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.