From the Editor: The Art of Blowing Smoke and the Craft of Reporting

By Cat Warren

In the mid-1980s, I worked in a newsroom perched on the frigid plateau of Wyoming, where the snow, natives said, never melted. The wind just chased it around until it got all wore out. The managing editor had a libertarian streak married to a mischievous contrarian streak. We adored each other and argued over just about everything. We were as one only on the subject of the then U.S. representative from Wyoming, Dick Cheney.

I would fulminate, my arms flailing like inefficient propellers. The editor would listen, smiling like a Buddha, occasionally sending a fat fog of cigar smoke my way. Then, I thought he only did it to annoy. Now, I realize he was a master apiarist.

When I would finally sink in an asthmatic stupor into a nearby chair, he would say with benign superiority, “Isn’t this what makes America great? People get to disagree.”

I left Wyoming before I got all wore out. His lesson stuck. Now, a quarter of a century later, I have just enough energy left to take on what is both a terrifying responsibility, and, fingers crossed, occasional fun: being editor of Academe magazine.

I know that fulminations are in my future. Some of them will come from you, perhaps as soon as you read this first issue. And while I possess a few party tricks, an ability to blow virtual smoke that will actually appease you isn’t one of them (although there is an iPhone app for that). But don’t think that I won’t, based on my former addiction to old-fashioned journalism, secretly self-medicate with the thought that I must be doing something right if everyone is angry.

Here are my honest hopes for the next three years.

First, and humbly: give me a year to get up to speed. I have much to learn and great respect for the mission and complexity of this organization. Paula Krebs, who held this position before me, was an enormously informed and effective editor, and thank God, she’s still returning my at times frantic e-mails.

Second, and less humbly: don’t make me repeat, ad nauseam, that Academe does not exist to simply mirror AAUP policy. Where’s the fun in that? And while I will not always agree with everything published in this magazine, that doesn’t mean I won’t try to shape it and shift its priorities. That’s why I took this job.

My number-one priority, however (beyond fantasies of a spanking new interactive Web design and training AAUP activists nationwide to crowdsource via Twitter), is to bring some explanatory and even investigative journalistic pieces into these pages. It’s one of my few strengths—being a PhD with a past—and I intend to exploit it. I won’t wax nostalgic; I was never sanguine about mainstream media. But serious journalism is circling the drain, so I hope that Academe can play a small role in bringing original, compelling investigative and explanatory reporting to issues that the AAUP cares about and that the public should care about as well. A number of stellar journalism professors have already offered to write on a number of fascinating and under-covered topics. I invite you to send us your ideas as well. Better yet, go do the reporting. File the Freedom of Information Act requests. Study the accounting books. Write a gripping narrative. If you do that—especially if you do it for free—feel free to fulminate.