Kevin Cheng  

Opinions Anytime, Anywhere

September 3rd, 2005 by Kevin Cheng :: see related comic

Some of you may know that we are contributors to ACM-CHI’s Interactions magazine. Every issue for the last year has included a comic which has never appeared on this site.

A few days ago, I received an email that was sent en masse to all contributors of looks like a particular issue of Interactions by Susan Dray of Dray & Associates. I’m familiar somewhat with hers and her colleague David Siegel’s work and I respect them but I can only say her email simply confirms what I’ve suspected for awhile - we take ourselves too seriously.

Since she felt the need to share with the entire distribution rather than just the editors of the magazine, I’m going to quote an excerpt here:

> Elizabeth and Jonathan,

> It was with shock and anger that we read the letter from Bill Buxton in the September/October Letters to the Editor column. It pans our column from the March/April issue. We are astounded that you did not bother to contact us before publishing this letter. When a letter to the editor criticizing an article is published, it is normal practice, to say nothing of simple common courtesy that the authors of that article are invited to respond, and that their response is published immediately following the letter IN THE SAME ISSUE. That we would find out about the letter from reading it in the publication, and that you would not even contact us about it is insulting. We would not tolerate such treatment for any outside contributor to our column, and we must be able to absolutely assure potential contributors that this publication would deal responsibly and professionally with any such letter criticizing their contribution, by inviting their response to it. While no author should be treated this way, it is particularly galling that you did this with people who have contributed as many hours as we have, over many years, on a volunteer basis, towards the success of this magazine.

> We would like to respond in the next issue, as inadequate as this will necessarily be. We would also like our letter (not this one, a separate one which we will write for the magazine) to be introduced with an apology from you, the editors, and a statement that, in the future, authors will be given a chance to respond in print in the same issue.

First, there’s the fact that the editors, Jonathan and Elizabeth, are both editors of the magazine on a voluntary basis. This means they take their own time above and beyond the “real” jobs they have to bring out a quality magazine (one which has improved remarkably since they went on board). I don’t know if Susan has ever edited a publication but it’s non-trivial to get the articles in (especially since, as she pointed out, they are submitted on a voluntary basis), make sure the content is cohesive and get everything out in a timely fashion. Pinging individual authors every time somebody chooses to submit a response, much less ensuring it goes out _in the same issue_? Unrealistic is an understatement.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, we’re now at an age of anytime, anywhere. I’m not sure what the distribution of Interactions is, but I’m guessing it’s probably less than say, [Boxes and Arrows][1] and definitely less than the readership of mailing lists like [IxDG’s][2]. Guess what? People can write responses to print articles in those forums, impacting more people, and Susan will _not_ be informed.

Opinions are free flowing these days and come in many forms. You’re free to react to another person’s opinion, as I’m doing so now but don’t set unrealistic expectations on others.

I think it’s worthwhile to add that we came to Interactions because the previous editorial staff neglected to contact us and published an old strip without our knowledge. That’s a copyright issue, which is far worse to me than “someone responded to you”. We chose to contact the editors (and only the editors) in a non-inflammatory fashion and ended up with a professional relationship with them.

Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that debate is a good thing. We think many of the comments on OK/Cancel are worth far more than our initial articles. I think that getting Bill Buxton, Susan Dray and others debating issue to issue would actually make me more likely to be interested in their opinions and the publication.

[1]: “Boxes and Arrows”
[2]: “Interaction Design Discussion Group”

6 Responses to “Opinions Anytime, Anywhere”
Dave wrote:

And what is more important Bill Buxton was right. ;) (ok, couldn’t resist, had to be said.)

I think what this speaks to is “professionalism”. Does it change b/c there are also networked outlets today that didn’t exist before and that usually allow for more visceral responses?

does not itself allow for these responses, yet, nothing is stopping me from posting MY response on my blg and reference the original article.

But is a print magazine, and there are some common practices for print magazines that exist that maybe the authors of said print magazine would expect.

I wonder if the a similar letter would have been printed if it wasn’t from such a distinguished member of the HCI community.

The question is, should print magazines still have to follow old “professional courtesies”. I do not think the fact that is volunteer run has anything to do with it. When I write stuff for Boxes and Arrows I KNOW that I’ll have a chance to rebuke “published” responses (and I love to do so). But if I was to be publicly blasted in print where I can juxtapose my retort, I might be a little more worried.

I was just recently published in the latest and it didn’t concern me till just now that the editors might post a letter about my article without telling me. Hmmmm? as we all know as UCD people context is everything. A letter printed means that the editors made a decision to say THIS opinion is of such import that out of only 2 letters printed an issue we think this one is the one to print. It gives it more cred than if I posted an opinion on the blog, or on the IxDG list. Something to consider is that the cost of print still gives it a bit more cred than its web counterparts.

Curt Sampson wrote:

I don’t think that on-line posts are comparable at all to printed letters. On line posts have nothing to do with the editors of the magazine; someone else posts them. However, for letters published in the magazine, the editor is chosing to publish them, and is generally publishing relatively few of them, with a long deadline. Sending copies of letters to be published to the contributors of the articles the letters comment on does not seem overly difficult to me, and not to do so seems bad on two points. First, it’s going to anger the author, which is not going to make your life any easier, especially in terms of getting contributions. Second, as the editor, you’re responsible for making sure that facts in your magazine are facts, and opinions are reasonable. Asking the author to comment on a letter discussing his work strikes me as a reasonable minimum of research to do.

Jesse wrote:

Due to the time lag of printed media and especially with guest writers, the standard practice is to review all letters and retorts with the author before publishing. In the case of many newspapers and magazines, most authors are members of the editor’s staff so most of these debates are abstracted within the newspaper’s staff.

I have not read the article in question, however if the article contains glaring inaccuracies or biases, the author should be prepared for a great number of uncomfortable responses and should also realise they do not have veto power over the editor publishing said responses. In some circumstances, the author can be given leave to respond directly to the letter.

In any case, publishing things with a large time lag without first reviewing with the author should be avoided. It is irrelevant that immediate responses exist in another forum because the reader may not access both types of media.

Reed wrote:

Susan Dray is right that she should have her response to the letter published, but she should allow some more flexibility to the volunteer editors and the time they have to work with. Responding in the same issue does *not* need to be garaunteed. Many publications carry on long discussions over in the letters over the course of several issuse; this is actually a good thing, as topics from old issues aren’t forgotten as soon as the magazine hits the recycling bin.

John wrote:

In a previous life, I worked as an editor on trade journals and medical journals. In those days, there was no e-mail. We still had phone, fax, and fed ex. It is inexcusable that Susan Dray was not given the opportunity to respond in the same issue in which the letter appeared. An apology is warranted.

If time was an issue, then the editors should have waited until the next issue to print both the letter and the response.

Ron Zeno wrote:

People arguing to be excused from professional courtesy. Very sad indeed, but certainly no surprise. Of course, I’m also not surprised when the very same people are not treated as professionals either. I can’t understand all their complaining about it though ;)

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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?