Saturday, April 02, 2011

An Editor Can Make or Break Your Society's Publication

In yesterday's mail I received the publication of one of the many societies to which I belong. As I began to leaf through the publication, I knew that there had been a change in editors without even having to search for the information. What had once been one of my favorite publications had, in a single issue, become a major disappointment.

Let me tell you some of the problems:

  • I have not counted the number of fonts used throughout the publication, but every single article in this "double issue" appeared to be in a different font -- many of them quite dated fonts.
  • There was not enough original material. Too much of this material had been reprinted or lifted from other publications. In fact, in one place they kept the logo of the publication from which it was lifted.
  • Some of the material was lifted from other publications, but notices of permission to reprint were not included, and neither were proper citations. In one instance where the article was taken from a society publication which was received in their library, they include the cover image of the journal from which it was taken but do not include the author's byline. There is a disagreement between the cover image and the citation (which was attempted in this case) as to the year in which it was published.
  • It is obvious that someone cut and pasted several of the ads in the publication because the lines from where they cut the ad are present and because the ads do not sit square with the page.
  • There is too much discrepancy in the manner in which articles are arranged. Some articles have a single column for the page. Others have two. Some are double-spaced; some are single-spaced. In one of the double-spaced articles, they accidentally failed to double-space between one of the lines, leading me to believe that this particular article was created during typewriter days.

I sincerely hope they get their act together and find an editor who will resume the high standards of the previous editor.

The previous editor wrote most of the issues from the last several years alone. He spent time digging in the courthouse for new records to abstract; he spent time looking at old newspapers to glean abstracts; he knew that fresh content was what people wanted -- not recycled content that can be found using PERSI. He also knew that copyright laws existed and that proper attribution should be made. He sometimes used materials from pre-1923 books which were in the public domain, but even then, he gave credit where credit was due. He adhered to standards set forth by BCG and frequently printed these in the publication. (It's a shame the person who edited the issue that arrived yesterday did not read those standards.)

I'm sympathetic to the fact that many editors of society publications have a very low pool of submissions and have to do much of the work on their own; however, there is no excuse for not adhering to standards and copyright when producing a society publication. I know that I'm guilty of not writing articles for publication when I should be doing this regularly. These society publication editors need our contributions -- whether they be articles, abstracts, or even images.

It's then up to the editor to present the materials in a unified format and to tighten up the writing and grammar so that readers have a quality publication instead of a scrapbook.

I have avoided mentioning the specific society and publication in question throughout this article. Why? Because I suspect there are many other cases just like this one out there in society publications throughout the world.

The ironic thing is that it is now time to renew my membership to this society. I probably will rejoin, but I'm doing so in a less enthusiastic manner this year because the value of this membership has declined with the decline in their publication's quality. I wonder how many others who received this issue and saw the renewal notice said, "If they are going to print stuff that I've used in the book I purchased from them and in this other publication to which I subscribe, I'm not going to renew this year." I suspect some will do as I plan to do and renew, but others will face the decision that many persons in these tough economic times are facing and decide that the value for the money is not there and that they are going to let this membership lapse for awhile. How sad!

1 comment:

Kathryn Doyle said...

Thank you so much for writing this! We at the California Genealogical Society are so blessed to have two extremely talented volunteers who produce The California Nugget twice a year: Editor Jane Hufft and Production Editor Lois Elling. It is a labor of love and a gift to our membership. It's also not surprising that many societies don't have volunteers with the knowledge and experience to create a first class publication.