Masthead CMC Magazine / May 1, 1996
 Two Years on the Web, by John December


Putting together a publication such as this is a very labor and communication-intensive process. Two years ago, when it was just me in a computer room putting this magazine together, I communicated via email with the authors and then-assistant editors Leysia Palen (in California) and Gary Ritzenthaler (in Florida). In the fall of 1994, however, a large group of graduate students became interested in working on the magazine. The number of interested students--I estimate that there were more than a dozen at one time--taxed my management skills. I found it difficult to convey--or even know--what needed to be done and when and by whom. Many of the students were interested in gaining technical skills in HTML, and I spent a lot of time teaching people how to use computer workstations as well as text editing programs and the syntax of HTML.

Having had a "real job" before, I had learned to loathe meetings, and at first stubbornly resisted having formal, regular face-to-face meetings of the magazine staff. I wanted to just assign work and collaborate via email, as I had been doing in the summer of 1994. But I realized that the complexity of trying to articulate what this magazine was and could be and how to move in that direction required face-to-face sessions. Email didn't work. After setting up regular meeting times, we could better identify what the main processes of the magazine were (acquisition, development editing, copy editing, production) and I worked with people who specialized in one or more of these processes to develop their skills.

[]Strom identifies the need to create a production system

Production and editing work continued to be a problem when we tried it via electronic mail. Manuscripts got lost, misplaced, and misdirected. We were always in a quandry about what manuscript was in what state and who had it. I remember the frustration of leaving out articles because we simply could not locate the edited copy or identify who had it. We needed some system to work on the manuscript in some common space. Lee Honeycutt, then the production manager, had the idea of a common file space. It would be a directory where everyone would have read/write permissions; we'd always have the most current copy of the manuscript in directories indicating its status in the publication process--an "inedit," directory for manuscripts in copy edit, another directory for inproduction files (HTML markup), as well as directories for possible contributions and manuscripts pending a decision on acceptance. This common file space was key to unraveling the problems we experienced early on in reviewing and working on the manuscripts. This remains the structure we use today.

Throughout last fall and early this year, our meetings have focused more on developing content and coverage areas for the magazine. We haven't spend time on production issues since that area has gone relatively smoothly--I've created my own scripts for quickly setting the articles in the HTML format of the magazine, making production a relatively quick process. The magazine's format has also settled into a (somewhat conservative) style. I want to do better job content-wise before trying anything more elaborate with regard to format. So I was pleased as our meetings this spring became more and more focused on the substative discussion of computer-mediated communication and its use and study and how it relates to a wide range of issues.

Having written for a paper magazine before (a brief stint writing columns for The Net), I was familiar with the idea of an editorial plan--a table listing the special topics the magazine would cover each month, planned out far in advance. I mentally had a plan for CMC Magazine in my head, but generally we were going from month to month without a particular topic or goal in mind, but hoping for some cohesion in what would be submitted. But in our meetings, Amelia DeLoach pointed out very correctly that we needed to have a plan, both from the standpoint of knowing what we were going to cover and from the standpoint of lengthening the time from acquisition to production, to allow for better development editing. So, late last year, we developed an editorial plan, and I wouldn't be without one now. In fact, next month, we will begin planning for 1997. We plan special focuses for most issues, but allow for any late-breaking content to come into the magazine. I decided early on that we couldn't be a news magazine, we simply didn't have the resources, but more of a magazine that covers issues of significance and opinions about computer-mediated communication. ^

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