June 2009 Archives

 

I once worked as an Assistant Editor for a regional weekly in Sri Lanka. I was impressed with the way the seasoned editor of the newspaper worked painstakingly on the layout of each issue. And this was before the digital age. The articles had to be cut and paste manually, using scissors, on large which sheets of paper, to be sent to the press. The editor did this with an eye for aesthetics, ease of reading, and juxtaposition of news stories to ironically comment on each other. The font type and size were also chosen with care to reflect the importance of the story.

 

I guess it is this background that influenced me to work hard on packaging each issue of TQ carefully when I took over as Editor. I chose articles that spoke to each other--articles that revolved around certain common themes. I even tried to get the section editors to consider choosing articles that commented on the chosen theme for the issue. Research Digest has been most successful in choosing entries related to the full length articles published in each issue. Since I had the luxury of choosing book reviews from an accepted pool of reviews, I also managed to choose reviews that were related to the theme of the issue.

 

I also worked hard toward writing a good editorial ("In this Issue," as it is called in TQ) that situated all the articles in the broader disciplinary discourse. I tried to point to the ways in which the articles in the issue continued certain strands of important conversation in the field. Whereas the tradition in TQ had been to present a few bulleted items that listed the main issues of each article in the editorial, I tried to write a coherent essay that led the readers gradually into the featured article.

 

I also chose the lead article carefully. I chose a think piece (or something resembling that if I had to choose only from matter-of-fact reports of empirical findings) so that readers had something a thought provoking essay to start with. I looked for an article that engaged with ideas, challenged our assumptions, and pushed the conversation in new directions. This was the closest I could get  to in order to simulate the lead story in the news world.

 

I even fussed about the color and appearance of the cover. For my first issue in March 2005, we designed a new logo for the journal. We also changed the naming of the series from seasons to months (i.e., rather than Spring 2005, we called the issue March 2005) in order to accommodate countries that didn't follow the seasons in the Northern hemisphere. We chose the four colors for my first issues with care. I am not to be blamed for the color of the third issue, a teal, which didn't resemble the color we had chosen from viewing it on the computer screen. The latest color, yellow, was chosen by the TQ editorial assistant, Tracy Davies, as she felt that color had not been used in the past for the journal.

 

After all these efforts, I am now confronted with the possibility that packaging doesn't matter anymore for academic journals (and even for newspapers and popular journals). It appears that in the digital age, readers are simply downloading the article they want from diverse journals at will. They don't have a picture of the full issue of a journal from which they are downloading the article they need. Once they download the specific article they want from an issue, they move on to the next article from another journal. They don't have the time or the need to look at the other articles in that issue. And they don't care about the editorial. That is just a waste of time. In many cases, they won't even see the logo or color of each issue.

 

I wonder now if packaging matters anymore for academic journals? Connected to the technology and media format are other changes in attitudes and perception. Gone are the days when scholars appreciated the tactile feel of the cover and pages, the smell of freshly printed copies, the viewing pleasure of the color, font, and layout of the articles. Gone are the days when scholars read a full issue of a journal to grasp the different strands of conversation being carried out. We have become utilitarian as we ferret out the required information for an article we are writing or class we are teaching, and then move on with our business. Do we lose anything as we benefit from the novel technology and new reading practices?

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