August 21, 2015 | Graham Walton, Assistant Director (Academic and User Services), Library, and Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Information Management, Loughborough University, UK

Eighteen years of being an editor: reflections on the role


When I became a journal editor in 1998, I naively made the assumption that the work was primarily about deciding which papers should be published and in what order. After being an editor for eighteen years I now realize that, yes, it is important to establish which articles are to appear, but editors also have to be strategists, opportunists, collaborators, mediators, jugglers, and gatekeepers.

Strategist: to me, the strategist role is the pivotal one if the medium- to long-term success of the journal is to be maintained. I have always benchmarked my journal with others across the world that cover the same discipline. This has been very useful in establishing where my journal is doing well and also how it can improve. Strategically, the editor has to be steeped in current developments and issues, not only in the academic discipline but also in scholarly communication. If this insight and awareness is not present, there is a real danger of the journal losing its relevance and purpose. A core strategic decision is whether to grow or not to grow the journal. Judgment is needed about whether there is the copy flow to sustain growth (whilst at the same time maintaining quality). Dates and schedules have to be strategically managed so that the journal is at the right place at the right time.

Opportunist: keeping an eye on opportunities in the outside world has also been an important role for me. I am always looking for many things, including:

  • people who would be useful Editorial Board members
  • subject topics that could be covered in a review paper
  • individuals who have the potential to become authors
  • organizations which could fund a themed issue
  • topics that would lend themselves to being themed issues (and who could be the guest editor)
  • presentations from conferences that could be developed into papers
  • important issues or topics that need disseminating
  • people who can be approached for guest editorials

I do not make a conscious decision when to turn the antennae on or off. Subconsciously, as editor I have to be continually tuned in to what is around, where links can be made, and then how they can be exploited for the journal’s benefits.

Collaborator and mediator: the image of the lone editor, managing their journal in complete isolation, without recourse to others is one that does not work in practice. Indeed, I would argue that there is a direct relationship between the quality of the journal and the range of collaborators that the editor works with. There are various different groups within the publishing company where effective collaboration is necessary: copy editors, production staff, managing editors, and marketing sections. Good working partnerships are also needed with groups such as editorial board members, authors, peer reviewers, and guest editors.

In this complex world, I have found that the role of editor inevitably includes managing conflict. This can be between joint guest editors agreeing on the way forward, between peer reviewers who give opposite judgments, with authors who disagree with the feedback they receive on their papers, with authors who want their papers published sooner, and between editorial board members disagreeing about the best way forward. When these situations occur, the editor has to be able to intervene and mediate so the conflict can result in a win/win outcome (if possible).

Juggler: as editor, a key role is to keep all the spinning plates going and make sure none of them fall over. Listed below are some of the tasks that take place continually:

  • checking the current issue’s proofs
  • ensuring that copy will be in place for the next issue
  • soliciting copy for future issues
  • engaging with prospective authors
  • identifying subject areas to be covered
  • writing the editorial for the current issue in preparation
  • thinking about editorial topics for future issues
  • communicating with board members
  • dealing with emails from the publisher
  • organizing editorial board meetings
  • responding to emails from prospective authors

The juggling role is about prioritizing the above and judging importance levels so that everything gets done.

Gatekeeper: as editor, I have always felt an intense sense of responsibility around the gatekeeper role. All disciplines need a knowledge base that is current, informed, challenging, grounded in evidence, and accessible. Professional journals are pivotal in the contributions they make to achieve this. There is an imperative for the editor to be making judgments ensuring the content published will be justifiable additions to that knowledge base. If the editor fails in this role, there is a risk that the discipline will not have the evidence it needs to move forward effectively, and in the right direction. I was reassured that my journal is succeeding in this direction by a bibliometric analysis of its content (Gwyer, 2015).

Conclusion: taking on these diverse roles, to me, is the main attraction in being an editor. Continuous change has to be welcomed and embraced and the outcomes then fed back into the journal’s strategic direction and management. In many ways, the academic journal is at a key stage in its history where it has to place itself in a world of social media, open access and digital technologies. The roles I have outlined above all contribute to achieving this.

Gwyer, Roisin (2015) Identifying and exploring future trends impacting on academic libraries: a mixed methodology using journal content analysis, focus groups, and trend reports, New Review of Academic Librarianship, DOI:10.1080/13614533.2015.1026452

Published: August 21, 2015 | Author: Graham Walton, Assistant Director (Academic and User Services), Library, and Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Information Management, Loughborough University, UK | Category: Front page, Managing my journal, News and ideas | Tagged with: