What exactly does an editor do?
11 tasks performed by editors of medical journals
By Joseph Alpert, MD Posted on 20 May 2013
A 2011 article in Smithsonian magazine described the infrastructure and operation of the Colosseum in ancient Rome, as well as the nature of the entertainment furnished in the arena. I have referred to this monthly magazine in previous editorials because it regularly publishes a number of fascinating pieces. In this case, I learned something particularly interesting: The Latin title of the person who sponsored the Roman games translates into “the editor.”
The editor of the games underwrote the performances financially and usually dictated the types of entertainment displayed. It is common knowledge that many of these spectacles involved bloody events, including battles with wild animals, skirmishes between gladiators, and executions. [note color="#f1f9fc" position="left" width=400 align="alignleft"] [caption id="attachment_11941" align="alignleft" width="158"] Joseph S. Alpert, MD[/caption]
The AuthorDr. Joseph Alpert is Professor of Medicine and director of coronary care at The University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson, Arizona, and Editor-in-Chief of The American Journal of Medicine, published by Elsevier. He came to Arizona in 1992 from the University of Massachusetts in Worcester, where he was professor of medicine, director of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, and vice chairman of medicine. This editorial originally ran in AJM Volume 124, Issue 6 , Pages 475-476, June 2011. [/note]
I felt a moment of personal irony when comparing my own role as the editor of The American Journal of Medicine (AJM) with that of the ancient Roman editors of the Colosseum. I do not sponsor the journal financially, nor are there bloody events contained within each issue. However, some might argue that a number of our pathologic and dermatologic images verge on gory! Having given some thought to other differences between my own job and that of my Roman predecessors, I have listed 11 tasks performed by editors of medical journals. I suspect that at least some of them also were undertaken by the editors responsible for events in the Colosseum.
1. Philosophy. The editor of a journal, in conjunction with the publisher, chooses the philosophical direction of the publication. For example, in my capacity as editor of AJM, I must decide whether issues will contain only clinical material or whether basic science articles are to be published as well. Moreover, how many of the articles in AJM will be didactic and how many will be original research communications?
3. Final decisions. Once peer review has been completed by associate editors or peer reviewers, I have to determine whether their decisions to accept, reject, or revise a prospective manuscript are correct. I usually, but not universally, concur with their conclusions. If I disagree, then I communicate with the associate editor responsible for the recommendation so that we can arrive at a final unified decision.
4. Responses. Author complaints, suggestions for material to be published in AJM, and questions concerning the way AJMfunctions require a reply from me. I may agree with criticisms or favor recommended submission topics for review articles or didactic material. If I disagree with a complaint or suggestion, I try to explain to the correspondent why a particular decision was made by the editorial board of AJM or why the proposed topic is not likely to get a high priority for publication in AJM.
6. Administrative duties. AJM, like all publications, is a business. As such, the editor is required to perform a range of administrative functions, such as financial assessments, hiring and termination, rental of space and equipment, and management of insurance issues. I often prefer to make these decisions in conjunction with the managing editor of AJM, Pamela J. Powers, and when necessary, with the help of our executive publisher at Elsevier, Pamela Poppalardo in New York City.
8. Strategic planning. Journal publishing is a competitive enterprise; editors and publishers are anxious to have their journals recognized for their excellence. Many times during the year, the executive publisher and I discuss ways to improve AJM and ensure an ever-increasing readership. Every second year, the associate editors, the subspecialty editors, and the executive publishers gather for a 2-day retreat to discuss past successes and failures and to plan future directions for AJM. Several years ago, Pam Powers and I initiated a blog for AJM. This continues to be a popular site for communication concerning material that we publish in AJM.
10. Communication. I believe that this is the most important component of my position as editor of AJM. I strive for effective, clear, and concise verbal and written communication with the staff, publisher, and readership of AJM. I make certain that each issue of AJM includes an editorial I have written—this current piece offers an example. Because the purpose of AJM is to successfully communicate with our readers, the ability to fulfill this duty is the most important skill required of an editor.
The multiple responsibilities of a medical journal's editor only superficially resemble those of the original Roman editors who sponsored and planned spectacles for the Colosseum. The Roman editor, who was frequently the emperor, sought to entertain the populace and thereby curry favor. Editors of medical journals such as AJM have a very different goal because they work to communicate important information to medical professionals, thereby improving the quality of health care in society. Without pushing the analogy too far, I hope that the readers of AJM, like the Romans attending an event in the Colosseum, are impressed with what they see.