- Opening Up [in] Transition’s Open Peer-Review Process
I must admit that my primary reason for getting involved with [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image Studies at its outset had nothing to do with videographic criticism. I was a passive observer of the emerging realm of videographic work, primarily keeping aware through conversations with my friend and colleague at Middlebury, Christian Keathley, but rarely watching video essays unless the topic was particularly compelling to me. I had no real interest in doing my own video work and certainly did not imagine ever investing my scholarly and teaching energy into videographic criticism as much as I have since 2015. Instead, I jumped at the chance to co-found [in]Transition as an opportunity to push new boundaries around an issue that I have been more passionate about for years: peer review.
This interest dates back to the originating moment of MediaCommons in 2006. With the leadership of Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Avi Santo, MediaCommons launched with ambitions to forge new experiments in academic publishing and create an academic network for media scholars. Back in those days, online scholarly communities were mostly found in the blog rolls of individual scholars or in group digital publications like Flow—2006 was before the birth of Twitter or Academia.edu, and Facebook was just a campus-based service mostly for elite American institutions. Fitzpatrick and Santo invited me to join the original MediaCommons editorial board, a role in which I have continued for the past decade on the promise that it would be an opportunity to try new things in a supportive, risk-friendly environment.
Not surprising to anyone who has read Fitzpatrick’s excellent book Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, one of these “new things” was to offer innovative forms of peer review.1 Rather than simply following the norms of print publishing, which themselves were then and still are highly idiosyncratic, inconsistent, and inadequate to the goals of producing better scholarship, MediaCommons started with a vision that, in a digital platform, review should be less about gatekeeping what gets published and more about filtering and contextualizing that which is already published. [End Page 137] We launched MediaCommons Press as a site to publish drafts of scholarly writing, inviting open peer review via the platform CommentPress. Fitzpatrick pioneered the successful test case for the approach, with a highly engaging open “peer-to-peer review” of her book Planned Obsolescence preceding its print publication from New York University Press; I followed suit a few years later with my own book, Complex TV. In both instances, we found making the review process visible to readers transformed the function of peer review from that of simple gatekeeping via a closed black box, to a visible discussion about the merits and ideas of scholarship. In short, such open peer review made the publishing process more of a conversation than a monologue, a model that better fit my own academic ethos. However, the process of doing open review of a monograph is quite time consuming and daunting for most writers and is hard to scale into an ongoing set of projects.
Thus, in 2013, when Drew Morton reached out to MediaCommons to propose starting a journal of video essays, I happily signed on to represent the site in the journal’s development, specifically because I thought it would be ideal for innovative forms of open review. I knew that Christian Keathley and Catherine Grant had been discussing starting a similar journal on their own, so we connected the three together, who quickly joined forces to become the founding editors of [in]Transition. I framed myself as “project manager” for MediaCommons, and I also invited Christine Becker of Cinema Journal to become a partner, providing an expanded digital platform to the journal and disciplinary legitimacy for [in]Transition through its official connection to SCMS. The five of us developed the concept and operation of the journal from scratch, building off the work of MediaCommons’ development partners at New York University to design the actual site.
As we began to plan, we realized that simple publication of video essays is not...