinds of academic work that raise eyebrows — that’s what got me interested in digital humanities, and it’s what drew me to making an academic(ish) podcast. Publishing, with its fundamental interdisciplinarity and interests in print culture, the publishing industry, book design, and alternative methods of scholarly communication, to name a few, feels a little bit like the academic home I never knew I was missing.”
Her belief that theory and practice are essential pedagogical partners aligns perfectly with Publishing’s unwritten mandate that courses be a blend of hands-on practical and academic theory.
Courses such as PUB 101, in which students critically assess and explore digital publics, while building their own online identities exemplify Hannah’s pedagogical underpinnings.
“From my perspective, the most urgent task of postsecondary education in this new digital landscape of publishing is not only to teach students to use the tools and technologies and platforms, but to engage with them critically. It’s one thing to learn how to make a podcast — to study examples, experiment with different audio editors, learn how to layer music and voice and sound effects — and it’s another thing to historicize podcasts within several centuries of serial media, to ask how their entry into today’s media ecology is impacting other media like radio and audio books, to politicize the question of who produces and consumes this new medium and why. If you want to be someone who can not only work in but also meaningfully impact these emergent digital publics, you need to marry theoretical and practical understandings of how they work.
“The most important part of teaching for me is conversation: the classroom is a space where students are actively engaged in conversation with me, with each other, with the things we’re studying. Prioritizing conversation can also help students to become more comfortable with collaborating, first with each other but ideally with people outside the classroom as well. In the past I’ve incorporate community service-learning into my courses, through which students learn that what we’re doing in the class is actually relevant to the rest of the world. Another major tenet of my teaching philosophy is creation. The essay has its place, but I much prefer to incorporate non-traditional forms of research-creation into my classes; I’ve had students build websites, write and print choose-your-own adventure books, design interactive fictions, and create online exhibits. Next up: podcasts, which beautifully incorporate all three of these tenets—conversation, collaboration, and creation!”
A natural collaborator, as her work as Director of the Modern Magazines Project Canada demonstrates, Hannah is eager to build collaborative relationships — with colleagues, across departments and faculties, and with communities outside the university.
When not immersed in her love of teaching and research, Hannah sings women’s barbershop and already has her eye on a new chorus in town.
And while students may not be engaging in much singing, they should expect “a lot of jokes, a lot of Harry Potter references, and a valiant ongoing attempt to teach critical theory through memes. (Ahem: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-t0tbC95sUH4/UJGn4eAdP6I/AAAAAAAAAC4/dQ9MpoTheY4/s1600/althusser.jpg). They should also expect someone who is really, really excited about their ideas and their passions, who is committed to making the classroom a safe and inclusive space for everyone, and who likes to list things in threes.”