Reimagining the Scholarly Journal with Cheryl E. Ball

By Amplify Network Date: November 22, 2022 Tags: Open Access, Peer Review

Amplified is an audio blog series about the sounds of scholarship from our team here at the Amplify Podcast Network. This month, we’re joined by a leading thinker in the refereed open-access online scholarship movement, Dr. Cheryl Ball. Cheryl is Senior Editor at Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. A refreshingly ground-breaking anti-racist community-driven open-access journal publishing academic web texts since 1996. Together we talk about how and why the journal got started and where Cheryl hopes to see digital publishing headed next.


Stacey Copeland: [00:00:00] Welcome to Amplified an audio blog about the sounds of scholarship from our team here at the Amplify Podcast Network. I’m your host, Stacey Copeland. When it comes to publishing non-traditional forms of scholarship, making the work is one thing, but figuring out where to publish is another thing altogether. If we want to make scholarship that not only pushes the boundaries of what scholarly work can sound like, but also how the work is peer reviewed and made accessible, online academic journals are a space of critical importance. This month on Amplified, we’re joined by a leading thinker in the refereed Open Access online scholarship movement, Dr. Cheryl Ball. Cheryl is a longtime researcher and advocate in experimental digital publishing and composition. Today, they join us with their senior editor hat on to talk about the innovative work behind Kairos: a journal of rhetoric, technology and pedagogy, publishing academic web texts since 1996. Together, we talk about how and why the journal got started and where Cheryl hopes to see the world of digital publishing headed next.

[Theme music fades out]

Cheryl Ball: [00:01:34] I am Cheryl Ball and I am senior editor and publisher of Kairos: a journal of rhetoric, technology and pedagogy. That’s one of the many digital publishing hats that I wear, but it’s probably the one that people know me the most for.

Stacey Copeland: [00:01:50] Hannah and I just published a piece with Kairos, and that was my first interaction with the journal publishing our web text Why Podcast?. Could you tell us what is Kairos? What is the journal all about? Give us a bit of the spiel, if you will [both laugh].

Cheryl Ball: [00:02:05] After 22 years of working with Kairos, I definitely have a spiel down pat. Kairos is the longest, most continuously running scholarly multimedia journal in the world. We’re not the first, but the only one who has remained publishing throughout the course of its history. So we’re going into our 27th, 28th year, and it has always been an online journal. It’s always been peer reviewed using an open peer review process, which for us means that the authors and the editorial board members know who each other are. And the editorial board also has a collaborative discussion about the web texts, which is what we call articles, in this very lovely generous way that’s very inherent to the writing process and to writing studies as a discipline, which is the home discipline that Kairos publishes in.

Stacey Copeland: [00:02:57] I was really fascinated when I first came across Kairos, when Hannah mentioned it as a possibility of a place for us to be publishing, and you immediately get a sense of a very radical ethos behind the journal when you start to read through the different statements [Cheryl chuckles]. You know, for instance, I was just while you were talking, pulled up the website, to pull up one of my favourite parts which is the impact factors and metric section [Cheryl laughs], which usually read something like ‘our impact factor is blah blah, blah, here is our impact factor over the past five years. These are the things we strive for.’ But yours says ‘impact factors are really ascribed to digital only journals,’ and it goes on to talk about how it’s actually quite a problematic way of measuring impact of these journals, and that you would also encourage authors to look at alternative modes of metrics to think about the way that these different texts are impacting the research fields at large. And it uses maybe some more robust language than I’m using right now tomake these statements.

Cheryl Ball: [00:04:06] Are we allowed to curse on this? [both laugh]

Stacey Copeland: [00:04:07] Yes, you’re allowed to curse that is fine. Could you talk to me a bit about that, that spirit, that kind of radical, anti-traditional scholarship kind of spirit, You know, has that been there since the beginning? And what does it look like and continuing that trajectory as the journal has grown into what it is today?

Cheryl Ball: [00:04:26] Yeah, we’ve always prided ourselves on being an experimental place to publish. The infamous story, of course, about the founding is that two of the initiating editors, Mick Doherty, who has since passed on and he was considered our founding editor and one of the very earliest editorial board members, Becky Rickley, both of whom were master’s students at the time. I believe we’re in the Midwest somewhere and in the United States. They went to a Hootie & the Blowfish concert, and it was there on that drive that they were like, why don’t we do this wacky thing where we build this journal where people publish their stuff on the Internet and we’ll it’ll be peer reviewed, right? Because we have to have that legitimacy factor, so to speak, in order to get stuff accepted. But then people can design their own research products, right? So that the website itself, the design of it, enacts the research. CSS, cascading style sheets, as a way to style websites wasn’t even on the table. [Stacey: Yeah]. And putting images on websites – so new! [Stacey: Yeah] You know, never mind video, like video was not possible yet. And so even breaking out of a print based subscription based journal mechanism felt incredibly radical at the time. I have to imagine and I know enough of the folks who were there at the beginning, they’re still in the discipline, you know, to have gotten these stories from them.

Stacey Copeland: [00:05:57] I mean, that gets at a lot of I think the tensions that we’re dealing with at Amplify as well around what really counts as scholarship and what kind of forms are acceptable in particular different disciplines. I like the story of that’s the kind of conversation everyone’s having on their way to a Hootie & Blowfish concert [Cheryl laughs] and we can start to get at, I think, some of the reasons perhaps why you decided to get involved with the journal. But I’d love to hear a bit more about that as well. What brought you to Kairos?

Cheryl Ball: [00:06:31] I was doing a master of Fine arts and poetry, and our computer lab director, Michael Keller, still at the school that I got my MFA from and still running the technologies in the English department there. He’s an amazing person. He also had his MFA in poetry and was interested in the intersection between poetry and digital work. What became known as electronic literature. So I too became interested in electronic literature because of his tutelage, and he introduced me to Kairos. It had just come out. He was like, Check out this new journal and the kinds of scholarship that they’re publishing. I was like, Wow, that’s fascinating. And so I went to one of the main conferences in that the four C’s, the Conference on College Composition and Communication. And while I was there, I stumbled onto a special interest group for graduate students. And in there, one of the editors of Kairos happened to be leading this, Doug Eyman. I submitted a collection that I was working on at the time, and one of my hypertext literary hypertext classes, as we used to call them. And it went through peer review and I had to revise it and it got published. And so my first academic publication is a Kairos publication. One of the beauties and hardships of Diamond Open access journals, right, is that they’re primarily volunteer run things. So I became a cover web editor, which was the themed section of the journal at the time in 2001. And I stayed in that position for five, five years and then was promoted to editor of the journal and stayed in that position from 2008 until this year. Is that a long time? That’s a long time. 15 years or so? Yeah.

Stacey Copeland: [00:08:18] You know, from 2008 until now, I feel like there has been quite a big shift in thinking more about experimental approaches to academic publication. What other journals or communities is Kairos looking at as influences or as part of the same conversation around alternative scholarship and alternative publishing?

Cheryl Ball: [00:08:41] So many of these publications rely on a cult of personality right? They’re a ‘let’s get the band together’ type of mentality, and a lot of the journals come and go because of that. There was this moment in the 2000s when Media studies is really, really good at pitching itself externally, whereas rhetoric and composition studies for the longest time, in part because it’s this weird North American and also US focused discipline at its base because of the history of normal schools and teacher training and stuff like that that I don’t need to go into. Sometimes we looked- we were to navel gazing, if I may, and so journals like Vectors out of University of Southern California became really well known and really popular and popularised phrases like scholarly multimedia that Kairos wasn’t using, even though Kairos had been publishing for 15 years before those journals even came around. And we’re like, Wait a minute, we we’ve been doing that like. And I would go to their editor and she and I, Tara McPherson, and I would have conversations about like, what can we do to collaborate or what can we do to share ideas and resources. Fundamentally, though, some of these other journals had radically different business models. Like Vectors, could get a lot of funding because of the institutional infrastructure that they were working within or they got massive grants. Because Tara McPherson is an amazing grant writer and I was still learning how to write grants at the time and so they would build things to like Scalar, Right? So like Scalar was a project that came out of Vectors Journal, and Kairos has tried to work on some stuff like over the time, but then we decided, you know what, what I really want us to focus on is our workflows and our processes and like, how can we solidify what we’re doing as a journal for our authors to help them gain the credit that they need.

Cheryl Ball: [00:10:34] I don’t want us to make the most whiz bang things that we can out there because we’re already – I can’t tell you how many academic deans would come to me and say, ‘What is this Kairos nonsense? It’s all bells and whistles.’ And I would turn 1000 shades of red in anger and then have to calm myself down and say, ‘no. Let me explain to you the rhetoric of multimedia and how it makes meaning and scholarly ways. And let me tell you how this image here of this author is actually functioning as a citation.’ And I would have to break down all of these different little ways of of making meaning and explain to folks all of the intellectual labour that would go into building these Web texts. And then we have an eight stage production process, copy editing, a design editing process so that we tweak every little thing that comes through so that the things that get published are as perfect and sustainable as they possibly can be. Because there’s been plenty of journals, they fold after two years because they haven’t thought about the importance of the technical infrastructure or the social infrastructure. Like how do you get staff together to build these things? And so Kairos has spent a lot of time building those things from the inside out so that we can now teach others how to sustainably put on the show.

Stacey Copeland: [00:11:50] So I’m a media studies person, so it wasn’t too novel to me to think about a scholarship in alternative forms. But I really enjoyed publishing with Kairos because it brought me back to basics of what is a web text at its root, and thinking again about being strategic, about how much you want to include rather than just making it really flashy. Well, what do we actually need? What are the essentials that we need to include in this web text? Because you are building it as a text for the website. So thinking about the actual role of the web text and what that’s bringing to the publication. When Hannah had first talked to me about doing this, I was like, ‘Oh gosh, I don’t code.’ We ended up hiring someone to help us with that. But I know other people really want to dig into coding themselves and maybe feel daunted by it. Could we talk a bit about some of the initiatives that Kairos does, and particularly you do around KairosCamp, too? Because that is another fascinating aspect related to this journal.

Cheryl Ball: [00:12:51] One of the things that we have to come back to fundamentally as writing teachers, running this journal, and writing scholars is that writing is a process. Writing is collaborative, writing is a social activity. A couple of years ago, maybe five years ago, Kairos embarked on a more strategic mentoring and outreach. We had been meeting face to face at one of our other annual conferences, the Computers and Writing Conference. We would have a three hour workshop and I think we started that in 2008. It started out as like, How do you get published in Kairos? And here’s sort of like a three hour workshop around that, and people thought it was going to be hands on tech. But really, you can’t start with the tech. You have to start with the idea, just as when you’re writing an article, like what’s your research question or what’s the thing that’s of interest to you? And then how do you say what you need to say in order to get it done right? And so the tech kind of comes later, in some cases with web texts not so late that you’ve divorced the design of the piece from the argument of the piece, those two things have to be married in a very close knit way in order for it to be a successful web text. So we started migrating those face to face three hour workshops into online events. And the pandemic, for good or ill, helped facilitate that for us because people were looking for those kinds of community touchstones that they could come together and talk about their scholarship in ways that they weren’t having time to do in the rest of their lives because they were all frantically working on teaching online.

Cheryl Ball: [00:14:28] Right? So we began holding quarterly open houses that one of our managing editors, Chris Andrews, runs, one of our other managing editors, Erin Kathleen Bahl, she began hosting what we call Kairos the road to publication because our host colon name right, is Rhetoric, Technology, pedagogy RTP. So you’ll see all of our Twitter handle is Kairos RTP. And so we took the RTP and entrenched it to road to publication for this other workshop. The morning was sort of a here’s how you think about starting your web text or like things to think about as you’re beginning this digital publishing journey. And the afternoon was, okay, what’s your project and how do we break out into small groups and get feedback from people who are peer reviewers or editorial board members, not just of Kairos but of other digital publications. So Kairos began sort of opening its arms to bring in as many other journal editors and publishers as it could who were also publishing web text like texts to expand how that knowledge gets distributed. From that, we get KairosCamps. KairosCamp is modelled on another workshop that my mentor, Cindy Self, who is one of the grandmothers of the field of computers and writing that she used to hold for like 30 years. And I worked with her and I said, I want to do that, but not for teaching purposes. I want to do it for scholarly purposes. And let’s trade on the name KairosCamp, right? And I got all my co editors together, and for two weeks we would bring people in and we had a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for a while that paid for folks to come to the school I was teaching at and sit with us for two weeks as we helped them build their project out.

Cheryl Ball: [00:16:09] And it was glorious and I loved it. And then the pandemic hit and we couldn’t do things face to face and we didn’t have the grant didn’t get renewed. And so we put it on hiatus for a couple of years. And then I decided, as I migrated out of being a full time academic, I was like, You know what? People still want this. And under the model that Cindy ran. They paid some good money to have this dedicated time to work on their projects. And it wasn’t just the time, it was the mentorship. I started hosting a five day virtual KairosCamp this past year, which uses Cairo’s name as a connective point with the permission of the other editors. But it’s actually a business that’s separate from Kairos, like I’ve got a KairosCamp light, which is a three hour interactive version. If you can’t do the five full days, maybe you can do a three hour version or there’ll be a webinar that’s that’s an hour long version that’s like an on demand kind of thing that sort of helps people step through beginning stages of their projects just to get the information out there and get people to expand their thinking a little bit more.

Stacey Copeland: [00:17:19] Talking about community and about the growth of Kairos over the decades. Kairos has such a rich community, and then KairosCamp is one of those entry points in for folks. You’ve been so involved in not only Kairos, but in other aspects of these questions of digital publishing, of open access that the journal really embodies. I wanted to give you some time to maybe just talk about what are you hoping to see the next 5 to 10 years in the world of digital publishing.

Cheryl Ball: [00:17:49] This is going to be a very amorphous response, but it’s the one that I feel very strongly about. I want scholars to feel like they can put time towards experimental work. So my goal is to see more off the cuff research, more research ‘bits’. One of the things that we’re trying to do a lot with our mentoring and outreach at Kairos is ensure that we offer spaces that are as welcoming and inclusive as possible to as many types of scholars as possible. So that’s my desire for the next five years to see us really explode who gets to publish and how.

[music in]

Stacey Copeland: [00:18:41] A big thank you to Cheryl Ball for joining us here on Amplified this month. If you have comments or additional thoughts on our conversation today or any other amplified topics, please do reach out. We’re always interested in hearing from other folks engaging with scholarly podcasting and alternative modes of academic publishing. Thanks for listening to Amplified, our podcast and audio blog about the sounds of scholarship coming to you each month from our team here at the Amplify Podcast Network. As the snow begins to fall here in Canada, we’re taking next month off. That’s December, for the winter break and look forward to continuing the conversation in 2023.

[music out]

Guest Bio

Dr. Cheryl E. Ball is a digital nomad, publishing consultant, writer, and intuitive. She worked as a faculty member in several institutions for 14 years before transitioning to library publishing for 5 years. She continues to edit Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, and she is also Executive Director for the Council of Editors of Learned Journals.  In her spare time, she reads tarot, studies Iyengar Yoga, and watches nature for its wonder. Oh, and binges shows on Netflix.

Links and Resources

Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy

McGregor, Hannah, and Stacey Copeland. 2022. “Why Podcast?: Podcasting as Publishing, Sound-Based Scholarship, and Making Podcasts Count.” Kairos 27 (1).

Vector Journal:

Scalar, open-source platform:

Intro + Outro Theme Music: Pxl Cray – Blue Dot Studios (2016)

Written and produced by: Stacey Copeland