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  • In Other Words

Journals Need Digital Integration to Stay Relevant

by Gary Moorman and Peggy Semingson
 | Mar 04, 2015

There is no doubt digital technology has a dramatic impact on the world of publications and their readerships; it is an impact we can no longer ignore. Online periodicals are quickly beginning to replace print versions. Major newspapers and magazines offer online versions as well as mobile-compatible versions of print media. There is a wide array of reading, writing, and publishing tools, all connected through the Internet and mobile devices including not only computers but also electronic readers (e.g., Kindle), smartphones, and tablets (e.g., iPad). In this dynamic environment, academic journals have been slow to change. This void presents a unique opportunity to be a leader in online publications.

Print academic journals are way behind in making the transition to online publications: One author refers to academic journals as “the most profitable obsolete technology in history.” A look at an outstanding example of a commercial periodical is informative. We have chosen Sports Illustrated (SI) and its digital platforms to make our point. It is important to note that the comparison is limited: According to Statista, an online database, SI in 2014 had a readership of 19.9 million for print and digital additions, 5.7 million for web (desktop/laptop), and 7.5 million on mobile web. Such a versatile readership provides a huge financial advantage in developing a sophisticated web presence. But the sheer number of digital readers is also noteworthy.

Given this, let’s take a quick tour of an online edition of SI. The online edition contains all the articles and features of the print edition. One of the first obvious enhancements that you will notice is that there are multiple covers; SI often uses regional covers to highlight the sporting events for particular areas in the United States. A second difference is “Leading Off,” a sectionthat provides multiple high-quality photos of athletes and sporting events. The online publication will usually have three to five additional photos, and you can zoom in with any device with that feature. In addition to these and other enhancements of the features in the printed additions, SI offers digital-only features. These include

  • Bonus content: related articles from previous issues and online videos
  • Social media: a live Twitter feed as well as live Twitter feeds of all the SI writers
  • links to related articles on the Sports Illustrated website
  • Sports Illustrated Instagram: photos and short comments
  • “SI Digital Bonus”: videos and digital links embedded in articles and features throughout the issue
  • “Now See This”: a collection of the week’s best sports videos

Articles often include additional photos and links to related resources and there are navigation tools that help the reader move around within the issue. Of course, not all of these multimodal enhancements would be appropriate for an academic journal, but there are enhancements that would be unique to academic journals.

There are currently very few strong examples of what is possible for academic journals. One exception is Hybrid Pedagogy, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal. Among its stated goals are “to interrogate and investigate technological tools to determine their most progressive applications” and to create “an ongoing discussion that is networked and participant-driven, to an open peer-reviewed journal that is both academic and collective.” Articles include many strategic hyperlinks that both support and expand the text and provide readers with technological tools. There is also a strong emphasis on visually oriented layouts. There are direct feeds to Twitter, Facebook, and Feedburner.

ILA has a history as a leader in online publications. Three efforts are worth mentioning. First, from 1997 to 2005, the International Reading Association (now ILA), published Reading Online(ROL), an early effort to take advantage of digital technology. ROL was a peer-reviewed, open-access journal. Each article included navigational tools that allowed the reader to move easily within the article and links to other ROL articles, related websites, and the reference list. There was also an active discussion board.

The Reading Teacher (RT) and the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy (JAAL) have begun to move toward more interactive and digital publications with mobile-compatible access and the use of social media into and in conjunction with print journals, for instance, inclusion of podcasts to enhance print journal articles and use of Facebook pages connected to journals as a platform to interact with readers. JAAL now features related live Hangouts on Air facilitated by a department editor. ILA journals are eager to feature author-submitted hyperlinked content within articles would well serve a 21st-century readership.

All journals need to be more technologically sophisticated to have a strong appeal to younger literacy educators and build a more vibrant literacy community. Authors  are encouraged to include online features such as podcasts or related social media interactions (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) in their articles. These interactive digital features could include within-article navigational tools, links to related websites and articles, embedded audio and video, and expanded appendices, graphs, charts, and even links to primary data.

Building on the SI example, we share an example of how to foster reader and author interactivity through use of social media in conjunction with an ILA journal print or online article. An ILA journal article could include links to Flickr or Instagram images of the topic being described; readers could participate by contributing additional images that connect to the topic and tagging them. Or, a social bookmarking site such as diigo could include related reading and news that connects with a journal article; readers could add their own resources and links.

To foster “real-time” interaction, more live synchronous sessions such as Google Hangouts on Air should be instituted. Tools that would allow readers to interact with authors and other readers should be identified and implemented. ILA already hosts Twitter chats; journals could sponsor them as well within the larger framework.

It is crucial to carefully analyze what actions are needed to make publications successful online. We strongly believe the investment in technologically sophisticated journals will pay great benefits for educators, including younger educators, and we hope authors will rise to the challenge before them. This would also create a more a dynamic, interactive, and connected online community. Certainly the intellectual resources exist within the membership. These resources need to be marshaled to bring about needed technological change.

Gary Moorman is Professor Emeritus at Appalachian State University. He has PhD and Masters degrees in Second Literacy Education. His scholarly interests include multiple and digital literacies, teacher education and reading comprehension. Peggy Semingson is currently an associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Arlington in the College of Education where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy studies. She is a 2013 UT System Regents' Outstanding Teacher.

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