We’re back on our mission to find the best magazines and journals professional bodies have to offer. This time, we hear from Dr Jon Sutton, Managing Editor of the British Psychological Society‘s The Psychologist.
I’ve been editor of The Psychologist, the magazine of the British Psychological Society, for almost 18 years now. Inevitably, much has changed. When I started, we allowed ourselves a splash of colour – eight pages in the middle – every three months. Cover art was biked over to the printers. Even the most basic of websites was a few years down the line. In fact, it was only three years ago that a significantly revamped online presence changed the nature of my job overnight, turning those relentless monthly deadlines into relentless daily ones. (Cheers, electric interweb.)
As I finally ‘come of age’ as an editor, I do look back on one constant during our development – our insistence that The Psychologist must represent the ‘voice of the membership’ of the British Psychological Society. A forum for communication, discussion and (importantly) controversy. Maintaining this focus is a constant challenge, and even (at times) a real battle. Let me give some examples.
Firstly, what is the ‘voice of the membership’? In my mind we’re a mouthpiece for many. A ‘house organ’ is a limp organ. Of course we take our role as the publication of a membership organisation seriously, but we pride ourselves on editorial independence. Maintaining this against a backdrop of ever-changing Trustees and several Chief Executives has provided some of the toughest moments for me, my team and our Editorial Advisory Committee.
What is ‘the membership’? Psychology as a subject is so diverse, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a professional Society where you can take two members and realise they disagree at even the most fundamental of levels, for example in relation to the role of scientific evidence. All we can do is attempt to shine a light on all corners of this weird and wonderful world, and provide a forum in which people can come out into the open and attempt to find some common ground (or at least a shared interest).
Diversity is key in that enterprise, in terms of format, topic and author. We know we need to do more to represent BAME psychologists, female contributors and more. But we’re proud of how much we’ve done over the years to provide a home for all: from 16-year-old students to the most eminent psychology has to offer; from the most detailed and scientific of accounts to the brief and personal; from modern day to historical; from serious academic debate to a review of the new Blade Runner film. If you can engage and inform our large and diverse audience, you’re in.
Back to that ‘voice’ – should it be modulated, translated? We do now have a full-time journalist, but by far the majority of our material is by psychologists themselves – articles, views, reviews, interviews and more. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this. Our team puts together a magazine of up to 96 pages a month, plus a rolling online presence (with an increasing amount of ‘online only’ material). We manage this almost exclusively from our members, readers, psychologists, offering their time and expertise to contribute material. In an age of increasing pressures on everyone, I am eternally grateful for that. It could make my life an awful lot easier if I just took on an army of freelance writers, saying ‘give me 2000 words on x by next Friday’, but The Psychologist simply wouldn’t be the same publication. The voice could get that little bit harder to hear.
That multitude of voices has been central to our evolution over the years, constantly pushing us into new niches – a much bigger online presence, the app, live events (including regular slots at Latitude Festival) and more. I see parallels in so many professional bodies and publications, in terms of the discussions we’ve had and the dilemmas we grapple with to this day. How do we revamp the print magazine in an increasingly digital age? (More ‘magazine’ but not ‘magaziney’ was my unhelpful answer). Should the online and paper offerings begin to diverge more? (Probably, but that’s tough with a very small team.) Can we even get the majority of members to get the mag out of the damn polybag each month? (Answers on a postcard: that way, I’ll read it.) But I personally believe something that marks us out is just how guided we’ve been by the voice of the membership. Long may that continue.
Dr Jon Sutton, Managing Editor
Follow The Psychologist at @psychmag