Thoughts of a Journal Managing Editor: The (Blessed) Proliferation of Academic Publications and the Challenge of Getting a Foot in the Door
By Alison Fox, on 19 July 2016
Today’s guest blog is by Ira Ryk-Lakhman, PhD student at the UCL Faculty of Laws and Managing Editor of the UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence.
Following the footsteps of my predecessor, Ms Diana Richards, I would like to share one of the main challenges that have accompanied my role as the Managing Editor of the UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence: getting a foot in the door in a world of prevalent academic journals and competing publications.
The UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence is a law journal edited and published by graduate (Masters and PhD) students of UCL Laws. The Journal publishes scholarly contributions from academics, researchers and practitioners, as well as showcasing outstanding research of post-graduate students at UCL. The Journal’s primary aim is to make a high-quality contribution to current debates on local and global issues of law and jurisprudence. We seeks to add to the vibrant intellectual life of UCL’s world leading law school, a place where originality and innovation are highly prized, and where the shared pursuit of ideas remains fundamental to the Faculty’s continuing success.
Importantly, the Journal was one of the first law journals in the UK to fully implement the open access policy and offer all its issues and contributions free and online since its very first issue in 2012. Today, many law journals worldwide too offer open access publications. This is of course a welcome step which bolsters academic debate and facilitates the engagement with the public. However, with this blessed progress gives rise to a newly found challenge – the competition over the quality and quantity of submissions, and the promotion of existing and upcoming publications. So how does a new, starting, or existing journal find its place in an online, accessible, digital world that offers hundreds of, professedly, similar platforms? The answer is rather straightforward in fact and comprises three main steps.
Step No. 1: “What are you?” Much like with everything else in life, running a journal requires some soul-searching. The editorial board would be smart to pre-define its identity, target audience, and goals. Are you a niche journal? Are you a generalist publication? Do you seek to prompt a specific field or methodology of research? Are you focused on a certain locale or jurisdiction? Do you aim for practitioners or academics? Would you allow students, or junior researchers to publish with you? The answers to these questions, and similar ones, assist in molding and shaping the identity of the journal.
Step No. 2: “Who are you?” Once the identity of the journal is clearer it is time to move to the second step, which concerns the people working on and with the journal. The human resources of a journal, any journal, are an integral part of its success. To illustrate, each member of the editorial board brings with him his own set of skills, views, and previous experience – use all of them. One of the questions we ask when interviewing applicants for an editorial position is: “what would you change or add to the journal as an editor?” Each potential member of the board has a different perspective, and as a result a different proposition. Be attentive and open minded. Additionally, each member brings with him his own connections, colleagues, friends, and affiliations. In other words: a list of potential readers, followers, and contributors. Finally, now that you know who you are, do not forget to put a face to a name. Many academics complain about the process of submissions’ review (and rightly so) – they do not know the people reading their work and their qualifications, and thus often doubt the views and editing suggestions. In fact, many potential authors prefer knowing the identity of the editorial board (as a whole, not the specific [blind] reviewers). It, in fact, will come as no surprise to learn that most people prefer having some (visional) idea how the people they work with look. If so, why should the work of the author and the editor of his contribution be any different? For this reason, it seems rather sensible to include not only a list of the editorial and advisory board, but also a short bio of each member of the board. This increases the Journal’s engagement with the authors and readers on the one hand, and builds a sense of community amongst the board itself. Further, under this second step, a journal would be wise to inquire who are the people and organizations that may find interest in the journal – non-profit organizations, research facilities, firms, faculties, and so on. These, in turn, may be happy to collaborate and sponsor a journal that coincides with their identity.
Step No.3: “Work with what you’ve got”. Now that you know what you are and who you are – use it. Here the journal is required to demonstrate creativity, innovation, and resilience, so as to be noticeable, accessible, and competitive with other platforms in the field. For instance, publishing a call for papers on your (say) Facebook account would reach those following your account, but not others. Thus, it is necessary to publish the same CfP with other specialized social media groups and forums, online blogs in the field, specialized accounts that promote publications, etc. It is also useful to circulate said CfP amongst faculties and academic institutions. However, sending it only to UCL staff and students would reach a limited number of potential readers and authors, thus the circulation list ought to include the alma mater of each and every single one of the members of your board. These examples alone are illustrative of the manner a Journal is capable of reaching some thousands of people, free of charge. Along these lines, it is also advisable to be original and innovative. For instance: If you have sponsors, try to prompt cooperation with them – launch events, publications, meetings, etc.; if you use the UCL OJS service – personalize it to your logo, colors, forms, fonts, etc.; if you publish hard copies – send them to those who may be interested; consider launching a blog using the available UCL Blogs platforms, and so on.
Finally, the most important step of this three-step program is: repeat, repeat, and repeat. This will assist you to get a foot in the door and stay there.
About the author
Ira Ryk-Lakhman is a PhD student at the UCL Faculty of Laws. She is researching the protection and regulation of foreign investments in times of hostilities. Ira serves as the Managing Editor of the UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence and the UCL Law Journal Blog.