Tuesday, 14 January 2014

An Interview with Steve Jones: An Editor’s Viewpoint on Research and Social Media

By Janet Salmons, PhD  #einterview

We have heard researchers’ voices throughout NSMNSS events, Tweetchats and blog posts. Students, alt-academic independent researchers, respected scholars and research institute staff have discussed wide-ranging methodological and ethical issues associated with media-related research. Publication is an important next step for any researcher, one we have not yet explored in the NSMNSS project. To introduce an editor’s perspective into the mix I asked New Media & Society editor Dr. Steve Jones to share some insights.

New media was indeed new in 1999 when Dr. Jones and colleagues Nicholas Jankowski, Rohan Samarajiva and Roger Silverstone launched New Media & Society. With appreciation for the potential of emerging ways and means of communication they sought to create an international, interdisciplinary journal that could “contribute to the social, cultural and political understanding of new media and information technologies” (Jankowski, Jones, Samarajiva, & Silverstone, 1999, p. 5).  Entering its fifteenth year and Volume 16, this Sage Publications journal is going strong.

I initiated the conversation with a broad question: “From your view as editor, what trends do you see in terms of methodology and methods represented in submissions?” Dr. Jones noted that serving as an editor has been “a fascinating position, since when New Media & Society began, social media and networking did not exist.” The editors saw research about MySpace and Friendster, from no particular methodological or disciplinary position. As time passed, research mirrored trends for new media adoption in different parts of the world. Dr. Jones observed an interesting pattern, since much of the submitted research was motivated by the ways the researchers themselves used technology. Researchers wanted to probe more deeply into the new media platforms they used, meaning they had an a priori investment to better understand the online environments where they were already immersed. However, NM & S has not been flooded with manuscripts on each emerging technology trend. While conference presentations tend to center on the latest popular technology, manuscripts submitted have covered a “huge variation of topics and platforms.”

In terms of research approaches, while there is a general awareness of Netnography and online interviews, NM & S submissions tend to use traditional methods such as content analysis, discourse analysis or surveys.  Dr. Jones pointed out that “it is not typical to see innovative methods. I would like to see a greater variety… there could and should be greater awareness of methods used in disciplines other than one’s own, and efforts at complementarity by using multiple methods.

I asked him why he thought researchers use traditional methods to study new, technology-infused topics? He speculated that the importance of journal impact factors for use in evaluating tenure and promotion decisions in an increasingly competitive job market may influence researchers to use known approaches. It can often take more time to do a study using multiple methods, and given the pressures under which young scholars operate it can be difficult to decide to do anything that would take more time. He suggested that in some ways it is unrealistic to expect younger scholars—the ones in the most precarious positions—to move things forward, in the context of disciplinary and institutional conservatism.

Clearly innovation is hard and takes time, but when taking a long view Dr. Jones was heartened by increasing openness towards new methods and theories and greater willingness to use theories from other fields or disciplines.

Changing the subject slightly, I asked Dr. Jones what he looks for and how evaluates quality in research on or about social media? As editor, he relies on reviewers who are dedicated to supporting a community of scholars. When he reads the submissions and reviews, he looks for three main things:

      1. Did the writer follow the guidelines, word limits etc.? The journal is published in print as well as online, so word limits must be upheld to allow for 8 articles in each issue.

 2. To what degree does the research use or advance theory? NM & S still receives submissions that simply describe the phenomenon, without scholarly attention to theory and methods.

 3. Does the article contribute new knowledge to the field? Of the hundreds of good studies that could pass peer review many make no new points and basically say the same thing. Is the work original, with original ideas, or just a snapshot? In 8 issues with 64 articles per year, space is limited so he looks for articles that contribute in a meaningful way.
Given the competitiveness of the selection process, I asked what advice would benefit potential writers. Dr. Jones emphasized that they should “keep going.” Follow the guidelines and “put their best foot forward.” It is unfortunate to see a potentially good submission that with more work could have avoided rejection. “Get the work fully baked, even if that means taking longer. Get informal reviews from peers before submitting.” Get involved by participating, including offering to review.

My take-aways from this conversation with Dr. Jones include a respect for New Media & Society’s mix of new thinking and traditional expectations for solid, high-quality research.  Use the comment area to share your thoughts!


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