Post-dissertation dilemma: What now?

My research agenda has been on the back burner for the past few months, largely so I can focus on getting my fall courses planned out. But a compounding factor has been that my research agenda for the past two or so years has revolved entirely around my dissertation. Well, my dissertation is done. So what's next?

The first answer is obvious: Publish the damn thing. I really need to start hunting for a publisher. But in the meantime, I'll need a few things to work on. So I sat out back with a cigar this afternoon and jotted down what in reality are the first scribblings of what will become a research agenda.

I started from a much different point than I did when coming up with my dissertation. In that case, the main question was really, "What's matters to me?" I was acting on advice from others to find something I could fall in love with for three years. I succeeded. But I sat down today with a different focus. This time, I asked three questions:

  1. What are my areas of expertise?
  2. What are the greatest threats and opportunities that journalism will face in the future?
  3. How can I align my expertise with these bigger issues? Or, put another way, how am I uniquely situated to use the past to help the future?

The result was a list of research questions that I'm considering as the basis for my next few projects. I hope to couple two related questions so that I can develop a common literature review to be used for two separate journal articles. Here's what I came up with:

  1. How did news organizations, rather than individual journalists, become responsible for maintaining journalistic standards and accountability? Or did they? It's a question closely related to an interest I have in social capital as it relates to journalism. I think it's a very important question, as I think emerging trends in journalism, such as the promise of blockchain and other techs to empower freelancers, could swing the focus toward individuals. This wouldn't be a negative, in my estimation—anything that could allow startups to knock media conglomerates that are harming local journalism down a few pegs is a positive in my book.
  2. How has the economic fate of freelancers varied over time? How tenuous has their fate been historically? This question is important for the same reasons as the last.
  3. Is there a relationship between the number of desk and section editors and objectivity in reporting? What about copy editors? For more basic questions, when did section editors become a thing? And what about copy editors? Were they directly in response to reader requests for higher quality copy? With fewer editors generally and fewer copy editors specifically, I'm curious about their history and the consequences of their (presumed) absence prior to the rise of the popular press.
  4. How did newspapers help bring the nation back together in the aftermath of the Civil War? What about other periods of high division, such as the period surrounding the Vietnam War, or times of political crisis, such as the fall of the Nixon administration? I'm very interested in whether the press could take on a reconciliatory role in society at a time of increasing division.

Four big sets of questions. I'm leaning toward the focus on journalistic accountability and freelancers at the moment, as I can see two separate but related studies clearly emerging from those questions, but these ideas are too fresh to make a decision now.

Ken Ward