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PJ Online | Articles (A year in the life of the editor)

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The Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 268 No 7185 p221
16 February 2002

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A year in the life of the editor

Olivia Timbs looks back on her first 12 months as editor of The Journal


A year ago I became editor of The Pharmaceutical Journal. I was the first woman to hold the post, but pharmacy has been tolerant of women and they have held positions of responsibility for many decades, so that was not an issue. However, I am not a pharmacist. I am a biological scientist, specialising in the history of science and medicine at degree level, and a medical journalist and editor with over 25 years of experience in journals, magazines and newspapers.

In some quarters it was thought that I would not understand the finer points of the practice of pharmacy and the workings of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society; that subtleties between views held by different groups would be lost on me, and that, as a result, I would be too biddable and Council members would be able to influence the stance taken by The Journal.

To begin with, I was looking forward to being taken to one side and having my ear bent. But as the weeks passed I realised that was not likely to happen. Somebody out there will say that if I were doing my job properly I would be privy to the innermost thoughts of Council members and, like lobby correspondents in Parliament, I should long for a leaked nugget of information or two.

However, since The Journal has to perform a unique balancing act, satisfying the needs of the Society, the desires of the Council and the hopes of members, the profession's interests are best served by The Journal remaining separate from those who see a conspiracy round every corner.

After a year of attending Council meetings and other Society events, I have a much clearer idea of where different Council members are coming from ? but anyone reading the Council reports closely would, over time, be able to draw similar conclusions. What I have discovered is that for every opinion strongly held by one pharmacist, there is an equal and opposite one held by another. This is one of the great strengths of the profession.

However, a consequence of that strength is that it is also easy to offend pharmacists. The correspondence columns would suggest that either The Journal is devilish, because we do not unequivocally support their sectional interest, or a poodle (of the Society and the Council).

When The Journal behaves like a poodle, there is a tacit assumption that we must have been leaned on by the powers that be. There is no suggestion that we might have been able to draw our own conclusions about a topic.

My strength is that I really have no personal agenda or axe to grind. I believe that I can see beyond such things as the community/hospital divide, the locum/employer relationship and the multiple/ independent contractor tension (and any others I have left out). Whatever readers may think, I am in nobody's pocket.

I see my role as a facilitator to enable the staff on The Journal to produce an enjoyable, informative publication that furthers the needs of all sections of the profession.

I must thank the staff of The Journal who, over the past year, have risen well beyond the challenges I have set them. It has been a long time since I have heard: "We don't do it that way."

One of my first decisions was to carry out a readership survey which took place in March. I was struck that the number of younger readers who replied did not reflect the percentage of young pharmacists on the Register and older pharmacists were over-represented.

We have redesigned the plastic wrap in which copies are posted so that the cover is instantly visible, partly to attract more of the under-35s. We have made the covers more topical, and less timeless and "chocolate-boxy", so that pharmacy is seen as a dynamic part of the evolving health service. We hope that this approach to the covers inspires more readers to open The Journal.

Readers should also recognise that the news section has been strengthened, that we are becoming more proactive in finding interesting news and not merely waiting for reports to land on our desks. We also hope that with the separation of the Society section from the rest of the contents, readers will be clearer about the source of material.

Editorial board

I was also charged shortly after I joined to put an editorial board together. My main source of contacts was staff on The Journal who recommended a long list of people who would make useful contributions to the development of the publication. I narrowed the list down, after asking the opinions of a number of other pharmacists, so that there was a representative of most branches of pharmacy and Scotland and Wales.

Some members of the Society might have expected that the board would be a buffer between The Journal and the Council. So far, they have not had to fulfil that role although on one occasion they mediated between a member of the Society and The Journal over the publication of a letter. After two successful editorial board meetings I think the board's main value is as a sounding board for ideas that we have in-house and wish to air before committing ourselves to print. I also hope board members will increasingly help The Journal writers find someone to approach when they are looking for a comment on a paper or Government announcement.

One of the board's recommendations from the most recent meeting was that The Journal should strengthen coverage from Scotland and Wales. This will become increasingly noticeable over the next few months.

Contributions

Another development that will be welcomed by academics and researchers is our decision to publish the date when original papers are accepted for publication. This has already started. The acceptance date is the date after which a paper has been refereed, authors have made any necessary corrections and/or amendments, the paper has been resubmitted and The Journal has agreed that it is ready for publication. From the date that a paper is first submitted to acceptance can be as little as one month or — rarely — as long as a year (the time may depend on The Journal finding a referee who is available or the commitments of the authors to complete any amendments). The Journal will always aim to publish papers within four months of acceptance.

The letters to the editor are different. If we do not publish a letter the instant it arrives in the office, the phone rings, the fax whirrs and e-mails flash. Letters can be delayed but not for sinister reasons. One may require a response from a third party, another may need to be seen by our libel lawyer, or there may not be enough room for a third.

Or it may be rejected. Letters that are of no relevance to the practice of pharmacy will not be published; neither will those that start on one topic and end on another, having raised every gripe in the book in between. We try to limit the length of letters to 400 words and to tidy up the English (edit, that is, not censor). Where letters are factually incorrect and based on rumour we do our best to make them publishable; I have said to a number of correspondents if their arguments are strong they do not need to use intemperate language for the points to be made.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year as editor. I recognise it is a huge privilege to be able to part of the development of such a distinguished profession and hope that readers will continue to believe The Journal is serving the profession well.

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Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20006026

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