Kairos 16.1 (Fall, 2011)

As project managers of the Xchanges site and producers of the 6.2 issue, our goals and the concerns we raised were often dependent on our team’s focus. The project management experience taught us that there are issues that we could only become aware of through the process. Early in the semester we were asked to make observational reports of our journal Xchanges and place it within its context as a Digital Humanities journal. We learned that our project was not simply improving upon the appearance of our journal and adding new material to its pages; we were also participating in a larger dialogue about the future of academic journals and of publishing as a whole.

As the semester progressed and we took part in meetings and interviews with the editors and staff of other journals, we began to identify with the processes and issues of these figures. Common themes began emerging that we realized our journal would have to address as it develops in the future.

So in part our responsibility as project managers became managing our responses to questions of the journal’s place within the field. In our collective role as producers of the journal, we became intimately concerned with the success and longevity of our work.

When we began our planning for the redesign, we noticed that current electronic journals are undergoing a renaissance of format. Pressures from scholarly publishing houses seeking to lower costs and raise readership, libraries trying to maintain manageable collections, and scholars seeking the most pertinent information available, all shape the “look and feel” of Digital Humanities journals like Xchanges .

As we understand it, the electronic journal as a medium is a referential one, tied to the printed journal form as David Lynn (2010) has argued. The electronic scholarly journal must therefore represent the same goals of the printed scholarly journal, whether real or alluded to as part of the concept of “Scholarly Journal.” Consequently, our editorial staff made the deliberate choice to maintain space on the page that referred to the “printed page” and navigation that allowed for the movement between pages in several locations. This lead to our inclusion of full text PDF’s of each article for the ease of printing.

The above quote from one of the “Publications Management” students summarizes the idea of referential format: the emphasis of the web-based scholarly journal has to be on producing scholarly work that is superior in content and that is presented in a way which relates to the printed page but is also enhanced by its ability to easily contain multimedia elements.

A recurring theme in the electronic journal field is resistance, be it from institutions to create and support these resources or from scholars to submit their work to them. In our roles producing the journal, we moved from our own limited knowledge of journal creation and use to a position of researching what could further our journal’s success and readability. In our interaction with scholars and during the editing process, there was a strong push to create accurate copies of the work and an insistence on readability. As I came to understand following an article by Brian Quinn (2010), resistance comes from a lack of knowledge about the benefit of e-publishing, the invisibility of colleagues and readership, and the perceived value of digital work.

Based on our Q&A sessions with representatives from both print and online journals, it became clear that there is a belief that the temporal nature of the internet inherently allows for the click of a button to remove pages and sites from our awareness. Our role at Xchanges became that of “quality control,” making every effort to produce a site that was functional and filled with readable content. Further, since we are producing a journal within the field of rhetoric and writing, it allows us to take a position to point out these issues by addressing them head on in our treatment of both the content and the site as a whole.

One of our major concerns as the builders of a new format for the site was that we produce quality work, and have the ability to recognize and produce better work in the future.

In our meetings with journal editors and with our own experience in our professional fields, we became singularly aware of the work of IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, as we had a chance to meet with a former staff member directly. This is where our discussion of resistance and the preference for print style in electronic publishing was met head on. We noted the pattern set forth in the field of technical communication and the scholarship therein where evaluation first progresses to the level of evaluating other disciplines but not to the level of developing evaluation standards for its own work (Brammer 2007). This lead us to ask ourselves: “How do we know when we have reached a level of quality and if our own evaluation is good enough?”

We found a partial answer in the work of Lindsey Waters and Jana L. Argersinger (2009): a high-quality evaluation on the subject matter of writing (like it is for Xchanges) can only occur because excellent writing has already been cultivated from the authors.  In other words, quality writing begets quality evaluation. Or your journal is only as good as the work it publishes. So we decided that by producing a journal of repute and lasting quality, which is our goal at Xchanges, we must foster great writing from our authors.

We also knew that in order for our journal to be successful it must be networked to other journals and other articles. One way we felt this could be done was to use web-based marketing techniques, ones that traditionally fall outside the realm of academia, to promote visits to the journal. Rose Holley (2010) has called this “crowd sourcing” (p. 1) and Quinn (2010) has referred to it as “priming” embedding a trained behavior into your audience (pp. 3-4). So we began looking for ways to promote our journal through social media like Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feeds.

Our relationship to the journal, and to all journals, was inherently different after this course. Not only were we more aware of journals and their use and creation, we became part of the community which produces and promotes electronic journals. It is this kind of community building — building a group of interested and involved people that approach a subject from many angles — that ensures a journal is able to sustain itself into the future.  Gerry Coulter (2010) said, “Sustainability begins by committing for the long-term when making the earliest decisions of the publication” (p. 7).

This TC-371-student quote marks a trend in our personal relationships with journals and how the course built and sustained the interest of students in journals. It also shows how through our work with the journal and in our interactions with the editors and staff of other journals, the course developed our interest in ensuring the success of the entire field, not just of our own journal, Xchanges.

After reflecting on the role and status of Xchanges within its own field, which we came to understand more deeply as a result of our research work, we developed from student users of information to colleagues with a more solid sense of necessary production practices, the history of journals, and the steps to take to ensure future success for Xchanges.