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To Publish or Not to Publish: It's No Longer the Question

By Gail Hairston

(April 14, 2015) — As history-shattering events have a tendency to do, a quiet little revolution has been developing on the horizon. It has dodged in and out of the headlines for a couple of decades without a great deal of notice in the mainstream. And yet, it could be the biggest news in human creativity since Gutenberg invented the printing press.

Experts haven’t quite settled on a name just yet — digital writing, network publishing — but both the New York Times bestselling wanna-be and the frustrated young graduate student, pounding on their keyboards in the dark hours before dawn, have a name for it — freedom. No longer must a new writer seek out attorneys and publicists and agents. All they must do now to reach the masses is press “enter.”

Of course, doing something well is never that easy. That’s a good reason for the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences to sponsor the one-day symposium “Networked Publishing: Digital Writing in the Humanities” on April 25. The symposium brings to Lexington five leading figures in the creation and distribution of content in non-print formats. They are keynote speaker Douglas Armato, director of the University of Minnesota Press; Margy Avery, senior acquisitions editor for MIT Press; Shoshana Berger, editorial director for IDEO; Maria Bonn, editor of Journal of Electronic Publishing; and Jeff Ullrich, past CEO of Earwolf.

The free, public event is slated 10 5 p.m. Saturday, April 25, in the Center Theater of the UK Student Center.

Both academic and nonacademic publishing operations are working to identify and create new ways to share ideas to all audiences. Today, there are new demands and challenges facing publishing, from content creation to economic models. Academic and general publishers are looking for new models. Scholars disinterested in traditional publishing are looking for new models. Libraries faced with new challenges in information storage and distribution are looking for new models. Speakers will address these concerns with discussions of digital formats, podcasting, web design, storytelling and other features essential to digital publishing.

The Networked Publishing symposium asks the speakers “to question or trace the future or present of digital publishing, particularly as scholarly work and university interests identify themselves as part of larger networks of meaning, interaction, professionalism, and education,” said Jeffrey Rice, Martha B. Reynolds Professor in Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Studies; interim chair of UK's Department of Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Studies; and faculty co-director of the Wired Residential College.

The industry “has dealt with a variety of incidents and narratives over the last several years regarding its ability to succeed in the digital era. We asked the speakers to address the challenges, needs, failures, successes, experiences, provocations, and other related topics to the future or present situation of digital publishing as a scholarly and/or academic exercise,” Rice said.

“If we — as scholarly writers and general writers — have believed there is only one way for us to publish our ideas (in an article, in a book), there now exist audio options, video options, digital options, multimedia options. We might consider the popularity of a radio show like "Serial," which uses the podcast format to tell a story about a murder. Or we might consider how Twitter has emerged into a news format that often releases information before major news outlets do. Or we can look to the emergence of the longform essay online as an alternative to the book (shorter), the article (longer) and print (it often incorporates visuals and media into its story). How have content management systems such as WordPress changed the way we write? There are many more examples.

“We have never lived in a time of writing or expression as we do now, and Networked Publishing will offer new thinking on this moment,” said Rice.