To what extent has academic blogging, and the rise of alternative (non-peer-reviewed) online publishing venues more generally, transformed our approaches to scholarly activity? As Scott McLemee points out in his fine tribute to the late Scott Eric Kaufman, early huffing-and-puffing about academic blogging has long since been consigned to the realm of "dumb controversies." But in practice, what has this meant for academic work? Rohan Maitzen's recent account of her university's nominal vs. actual attitude to public engagement, however that is to be defined, is illustrative. Some administrations encourage faculty to engage in social media "outreach"; others advise graduate students and junior scholars on the market to develop an online professional "presence." At this point, academic blogging has lost most of its novelty in relation to other forms of social media--I've been blogging for, good heavens, about fourteen years now. Some impressionistic thoughts on what has and has not transpired--
The most important changes, it seems to me, have taken place outside individual university folds, not within. Certainly, blogging has helped some academics loosen up their clogged prose. More seriously, blogging and social media have undeniably facilitated networking, especially for scholars with limited travel funding, and in some cases online scholarly communities. Academics like myself, who work on--ahem--more abstruse subjects, have found support in sometimes unexpected places. Blogs have also promoted public outreach--but I suspect that the outreach in question has been most successful (or, at least, most far-reaching) when the academic in question works on questions related to contemporary politics, or, at least, spends a lot of time talking about questions related to contemporary politics. That many of us have no actual skill in politicking is beside the question (I confess that too much time spent reading academics blogging and tweeting about politics has rendered me somewhat cynical on this front). Political debates and social issues in general seem (note the emphasis) more accessible than discussions of Kant or the Geometric period, after all, and thus are more likely to draw audiences from outside academia. The flip side of such popular appeal, of course, is that it may bring the university what we might politely call "unwanted attention," from all political sides, with results not necessarily conducive to a continued academic career. Institutions do love their publicity, except when they find it inconvenient, at which point they don't.
At the same time, because most academic blogs and other social media accounts tend to be "mixed"--that is, a combination of straight-up scholarly writing, memoir, sports commentary, Game of Thrones fan blogging, the occasional cat photo--they are difficult to categorize. Scholar X, a specialist in eighteenth-century French poetry, can't really submit their scintillating commentary on the most recent Dodgers game as an example of their professional work. There are many ways to negotiate around this confusion--for example, by pointing to the scholarly impact of a particular blog post, rather than shoehorning the entire blog into the "Scholarship" section on one's annual report. But this takes time and narrative, and committees may well feel about extensive self-justification the same way that nature feels about a vacuum. For, despite academics' purported love of all things complex, we tend to like our "outputs" (ack) or "products" (ick) easily categorized and numbered; indeed, faculty are often as guilty of such bean-counting as are our much-maligned administrations. And, as Rohan pointed out, you can't actually do "professional" (peer-reviewed) work alongside more popular work at the same time and at the same rate; hence this blog's recent moments of prolonged silence while I dispatch several articles (three down! two to go!).
Universities are, after all conservative. No, not that way. I mean that, like any other bureaucracy or system, universities and the individuals who work within them seek to maintain themselves in a state as close to the status quo as possible, sometimes by ignoring large elephants in the center of the room (see under: adjunctification). Hence the frequently-observed phenomenon of faculty (or administrators) pushing for policies that seem to be in direct opposition to their own supposed politics, but which maintain their current positions, advantages, and/or cash flow. If research universities have warmed up--at least to a lukewarm temperature--to peer-reviewed online publication, they have not shown much in the way of similar fondness for anything that carries the faintest whiff of "the popular." Even teaching-centered campuses, which have traditionally been open to valuing a wider range of academic work (e.g., textbooks, general-interest magazine writing), still look askance at blogging. Where, they want to know, is at least an editor, the guardian at the academic gate? Or, to put it differently: if the publication process appears to be the same thing, even when the final version appears in a new medium, then everyone (at least, everyone on the relevant committees) is reasonably pleased. Professional norms exert a gravitational pull of sorts, so that anything that seems to escape from orbit is, to a certain extent, pulled back and regularized. You can publish online in a "real" journal, and that's OK; but despite gestures to the contrary, there's no sign of any mass movement away from peer review.