The Genesis of This Issue -- Twenty-Five Years of the CJC

Rowland Lorimer (School of Communication, Simon Fraser University)

This issue of the Canadian Journal of Communication marks the beginning of our 26th year of publication. With a quarter century behind the Journal, the turning of the millennium, and the end of my tenure as Editor, the opportunity for a special retrospective and prospective issue seemed apropos. After consulting with the Editorial Board, I put out a call for papers inviting communication scholars to submit abstracts for papers on topics that they wished to explore. I encouraged potential contributors to collaborate with other active scholars in their field.

I had hoped that the articles might cover the field in a fairly comprehensive manner. It would be quite wonderful to have Canadian scholars assessing the state of Canadian research and its relation to international research in such areas as the study of content, audiences, ownership, journalism and other content producers, politics and communication, cultural development, globalization, media bias, broadcasting, and the cultural industries. This is a tomorrow project.

Caveat lector1

The selection of essays presented in this issue are quite different from what I had expected. For the most part, some bring forward various highlights of communication research and the development of communication programs in Canada over the last 10 to 30 years and some explore current thinking in a certain area. Yet they are not an overview of Canadian scholarly activity in communications.

I want to add my own parting editorial voice to the collection and address two issues. The first issue is the role of this journal and the degree to which it reflects the field. Second is the nature of communications inquiry in Canada at this point in history.

This journal is the single, general, English-language journal of communication in Canada. Given that identity, a future communications historian might reasonably assume that the contents of this journal are a reasonable representation of activity in the field. That assumption would be incorrect. In fact, communications research is scattered throughout a variety of Canadian and international publications including journals as well as government and other reports and anthologies. Gregory Fouts' review of the role of the LaMarsh Commission and the late Andrew Osler's commentary on other government inquiries into the media, such as the Kent Commission, the Davey Commission, the Fowler Committee and Commission, and the Caplan-Sauvageau Task Force, bears this out. Moreover, there are extensive literatures on film, book publishing, magazines, and various reports on the sound recording industry, all of which are valuable contributions to communications inquiry. Also, the presence of numerous anthologies-David Taras' work and Ben Singer's come to mind-speak to their contribution to the field.

The existence of these literatures notwithstanding, former CJC editor Eugene Tate, in his essay in this volume, attributes the lack of comprehensiveness of this journal to career strategies on the part of communication scholars who seek greater rewards from the apparently greater solidity and prestige of the disciplinary journals. I would agree that this is yet another reason. Other journals are indeed a factor, some of them disciplinary. Scholars usually want to publish where they will be paid the greatest attention and receive the greatest recognition by one's peers. It is also both wise and astute to place articles in journals and in other publications where there is an obvious fit.

But there are other dynamics at work that bear mention, if only to assist some future communications historian. For instance, on the whole, most scholars, myself included, strive to publish where they can avoid the frustration of rejection. Once asked to contribute, one is unlikely to be rejected by a colleague who is editing an anthology. Similarly, once one has either a private sector contract or one from a government department, agency, or commission, the resulting report will not likely be rejected. If there is a general principle operating here it is that to avoid rejection, the most rational and rewarding route to follow in the pursuit of publishing is to follow one's contacts and to respond to emerging opportunities to provide information and analysis rather than risk blind peer review. Blind peer review has its strengths but, in the humanities and social sciences, it can often mean "blind to the strengths of others" or "blind to what is reasonable to expect" rather than fair peer assessment.

Communication departments, that is to say, promotion and tenure committees, also play a role. From my vantage point, it appears that Communication departments seem to attach little added value to peer-reviewed articles in any scholarly journal, over, say, chapters in a book, a report, or a monograph published by a commercial press. Certainly this is the case in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. This attitude has both advantages and drawbacks. The criteria for publication in anthologies, some books, and commissioned reports are usually not as stringent in most instances as peer-reviewed journals. Yet it is just as likely that the publication will be circulated at least as widely and effectively as an article in this journal-although, I hasten to add quickly, we are endeavouring and indeed are beginning, particularly through, to turn that around.

In addition to the above, communication scholars also face a very wide choice of methodologies and topics. In a curiosity-based research field that can encompass anything, new scholars often have difficulty getting started. When one can examine virtually any element of the world, which deserves immediate attention? To my mind, this phenomenon, which is fairly common throughout the humanities and social sciences, speaks to the relationship between junior and senior scholars. I believe that humanistic and social scientific inquiry would benefit greatly from an institutionalized mentoring process of junior scholars by senior scholars. Indeed, I favour such a task being part of the formal responsibilities of senior scholars and part of the formal expectations of junior scholars that they take advantage of such a system. It would work to ameliorate years of floundering by many junior scholars, would not necessarily be conservative, and would add a general coherence to humanistic and social scientific inquiry that is currently lacking.

The vision scholars have of this journal is also a factor in the degree to which this journal reflects the field. For researchers within communication departments who have experience with the CJC, knowing the full range of what is published in the Journal is not an issue. But for others in history, women's studies, Canadian studies, criminology, sociology, and political science departments, the CJC represents a potential outlet for articles on media coverage of this or that issue. The Journal receives far too many articles documenting media coverage of this or that phenomenon and far too few which reflect the broad spectrum of activities in the field. It gives evidence to the vision other disciplines have of communications.

Yet another reason why this journal captures a seemingly lower percentage of the output of Canadian scholars in communications than do other journals of their discipline is that this journal is not the official journal of the Canadian Communications Association. That is, CCA members do not pay for and receive a subscription as part of their annual dues. As a result, the Journal does not command the attention of Canadian communication scholars on a quarterly basis. Nor do CCA members have feelings of ownership of the CJC, even though its subscribers own it.

Finally, in my view there are insufficient enticements to encourage scholars with books in progress to publish parts of their work, prior to the publication of a complete monograph, in journal-article form. Maybe this is a good thing because, in the long run, the information does eventually become available. But I think the field would again achieve a greater coherence were scholars to see the Journal as an early outlet for work on the way to being a monograph. Besides, a monograph in a more condensed article form is more likely to be widely read and possibly used in courses.

In all, in spite of the wide mandate of this journal to publish articles of communication and journalism research done by Canadian researchers or of interest to Canadians, this journal has yet to be accepted as a conduit for Canadian communications scholars to make their research known to the world.

Res ipso loquitor

This said, what has been our strategy and what have we accomplished? When I took over as Editor of this journal in June of 1993, the cupboard was bare. There might have been one or two articles in the pipeline and I was facing an issue deadline of three months down the road for CJC, 18(4). Moreover, the Journal was in debt-close to $10,000. I remember insisting that I could not take on a journal in which I simultaneously had to worry about editing and erasing a debt. David Mitchell, then Treasurer of the Journal, assured me that the debt was not my problem and that he was sure he could manage the financial difficulties. (He did.) I believe that my normal heart rate, which is very low, increased by about a third and my blood pressure followed suit. I would wake up in the middle of the night with all sorts of ideas of how to get this journal back on its feet. Almost immediately the Journal became a true partnership between David and I, with combined publishing and editorial responsibilities.

I recall most vividly from that initial issue, perhaps because it involved so much editorial effort, Paul Theissen's article on the forbears to McLuhan in the British modernists, an historically very important article that is continuously neglected by McLuhan scholars. In looking back at the issue, I see that without knowing it, I set a trend which I have followed through to the end of my tenure. I asked Stuart McFadyen to provide an orientation to the Cultural Development in an Open Economy project. Having done so, I persuaded Stuart that the Journal should do a special double issue that would publish condensed versions of the essays that had been commissioned initially by SSHRC.

The trend was to create, to commission, or to respond to proposals for special thematic issues, a practice that had actually been followed to some extent by my predecessors. Thus during my term the Journal has had the following special issues:

New Approaches to Technology

Cultural Development in an Open Economy

Media in Eastern Europe

20(3) :
Communication in the Americas

TVTV: The Television Revolution: A Commentary (which became the book TVTV: The Debate)

Economics, Communication, and Worldview

Interpersonal Communication

Scholarly Communication in the Next Millennium

Monopolies of Knowledge in the University and Society

Marshall McLuhan and Canadian Communications Scholarship

The Canada-Australasian Communications Relationship

New Technologies and Issues in Distance Learning

The results of our special thematic issues have been mostly positive. Most are strong and lasting contributions to knowledge and have filled out the Journal.

Out of these thematic issues have come three books that have had sales beyond those to subscribers. They are Cultural Development in an Open Economy, TVTV: The Debate, and Scholarly Communication in the Next Millennium. The sales of these issues have helped the Journal regain its financial footing.

During the early part of my tenure, David Mitchell also mounted a marketing campaign of the Journal. As a result we increased our circulation by about 100, mainly to U.S. libraries.

Our other major accomplishment has been taking the Journal on-line. For this task we brought on Electronic Editor Richard Smith. The work of Richard and his students, including Stuart MacInnis, Weston Triemestra, and Paul Wolstenholme, has been absolutely critical. On the foundation of that work, Richard and I and others applied for and received an SSHRC grant to carry on our work in e-journal publishing further and to transfer the techniques we develop to the Canadian humanities and social science journal community as a whole. It is an exciting project.

I trust that in working with colleagues such as Richard Smith and David Mitchell, that I have left a legacy that is not trivial. My view remains that notwithstanding this activity, together the thematic and non-thematic issues have not fully sampled scholarly activity in communications in Canada and thus the Journal does not reflect fully the trends of inquiry. But I am confident that I leave that task in as capable hands as any in the new Editor, David Mitchell. I have enjoyed my editorship. I will not entirely exit from the affairs of the Journal, however. I will continue to be involved as the publisher of the Journal, working with David, especially on the electronic side, to increase its effectiveness.


For those who do not know Latin, caveat lector translates as "reader beware." Res ipso loquitor is a legal phrase meaning "the thing speaks for itself."

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