Studying and developing understandings of industrial practices is crucial to media studies. Media industry operation always provides a vital backdrop to understanding media texts and audiences. When beginning to think about what the media industries can contribute to scholarly media studies today, and indeed vice versa, I cannot really divorce media industries from media studies – it is a constitutive component.
Actually approaching the possibility of pursuing a form of knowledge transfer between media industries and academia is quite difficult. I cannot say that I have succeeded much beyond one case where I was invited to speak to employees of a cable channel after its president saw my book and thought it provided a context that was helpful. There is a tremendous amount to be learned whenever opportunities to engage, observe, or interview those working in media industries can be achieved, but getting an audience with them can be challenging. The very nature of their jobs – of day-to-day deadlines and extinguishing immediate fires – can make the kinds of issues that typically animate academics impossible to ponder, which makes conversations difficult.
Whenever the possibility of “knowledge transfer” presents itself, I do my best to listen closely. I wish there were more opportunities to observe or even “intern” in the media industries we study. I am not sure that industry workers recognize that academics have insights that can be of value. It is challenging to write simultaneously for both audiences, and so it is not surprising that those in the industry who have encountered academic conversations are uncertain of our relevance.
Approaching the research dynamics and methodologies used for “industry research” might actually mean honing in on different, smaller areas of enquiry before turning to industrial practices and their contexts as a framework. I cannot say that I view “media industries” as my focus. Typically there is some phenomenon that I find of interest – whether it be the emergence of female-centred television dramas or the changing nature of US television and discourse about it. Aspects related to media industry operation thus become a lens for trying to make sense of the phenomenon, rather than serving as the site of the study.
In many respects, and despite the calls for greater collaboration between academics and industries, I am not sure that I can detect any new trends emerging between, say, the television industry and academia right now. It is certainly a dynamic and challenging time, but cross-industry/academia discussions are pretty rare. Though other fields have long histories of bringing in academic consultants (mainly business), that practice has been quite rare in media industries – at least in the US. The decision to look at things at the broad level available to academics is a decision that can typically only be made by very high-level industry executives, and it is difficult to find the time for broad thinking and paradigm reimagining when there are always immediate crises requiring attention.