What happened at Lingua Franca?
November 6, 2001 10:06 AM   Subscribe

What happened at Lingua Franca? The monthly had top-notch writing and reporting on the academic life as well as National Magazine Awards, but it shut down in October. It was originally thought to be another September 11 casualty (circulation hovered around 15,000, despite the magazine's heavy buzz). Now, it looks like a $16.5 million lawsuit filed against Academic Partners acquisition Arts and Letters Daily might have hastened the magazine's demise. The charge? Breach of verbal contract -- after the papers selling ALD were signed, promises of payment to the previously working for free executive editor went out the window. What responsibilities come with turning a communal labor of love into a business enterprise? How do you introduce the element of professionalism into something that was once done for fun?
posted by maura (10 comments total)
Ha, don't take this the wrong way but I'm very glad to see LF go down. I thought Borders shelf sales were going to keep the rag afloat indefinitely, and that irked me to no end.

LF is the biggest piece of crap of all time. It trivializes higher education and scholarship. It can only promote itself as the journal of record for academia because it has no serious competitors. And what's worse, it's the best PR humanities and liberal arts has right now.

Contrary to the journalists who first reported the close, LF is not considered to be good writing among my peers. Maybe it's written at a higher grade level than the NY Post, but it essentially caters to those same interests: lurid scandal and cheap sensationalism. Sure, academics sometimes get into weird fights and hoaxes and controversies, but if there isn't one at this moment, LF is always free to invent one.

It is ironic that it went down in a bungled backstabbing much like the many controversies it's "covered" in its day.

As to your question, maura, I'd have to say it should have stayed "fun" and never ventured into the world of business. Not because people wouldn't have bought it, but because this Kittay guy was never committed to creating something of actual value for the marketplace. He just wanted to have "fun" by making cheap shots.
posted by rschram at 10:57 AM on November 6, 2001

The only thing I read in Lingua Franca was Jim Holt's column, which was brilliant, and for that reason I was sorry to see it go.

But, ahh, it is rather surprising to learn of the sordid activities that go on behind such a seemingly benign site as Arts & Letters Daily. I do wonder about how much of what was said in the article is objectively true, and how much of it was Dateline-ized to pinpoint a recognizeable villain.
posted by Hildago at 11:12 AM on November 6, 2001

I'm sorry to do a me-too post, but rschram said pretty much everything I thought. The occasional interesting article was much outweighed by the general cheapening of the dialogue about academia. I subscribed for a few years, but then...ptui.
posted by rodii at 11:20 AM on November 6, 2001

The Chronicle of Higher Education was not a competitor for higher education's journal of record? I could never figure out what Lingua Franca was trying to be. Didn't seem to cover all that much of academia to begin with, except humanities departments. Not much social science, engineering, education, or communications, etc., etc. Too narrow.
posted by raysmj at 11:24 AM on November 6, 2001

The Chronicle is pretty good on academia generally, but mostly about administration. I guess its as good as any journal of record.
posted by rschram at 11:27 AM on November 6, 2001

I agree that LF seemed to be mostly about the most sensational topics it could find, presented National Inquirer style. It was fun, but after a while, you did feel pretty cheap reading it. The Chronicle of Higher Education balances general sobriety with some really bizarre op-ed pieces, some of which could be used in my freshman comp class to demonstrate how not do a persuasive essay.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:39 AM on November 6, 2001

rschram: Wow. I never got that impression. Certainly not true of the Chronicle Review. In any case, the Chronicle is more a *trade* publication. Speaking of trades, who was Lingua Franca's audience? Academia? A general audience doesn't care about academia, at least not so much that it would subscribe to a magazine about it. A sort-of expanded, literary publication, maybe. But there is already a Harper's, the Atlantic and a number of other erudite, yet non-scholarly publications out there on the newsstands. Whatever was the point of Lingua Franca? Gotta admire, at least slightly, anyone who tries to start a new, quality publication. But why?
posted by raysmj at 11:45 AM on November 6, 2001

L.F. had from time to time an article of interest. But I had thought it opened shop as a "new, young, radical" voice in opposition to PMLA, which, as has been pointed out, was a trade magazine that many got simply because of the many pages of ads for jobs (many or most faked since school were merely doing the Affirmative Action thing).
PMLA, alas, not available on-line except for table of contents or subscription form. I like their magazine-like insert but can not afford to subscribe to it merely for that.
It seems from what has been said that the law suit did L.F. in...but then the diaster that is now the job market for many PH.Ds does not help.
posted by Postroad at 12:18 PM on November 6, 2001

Oh, yeah raysmj, it totally is. Not to the exclusion of education, teaching, or research, but definitely presented within the context of administration. It aims for as wide a university audience as possible, I think.

I think "academic life" -- whatever that means -- was the focus of LF. It was not remarkably a review of current scientific and scholarly issues and research. This is notable because this is something the US does not have, in contradistinction to the UK and countries of other languages.
posted by rschram at 12:26 PM on November 6, 2001

their website is online. http://www.linguafranca.com Seems to have been updated somewhat recently.
posted by n9 at 6:55 PM on November 6, 2001

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