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Friday, March 21, 2014

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Talking to Anne Helen Petersen About Leaving Academia for BuzzFeed

Did I hear this headline correctly? 

YES: I’m leaving academia. And second: I’m leaving it for BuzzFeed—more specifically, to be a full-time features writer at BuzzFeed.

[8 minutes of screaming redacted] Well, I am chock full of emotions but this talk is resolutely not going to be about how much the Hairpin is going to miss you, so let me first ask: how are you feeling right now, and how long has this been in the works?

I am feeling totally excited and totally terrified. I’ve known for some time that my work, and the sort of audience I love writing for, is not a very good fit for academia, but I thought that I could wedge/force/hipcheck my way into a position that would reconcile the type of work that I wanted to do with the teaching that I love. But as a friend of mine said amidst her time on the market, “academia is drunk”—not belligerent or irresponsible so much single-sightedly focused on things that may or may not ultimately matter.

In other words, no one wanted to hire me! I want to be super explicit about that because I think people will assume that because of all the writing I do, both on and off the internet, that I somehow had some cornucopia of choices and was like “show me the money.” OH MAN I WISH. I get so much satisfaction from teaching, but there was no way to keep doing so—and continue the writing I find fulfilling—and make a sustainable salary. BuzzFeed gives me the platform and support to do the type of writing (and reach the type of audiences) that I love, but can also provide me with a living wage.

This is very interesting, starting with the "good fit" thing. What makes your work not a good fit for academia? You yourself seem like a great fit. You love teaching; you’re a great teacher; any media studies department would be lucky to have you. What feels off, and how did it feel to simultaneously love something, be excellent at it, and have it feel seriously unsuited?

Oh man, this is a sensitive subject, and I might burn some bridges with it, but here goes: much of academic writing prides itself on being as inaccessible as possible, and I mean that both literally and figuratively—you can’t understand it unless you’ve had at least five years of graduate school, and you can’t actually get your hands on it without affiliation with a major institution. But I come from what’s called the cultural studies tradition, which prides itself on studying the things that vast swathes of people actually consume, and how they make meaning out of that consumption. So there will always be people who study Iranian cinema from the ‘70s, and that work is really important, but it’s equally important to study things like soap operas, and Two and a Half Men, and celebrity gossip, and try and figure out how/why these things matter.

Media studies has really embraced cultural studies, but having people as a whole think your work is awesome is very different than having a hiring committee, especially one made of people who aren’t necessarily in your field, think that celebrity gossip is worthwhile, if that makes sense. So for me it’s a combination of what I study, but also the way that I write about it—I study something feminized and devalued, and I do a lot of that work on the internet, which is still considered to be not “real” scholarship. I was always doing “real” scholarship alongside this internet work—I’ve published eight peer-reviewed articles—but if my time on the market is to be believed, it simply didn’t matter. Same with my book: because I got paid to write it, and because it’s with Plume/Penguin instead of a university press, it’s not legit.

I feel you on a lot of this. I was reading yesterday that 50% of academic papers have no more than three readers? But so, you’re saying it’s not the structure of academia that didn’t fit—not the teaching, publishing, research cycle; it’s the content, the state of things, the work that’s currently valued.

Right. I want to be very careful and emphasize that there are a lot of people in academia fighting the good fight to make work accessible (in tone, in form), but that’s the sort of work you can only do from the inside out. I’m proof that cultivating an online presence, blogging my way through my dissertation, and writing “hybrid” (public/quasi-academic) scholarship freaks job committees out.

It takes so long to prepare for this career. Let's back up for a second. How long had you wanted to be a professor? How long have you been teaching since you finished your PhD?

I wanted to be a professor since I was an undergrad: I loved everything that I was learning, and I was basically like “how can I think about these things all the time?” It wasn’t until I started actually teaching that I realized I was good at it. I taught all through my MA and my PhD and I’ve been teaching for three years since that—which means I’ve been doing this stuff for nearly a decade.

Does it feel strange to just pull the wheels up on it? What’s the reaction been among your friends in academia?

It feels totally weird to be jumping ship. Other than two years nannying after graduating, this is the only life—the only work schedule, the only value system—I’ve known as an adult. Could I have been the writer I am today without a PhD? Sure; maybe. But the specific angle that I take (namely, adding lots of history and context and critical feminism to contemporary celebrity)—that’s absolutely the product of my time in graduate school.

I’m actually at this huge media studies conference right now—our international, signature, super nerdy conference—and almost everyone is psyched to hear the news. They know the realities of the market, and they know how hard I’ve worked. But some are also skeptical, or think that I’m going to end up writing “advertorial” about bone density, which okay, fair point. I feel like I have to prove that you can leave academia and still lead a rigorous intellectual life and manifest that on the page.

Right. It's not like you'll be dropping any of the way you read and think and write. 

Or the loans. Which is another story.

Were you not at a fully-funded program?

Oh I was, but “fully funded” is a myth, especially at state schools, even “state Ivies” like the University of Texas. You have a salary, but that salary just about pays your rent, and then you get nickeled-and-dimed for all sorts of fees, insurance, buying food that’s not rice, and somehow surviving the summer, when you’re not getting paid but are expected to do scholarship and research. DON’T GO TO GRAD SCHOOL KIDS.

So academia had to work fairly hard to push you out, and it really, really did.

The system is broken. There’s no other way to put it. There are too many PhDs—which the schools need, because they’re such incredibly cheap labor—and very, very few jobs.

Even if you do everything right (get amazing evaluations, publish your ass off, go to a billion conferences, network like crazy, work with the top scholars in your field) it can still yield nothing.

But then, there’s the other totally amazing side of all the things about academia that are terrible—the freedom you get to really pursue your own very specific interests at an esoteric, detailed, heavily researched and theoretically structured level.

Oh totally. I’ve had a tremendous amount of intellectual privilege and latitude, and it’s crucial to acknowledge that.

And yet it doesn’t always translate to a larger audience. One of the things I loved most on the Hairpin this year was this academic series we ran, a thing on international reproductive rights that almost nobody read—the pieces got hundreds of likes on Facebook and barely a click, no eyes reading. Was and is that a worry for you?

I think that you’re asking if I’m scared that I’m going to have to sacrifice rigor for the privilege of being paid—and the extensive platform that BuzzFeed will provide….yes?

Yeah. I mean, what I’m talking about here is not specific to BuzzFeed at all per se; I feel like I can do anything I want here, but also that it's very different work than what I've been doing critically at Michigan. I think that there are a lot of people and places who are facilitating great critical work for large audiences, but I guess the real question I’m asking is, do you anticipate the focus or tone or anything about your work changing, and how?

When it was pretty clear that I was going to leave academia, I was weighing options from several outlets—and what I really loved about BuzzFeed was just how committed they were to giving ideas space to breathe. In his piece on “longform” a few months back, BF’s editor-in-chief Ben Smith said “the story should be as long as it should be,” whether that’s 200 words or 8,000 words. With digital publishing, there’s just no excuse not to let things expand (or condense) to the “right” size.

So when I write a feature for BuzzFeed, it can be as long, and as intricately researched, as a piece I’d have written for a scholarly journal. The best example of this is the piece I wrote for BuzzFeed last month on Jennifer Lawrence and the History of the Cool Girl: I’ve already thought a ton about all of those stars, but I spent several weeks sifting through magazine articles, stuff I bought on eBay, etc., before writing the piece. Now, there won’t be a lit review or footnotes, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not drawing on all of those things when I write the piece—that’s the benefit of the PhD. Plus I get a team of editors—and one in particular, Summer Anne Burton—who are totally on the same page as me in terms of the type of work they’d like to see.

SUMMER, you've hopped in to say hello: let me ask you, what's the biggest draw about having AHP at BuzzFeed?

Summer: Oh my gosh, so hard to pick one thing! I have been a huge fan of AHP’s writing for a long time but never really imagined she would leave academia, so when we first started talking about the possibility of her coming to BuzzFeed I was immediately psyched to make it happen without really having any idea what her role would look like exactly. The Jennifer Lawrence piece was kind of the first step of that, and it gave me a really clear argument for why she was the perfect fit for us: it was the perfect case study for something we say all the time about how creative, interesting work we’re proud of can also be our most successful, shared, “viral” content.

There’s this internet myth that you have to make this low-hanging cheap fruit in order to subsidize the “real” reporting/writing that no one reads, and that those “real” writers should never have to worry about the fact that no one reads them. Annie is the antithesis of that: she writes smart pieces about things that people care about, in a way that is accessible to a broad audience. Her Jennifer Lawrence piece got over a million views, almost all from people sharing on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s been gratifying to have such a perfect example of what we’re striving for at BuzzFeed.

AHP, I am curious—what was/is it like being able to shift registers from an academic audience to a big online one? Does each feel like a separate muscle to you? Or has it always felt natural to take one subject and be able to transpose it however?

At first, it was hard. If you look at some of my earliest blog posts on Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style, you’ll see that I’m using a fair amount of jargon and what I always call “constipated” writing. Therefores, hences, lots of passive voice. But writing the Scandals series here at the ‘Pin really helped me figure out how to wed my ideas with a more passionate, less formal tone that still managed to convey complex ideas (usually with just more CAPS LOCK).

For the first chapter of my book, my editor (Kate Napolitano, who is just AMAZING) wanted me to strike a less “bloggy” tone, but I went too academic. She sent back the edits and was like “TOO. DRY.” And I was psyched: I had felt totally dry (and uninspired) while writing it, so she basically gave me the go-ahead to write passionately while still building on the months of detailed research and theorization I had done about each of these stars and their scandals.

I think the J-Law piece really underlined just how natural this mode has become. Summer provided me with some excellent cuts and places to expand, but the tone was right where it needed to be.

And with your wheelhouse being contemporary celebritythis subject that will always be simultaneously sexy and critically fruitfulyou’re really the ideal writer to bridge whatever gaps may exist between the two systems you’ve already been jumping back and forth between for so long. So, looking ahead: are you going to be mostly on a celebrity beat? What sort of stuff do you want and intend to be writing?

Well, celebrity is always going to be my entry point into talking about basically everythingfeminism, masculinity, sexuality, class, race, etc. But BuzzFeed has made it clear that this is going to be an evolving positionif something’s compelling, and I can find a compelling way to talk about it, let’s do it. I don’t “officially” start until mid-May, but I already have a billion ideas.

Summer: Anne’s role is kind of an experiment for us, tooher title is “Features Writer,” which will be a first. At the beginning, we tried to figure out if there was a really specific beat we needed to pair her with, if she should be on the “celeb team” or the “entertainment team,” but it was more important for us to have her voice on the site than it was to shoehorn her into a specific role. She'll have room to experiment with different formats and subjects and hopefully never get bored, while we'll have her expertise and voice as an entry point for all kinds of topics.

How often will you be publishing?

I’m really excited about my schedule: we’ll always have a piece or two in motion, but I’ll have a few weeks to research and a week to write, so something every two to three weeks, which is just totally optimal for mebut also smaller pieces in between, if we want, and who knows.

That is... a pretty enviable schedule! 

I’m also going to be working in a real office, which is so crazy and new.

WAIT, you’re moving too? You’re moving to New York???

I AM MOVING TO BROOKLYN. PLEASE FIND ME AN APARTMENT.

Have you already been in the habit of watching traffic for Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style? 

The social is TOTALLY EFFING ADDICTIVE. I love stats; I love watching people react in real time to what I’ve written. For every person who misses the point, there’s at least one (or five!) who find it really fascinating, or ask me questions, or go further with their own points. That’s why I’ve always loved The Hairpin’s commenting space, and while no place (save The Toast) can replicate that, it did teach me that you can, in fact, read below the comment line…. and feel really gratified for doing so.

And so the class you’re teaching right now is the last one for at least a long while. What are you going to miss? What are you most happy to be leaving behind?

I have such ridiculous love for my students. I am going to get super cornball here but they’ve absolutely make me the scholar/writer/thinker that I am today, and the only reason I’m any good at writing about complex theoretical concepts and historical events is because the classroom forced me to be equal parts clear, cogent, and engaging. My students are hilarious and weird and awesome and open to new things, and I always hope that at least some of that rubs off on me and the way that I approach media.

I find solace, though, in the unexpected ways that my Twitter feed (and my blog’s Facebook page) have come to resemble a different sort of classroom environment. It’s never going to be as interactive and intimate as the actual classroom, but then again, it opens these ideas and conversations to those who might not be able to pay $50,000 a year in tuition.

The collapse of the PhD market, combined with the rise of digital publishing, has ironically yielded an exquisite, flourishing community of public intellectualspeople who write for places like The New Yorker and The Atlantic, sure, but also those who write for places like Los Angeles Review of Books, The New Inquiry, n+1, Avidly, and, of course, The Awl and The Hairpin. As more and more people with PhD behind their names find themselves in situations similar to mine, we’ve been forced to radically reconsider what we thought “teaching” and “dialogue” looks like. But I think that might ultimately be for the best?

Do you think this is the future? Do you think that a significant number of people currently in academia will start moving to digital publishing, pushing more and more into the mainstream?

I guess I just don’t see the need for strict boundaries of what’s “academic” or “public” work, what’s “pop” or “intellectual,” what does or does not “belong” on sites like BuzzFeed. My work tries to be all those adjectives, and I think it belongs wherever people will support and ask questions about it. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t keep training writers to think critically, and do a shit ton of research; ultimately, I think BuzzFeed’s willingness to embrace this type of work says a lot about them and their conception of what it means to produce knowledge on the internet.

I’m so excited and terrified, but I’m also so glad that we got to do this announcement hereThe Hairpin was the place that first convinced me I could do this type of work on a large scale, and I hope all of you will be part of the conversations created in this new role, or figure out what I should write about…. or, you know, just find me an apartment in Brooklyn.

We will. Thank you for the enormous amount of amazing writing you've done here. And we're going to miss you. 

 

Previously: AHP on True DetectiveSex and the City, Lilith Fair (with Simone Eastman!),  The Returned (with me!), internet labor, Top of the Lake, Downton Abbey, her mother the scientist, Wayne Koestenbaum, Christian summer camp, and of course, all the scandalous Old Hollywood stars.  

Alternate title: "Talking to Anne Helen Petersen About Leaving 'No Job' for 'A Job'."



87 Comments / Post A Comment

claire2222

Full disclosure: I do not know this writer or the website she formerly wrote for. However I do know that Buzzfeed is bad. Very poorly formulated "articles". So even though I don't know this person, I can't help but feel she is making a terrible decision.

j-i-a

@claire2222 the website she formerly wrote for.... is this one

simone eastbro

@claire2222 oooooh so close, but thanks for playing!

@j-i-a that was also poor choice.

Jizzcliner

@claire2222 Burn.

themegnapkin

@claire2222 It sounds like this will result in more AHP pieces to read, so I think it's a terrific decision.

Jaya

@claire2222 Did you read the one she linked to? Because that was pretty well formulated and researched.

MerelyGoodExpectations

@claire2222 Say what you want about Buzzfeed, but the ivory tower ain't what it used to be. I find it hard to come down on anyone who's made the decision to step away from the non-stop pressure and insane expectations of academia and onto what will hopefully be a saner and more stable (but still intellectually and culturally engaged) career path.

stonefruit

Oh rats, it took me too long to read this so I can't get in a sick burn!

(Can I just once again say, though: *what* is going on with these one-off, burner accounts to trash on 'Pin articles/writers! This pattern is unpleasant!)

cameralucida

@stonefruit Doesn't the original comment just imply that Buzzfeed is a step down for AHP? Implying that her work, and perhaps the site she previously published on, is better than that?

stonefruit

@cameralucida you don't see "even though I don't know this person, I can't help but feel she is making a terrible decision" as insulting/demeaning to AHP? I did, so maybe that's where we're not connecting.

cameralucida

@stonefruit Yeah, I just see it more as an insult to Buzzfeed. It was a dumb comment to make, for sure, but I don't think it was at all intended to trash AHP or this site.

simone eastbro

@cameralucida real solid concern troll, though

cameralucida

@simone eastbro Fair point, could be worse.

katherine

@cameralucida Does it have to be a concern troll, though? I like a lot of Petersen's work, here and elsewhere, but Buzzfeed... does have very poorly formulated "articles." That's their business model, fund big-name journalists with a lot of 8 Jurassic Park GIFs About The Egyptian Revolution. And even the big-name journalists they hire to do long-form stuff don't always fare well. Mark Duffy of Copyranter got fired (with a "CUTE" sticker on the severance papers) for essentially writing a Copyranter post about the wrong advertiser. Natasha Vargas-Cooper recently spoke out about her experiences, which were even less positive (highlights: not paying her, telling her she wouldn't be considered for a full-time job if she tweeted "mean things about Huma Abedin," cutting her pay rate and pieces per month then criticizing her when she decided to make up the difference by freelancing elsewhere): http://buzzfeedtheories.tumblr.com/post/71207298187/the-future-of-journalism-in-14-tweets

I mean, academia is no employment wonderland either, I'm never going to fault a writer for taking a paid job because those generally don't exist much anymore, I'm sure a lot of thought went into the decision, and if someone offered you a position at Buzzfeed tomorrow instead of whatever you're doing now you might consider it too. But let's not call someone a "concern troll" and "trashing people" when what they're really trashing is the system. You can love someone's writing while criticizing the system at the same time.

simone eastbro

@katherine those writers who don't "fare well" don't do so because, as the original commenter suggested, they wrote garbage. she doesn't seem to have read any of it, anyway. and when it comes from someone who doesn't even seem to know whose writing she's talking about and who has never commented here before, it really doesn't sound like a structural critique to me, but that could just be me! if it looks like a threadshit and walks like a threadshit, i don't need a peer-reviewed study before i'll call it one.

stonefruit

@katherine look I just maintain that it is demeaning and insulting to read this piece, in which AHP very thoughtfully and cogently explains her decision to leave academia for Buzzfeed, and say "I don't know you but you're wrong." All while professing ignorance of both AHP and "the website she formerly wrote for," WHICH HI HELLO IS THE ONE YOU ARE WRITING THIS COMMENT ON.

I suspect this person did not, in fact, read the whole interview, but, you know, details.

Danzig!

@katherine There are a lot of good reasons to excoriate Buzzfeed (taking on a "no haters" editorial policy when deontological journalistic ethics are already shitty enough is what gets me personally) but yeah, none of them are espoused in that OP. Luckily we can ignore it!

I mean, good for AHP. She's a good writer and I hope that Buzzfeed proves worthy of her. There are no jobs that people can be too good to do, only employers that can be unworthy of their staff. Shame on them, tho, that they couldn't invent an editorial position for her. They've got a fucking billion, what's one more?

summeranne

@Danzig! I care about hairpin comments more than most things, so I feel the need to pipe up and say that anyone who thinks we use "no haters" as some kind of editorial policy against critiquing things intelligently just hasn't been paying attention. Haters are reflexively nasty, snarky people whose favorite activity is telling people they're wrong and dumb. They proliferate on the internet and we don't like them. They are not intelligent, useful critics. BuzzFeed has been building an investigative team led by a Pulitzer winner, we hired Ayesha Siddiqi from the new inquiry to run our opinions section, and we just contributed to getting a xenophobic ABC Family pilot canned by getting ahold of the pilot script and ripping it to shreds. And Anne Helen's own piece for us was a thoughtful critique of the "cool girl" image that makes J. Law (a BuzzFeed audience favorite) so popular. I am happy to hear real critiques of what we do and learn from them, but people who repeat the "no haters" line as if they have never heard the slang "haters" or have any idea what it really means are not that.

katherine

@stonefruit I get that. I completely do. I would feel awful and crappy if some drive-by troll stopped by to shit on me, and even more crappy if people started taking their side. So on that note, this has been eating at me for the past few days and I wanted to apologize.

When I said I'm a fan of Petersen's work, I mean I really, really like her work -- like, "excitedly talk about this one piece she wrote at social gatherings and maybe come off overenthusiastic but it was just that awesome" level. And I also know how much it sucks to have The Internet Peanut Gallery judging your every life and work choice. (One of my biggest pet peeves, actually, is people who want to tell other people how they should and should not make money, as if that's going to do anything but heap a whole lot of guilt freely.) So that said, sometimes I get really caught up in media bullshit and, maybe relatedly and maybe totally not, have a hard time sometimes gauging what's appropriate to say when and what's not, and this was not. I feel like it might have come off hurtful, which was completely not my intention but also my fault, and I apologize for that.

anachronistique

OH MAN this is SO EXCITING but also kind of sad! Leaving academia is hard, especially when the whole culture of it is set up in so many ways to tell people that leaving makes them an enormous failure. (Speaking from personal experience, here.) But the job market is just atrocious, particularly in the humanities, and I congratulate AHP on finding an out and taking it. Loans won't pay themselves.

Also, the idea of public outreach is so important and it's so interesting how people handle it. One of my best friends from grad school is in classics and juggles teaching, research and writing, and a lot of social media work - she blogs about her teaching, her work, and additional fun stuff like reviews of classics-inspired movies. But it's more work, and I do sometimes wonder if people think it's a mark against her """serious""" scholarship to be talking about how Centurion is a very silly film that still touches on some important themes about the conception of boundaries.

bluewindgirl

@anachronistique I have so many Feelings about this! Another grad student here teetering on the brink of the job market, and I'm already mourning AHP's departure like Frodo at the end of LOTR (too good for this world!) while being simultaneously jealous. Living in a city and working in an office?! That all sounds so... stable. And financially solvent.

Bus Driver Stu Benedict

Let us know which conference room is your favorite

whimseywisp

AHP! I am excited to read whatever you write wherever you write it. So I will awkwardly continue to internet stalk you even when you move to Buzzfeed. I really enjoyed the JLaw piece that you wrote for them, and I look forward to you writing more amazing things! Congratulations on this HUGE LEAP. I have every faith this will work out beautifully for you.

City_Dater

Academia's loss is our gain!

Seriously, AHP is a terrific writer and it's encouraging to learn that Buzzfeed is moving beyond listicles and click-bait by hiring her and giving her NO LIMITS.

lasso tabasco

WHAT WHAT WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (okay, going back to actually read now)

large__marge

Somehow I totally missed that AHP wrote the Cool Girl piece, which I absolutely loved. Get that $$$.

twirl2

I started reading the cool girl piece and was like, "this reminds me of those scandal in old hollywood pieces that I never think I'll be interested in and then read voraciously." And then I was like ANNE what are you doing over here! So A) Wow, congrats, and thanks for sharing all this info on your transition, and B) I'm a lawyer who would love to teach law school, but am facing really similar concerns to the ones you've expressed. I think in some ways it's better because law professors aren't quite as underpaid as a lot of phd students, but in others - like the fact that our publishing standards are horrendous and no one reads the publications that you have to write to get hired - it's worse. Anyway, tons of food for thought here, thank you! and good luck! opening a new tab to your blog now...

RNL
RNL

@twirl2 I'm a lawyer who wants to teach too! Except not at law school, because I don't want to publish. Imagine doing all that agnoizing work for something that nobody will read!

Community colleges and industry training for me! (I hope).

crisisalert

Yay AHP!! Congratulations!

Also, I just went back to the Cool Girl article on Buzzfeed and scrolled down to the comments - OY VEY. AHP, please educate them!

polka dots vs stripes

I am disappointed ONLY because Buzzfeed doesn't load properly on my workstation and it's difficult to read/has no images so I'm afraid I'll forget to check it to read AHP!

I don't think I've ever not-liked an interview Jia did and this one provides a ton to think about how academic work is valued and how to connect the ivory tower and the online world as both valid places to research, read, and learn from. I wish AHP the best of luck and I hope she can be a leader in bridging that gap!

Lily Rowan

What? Wow! Congrats, AHP!!

Also, this is a great interview with a lot to say, and I appreciate it.

joie

Anne, you are aces, and I love your writing, and I'm so excited to see what you do next. (and buy your book)

Lush Life

Congratulations, AHP!! Although I will be sorry not to read your always edifying and engaging articles here, I am psyched they will be somewhere. And good luck with the apartment hunt!

vexosaurus

OMG, I'm all in a tizzy! Sad no more AHP here, but Brooklyn!! Does this mean AHP is joining our NYC Hairpin Book Club? What about our Facebook group?! THE POSSIBILITIES!!

stonefruit

HOLD ON JUST ONE MINUTE HERE. Does this mean that AHP and Simone aren't going to finish the Lilith Fair series? Am I to remain deprived of a critical analysis of The Indigo Girls, Dar Williams, Catie Curtis, etc?

I mean, good for you AHP and this is awesome, but I am also feeling bereft. ::sniff::

simone eastbro

@stonefruit oh my god you are wonderful. we'll see what we can do to ease yr pain.

nickels85

That's great for AHP, but does anyone wonder about this pushing the writers/journalists even farther down the totem pole than we already are? More and more PhDs (in STEM, humanities, policy, etc.) are turning away from academia and using their knowledge for editorial/communications work. It's great that they are sharing such a wealth of information and perspective with everyday readers, but it also makes writing more specialized while slowly raising the bar for generalists who have been working toward a writing career all along.

Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself, but it is a bit worrisome.

Xapno

Congratulations, AHP! I've always enjoyed your writing here. I got a PhD in English two years ago and I've been teaching as an adjunct and doing other odd jobs since then. I've been wondering when the time to throw in the towel re: the academic job hunt should be. I still love teaching, so I hate to give it up, but everything you said here is absolutely true. Thanks for saying it, and best of luck.

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

*reads like ten words*
*sees AHP is leaving The Hairpin*
*scrolls down to the comments because it seems like a good place to leave a well of tears*

sarahspy

hey cool, congrats to AHP. im a big fan of Celeb Gossip, Academic Style and looking forward to seeing what she explores next on BF!

chevyvan

AHP, I love your writing and your scholarly perspective, and I can't fault you one bit for jumping the academic ship. I am a fellow PhD working as research staff at a uni and thinking about a similar leap for a decent salary. I'm particularly scared, not necessarily b/c of the "selling out" stuff, but because it seems like once I take the leap I can never come back to academia (if I want to). Any thoughts on this?

M@x
M@x

aaaahhh so exciting!! loved AHP's posts since forever and it's great to see buzzfeed stepping up their longform game with great, talented writers. c u on buzzfeed AHP

idrathernot

This is SO exciting for BuzzFeed!

I'll be really interested to see how the respect that certain positions garner changes as the internet becomes more ubiquitous and valued rather than scorned because "millenials."

JonnyFoy

Seeing Petersen referenced in Choire Sicha's Twitter feed brought me here, so I have to admit I am only recently familiar with Petersen's writing and profile. But from what I can gather by reading some of the the pieces which she has published here and elswhere online, Petersen's work really does not seem to satisfy any reasonable criteria for original scholarly research in the field of cultural studies. Furthermore, she had to have known that publishing with a trade press would doom her chances at getting an academic job - editors at Plume are not experts in her field. All her work just seems like a re-hash of methodologies and now old-fashioned interpretive moves (particularly those of pioneering feminist scholars of film and television from decades past). Also, her analyses are often way too simplistic. And her claim that academia is not a "good fit" for her interests is an absurd defense: communications departments, English departments, journalism departments, and Art History departments are all chock-a-block with people who study contemporary visual media from the viewpoint of cultural theory. Some of these scholars even write clear, accessible prose. It appears to me that Petersen really does belong at Buzzfeed, though for less inspiring reasons than this interview would have us believe.

HeyThatsMyBike

@JonnyFoy Gross. She very explicitly says that her pieces here are not the same as the "original scholarly research" she has published in academic journals. Also, you aren't on her dissertation committee nor on any of her academic search committees, so I'm not sure why you're breaking down her "mainstream" writing for us anyway.
But - AHP - with potential coworkers like this guy around I cannot BELIEVE you're stepping away from academia!

Nicole Cliffe

@HeyThatsMyBike Not to mention "she had to have known that publishing with a trade press would doom her chances at getting an academic job" isn't exactly the ringing endorsement of the meritocracy of the academy that one could hope for.

theharpoon

@JonnyFoy She is leaving an academic job that she has been at since 2012, not going to work at Buzzfeed straight after finishing her PhD. So she wouldn't be looking for her first academic position if she wasn't going to Buzzfeed, as you're implying. Also it's pretty ridiculous to assume that things she's published on websites like the Hairpin (as awesome as they are) would represent her scholarly writing, and since you seem to have assumed that I would guess that you know far less about academia than you are pretending to.

harebell

@JonnyFoy

Publishing in a trade press can't take the place of also publishing a book peer-reviewed with a university press, but search committees love to see such things there *in addition*!

Either you're not paying attention to AHP's actual credentials and activities in making your comments at random, or you are not familiar with academic hiring practices.

jk
jk

@JonnyFoy Completely on point and also true of Petersen's academic writing.

Scandyhoovian

AHP, I'm so happy to hear someone I look up to as a writer and an academic voice the same concerns and disappointments I have with academia. The thing you said up there about how there are parts of academia that prize themselves on writing as inaccessibly as possible is so on-point. I loved every second of my graduate program but I chose not to go on for the PhD specifically because of so many things you list here -- particularly the practically barren job market waiting for you on the other end of your degree program. But the fact that really always nagged at me the most is that fundamental disconnect between the notion that education should be accessible to anyone and everyone who wants it and the behavior of those in academia to make it as hard as possible to access. It just never quite sat right with me that to get your claws good and deep into your subject, you basically had to turn your back to everyone who didn't want to do it with you.

Congratulations on the new role at Buzzfeed and thank you for your in-depth discussion of why you're leaving academia. I look forward to reading your stuff as you continue on!

Heath Sledge@facebook

We'll be needing several more posts with the tag "Academia is drunk," please.

bb
bb

Congrats to you/her. As an academic I strive so hard to keep it real and write/teach what I want, not what the random arbiters of power want. Who knows how that will pan out. This article does make me sad that academia excludes so many viable voices (commenters included). That's not why most of us who get into academia go there - but it's easy to end up holding an exclusionary line (see JonnyFoy comment above - oh shove it, you are probably the guy at my curriculum committee meeting holding fast on merit over need-based financial aid too).

anyway, bravo all around and I hope a few of the good people can and do remain in academia, because otherwise it's all jerks shaping the minds of the future and sitting near me in meetings.

stinapag

I'll continue to internet stalk AHP wherever she goes. Congratulations on the new job!

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All I care about is the book! I will miss AOCH GREATLY and I'm happy for Anne and wish her well, but THE BOOK! THE BOOK! I've been looking forward to her book since forever! PLEASE TELL ME THE BOOK IS STILL HAPPENING AND WILL BE OUT THIS SUMMER!

Sorry for the yelling. But THE BOOOOOOOOK!!! LOL

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