Instead of attempting to paraphrase a wonderful question from one of my readers, I thought I would quote it here and respond below.
"I..... am curious about your thoughts about public scholarship written for a nonacademic audience. For example, I write for a peer reviewed site called SoundingOut! that blends academic discourse and lay audiences. I have received more questions about this type of writing than my book chapters or upcoming article. Any suggestions about how I should blend this type of writing with my academic career?"
This is an important issue, and one with many potential responses. I think there are "old school" and "new school" responses (well, an overgeneralization, but go with me).
Old school- respect the cannons of your discipline. For most, this means peer reviewed publications, books, or in some disciplines conference proceedings.
New school- New forms of electronic media and public scholarship represent wildly exciting opportunities for hearing form voices that have been silenced. These are going to be the way scholarship is disseminated in the future; be a pioneer, and not a late adopter.
Now, how about a "marketing" perspective: publishing in alternative media as a public scholar can lead to considerable name recognition, or, if you publish controversial topics, notoriety.
Perhaps I think a balanced approach is in order. One of the key lessons of Maslow's hierarchy of needs is to pay attention to survival skills first. Scholarship that is currently accepted as the convention, at least in terms of the means and mode of publication, are going to more reliably lead to jobs and tenure and promotion. That said, public scholars can find themselves provided many opportunities to speak, to lecture, to consult, ect. I would say make sure you paying strong attention to publishing in more conventional medium and putting at least half of your writing and publishing efforts into these arenas, at least early in your career.
As I write this, I find myself wanting to chide myself for such a conventional response, but I think it is where i currently stand (as I write my blog post, of course :)). However, never let convention and survival stand in the way of your taking risks and thriving (there, that feels better!)
Would be glad to hear alternative perspectives and dissent.