Tuesday Blink: Online Academic Journals, Please Pull Up Your Layout Socks

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The thing I like most about Twitter: it’s easy to keep tabs on conversations I don’t follow directly, like formal scholarship about communications.

The thing that makes me wildly irritable about Twitter: moments when the platform shows me outdated content models that stubbornly insist we are living in the ‘90s.

An example? Sure.

I follow Sidneyeve Matrix (@SidneyEve), a communications professor at Queen’s University (who also happens to have the best prof name I have ever heard).

Sidneyeve tweet about Canadian Journal of Media StudiesA few days ago, she tweeted about a new issue from the Canadian Journal of Media Studies on Experts and Amateurs in Communications and Culture.

My immediate gut response went like, “oh, that sounds fun and applicable to me in a little from column A, a little from column B sort of way.” So I clicked through.

The funny thing about academic publications is that they operate under the illusion that a straight-up .pdf of a book layout that hasn’t been altered to meet SEO standards is perfectly serviceable.

I admire many academics and the work they do. But, as I have noted elsewhere on this blog, the academy is under siege. The funding model is bottoming out.

Quote from Philippe Ross introduction re: Narcissistic amateurs
FYI: All faculty and journalists are pure, selfless individuals who never act from a place of ego.

And when academic writers address topics wider audiences ostensibly care about — even while framing this wider audience as, and I quote, “empowered, narcissistic amateurs” — and stubbornly refuse to use forms said wider audience accepts and understands, they do themselves no favours.

Do you want to look obsolete, editors of the Canadian Journal of Media Studies?

It’s working.

I suppose I should be grateful the font choice and colours are reasonable.

But in a digital landscape, embedded hyperlinks and graphics are like periods in a printed sentence. You expect them to be there and it looks like a mistake when they aren’t.

Julian Assange and Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report
Julian Assange and Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report. You can’t embed this video as easily because it’s not available on Youtube, but a link and a graphic go a long way to livening up the page, non?

For example, I am interested in Dr. Lisa Lynch’s article about Julian Assange, Stephen Colbert and the Wikileaks scandal. Here is a synopsis (bold and italics are the journal’s concessions to digital wizardry):

Lisa Lynch’s paper addresses a very topical issue in Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and his views on journalism practice. Her analysis goes beyond the high‐profile disclosures and surrounding controversy to appraise Assange’s claims to ‘scientific journalism’ against similar uses of the term and, more broadly, past attempts at reshaping journalistic authority.

You’d read an op-ed on that topic in the Globe, admit it. Oh wait, it’s probably behind a paywall now. Wouldn’t it be great to have a meta discussion about changing practices in journalism?

Regardless, the layout is so dull it literally burns my eyes. I can’t read more than a paragraph or two without losing focus.

Is this a reflection on me and my dwindling, Twitter-addled attention span?

CJMS layout sample
The tool you are looking for is tagging. It works really well.

Probably.

I spend somewhere between three and 10 hours online every day. I do get weary of screens.

But virtually every other resource I use online understands that constraint and deploys appropriate layouts while doing the legwork of adding useful, embedded click-able references for me.

Colbert Nation 404 page
This is a 404 error page. Posting a link to another site means you are responsible for maintaining that link. Posting material as web content makes this function easier (e.g., Google Webmaster tools).

Layouts like this journal’s help no one. Even the justified text and ensuing white space rivers are painful.

I doubt that producing an article that references a television interview without a working link to the Assange-Colbert conversation was Dr. Lynch’s requirement.

 The link provided in the footnotes of Dr. Lynch’s article is now obsolete thanks to the ever-shifting redesign demands endemic to large sites like The Colbert Report. It

So why would you do that?

Because print is still the go-to medium of this journal, which is fine. If that’s where your primary audience lives, do what you must do to reach them.

But when I encounter the paper online in the same format, that production design doesn’t help to sell me on the importance of Dr. Lynch’s work or the field as a whole.

Which is where I get irritated.

You can’t browse a news site and not be aware that, thanks in large part to digital culture, journalism and other media forms are changing every day. Or that the long perspective of academic communications studies is a useful voice in that evolving conversation.

But what good is that perspective if it’s presented in an archaic format that dissuades would-be readers from engaging?

Perhaps the academic experts should take a page from us empowered amateurs and invest in the modest resources necessary to provide their analysis in accessible online formats.

If not, you’re removing a valuable voice from an important conversation.

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