So You Want to be An Editorial Boarder?

Listen in as we synthesize the duties and possibilities of of being involved in the editorial process for Kairos  ....


Dear Prospective Editorial Board Member,

Thank you for thinking about joining the Kairos editorial board. You may have a few questions about what being on the board will require; so to that end, here are a few things to keep in mind followed by a few procedural explanations.

Like so much work that is done on the Internet, joining the Kairos Editorial Board requires an appreciation for fluidity, which, considering the constant flux of the Internet, is no suprise. The journal is new and in many ways still trying to find its voice; publishing scholarly articles on the World Wide Web remains a project of exciting uncertainty. There will be times when you simply will not be sure of what to do.

We have, after all, few models for what we do. Since both Kairos and the WWW are but youths, editorial board members must maintain the ability to adjust quickly as new ideas and models emerge in concert with, and at times against the grain of, ever evolving WWW technologies.

But fluidity doesn't mean we want to be guided by hodge-podged, ad hoc-ed, unstructured-whatever-the-net-offers sensibilities--for that type of chaotic celebration, there's Rhetnet. We're fluid, as Joel English notes, because fluidity is part of life online:

I get the feeling that [web publishing] will always be fluid: I attribute the fluidity and easy-reviseableness of our process not to the newness of the forum, but to the very forum itself ... [i]n other words, I don't think we will or should lose the fluidity as we "get old."

In Funeral Oration , Isocrates kinda gets at a definition of "kairos" as he attributes the heroic dead as living by "the perfection of argument rather than the rigor of law;" and I get the feeling that's how we work things too--as appropriate ways of handling our issues occur (within certain parameters, perhaps) we adapt and proceed with what seems best rather than confining ourselves to rules or rigorous protocols. I doubt we will and hope we don't lose the ability to do this.

Structure and Possibility

To help structure the fluidity we need, Greg Siering has written a good description of the journal's Hypertext Links Policy. The policy creates a consistent sensibility, a rhetoric--or rationale, if you prefer--of linking that can be followed from piece to piece, issue to issue, while at the same time allowing for both authors' needs and an ever changing technology. In addition to reviewing the Links Policy, editorial board members should also consult Greg's LoggingOn contribution from Issue 1.3, "Lend Me Your Compass, Cap!: Towards Informed Linking". In that webtext you'll find a set of questions to ask about links that can be--should be!--sent to contributors.

Fluidity begets possibility. Print journals, after some five hundred years of Gutenberg instantiation, bequeath to their editors models of scholarly writing judged by relatively stable standards. Length, for example,though it varies from journal to journal, is usually, within a given journal a fixed standard. Also fixed are choices in font, cover design, layout, and citation styles. The writing usually contains linear arguments, dependent on a sequential linkage of given and new information, a march from context, to premise, to analysis and argument, to conclusion.

There's value in that--we've all benefitted from it and still write this way; we think this way. But as Wen Stephenson notes in his critique of Sven Birkerts's The Gutenberg Elegies, we are part of "a growing number of people with a foot in both the worlds of traditional literary publishing and the emerging online media." Indeed teachers and librarians, as Mary Been's annotated list of guides to evaluating WWW resources shows, are fast developing and sharing principles for judging the value of WWW-based information, scholarship, and knowledge.

"Differently ..."

In hypertextual environments, writers are not only learning to strike forcefully in the traditional sense of presenting the correct words in the proper manner, but are also learning to weave a writing space that is more personal than the standard sheet of paper. We are writing differently; we are reading differently; we are learning differently; we are teaching differently. Kairos  is a journal that addresses these facts individually and syllogistically. (Mick Doherty in the Kairos  Homepage.)

The goal is not only to learn, to read, to write, and to teach differently, but to use hypertext to do all of these exceedingly well, and when possible better than has been done with print-based only knowledge. Mick didn't stress this connotation of "differently" because it is obvious to him and us. But it is worth stressing here. One "Kairic" goal is to add to the print-based ways we make knowledge and meaning, to create, in the spirit of the word "kairos," knowledge with the layers of meaning, knowledge that recognizes its important poetic and philosophical place in time: both fixed for its moment of first publication and continually engaged, expanded and changed by new readings and writngs.

We will add to print-based forms and sensibilities, then, by both departing from and coming back to those print ways; by weaving new insights gleaned from new ways of organizing knowledge with those generated by old ways, by being both fixed and dynamic ourselves, archived yet always linked to a changing web and ongoing dialogue.

Thus as editorial board members we seek pieces which embrace that spirit and that give us new ways to imagine knowledge. And we do mean knowledge. The arrogance of saying that what comes from a computer is information and what comes from a human speaker or book is knowledge is only matched by the reverse claim--that only in hypertext can we create a full, democratic, learning-by-doing, post-structuralist, Dewey-esque model of teaching and learning. We seek to be many things with this journal: articulate, thoughtful, engaging, cutting-edge, intelligent, witty, and radical.

Doing all that well is a necessary challenge, one we must meet if we are to matter. And we do want to matter. Not only for our readers, but also for ourselves and our contributors. We mean to be a journal that has import for both contributors and editorial board members at hiring, promotion, and tenure reviews. We will achieve that if readers come to us, cite the work they discover here, and seek to contribute;.

Kairos ? Readers

Who reads Kairos ? Our friends. At least that's the short answer--the people we meet on ACW-L, MBU-L, RHETNET-L, or the Pre/Text lists to name a few--the people we see at the computer sessions at the CCCC's, or at the Computers and Writing or regional ACW conferences. People we know by e-mail address before we know their faces. At least that's the tangible audience.

In the editorial board discussions for the 2.1 Issue, the question of audience was linked (there's that word again) to questions of content and of the journal's name. Ted Nellen suggested a useful change in our name, from Kairos: A Journal for Teachers of Writing in Webbed Environments to Kairos: A Webbed Journal for Teachers of Writing. Whether the name change takes place, Ted's alternative is the better way to help us imagine our audience.

That is, we don't want to exclude writing teachers who have yet to teach on the Internet. As we know, most teachers do teach in a hypertextual environment, they just don't all do it with computer technology, but the traits hypertext exploits (when hypertext creators allow it)--integrated thinking, the reader-as-writer, synthesizing varied sources, contextualizing one's thoughts, collaborating with other writers--existed long before computers made it possible to both capture and unleash those intellectual dynamics. Thus, we want to include every writing teacher who has access to the Internet. While many of the contributions will naturally focus on Internet-based teaching, such as the Coverweb on MOOs in education from issue 1.2, other pieces might focus on local area networks, or the growing use of Web technology on Intranets.

Production Costs and Models

One of the wonderful things about opting to be an online journal is that Kairos  eliminates many of the costs associated with print--paper purchasing, printing and mailing costs, restrictions on article length due simply to those costs. However, in many ways Kairos  incurs higher production costs on the layout and design end, both for editors and writers. Since Kairos  seeks primarily to publish native hypertext, there is a greater burden on both writers and editors in paying attention to the layout and design of the work; those aspects of publishing and producing the pieces, in many instances, are as important as the actual words the writer(s) put on the page(s) because the rhetoric of hypertext draws attention to its own layout, how its nodes and lexia playout in space. Unlike print models, there are not very many internalized hypertext models for members of our field.

In preparing to write a paper for College English we are likely to read many essays, some of them from past College English issues. As we grow into composition, rhetoric, and computers and writing studies, we absorb specialized lanaguages, academic tropes, rhetorical strategies for citing sources, and a feel for what an academic essay is. By the time we near the completion of our advanced degrees, we cease to be the freshmen David Bartholomae described as "inventing the university." We instead become the university, inhabited by its forms and ways of knowing.

Writing in hypertext changes us, forces us to reconcile with what we have become. When writing a print essay we don't even have to think anymore of where to look for a model, inhabited as we are by the genres we've read, but if one wants to write a native hypertext for Kairos , where does one look?

Until we all manage to reach the proficieny of a Michael Joyce, Greg Ulmer, Carolyn Guyer, Nancy Kaplan, Stuart Moulthrop, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Jay Bolter and a handful of others, we'll find ourselves frequently asking questions and making tentative decisions, of trying out different hypertextual shapes, of moving among models, of writing hypertext with a print paradigm until we grow enough in the form, and it grows in us, for it to feel natural, to be what we've come to call, borrowing from Moulthrop, "native hypertext." We will ask, what is a native hypertext? Something more than an essay with links? Can you describe its features? How should it be organized? Is there a limit to the length of a given page? The answers, at least for now, remain happily tentative. Asking the questions over and again is fun. The need to ask also destabilizes a bit the hierarchy that places editorial board members over authors; when all goes well, we are placed with them.

"Peer Review" ... The Next Iteration

Another area of concern to the editorial board, along with what actually constitutes native hypertext is the question of peer review. One purpose of Kairos  is to provide an online journal which takes full advantage of Internet forms for scholarly participation while at the same time providing for contributors the rigorous type of peer review that promotion, tenure and hiring committees demand. To be blunt, we want to be taken seriously as a site for quality scholarship, and believe peer review essential to attaining that goal.

Peer review is honorable and necessary. It gives authors a glimpse of their audience--colleagues in their field who can help them massage a contribution into better shape. We know that peer review can be abused; the "blind read" can turn colleagues into pit bulls who do no more than tear and gnash a piece to bits. It's an odd habit. When we teach peer review, we make sure to steer students from savage to constructive criticism. But too many blind reviewers neglect to practice what they teach. So it goes.

But so it doesn't have to go. Kairos  seeks to maintain the best in peer review--colleagiality, respect, encouragement, sound advice, and honesty--while at the same time avoiding the imperious dismissal and disdainful rejection harried readers can fall habit to. Kairos , in addition to constructive peer reviews, alters the peer review process for different types of submissions. There are four main categories of content in Kairos: Coverwebs; Features; Reviews; and Reports and Correspondence.

Constructing the Coverweb

CoverWebs are perhaps the most ambitious element in Kairos . A Coverweb is not one main hypertext written at one site by one or two authors, it is instead a constellation of pieces written at many sites by multiple authors. By using the ability of hypertext on the Internet to link to other documents, we hope to break through the limits of print collaborations--which while wonderful and rewarding, often result in single-argument, single-voice essays.

Further, a particular Coverweb's genesis might occur because Kairos  receives many submissions around the same theme; it can occur in response to a specific call from a specific editorial board member or contributor who would like to coordinate one; it can occur because the editor commissions contributions for a Coverweb from specific colleagues; or it can occur from a group of writers generating their own idea for a coverweb and then contacting Kairos. Since each scenario carries its own dynamic, how the coverweb is coordinated and reviewed will vary. Bringing a Coverweb together is perhaps the most gratifying challenge an editorial board member may engage. The Coverweb Editor and Co-ordinator(s) will usually author the Coverweb Bridge, the piece which gives the readers an overview of the Coverweb.

There are two important aspects to the Coverweb, besides of course, standards for good scholarship: one is that the disparate contributions are integrated, meaning the contributors must keep in touch, not only with the Coverweb co-ordinator but also with one another; and two, by keeping in touch, contributors act as commentators and peer reviewers for one another's contributions. The goal is to create appropriate cross links among the Coverweb elements and to benefit from the feedback of the other contributors. It is an exercise in collaborative scholarship. However, because the form is so new, and because the technology for creating the collaboration is subject to pitfalls--misread messages, lost e-mail, occasionally down servers--the Coverweb coordinator has to work very carefully to make sure everyone is clear on what will be expected and when.

Finishing the Features

Feature pieces are single web pieces usually written on one site by one author. By one author we don't mean necessarily a single writer; one piece can have any number of writers. The gist is that the piece is presented as one contribution to Kairos, much the way a single essay, no matter how many writers collaborate, is one contribution in a print journal.

For a feature web, the editorial review process involves two tiers. The first tier while not quite blind, is done with averted eyes. After the contributor notifies the editor that the piece is ready for review, the editor then tells the entire editorial board to review the contribution. Editorial board members send their comments to the editor-in-chief; Mick collates the responses and sends the complete array to all members of the editorial board for an open discussion. This is blind only in that the contributor is not part of the discussion nor privy to the comments upon which the dicussion turns. Editorial board members, in this dialogue, try to reach consensus on the piece.

The key difference between this blind review process and that practiced by most print journals should be noted. In print the editor will usually forward copies of the essay to readers who comment on the piece and send the comments back to the editor, typically with an accept, accept with revisions, or reject decision. The editor collects those and depending on the tally notifies the writer, mailing back to him or her (or them) the decision along with the comments and marked up essays of the readers. Since each reader works in isolation their comments are returned unfiltered to the writer(s). Readers do not usually know what other readers have said. They also do not know who the writer of the piece is. The writer does not know who their reader will be. Because the editor reviews reader's comments, and then forwards them to the writer with a recommendation based upon those comments, there is no editorial discussion among readers.

The Kairos editorial discussion--conducted by e-mail--of submissions, is a challenging and exciting process. It reintroduces the editorial board to one another and it helps define other issues which cannot be separated from the quality of the work under consideration. What is a hypertext? How is this appropriate to Kairos  and its readers? Who are our readers? What balance of consideration of theory to explained practice do we want in our contributions? Should all pieces have a similar look to start? What kinds of links aren't acceptable?

This dialogic consideration of submissions is crucial both because Kairos'  genres and forms aren't as set as those of print journals and because it will help keep them from ever getting that way. Kairos  seeks to be a dependable site of quality scholarship written in WWW-hypertext, but by dependable we don't mean predictable or fixed. We need to be open to innovation, and reconsideration of our own definitions. By having a diverse editorial board that chooses submissions by discussion and consensus, Kairos  can achieve both goals. Thus the need for the first tier of review to be blind to the writer--so editorial board members can speak frankly; yet open for discussion among editors.

The editor will, after a consensus is reached, notify the web writer(s) of the board's decision. Rejected pieces will receive a full response, one designed to encourage the writer; it will include a summary of the reasons for the rejection. All accepted pieces will be assigned an editorial board member, or two, who will serve as the primary consultant(s) for the second tier of review.

An important final note on blind review: it's obviously not as blind as print journals. Since contributors can look up the list of editorial board members, they can surmise who will be reading their webs. They may also have access to records kept on their web site to how many users come to their site and from which servers. The technology doesn't allow for blindness. Also, since the submissions are accepted and read over the WWW, reviewers can't help but know the names of contributors. There are no doubt ways around this--except perhaps accepting contributions on a floppy disk or having the editor ftp contributions to a server space set aside for reviews only, thus removing the tell-tale URL (this would require all self-references and links to home pages and e-mail to be disabled).

That's a clumsy process, however, and one that for now, would cause more problems than it solves. The editorial board believes it can provide complete and honest critiques of all submissions; we also believe that knowing who the contributor is, and having them know who we are, requires us to be both more thorough and more judicious.

Tier Two: Editor as Mentor

Once an editorial board member has been assigned to work on a contribution with its author(s), the editorial board member has two roles. One, to help the author meet any requests for revision the editorial board saw as necessary, and two, to provide any needed feedback and suggestions on shaping the web as the revision occurs. The editorial board member becomes a person the author can work with, whose opinions the author can draw upon. The goal is to establish a collaborative and supportive author/board member partnership that helps the author get the contribution into publishable shape. The preferred method is for editorial board members and authors to reach agreement on how to meet editorial board requests. The dynamics of this process we leave to editorial board members and writers to work out; we can't predict, nor do we dare impose, detailed protocols. We trust all involved will find an agreeable way to work.

Reviews, Reports, and Correspondence

Kairos  webs include reviews of other websites, e-mail lists, and the new "PaperText" section. The Sections Editor will both commission reviews and accept unsolicited submissions of reviews. Reviewers deal directly with the Sections Editor, and on occasion, with other reviewers. For example, the Spring '97 semester issue of Kairos  contains debut "PaperText" section, a collection of reviews of print books written about the Internet. These reviews are linked in a bridge piece written by one of the co-editors. The reviewers also looked over one another's work, sending comments back and forth to one another. In effect, writing the reviews in this case functioned similarly to a CoverWeb.

Kairos  webs also include reports from conferences, notices of upcoming events, and e-mail to the editors. E-mail is both static--saved messages archived in a given issue--and dynamic--linked to net.thread discussion software.

How Does it all Work?

This process works with large doses of patience and humor. Mick Doherty, our editor-in-chief does have a method to his madness. Here's an annotated eavesdrop from a message sent to the editorial board just at the end of the Tier One reviews for the March 11, 1997 issue:

Hello Kairoi ...

Apologia for my virtual absence; after NCTE, Sandye and I got trapped in a little town named Bryan, Ohio by a snowstorm that drove us to a Holiday Inn for refuge. And not a computer in sight! (Or, perhaps that should be "on site!" ...)

[stuff deleted]

Carbone's note: We enter into this missive a few days before Thanksgiving, after just having completed a Tier One review; for those whose work has been accepted, it's about eight weeks or so before the Tier Two deadline. And now, back to Mick's note, where he says,

First, let's revisit the deadline for submissions. Specific editorial assignments will be preliminarily made in the day or two following Thanksgiving break, and formalized *on* December 15.

Carbone's note: December 15 is about month prior to the deadline of January 15, giving Tier Two editorial board member and writer teams about 4-5 weeks to work on the contributions. Between this e-mail and December 16, writers of accepted submissions have time to get their pieces into shape for a Tier Two reading.

I am in the habit of posting a "Dummy TOC" every couple of weeks beginning with the day after submission deadline (12/16 in this case). The original Dummy TOCs for each issue are startlingly different from the final product, of course!

To summarize, here's a sample timeline for an issue.
  1. Mick receives and previews queries, rough drafts, and other submissions in all kinds of degrees of readiness all year long.
  2. We publish twice per year. Once in Spring, to coincide with the CCCC's and once in the Fall to coincide with a pre-determined conference or event.
  3. Shortly after an issue is out, Mick notifies editorial board members with the tentative list of contributions for the next issue. This is usually at least four or five months before the deadline for the next publication.
  4. Two weeks after this notice, editorial boar members will receive a list of URLs to be visited as part of the 'blind', first tier reviews. Mick will create a web page with these URLs and some annotations about the state of the submissions.
  5. Editorial board members visit the sites and e-mail Mick with their impressions and recommendations. Mick collates these responses and makes copies available to all board members via e-mail.
  6. The first tier discussions are usually the most lively and philosophical. These are important because the second tier editorial mentorships are geared toward making sure the piece gets in. The purpose of the first tier is really to search for pieces--and authors--that are both of good quality and likely to be writers we can work with collaboratively.
  7. Mick issues a tentative table of contents that lists both contributions and the editorial board members assigned to the writers.
  8. After four weeks, writers and editorial board members should be reporting in with their URLs. This leaves about two months to publication. The remaining two months are devoted to planning layout, checking URLs and links in the pieces, proof-reading, and other essential details.
  9. We publish, and the whole process starts over again, probably just a little differently than the last time we tried it out ...

"Differently ..."
Who Reads?
Costs and Models Peer Review
Features Tier Two
How's it work? Contact Nick Carbone
Front node of the webtext version