Annual Meeting Reports

The Separation of Church and State: Navigating the Journal–Society Relationship

This session looked at the complex and sometimes difficult relationship that exists between a journal and its sponsoring society. It focused on potential conflicts, the benefits of the journal–society relationship that should not be overlooked, and the increasing role of academic organizations in developing the next generation of society members and journal authors and editors.

Alison Denby, editorial director of Oxford University Press’s Psychiatry, opened the discussion with an examination of the journal–society relationship. Potential conflicts abound, as societies and editorial offices contend with increasingly diverse membership bases, financial and oversight concerns, conflicting goals, and the effect of society leadership changes. However, there is much to be gained from a favorable collaborative relationship. For example, the organizational structure of a society can provide the editorial office with administrative structure, such as personnel expertise that would otherwise have to be provided entirely by the journal. Likewise, the membership of the society actively provides authors, reviewers, and editors, necessary elements if a journal is to sustain its mission.

Jason Roberts, senior partner of Origin Editorial, further examined the types of journal–society relationships and subjects of tension that can arise, including editorial freedom, commercial content, the balance between highly cited and widely read content, and the structure of the editorial staff.

Roberts stressed the value of publications committees, which can act as both liaison and independent arbiter of journal–society conflicts. Often composed of senior society members, a publications committee can advise the editor on staffing and financial matters, providing counsel while shielding the editor from conflict. And the society benefits from having a governing body that can vet requests from the editorial office and review budgets before approval, lessening the opportunities for conflict to arise. Because the staffing structure of the editorial office itself can be a source of tension, a publications committee can act as an important intermediary to counter either disengaged or overbearing society leaders. Given that transitional periods between editors can be particularly unsettling, the publications committee can help to lead the selection of a new editor and manage expectations of the changeover.

Pamela Liao, founding coeditor of the University of British Columbia Medical Journal, introduced a third party to the journal–society relationship. Universities have traditionally played an important role both in producing the future members of societies and in the training of future authors, reviewers, and editors. Student-run journals, more than 40 of which exist globally, produce better trained and more experienced graduates, who are more engaged in their academic community. University provided workshops can introduce the importance of study guidelines and critical literature review. Liao’s personal experience in launching the University of British Columbia Medical Journal highlighted the part that a university can play in exposing students to facets of scientific life that would otherwise go unaddressed.

Journals are a highly valued benefit of membership and help to sustain membership numbers and advance the educational aims of a society. Likewise, societies can mobilize members for the creation and promotion of journal content via live meetings, patient-education materials, and society social-media channels. Neither a journal nor a society should dismiss the ways in which they support one another, and putting into place a structure for recognizing and managing the potential conflicts is essential for the journal–society relationship.