I have a book coming out. You didn’t know? Well, it’s called The Changing Spaces of Television Acting, and it examines how modern UK television performance has changed – and the various contextualising factors underpinning this – since the days of live, multi-camera studio production. It will be published by Manchester University Press by the end of this year, and I am already ludicrously excited at the thought of having an official author listing entry at the British Library. I’m also very much looking forward to dragging various of my chums into Foyles in Charing Cross Road, and waving a copy triumphantly in their faces.
Now, this information has been nestling away in the biographical details at the bottom of this page for over a year now, but to be honest I’m not convinced that anyone reading my blogs gets that far. I mention it now because the concept of visibility, or discoverability – the extent to which one’s work can be chanced upon by others, or rather how much attention one can bring to oneself and one’s work – has been much on my mind recently.
And I need something to blog about.
By the time this goes online, a month will have passed since the excellent Acting on Television symposium, convened by Simone Knox and Stephen Lacey at the University of Reading in April. I’m sure I speak for everyone who attended when I say that an enjoyable and extremely informative time was had, and as is usual at these events I came away with much food for thought. I was fortunate enough to be presenting as part of a panel on actor training alongside Doctors Christopher Hogg and Tom Cantrell, of Sheffield Hallam and York, respectively. Each of us has books on television acting in the works; in fact, Chris and Tom are jointly preparing two: a monograph, consisting largely of original actor interviews, and an edited collection (to which I’ve contributed a chapter), both of which are due for publication next year.
Perhaps naturally, we all mentioned our forthcoming works as part of our papers, 1)This wasn’t, I hasten to add, something we’d discussed beforehand as panel policy. if only because the research we were presenting had been conducted for the books. For myself, I felt slightly uncomfortable name-dropping my opus; not because I don’t want people to read it (I do; I also want them to buy a copy for themselves, their partners, their friends, and all their students – or at least to order a copy for the library), but because I wouldn’t want the paper to be regarded simply as a promotional device.
On the other hand, if I don’t promote my work, no-one else will. When still a PhD student I assumed that simply having publications announced by Zetoc alert or journal issue postings on MeCCSA or BAFTSS would enable anyone interested in my line of research to discover it and – assuming they liked what they found – pass the good word on to students and colleagues.
After I began working as an hourly paid member of staff (the ups and downs of which I related in a blog on this site last year), I was rather chuffed when, following the publication of my first peer reviewed article, my Head of Department emailed to congratulate me – and then did the same again when the second came out. Well, this meant I’d arrived, didn’t it? I’d made my name, and hadn’t needed to lift a finger in terms of self-promotion. The system clearly worked, and I would surely be a shoo-in for a permanent job within the year.
Well, as it happens, no. The Sisyphean slog of attaining a full-time lecturing post, doubtless already familiar to many out there, is one I may eventually blog about, but only after everyone involved in rejecting me at interview is retired and/or deceased, and I can bitterly denounce the guilty parties without having to worry about bumping into them again. However, following two or three allegedly close calls on the job front, I realised I must be doing something wrong – other than ‘talking too much about teaching’ 2)This was the sole feedback I was given after my first job interview. For the record, the topic on which I’d been asked to present was: ‘How I would approach teaching television history in the department’. I realise now that I should have spent those fifteen minutes advertising my research and potential fundability, but I was young and green and I followed the brief. Twit. – and began googling the people who’d actually attained the posts I’d been after to establish where I was falling down.
To my shock, I discovered that they all had highly visible online professional profiles, despite (in most cases) not yet having been employed by a university (ergo no staff web page information). There was, I discovered, a magical site called academia.edu, which contained entries for all my ‘frenemies’: rival PhD students who were always presenting at the same conferences as me, and going up for the same jobs. You can be amicable with your frenemies (because you do actually like them), but must also remain warily watchful of them, to the point of paranoia.
Well, I wasted no time in creating a profile, selecting a photograph in which I hoped I seemed approachable yet vaguely cerebral (who says the camera doesn’t lie?). More importantly, I made sure that my small but growing body of work was fully represented. I didn’t make copies of published articles available to access, but provided links to the journals in which they appeared, and added the full texts of conference papers which would give interested parties a flavour of what I’m about. Whether people actually read them or not (how do we know whether a ‘View’ counts as an actual reading?) is difficult to say, but most of the articles are now into double figures (though not, alas, treble), and the ‘Metrics’ show that my efforts have been accessed by readers as far afield as Rimini and Ho Chi Minh. Given that the subject areas on which I write are quite accessible (telefantasy case studies like Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes adaptations, and so on), I daresay a number of those who stumbled upon my work were simply googling their favourite TV show, but my ‘outputs’ were arguably reaching far more people now than was likely via my comparatively infrequent conference presentations.
It was around this time that, as a regular CST online reader, I tentatively emailed Kim offering my services as a contributor. I thought I might be rejected on the grounds that I had yet to publish anything of note – wasn’t CST something to which big names like my PhD supervisor contributed, not unknowns like me? – but to my surprise I was warmly welcomed. I immediately set about writing blogs on what I thought were worthy television-related matters, which might impress my peers and see my blossoming talent taken seriously by the academy.
This was a mistake, of course, and my early CST efforts make me wince through their earnest approach. A blog should, I think, be whatever the writer wants to make it. Some maintain a formality of language and approach which, to me, makes them read like dry runs for journal articles – and this is fair enough if that’s what the author is after. I had a discussion with a colleague the other day as to the purpose of a blog; does it need to be ‘about’ something – to ‘have a point’? If it were a conference paper or article, I’d say yes, of course; but why can’t a blog also represent a process of reflection on what’s going on, or a clearing of the mental decks? My thesis supervisor once remarked that she ‘couldn’t hear my voice’ when reading my drafts, and to be honest I probably still adopt an overly formal, third person writing style in my academic work that isn’t truly ‘me’. 3)Please don’t let this put you off reading my forthcoming book, The Changing Spaces of Television Acting, which is extremely well written and accessible and will change the way you think about not just small screen performance but life itself. However, I think that goes with the territory; in my academic writing I’m still saying things that no-one else has said before (I hope) – just not in the same manner I would employ in a friendly chat/attempted seduction over a glass of Nero D’Avola.
Anyway, I eventually settled upon a blogging style with which I felt comfortable: anecdotal, conversational, occasionally a little daft. Upon reading one of my efforts, a former colleague immediately texted me: ‘Reading your blog is like listening to you speaking.’ Now, this may well have been intended as a criticism,4)It wasn’t; Rob remains my number one fan. but it felt like a watershed of sorts. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, of course, and when pointing students in the direction of CST online I always make them aware of the distinction between a blog and an article – and the fact that, while I use the odd contraction, this in no way makes it acceptable in their final essays…
But, ageing hypocrite that I am, I digress. The point I was attempting to limp towards is that, once one’s name begins appearing in MeCCSA announcements once a month, one begins to feel a genuine part of the ‘academic community’ one has heard so much about. What’s more, raising my profile (for so I thought of it) seemed to do the trick, as the doors of permanent employment at last swung open to me. Now, it’s possible that the increased visibility provided by these online shenanigans had nothing to do with my finally finding a post – one would like to think that the right person will get the right job, but if that is the case I was heartily sick of being the wrong person – yet every little helps.
Once among the ranks of the employed, however, I discovered that my early endeavours were only the tip of the promotional iceberg. In addition to uploading copies of all my REF-able outputs to the university’s virtual repository, I have also been enthusiastically encouraged by those who know about such things to create profiles on Research Gate and Google Scholar. I’d never even heard of the former, but dutifully listed the results of my labours nevertheless, adding the same little photograph for consistency’s sake. Research Gate in fact has quite a nice ‘Timeline’ function, whereby you can view your work as a sort of visual biography, including when you started new jobs and the like. Looked at now, mine actually seems reasonably impressive – as though things were going more or less according to some sort of plan – though God knows it didn’t feel like that at the time.
After receiving several reminders from publishers of previous articles, last week I finally made use of the Kudos service, which means that exactly the same publication information is now waiting to be discovered via at least four very similar sites – and that’s in addition to my official staff page. I can’t help feeling that, while my work may now be eminently discoverable, all this increased visibility doesn’t make it more deserving of attention. I’m happy with it, obviously; it pleases me, but if it doesn’t please others should I become despondent at the lack of hits, ‘likes’ or citations? When I was eventually cited for the first time, the pleasure of the moment was soured by the fact that my surname was spelt incorrectly.5)As my mummy instructed me to repeat on the first day of school: I’m a wet, not a wit. Does that mean it won’t be picked up by the online information bots? Panic! I demand a virtual correction slip…
Having put myself ‘out there’, so to speak, I am now hesitant to compare my web entries with those of my frenemies. What if everyone likes their work more than mine?
I just don’t think I could take that kind of rejection.
Seriously, though, I continue to hopefully hawk my wares around the internet, and as you’ll have realised about two dozen paragraphs ago, this blog is just one more example of that. When the book comes out I’ll add one of those ‘Recent publications include’ things to my email signature, and will place wittily worded entries on all the mailing lists with no apologies whatsoever for cross posting. For now, though, please remember:
The Changing Spaces of Television Acting.
Manchester University Press.
Shameless, I know; I’ll even be signing copies in Waterstones. They don’t know that yet, of course, but I always carry a pen on my person.
Dr Richard Hewett is Lecturer in Media Theory at the University of Salford’s School of Arts and Media. He has contributed articles to The Journal of British Cinema and Television, The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Critical Studies in Television and Adaptation. His book, The Changing Spaces of Television Acting, will be published by Manchester University Press later in 2016, and if you read this blog again carefully you will see that he didn’t actually go on about it all that much.
For a full list of publications, see https://salford.academia.edu/RichardHewett.
Or just google him; you know, like the undergraduates do.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||This wasn’t, I hasten to add, something we’d discussed beforehand as panel policy.|
|2.||↑||This was the sole feedback I was given after my first job interview. For the record, the topic on which I’d been asked to present was: ‘How I would approach teaching television history in the department’. I realise now that I should have spent those fifteen minutes advertising my research and potential fundability, but I was young and green and I followed the brief. Twit.|
|3.||↑||Please don’t let this put you off reading my forthcoming book, The Changing Spaces of Television Acting, which is extremely well written and accessible and will change the way you think about not just small screen performance but life itself.|
|4.||↑||It wasn’t; Rob remains my number one fan.|
|5.||↑||As my mummy instructed me to repeat on the first day of school: I’m a wet, not a wit.|