Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Third Principle: Electronic journals will have the opportunity to expand their curatorial mandate include different forms of publication.


3a) Past the essay model.

The traditional journal collects and publishes only three sorts of essays: the editorial, the peer-reviewed essay of new research in 15-50 pages, and the book review. There is nothing platonic about these forms: they evolved from the culture of eighteenth-century coffee-house journals, reviewing the books in circulation, and the canonization of eighteenth-century essayists like Addison and Steele in the English curriculum of higher education at the end of the nineteenth century. They are considered the template for developing a reasoned, supported argument, and so the metric for measuring the ability to research, argue, and write.

3b) Broader forms of inclusion.

The traditional canon of essays, editorials, and book reviews has excluded much of other forms of scholarship, the circulation of whose best models are of value to the scholarly community, including: syllabi, subject division lists for qualifying exams, lectures, paragraph-sized notes/queries, lists of relevant new electronic tools, reviews of electronic tools, reports on best methods in the archives, lectures, and blog-sized opinions about exciting new directions for the field. An electronic journal has no reason to exclude a twenty-minute audio segment, a selection of maps shared on Slideshare.net, or a video segment of a conference paper shared on Youtube. Properly curated, any of these categories would be of immense disciplinary interest, worthy of collection in a journal stream.

3c) Against exclusive publication.

It is contrary to utility, in the world of web 2.0, to maintain exclusive publication rights on an article. Exclusivity of publication places a text in only one domain. Yet non-exclusive text gets reproduced and recopied, circulated around the internet, and rapidly floats onward to mimetic influence in other cultures, excerpted and referenced. For every web 2.0 author, non-exclusivity and easy republication is ideal. For every would-be-idea-of-influence in the age of web 2.0, easy reduplication is crucial.

Exclusivity has been the format followed by most online journals, which seek to mimic in form the traditional journal: one essay, neatly formatted, looking as professional as possible. Exclusive re-publication suggests the old model of authority, and is superficially reassuring to editors without actually promoting the real functions of the journal: disseminating ideas and establishing the authority of the journal-as-canon and disciplinary metric.

Significantly more desirable would be setting a different precedent: for all disseminated forms of the text to advertise the article's accreditation as having been curated by inclusion in the journal-as-stream. (the text might end with, for instance, "please recirculate with this citation: by-Professor-Bonnie-Wheeler, SMU, 2009; officially tagged in 'Arthuriana,' [link] May 2010") Advertising the link between article and journal in many reproduced/cross-referenced copies would function both to the benefit of the article and the prestige of the journal.

Again, if the dissemination model is followed, the journal homepage need not include reprints of the articles themselves: merely links to the original blogspace or university-housed-pdf or slideshow where the material was originally posted, with all of its links, illustrations, video, and wallpaper as the author originally presented it. The journal's role is reduced to curation, not to presentaiton. Not having a use for a graphic designer, typesetter, or illustrations layout person, the journal's workflow will be considerably reduced.


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Over the next week, we're offering some tentative principles for rethinking journals by way of sparking conversation. At first, these thoughts will take the form of blog entries like this one, where visitors can add comments at the end of every note. We welcome your reactions -- especially sets of alternative principles or concerns that may have been overlooked. At the end of the week, we'll be integrating the original principles with your comments into a wiki. Wikis, as you probably know from wikipedia, are pretty good at synthesizing the opinion of a group. They're also not much harder to use than Microsoft Word. The wiki will form an evolving, multi-authored document that will have some permanence and the ability to slow-evolve to reflect the diversity of concerns and strategies on the table. The responses you offer here, the wiki, and the long-term conversation will, we hope, produce a useful overview of the diversity of opinions, offering a substantial statement on the profession for use when the CELJ next convenes live.