LoggingOn So Ya Wanna Be An Editorial Boarder?  by Nick Carbone

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.

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