NCTE/CCC Online Web Editor Positions (or, I still don’t think they quite get the internets and that worries me)

I found out via Jenny Edbauer Rice on Facebook that the NCTE is searching for two web editor positions: one for CCC Online and one for CCCC MemberWeb. It is the latest in a curious saga, one where I have even had a very minor role.

Before I get to the ads themselves, let me recap what came prior, at least as I understand it, and my small role:

Three or four or so years ago, the NCTE/CCC empowered/employed Collin Brooke to put together The CCC Online, which has published abstracts, table of contents, and which has also brought a bookmarking and tagging sensibility to the archive of articles. Is it perfection? Is it what I would have done with this? Is it the best thing sliced bread? No, of course not. But I think the idea behind this site is pretty good and cleaver, and I suspect there are a variety of different reasons for the ways the site works or doesn’t work that are beyond Collin’s control.

Anyway, back in early October 2008, Collin found out that the NCTE/CCCC was looking for a new web editor, and the way he found out about this, as he wrote about on his blog, was via another blog and the ad the NCTE/CCCC had placed. In other words, Collin was unceremoniously demoted and/or dumped after all the work he put into the effort.

Around mid November 2008, I was approached by some of the powers that be at NCTE about becoming the CCC Online editor. I had completely forgotten about the earlier call, so initially, I was kind of flattered. But then, after a few emails back and forth, my memory was jogged. I said thanks but no thanks and offered several suggestions for how they might re-purpose/re-think this position.

The response was something like “smart folks like you are confusing this with the fine work that Collin Brooke does; it’s not,” the implication being that I was turning this down out of loyalty to Collin. But that wasn’t the case at all. I mean, Collin is a professional colleague and someone I chat with once in a while and I didn’t/don’t want to do him “wrong;” at the same time, the main reason for turning down the position was the nature of the position itself. And to the extent that Collin figured into this, my thinking was mostly self-centered: namely, if NCTE was willing to pull the rug out from under him with little notice, what assurances would I have that they wouldn’t do the same thing to me?

In any event, the current call is an improvement because they are acknowledging that it is enough work to be two positions instead of the one it was before, and because they are recommending “institutional support” of one course release per year (though it isn’t clear who is going to pay for that release time, and in this economic climate, I am pretty sure that if I wanted to apply for these jobs– and I don’t, btw– my institution would not give me any release time). These might be good opportunities for the right kinds of people.

But there are still a lot of problems.

The CCC Online editor is being hired to collaborate with the editor of the print version of CCC and to “edit a new CCC Online that provides a new publication venue for CCC.” What that might mean, according to the ad, is more or less web-based versions of stuff that is in the print version of CCC, things that don’t quite fit in the print version of CCC(as mentioned recently on Deb Hawhee’s blog, though this happened to her and her co-authors in a rather unexpected fashion), reviews, abstracts, multi-media texts “composed by students and faculty” (?), and such.

All this leaves me wondering: what is the relationship between the CCC Online and the CCC in print? And if that relationship is as close as I think that it is, shouldn’t the editor of the CCC be doing the hiring for this person? In fact, shouldn’t the CCC Online be an assistant editor to the CCC? If you don’t do that, don’t you run the risk of two very different journals with different editorial policies and such both being referred to as CCC?

The other “red flag” from this ad is the line “There will be technical support from the NCTE/CCCC staff so that actual programming or Web building is not required.” First off, given some of the NCTE/CCCC’s history with being able to support online texts, I for one would not trust this technical support. As I discuss at some length in my article “‘Where Do I List This on My CV?’ Version 2.0,” I had an article in the CCC Online in 2002 that was “disappeared” by NCTE’s web/technical support staff.

Second, you cannot cleanly separate the means of production– e.g., the “technical stuff”– from the content being produced. Boiled down to a simple sentence, I take this as one of the key points of “new media” and “Web 2.0″ writing environments, and if someone at NCTE would actually read some of what they’ve published in recent years (including the just released “Writing in the 21st Century by incoming CCC editor Kathleen Yancey), then they would understand that. And the fact that they don’t get that, well, that’s a problem.

And besides, what does “actual programming or Web building is not required” literally mean?

Let’s take a look at the other job, that of CCCC MemberWeb Editor. Gotta love the word “MemberWeb.” Here’s a qute from the ad:

The MemberWeb Editor will have the responsibility of orchestrating uses of new Web building structures now available at the CCCC Website (e.g., blogs, Wikis, Face Book and so on), moderating new community spaces, publishing relevant information, and working with NCTE/CCCC to develop a stronger Website with new features. There will be technical support from the NCTE/CCCC staff so that actual programming or Web building is not required. We anticipate that after the initial restructuring period, no more than 5 to 10 hours per month will be required of the Web Editor’s time.

Yikes! Let’s parse this out a bit:

  • Basically, the job of the MemberWeb (TM) editor is going to be to create a community that people are actually interested in participating in electronically. As if that meant just starting a blog, a Wikis (sic), a Face Book (sic), and so on. Sadly, creating a blog that becomes a community resource is not as easy as building a baseball field in an Iowa cornfield– that is, just because you build it doesn’t mean that they will come.
  • “Publishing relevant information” means either cut and paste stuff from other places (not exactly a way to build community), or writing a lot of copy, which, to do well, is going to take more than 5 to 10 hours a month. Like a lot more. Like four or five times as much time more.
  • And then there’s that “actual programming or Web building is not required” phrase again. First off, what does this mean? Does posting to a blog or a Wikis (sic), or a Face Book (sic) not “actual programing or Web building?” Do they mean anything that looks like code? Does that mean that basic HTML or HTML of the sort you need to know to do any sort of customization to a Blogger blog? Does it mean PHP and MySql? Does it mean binary, server maintenance, network administration?

    Seriously, what does this mean?

    Second, how can you know which of these Web 2.0 technologies you are going to use (including the “and so on,” I suppose) if you don’t have a level of technical expertise that reaches beyond the level being specified here, which is “none?”

Anyway, I’ve procrastinated/vented enough about this, so I’d better get back to work. I will close with two observations/thoughts about all this:

First, I would suggest that the reason why NCTE was not able before to get someone to take on on the web editing job and why they are unlikely to have success with these latest calls is that anyone who is qualified to do this work knows that these would be problematic positions. I don’t know, maybe these positions would be good for someone trying to build a CV and who is at an institution where this sort of non-traditional scholarly work can count for something. Or maybe these would be good positions for who is on a mission for NCTE and for the field, someone who wants to get involved with the hierarchy of NCTE/CCCC. I guess we’ll see what happens.

Second, I’m increasingly worried that NCTE doesn’t seem to “get it” when it comes to an online presence. These ads would be understandable and excusable if they were posted 10 or 12 years ago; that CCC and the NCTE are running them now is scary. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that academic publishing is quickly moving online, and, like traditional print journalism, it seems obvious to me that the print version of publications like CCC will soon only exist as archives. When I assign readings from journals like CCC or Computers and Composition or whatever, I don’t make photocopies anymore; I simply find the PDF online someplace and either make available to my students via eReserves or a link. I still get the paper version of CCC, but only because of my NCTE membership, which I may very well let lapse this year.

In other words, the print version of the journal– of all academic journals, IMO– is becoming increasingly irrelevant. NCTE is still mulling over/trying to figure out editors for CCC Online and for MemberWebs (TM) even as they promote the importance of electronic literacy, and even as Kathleen Yancey takes over as the CCC editor. That’s what I mean by scary.

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