The editorial team of the Journal of Medical Genetics has set up this virtual space as a communications tool that, we hope, will bring us closer to our public. Ten years ago I would have said “closer to our readership”; but the technological and conceptual developments of the past decade warrant some stepping back and taking a fresh, critical look at conventional wisdom.
Who is “our public”? Who will be interested in JMG enough to be reading these comments? Why does “readership” no longer seem to reflect who I wish to reach? The image this term conjures in my mind is one of the faithful subscribers who will go to their mailbox each month, pick up the freshly printed issue and settle down with a cup of tea to savour every page. I am sure that this type of reader still exist but I am afraid they can no longer be the focus of our editorial attention. It is simply not the way most of us keep up to date with developments in our field nowadays.
I do have a list of journals whose Table of Contents I quickly scan every month but they account for less than half of the papers I end up scanning and, ultimately, actually reading. I can say the same for my immediate colleagues, whose choices of reading I have witnessed. In search of an answer to a specific question, a keyword oriented search is incomparably superior to a journal-oriented one. Even for simply keeping up with my field, with no specific question in mind, periodic searches based on keywords or authors (I know who my competition is!) is much more efficient than journal-based surveying. I suspect most of my colleagues do likewise.
So we redefine readership as anyone who is likely to have a question that can be answered by the kind of material we publish, a vastly wider (albeit, admittedly, shallower) pool of professionals. It can be easily monitored by tracking downloads (the print issue now accounts for a small fraction of access to our material). But “who reads us” is but one of the question a good editorial team ought to be asking themselves. What impact has the material made after being read? Has it changed practices, has it generated new paradigms or, failing this, new questions? Imperfect is it is, citation tracking is the most objective and cost-effective index of how we have changed the field with what we publish. Whence another important segment of our public: professionals who not only read our material but also cite it in their own papers.
Last, but perhaps most important, we need to pay attention to our authors. I am delighted to see the same names in excellent manuscript after excellent manuscript I receive but I also have to say that some of the best and most highly cited papers I have published are from first-time JMG authors who are not necessarily likely to publish with us again. They are all equally important to us and I hope that they will be equally interested in taking a look at postings in this blog.
As you can see, I have spent much more time thinking of who would read this blog than of what its contents will be. This is deliberate; I wished to keep it widely open to anything that might interest professionals falling in any of the above three categories. Your comments and suggestions will be most welcome.
With collegial greetings
Editor, the Journal of Medical Genetics