Feminist Journal Editing: Does This Job Include Benefits?

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In the academic world, the issue of scholarly publication in journals always is a timely one for discussion. In my case, this is an especially opportune moment to reflect on journal editing and publishing. After 16 years as founding editor, and co-editor (with Cynthia Carter) of the international, peer-reviewed journal Feminist Media Studies (FMS), I stepped down from the position on December 31, 2013. Although the first issue of FMS did not appear until 2001, I began my work as editor in 1998. This is not an unusual situation because creating a new journal is difficult; in our case, the proposal was sent to thirty-some reviewers, and, once we were able to call for our first submissions, it took considerable effort to position the journal so that well-qualified authors would consider submitting their work to a largely unknown journal.

We did have access to professional marketing personnel, however, because the idea for Feminist Media Studies originated with Rebecca Barden, senior editor for Routledge at the time. The publishing behemoth Taylor & Francis Ltd bought Routledge within a couple of months of our deciding to move ahead with the journal in 1998. Good news? We benefitted in some respects from working with professionals who had the resources to market the journal by creating attractive flyers and the like; yet, a time of transition in which one publisher is being acquired by another publisher is not an ideal time to launch a new journal. The various delays set a pattern for the first years of the journal: downsizing and Routledge journal publishers, managing editors, production editors, and marketing staff being replaced by new publishers, managing editors, production editors, and marketing staff. Despite having come to an agreement about launching FMS in 1998, contracts weren’t signed until 1999 because of the buy-out of Routledge by Taylor & Francis Ltd. The first issue of FMS was published in 2001, with a launch party held at an International Communication Association conference, and, as I recall, except for the support of our editorial board and ‘Commentary and Criticism’ editors, we were very much on our own prior to working with T&F in order to plan this coming-out party. I wouldn’t hesitate to note that FMS’s success in the early years was more due to efforts of the editors, the editorial board, and the reviewers than to anyone in the employ of Routledge/Taylor & Francis Ltd. Although one approach to launching a new journal is to put it in the hands of a publisher’s most qualified employees, Taylor & Francis Ltd appeared to have taken a different approach, assigning to the journal a managing editor who was either hostile or impossible to communicate with in a coherent fashion, a production editor who seemed to send our manuscripts to the very worst copyeditors on the list, and a marketing contact who sent us potential journal covers that included one which had a bright pink background and what appeared to be an image of Madonna on it after Cindy Carter and I specified exactly the design and colors that we wished to feature on the cover (ultimately, my partner David Sholle and I designed the cover of FMS at home on his computer and sent it to T&F marketing for some graphic tweaks to ensure consistency of line widths). During the journal’s second year of publication, I wrote a lengthy email to the managing editor of FMS (our second, very qualified managing editor), who took over after the first one accepted a position elsewhere–a message that I think of as ‘the last straw email’ because it began with the words ‘This the last straw’. There is no need to recount the details of what had occurred; it was just one more mistake in a long series of them. My email prompted an immediate incoming, trans-oceanic phone call from our managing editor in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, a change of production editors, and a promise that manuscripts for FMS issues now would be copyedited by the best that they had in their arsenal. Copy-editing and formatting remain part of the hard work of journal editing, however; copyeditors, rather understandably, neither understand the field of feminist media studies nor are able to keep up with T&F’s regular changes in style guidelines, and less intelligibly, publishers and managing editors who, unlike Rebecca Barden, have little knowledge of media and cultural studies except in the sense of knowing which scholars would make the ‘who’s who’ list. The latter is endemic to academic publishing these days.

In this case, the squeaky wheel did get some additional grease. In fairness, I should add that, once we were past the ‘growing pains’ stage, almost without exception, the people with whom we have worked closely at Routledge/Taylor and Francis Ltd have been supportive and professional, most trying to get by in the same neoliberal, bottom line environment as were we. As I have learned, for employees in journal publishing–as in publishing of any sort–hierarchies always are in place, and while work can be quite precarious, it also is very fluid with the most talented individuals tending to move up the ladder or on to positions elsewhere rather quickly. Work in journal publishing seems largely feminized; during the past 16 years, we have worked with only two men, one in marketing and one in production. The sort of hierarchies that exist between publishers and managing editors and those who report to them–for example, marketing personnel and production staff–does not exist between between publishing personnel and editors, at least in academic publishing, because we are not salaried employees of the publisher. Over the years, our primary interaction with the publishers and managing editors of FMS has involved negotiation regarding numbers of issues per year, numbers of pages per year, the amount of editorial expenses paid, and adequate promotion of the journal. Besides staying within the annual page per volume limit, we encountered only one real mandate, communicated prior to launching the journal: because FMS was a new journal with two early-career, relatively unknown co-editors, the editorial board had to include names which would lend weight to the importance of the journal. ‘Big names’ were added to the board, and while most would review an article occasionally, a few made clear that their contribution to the journal would be to have their respective names listed on the inside front cover of the journal. One early board member, a renowned film scholar who had accepted our invitation, asked to be taken off of the board after a few years because he felt that it was inappropriate to be included if he had no intention of reviewing manuscripts. Many years later, the composition of the board is a matter for the editors to decide, with no intervention from the publisher.

The composition of the editorial board remains a critical matter to address, however. Members of the board should have produced enough quality scholarship to be capable of reviewing submitted manuscripts as well as have research interests that are consistent with contemporary feminist research so that they are familiar with the substance of the submissions that they are asked to review. Nevertheless, our approach to locating reviewers for each submission always has been to do our best to assign the paper to reviewers with considerable knowledge about its subject. For that reason, we frequently have had to ask scholars who are not on the editorial board to review for us. We are fortunate to have numerous  scholars as expert reviewers despite their not being on the editorial board. For their efforts, they receive the same coupon for 30 percent off Routledge books as do the editorial board members, not much of an incentive. It’s remarkable that these reviewers are so committed to the field of feminist media studies and intellectual inquiry in general to have been so generous in lending their time and sharing constructive comments about the quality of, and areas of improvement needed in, the scholarship of others.

The most pressing issue regarding the composition of the editorial board has to do with representation of a diverse, international, and transnationally-oriented group of scholars to act as advisors to, and reviewers for, FMS. Cindy Carter and I regularly had conversations about the need to further internationalize the journal, not least because we are two Caucasian women, one from the US and one from the UK. Thinking through what goes into establishing a journal as one which, in reality, deserves to be described as international is an exercise in global academic knowledge flow. If an editorial board is composed of scholars who are most similar to authors in respect to ‘race’/ethnicity, nation, sexual orientation, and social and class status, there is no question but that the ‘model editorial board member’ would be female, white, straight, from the US, UK, or Canada, and most interested in performing analyses of contemporary, generally ‘postfeminist’, popular culture texts. From the beginning, however, we took a different approach in the hope that the journal would appeal to more feminist scholars who did not fit this profile–as authors and readers. For this reason, FMS’s editorial board members are a diverse group, and we agreed not to rest on our laurels, but, rather, adopt ‘we can do better’ as our mantra in respect to representing feminist media scholars and studies internationally.

Still, despite our having four editorial board members from Africa as well as one editorial board member who lives in Latin America and several members who are from Latin America or who are Latinas born in the US, we have published three articles (two by the same author) written by African feminist scholars within the past 16 years, and, soon, FMS will publish the first article by a feminist scholar who lives in Latin American, in Brazil to be specific. In the inaugural issue of FMS, Aida Opoku-Mensah noted that while feminist media theory in communication may exist in abundance in the western world, ‘in Africa, feminist media research is rarely undertaken…. From a scholastic perspective, the academic discipline of feminist media studies is critically absent from most mass communication departments in Africa, or is offered as a peripheral area of interest by some gender/women’s departments and institutions in universities’ (Opoku-Mensah 2001, p. 26). She attributes this to the slow growth of democratization processes in Africa. In the 15 years since Opoku-Mensah wrote of the dearth of feminist media scholarship in Africa, we have received only one submission from Africa (another, by the same author, was invited for the 10th anniversary issue while Opoku-Mensah’s piece was invited for the inaugural issue). The Brazilian scholar whose article is forthcoming in FMS also is the first person from Latin America to submit an article to the journal since its inception. The lack of submissions from Africa and Latin America is especially unfortunate because FMS’s policy is to allow scholars to submit manuscripts written in languages other than English and have the manuscript reviewed by someone fluent in the language used by the author, with reviewer comments written in both English and the language of the author. If the manuscript is accepted, the author is responsible for the translation to English because the journal has no budget for translations.

At the time that I left my position as co-editor of FMS, Taylor and Francis Ltd had been bought in 2004 by Informa plc, a multi-national conglomerate that specializes in publishing and conferences in areas that include maritime and transport, yacht shows, finance, real estate, health insurance, telecoms, and law. The journal is increasing in frequency from three to six issues per year, and the editorial stipend has increased from embarrassingly small to somewhat less than the editors deserve. Taylor and Francis Ltd may put FMS forward for Thomson Reuters Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) consideration, which would put the journal ‘on the (gender- and otherwise-biased, conventional) map’ for the determination of impact factor. There is no doubt that the fact that FMS does not have ISI status has affected the number of submissions that we have received. A number of countries, including some in sub-Saharan Africa such as South Africa, have educational institutions and Departments of Education with lists of approved journals, with ‘approved’ being associated with Thomson Reuters ISI accreditation. The issue of ‘impact factor’ and Thomson Reuter’s ISI role in determining this are so compromised that it is my primary reason for being pleased to be an ex-editor.

So, what have been the benefits of creating and editing FMS? I already have suggested that money is not an incentive. I have been reminded several times, mostly by academic administrators, that I should not have taken on the job of editing FMS in the first place, a few years after completion of my doctoral degree. Generally, their remarks are accompanied by statements implying that I became editor of FMS early in my career because I did not have enough experience with ‘the system’ to know that this was a bad idea career-wise. I admit naiveté on a number of fronts, but I cannot capitulate to this argument. I am well aware that the conventional academic interpretation is that I have spent much of the past 16 years improving the quality of the work of others—in addition to ‘weeding out’ the bad—instead of attending to my own scholarship. I am no martyr, and I knew that my choice to become editor of FMS might affect my own scholarly productivity and, in addition, that journal editorship is under-appreciated at most colleges and universities. I understood that I was taking a risk because I indeed comprehended the systemic constraints of the university. Still, being a feminist often requires electing to make a political commitment rather than following a set of (often arbitrary) institutionalized rules about what counts as important or unimportant academic labor. I am convinced that FMS is—and will remain—my primary contribution to the field of feminist media studies, because it was and is a contribution to the field of feminist media studies. I maintain that, other than the occasional ‘special issue’ on ‘gender’ or ‘women’, the mainstream journals that dominate the field of media and communications have tended to take a tokenistic approach to feminist media scholarship. In 2001, its inaugural year, Feminist Media Studies created a space for feminist media scholars to publish their impressive work at a time when the fate of an open access, online feminist journal easily could have been condemnation to obscurity.

I want to deviate here from my own story, all of which is background to my playing devil’s advocate in respect to the more presumptuous writings of advocates of open access journal publishing, with the caveat that I support open access publishing when it, so to speak, ‘walks the talk’. Certainly, when Taylor and Francis Ltd ‘support’ open access by offering ‘Green’ Open Access, pre-publisher-formatted with an 18 month embargo period as well as a ‘Gold’ Open Access for a fee of $2,950 so that one pays to have one’s own work in open access status from the time of publisher-formatted publication, this is a co-optation of the principles of ‘open access’, tying the latter to a pay-to-publish model. But, some critically oriented publications have associated ‘feminist publishing’ with ‘open access publishing’, wherein these appear to coincide as forms of democratic publishing, as in a well-known article by Craig, Turcotte, and Coombe (2011). These authors argue that feminism, like open access publication, is relational, challenging the liberal, masculinist conception of autonomous individuals as independent bearers of rights against others and the state. Instead, they suggest, masculinist self-interest (as embedded in copyright law) should be overturned in favor of ‘encapsulat[ing] collective choices about the values that members of a society hold dear’ (p. 11). As the authors write:

Accessibility and communicative exchange are necessary elements of knowledge, creativity and existence in democratic environments. This conception dislodges the dominant, modern, neo-liberal conception of intellectual property rights in which relations of communication are effectively conceptualized as relations of marketplace exchange. It indexes a commitment to a lively public sphere of common deliberation, open dialogue, and the egalitarian quest for greater mutual understanding and social progress dependent upon the combined energies of participants mutually committed to improving the commonweal. Open access and relational feminism, then, serve to dislodge the individuated and economic rationale behind dominant intellectual property regimes and offer ways to reconceptualize how the author and creative works are situated within our social, economic and political economies. (p. 31)

While this argument is compelling and, in many respects, consistent with my suggestion that the benefits and pleasures of feminist editing was because it was for ‘the field’, the Craig et al. article provides us with quite an idealized notion of both feminism and open access publication and treats these as though they operated at the same conceptual level and with a fair degree of homogeneity. We need to keep in mind other considerations:

1. As suggested by Adina Levin, Craig et al. fail to critique the boundary-creation that is part of the process of collaborative cultural communities. The academic hierarchy offers no progressive alternative to the ‘way things are’. At the end of her five-year term as editor of Signs, Ruth-Ellen Boetcher Joeres (1997), summarized her (1990-1995) experience with the journal as one in which feminist scholarship is undermined by the tendency of the academy to tame grassroots ideas and legitimize accepted ways of thinking; whatever is insurgent won’t remain as such for a very long period of time. Universities and their progressive journals, including those which are feminist, have attempted to challenge the arbitrary relationship between themselves and the rest of the world; now, however, universities cannot hide their deference to impact factor machines such as Thomson-Reuters ISI, and there is no compelling reason for them to do so. We are corporatized and entrenched within the university, after all.

2. Bias against fields/disciplines tends to prevail when it comes to issues of impact factor. A 2013 National Communication Association (NCA) report suggests that there is a bias in impact factor data because media and communication studies journals are not taken into consideration to the degree that is warranted. Although Linda Putnam has been incredibly dedicated to proving the prominence of communications journals through the Council on Communication Associations, there is a clear bias against the field—or, rather, against persons affiliated with media and communication studies—as opposed to scholars from ‘acceptable’ fields who take cultural/critical approaches to media scholarship (association journals exempted, in general, from this exile). A recent interview with Dr. Eva Erman, editor of Ethics and Global Politics, seems to provide evidence that an open access journal can be successful in attracting prominent authors and, in addition, be accepted by Thomson-Reuters as a worthy journal with an impact factor of 0.808 (in more recent reports, the impact factor is 0.391) under current impact factor considerations (The Disorder of Things 2013). Yet, a quick scan of the journal’s issues since its inception in 2007 reveal that less than 10 percent of its articles have been written by women/feminist authors, despite the feminist inclinations of its editor.

3. Whether we are discussing feminist editorship, authorship, publishers, modes of production, etc., the literature suggests that there is a masculinist bias against feminist authors, except in situations where we have a feminist publication, on a feminist topic, and with feminist editors; this is the primary recipe for women/feminists to be represented (Meredith 2013: Hart and Metcalfe 2010). Women’s Studies Quarterly and Feminist Studies, the first two academic feminist publications, both originating in 1972, are still alive and kicking. Yet, the masculinism of journal publishing continues. We make small steps, but research on journal publications indicates that men tend to publish more than women and to get more credit for their publications, because of reasons that range from women’s ‘double shift’, to the tendency for men to be listed as first authors, for men to be cited by men, to be more oriented to quantity over quality, to produce more quantitative research as opposed to women’s tendency to pursue qualitative research, and for most colleges, universities, and scholarly associations—often despite their formal policies—to privilege quantitative studies.

4. Additionally, it is necessary to understand the complex mechanisms that distinguish journals from one another, to consider, for example, questions including whether the journal is deemed elite merely because it is aligned with a scholarly association, what is the price to be paid for maintaining independence from associations and not being considered important enough to be cited in elite indexes such as ISI (thus dissuading authors from publishing in the journal), and what are the challenges of publishing out-of-the-mainstream content—for example, feminist and queer theory—regardless of whether the publication mode is open access or more traditional in operation. As numerous commentators have addressed, publishing in a feminist journal comes with risks because there always is the chance that a publication will be viewed as lacking in prestige and importance if the journal is interpreted as less rigorous than mainstream journals. Will this situation change if open access publishing is embraced as more legitimate and open access online publication is viewed as equivalent to hard copy publishing by prestigious presses?

Within the terms of an either/or debate pitting traditional ‘locked-down’ journals against those which are of the open access, online type, FMS, as one might surmise, is part of a publishing regime which actively works against the democratic sharing of ideas. Because I support open access journal publishing, it is not my purpose to defend FMS within the terms of this debate but rather to address the too-simple equation of ‘open access publishing’ with ‘democracy’ and ‘locked-down journals’ with ‘silencing’. The stark language of this debate obscures a number of important considerations that associate ‘open access’ and ‘locked-down’ publishing. Of course, neither of these forms of publishing are able to overcome basic circumstances in which ‘access’ requires literacy, English is nearly the official language of publishing, and ‘online access’ has little meaning to most persons in ‘lesser developed’ countries. It is not likely that any mode of publishing is capable of confronting the barriers of illiteracy and the global dominance of the English language. Open access publishing, however, does have the potential to open up a space in which scholarly ideas and important research can be shared at little or no cost if academics have access to new information technology. The space in which we learn from one another expands with open access. And, it does have the potential to improve the lives of those with no academic connections, for example, if important medical research is shared which results in improved health, articles on more participatory, democratic approaches to gender and information and communication technology for development (ICTD) are published online and then put into practice in various parts of the world, or readers are compelled to act on issues of inequality and injustice because of the ideas that they encounter online–and not only in the directional flow of information from Global North to Global South but also in a way that involves South to North and South to South flows.

The Benefits of the Job of Feminist Editor

I hope that I’ve made a reasonable case for the ups-and-downs of feminist editing in a manner that does not seem to be promoting self-sacrifice. If feminist editing is associated with the notion of ‘the common good’, we might move away from individualistic, competitive approaches to publishing, but, under the current system, this is an unlikely scenario (Andre and Velasquez 2013, np). Here are the main benefits that I’ve been fortunate to experience as an editor of FMS: 1) I have learned to work in a most productive manner with others (thank you, Cindy Carter and Radha Hegde!) after years of working alone (Radha and I worked together prior to her replacing me as editor); 2) I have been in contact with people who have had an impact on my scholarship, past and future; and 3) and related to this, and importantly, I’ve been in contact with and/or met feminists with whom I otherwise would have no relationship. Finally, 4) with the exception of our first issue and anniversary issue, I am proud that we’ve maintained our integrity by not treating anyone as though she or he were more important than another prospective author. I should add that, with both ‘invited’ issues, FMS has attempted to include a diverse group of authors at various stages of their academic careers, as well as activists with no university connections.

I am sure that the open access dialogues will continue, but I do think that ‘open access’ has announced its success too early. I want to be here when ‘open access’ reaches its promise. In the meantime, I am pleased that, despite its challenges, journal editing can be a mixed-model that questions “the way things are’ and a political commitment, regardless of whether it is in the form of unsalaried labor that enhances knowledge with resources from a mega-conglomerate or unsalaried labor that is performed by smaller-scale, open access publication outlets that recognize that, although in the best of all worlds, knowledge workers deserve appropriate compensation, the results of knowledge work should be free.


Please take note that I am the sole author of this article and have not consulted with Cindy Carter or Radha Hegde about it. The views expressed are mine and may not represent the perspectives of the current editors of Feminist Media Studies.

References

  1. Andre, Claire and Velasquez, Manuel. 2013. The Common Good vs. Individualism. The Markkatule Center for Applied Ethics. Vol. 5, no. 2, np https://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/iie/v5n1/common.html accessed January 26, 2014.
  2. Boetcher Joeres, Ruth-Ellen. 1997. The Paradox of a Feminist Academic Journal. The Yale University Journal of Criticism, Vol. 10, No. 2: pp. 439-443.
  3. Craig, Carys J., Turcotte, Joseph F, Coombe, Rosemary J. What’s Feminist About Open Access?  A Relational Approach to Copyright in the Academy. Feminist@Law, Vol. 1, no. 1: 1-35.
  4. Hart, Jenny, and Metcalfe, Amy. 2010. Whose Web of Knowledge is it Anyway? Citing Feminist Research in the Field of Higher Education.  The Journal of Higher Education, Vol.  81, No. 2: 140—163.  Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University.
  5. The Disorder of Things. 2013. What Does It Mean to Edit an Open Access Journal?. http://thedisorderofthings.com/2013/10/15/what-does-it-mean-to-become-an-open-access-journal/ accessed January 5, 2013.
  6. Levin, Alina. 2011. A Feminist Argument for Open Access Publishing. BookBlog. http://www.alevin.com/?p=2643 accessed December 15, 2013.
  7. Meredith, Tami. 2013. A Journal of One’s Own. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, Vol. 7, No. 4: 354-360.
  8. National Communication Association. 2013. Impact Factors, Journal Quality, and Communication Journals: A Report for the Council of Communication Associations. Washington, D. C.: National Communication Association.
  9. Opoku-Mensah, Aida. 2001. Marching On: African Feminist Media Studies. Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1: 25-34.

—CITATION—
McLaughlin, L. (2014) Feminist Journal Editing: Does This Job Include Benefits? Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, No.4. doi:10.7264/N3N58JP6

This article has been openly peer reviewed at Ada Review.

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Lisa McLaughlin

Lisa McLaughlin is an Associate Professor with appointments in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film and the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program at Miami University-Ohio, USA. She has published on transnational feminism, the public sphere, political economy, and women, work, and information technologies. She is founding co-editor, with Cynthia Carter, of Feminist Media Studies, an international, peer-reviewed journal which she co-edited for 16 years. She has published articles in journals including Media, Culture and Society, Sociological Review, and Television and New Media, along with a number of chapters in edited collections. Recent publications include Current Perspectives in Feminist Media Studies (co-edited with Cynthia Carter, 2013) and The Routledge Companion to Media and Gender (co-edited with Cynthia Carter and Linda Steiner, 2014).

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Feminist Journal Editing: Does This Job Include Benefits?