'We take academic freedom quite seriously': How university media offices manage academic public communication
Universities, as part of their remit as public organizations, encourage academics to disseminate their research, engage with communities and contribute to public policy formulation and debates. University media offices, whose role and size have grown as universities have developed a more systematic, wide-ranging approach to media communication, have emerged as important organizational gatekeepers, intermediaries and managers in the 'zone' of university-public exchange. There are many pressure points related to the negotiations of university-public exchange. University media offices are uniquely placed within this zone – they are the site where these problematic intersections both emerge and are reshaped. Drawing on research into media policy, communications and management practices at Australian universities, this article explores, using interviews, the strategies adopted by a sample of media offices as they disseminate information about the university, manage contact between journalists and academics and influence university-based contributions to public speech. It finds a spectrum of practices of surveillance and regulation ranging from tight management to relatively loose governance and varying levels and types of policy implementation. We also found that, while all universities exert strict control over official announcements that claim to 'speak' for them, university media offices operate in different ways according to their location, size and remit within the university and their universities' particular histories and current place and trajectory within the national – and, increasingly, global – higher education sector. It is concluded that, especially with the spreading use of online and social media, attempts to manage public utterances by academics are increasingly problematic, so that 'light touch' management approaches are as much an acknowledgement of the inefficacy of more interventionist approaches as enthusiastic endorsements of the publicly engaged university.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 01 March 2011
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