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Balancing Print and Online: More Anthropology News in 2013

*The following also appears in the October 2012 (53.8) issue of Anthropology News.

Before the internet, AN was instrumental in communicating deadlines and details, as well as discussing issues through commentaries and letters to the editor. However, the web’s accelerated pace of communication has made print AN content regarding upcoming events out-of-date by the time it gets in our readers’ hands. We also see that some of the most passionate discussions about anthropology occur online, where almost anyone can join the fray. A persistent question in the AN office for several years has been: how can AN remain a relevant resource and member benefit?

In 2011, we launched anthropology-news.org to provide faster publishing and more interactivity with AN essays. In spring 2012, AN conducted its regular readership survey. The previous one was conducted in 2008. In addition to our standard questions about reader satisfaction, we wanted to hear feedback about the best balance between AN in print and anthropology-news.org. We used those responses, as well as AN -related responses from other recent AAA surveys to guide us in moving forward.

2012 Survey Highlights

As in past surveys, members continue to highly value AN. The common refrain was that it helped members stay connected to anthropology overall by seeing what’s going on throughout the discipline. At the same time, many respondents struggled with what the AN editorial office also struggles with: a love of print but an understanding of its high cost for printing and distribution.

Anthropology-news.org is one year old, but we have to improve our communication about its availability, as only 38% of survey respondents had accessed the site at all in the four months before the survey. Numerous comments indicated a willingness to go to the website if they had known about it. Efforts to better communicate anthropology-news.org have begun with AN ’s Twitter feed that launched in May (@news4anthros), share buttons with each online essay, and monthly email alerts about content.

Continuous Online, Bimonthly Print

The challenge for planning AN in 2013 and beyond revolves around the critical need to balance the print-online relationship and develop AN ’s value for members without requiring a larger subsidy from membership. One way to maintain and increase AN ’s value for our members, supported by the survey, is to adjust it to be more visible, more timely, and more interactive than other AAA publications. We are already set up to do this online. When asked about AN print frequency options to help with costs, the most respondents (30%) supported eliminating print AN entirely. The second strongest response was 28% supporting AN in print six times a year. Regarding the current frequency, only 9% indicated support for keeping it at nine times a year.

Starting in January 2013, AN will publish essays and reports online first—and continually—on anthropology-news.org. AN staff will produce twelve thematic series and issues instead of nine. By publishing online first, the site will publish more short thematic series as well and be able to address more timely topics.

The AN print editions will feature the best of these anthropological contributions from the website and matters of record for the association. The print issue will have a bimonthly publishing cycle that runs throughout the calendar year, rather than a generally monthly one with a three-month summer hiatus. This change can also help AAA reach out to our members who work outside of the academy. The six print issues will be published at the beginning of January, March, May, July, September and November.

By flipping the model—online first, print second—we can publish more rich anthropological content in a more timely way with more voices, and then share in print the anthropology essays that turn out the best, spark the most conversation, or are shared the most by readers. This will enhance the AN website as a location for ongoing coverage with an increase in essays and discussions. All content will continue to be archived in AnthroSource.

The print issue will continue to include traditional newsletter content, remaining a conduit for association information. Some content may be published on anthropology-news.org and in print, such as the president’s column, association reports and death notices. These are items that generally do not appear on the AAA website or blog. Other content may be included just in print as part of the AAA historical record: election results, board minutes, donor recognition.

New AN

With this shift in AN’s publishing schedule, I’m also implementing a few editorial changes.

First, AN will increase to 12 issues per year at anthropology-news.org and on AnthroSource. Each issue will include all the main content (calendar and items from the right-hand sidebar omitted) published on anthropology-news.org in that calendar month. Essays (whether Opinion or In Focus pieces) will be selected for the print based on web metrics regarding usage, user feedback via online ratings and shares, pingbacks, discussion, and overall quality and length of the piece.

Content on anthropology-news.org will continue to be publically available, open access to all. To accommodate the flipped publishing schedule and to conserve server space, online content will be open for approximately four months, rather than the current two months.

For annual meeting information, AN will continue to inform members about the annual meeting city, deadlines, major events, and the call for proposals. However, some information, such as time and locations of specific sessions, benefits from more accurate and up-to-date information by being available only online. We have already been encouraging section and committee editors to disseminate such details through their online AN columns and listservs to limit out-of-date information in print AN.

Section News will also change. Section editors will contribute columns online at anthropology-news.org, and may do so as often as any individual contributing editor would like. As with the other essays, those columns with a focus on anthropological work, commentary or analysis may be selected for any print issue. AN is also setting aside space for Section News three times a year specifically in print: in the March, July and November print issues. The survey indicates that members do not find print AN the primary way to advertise upcoming events or to remain in touch with their sections. Furthermore, 67% of respondents indicated strong support for having section columns online only. The primary means of communication for section meeting details should be through listservs and other online communication.

In addition to being able to publish at any time on anthropology-news.org, contributing editors and columnists will be given a higher word count for their regular columns. Each column can be up to 1,000 words, as opposed to the strict current limit of 700 words for print columns. Any column pulled from the website for print publication may be up to 1,000. And each of the three print columns Sections have per year may also be up to 1,000 words.

This new publishing schedule will help allow AN to reach out to more people, in a more timely, relevant way. We developed anthropology-news.org to facilitate the publication and sharing of essays about all facets of anthropology with anthropologists, and help raise the profile of anthropology among potential anthropologists, media and the general public.

As I write this, AN has a new essay on the website by Harjant Gill called “Unthreatening the Sikh Turban.” The lead-in is about the shootings at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin on August 5. The essay shares insight only an anthropologist (or possibly a folklorist) could articulate. There will be more breaking news stories that could use the anthropological lens. AN is here to help you share that with members and the public.

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