The Big CON? How Theresa and ‘her team’ failed to mobilise the media of the age

Llewella Chapman, University of East Anglia

13 June 2017


How was it that Theresa May and ‘her team’ (the Conservative Party) went from being predicted to win a historic landslide to losing their overall majority in the 2017 General Election? Here, I review how Theresa May’s lack of engagement with key media platforms led to one of the most disastrous Conservative campaigns in modern history.

On Friday 9 June 2017, the British electorate woke up to what was deemed almost unthinkable by traditional press outlets weeks before when Theresa May called a snap General Election on 18 April 2017: a hung parliament.

Having failed to secure the landslide expected by pollsters, members of her advisory committee, and if one can believe the Sunday Express, Jean Claude Junker (who allegedly pressured May to hold an election in order to get a stronger mandate for a hard Brexit), Theresa May spoke to the country outside 10 Downing Street in an apparent attempt to assure the country that nothing had changed:

Many of the Prime Minister’s enemies could not hide their glee at such a disastrous result: leading the backlash was the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (sacked by Theresa May after being reportedly told that he ‘needed to get to know his party better’). Now editor of the Evening Standard, Osborne exclaimed on BBC 1’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday 11 June: “She’s a dead woman walking”. Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party, also twisted the knife: “Whatever happens, Theresa May is toast”.

How, though, did it all go so very wrong for Team Theresa? There are a variety of answers that have been offered up by various media outlets over the last few days:

  1. Her team underestimated the youth vote. 18-24 year olds have hitherto felt disenfranchised by politics. They are perceived to feel that either their vote ‘doesn’t count’, or that when they do vote, they aren’t listened to (the EU referendum is a case in point). Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, successfully mobilised this core vote to great effect. The Conservative Party also underestimated the 25-35 age group, suggesting that university tuition fees continue to be a problem after the 2010 coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, where fees rose to £9000 per year.
  2. The Conservative Party Manifesto. The main problem with the manifesto centred around the plan to provide social care for the elderly. This was slammed by many as a ‘dementia tax’, where the manifesto pledged that £100,000 would be protected if elderly patients needed to pay for their own care (it had been suggested before the manifesto’s release that there would be a cap on the amount of care costs paid). As one un-named backbench Conservative MP put it: “It seemed like two people got off their potties without wiping their botties and wrote a manifesto.” (Sunday Times, 11 June 2017: 13). Nigel Evans, Conservative MP for Ribble Valley, was more damning: “It was an amazing own goal. We didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we shot ourselves in the head… A manifesto should be about apple pie and cream but ours was laced with arsenic.” (The Sun, 10 June 2017: 9) How were campaigners for the Conservative Party supposed to sell such a manifesto that attacked their key voters on the doorstep? More importantly, the Labour Party Manifesto, accused of being funded by a ‘magic money tree’, appealed to voters from across parties, and offered ‘hope’ to an electorate sick of austerity politics.
  3. Theresa May herself. Ultimately, she became the key issue with the entire campaign. First, if you want to run a presidential-style campaign based on personality, you need a personality. Second, no one likes vacuous statements like ‘strong and stable leadership’. Especially if you commit U-turn after U-turn on manifesto policy and reveal that you are not so ‘strong and stable’ after all. Third, don’t call what the electorate perceive to be a ‘stupid’ election: nobody likes that. Least of all because the British have been called to the polls three (if you live in Scotland, five) times over the last four years. Brenda from Bristol became the proclaimed ‘voice of the nation’ when told that there was to be another General Election: “You’re joking?! Not another one?!” Fourth, never assume that the electorate are willing to give you a coronation. Finally, Theresa May lacked the magic ingredient: hope. Jeremy Corbyn offered this to younger voters, and hope is something which Barrack Obama campaigned on in 2008 (“Yes we can”). Theresa May offered no hope to anyone, and neither did the Conservative Party manifesto.  Her campaign echoes that of Edward Heath’s in 1974, where he asked the country “Who governs?” The answer returned by the electorate was “Not you”.

These points understood together point towards an aspect of Theresa May’s campaign which was not as effective as it could have been: social media. Unlike the Labour Party who mobilised Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets relatively well, the Conservative Party, or rather ‘Team Theresa’, focused more on traditional press formats. This, I would argue, contributed to May’s failed campaign. Hillary Clinton also failed in this area, with @gyalalmighty summing up the difference between Clinton and Bernie Saunders thus:

‘Bernie Saunders is the grandpa who’s really nice and tells you stories about the war or civil rights movement when you didn’t even ask’.

‘Hilary [sic] Clinton is like the white mom who tries to be “cool” by saying/failing at using slang. She makes lemon squares for school bake sales’.

Sound familiar? To quote the Independent on Clinton’s Presidential campaign:

Complacent beyond belief, riven by a sense of entitlement, an empty slogan-fixated orator of pulverising tedium, incapable of projecting empathy, twice as robotic as the Supreme Dalek… Fatally underestimating the appeal of a maverick rival promising change [Donald Trump], Hillary hid herself away as far as possible in the assumption that she could coast to the line.

A ‘maverick rival’ promising change, @jeremycorbyn had 1.11 million followers on Thursday 8 June (this has since risen to 1.25 million followers at time of writing). @theresa_may has 354,000 followers. Reviewing both party leaders’ tweets, Jeremy Corbyn’s most popular recent tweet scored 157,954 likes (https://twitter.com/jeremycorbyn/status/873899597147639809), Theresa May’s 4,683 (https://twitter.com/theresa_may/status/871395319510118401) [at time of writing]. Momentum, the grassroots campaign movement established in 2015 after Jeremy Corbyn’s successful Labour Party leadership bid, was also integral to Corbyn’s social media campaign. They developed MyNearestMarginal.com to mobilise activists and they offered schooling in how to make best use of social media.

As Andre van Loon, research and insight director at We Are Social, explains: “They [the Conservatives and Theresa May] would have seen the data as it came through and yet they didn’t change anything. They could have tried to be more appealing to young people from the start.” van Loon further argues: “Theresa May’s core message of stability did not appear to play well with undecided voters, but Labour’s engaging and social posts performed better: The ‘strong and stable’ message didn’t seem to attract any new support on social media” (Telegraph, 9 June 2017).

Theresa May’s campaign also failed in making use of another aspect of the media, that of taking part in live televised debates against leaders of other political parties. This concept is relatively new in Britain, having been introduced during the 2010 General Election. A guide to politicised television debates can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26753299.

Since their introduction in the UK, ‘Leaders Debates’ have adopted different formats. In 2010, there were three debates held between the leaders of the three main parties: Gordon Brown (Labour Party), David Cameron (Conservative Party) and Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats). The debates were broadcast on ITV, Sky and the BBC on successive Thursday evenings. In 2015, this format was adapted where the BBC and ITV staged debates to include more political parties: Conservative Party, Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, Green Party, UK Independence Party (UKIP), the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru. Sky and Channel 4 also broadcast a head-to-head debate between David Cameron (Prime Minister) and Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition).

In 2017 the format changed again. This time, ITV broadcast their Leaders Debate on Thursday 18 May. All party leaders had been invited to attend, however after Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn refused, those who turned up included Tim Farron (Liberal Democrats), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Paul Nuttal (UKIP), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) and Caroline Lucas (Green Party). As Theresa May refused to debate Jeremy Corbyn, Sky and Channel 4 adapted their previous head-to-head debate broadcast in 2015, and instead arranged for the two main party leaders to answer questions from a live studio audience and then be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman separately in May v Corbyn: The Battle for Number 10 (broadcast on Monday 29 May). Finally, the BBC held the Election Debate on Wednesday 31 May. As with ITV’s Leaders Debate, this was to be a seven-way podium battle between ‘spokespeople’ from the seven parties, alluding to Theresa May’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to attend televised debates with other party leaders.

By refusing to appear on this media platform, and by Jeremy Corbyn’s late U-turn announcing that he would show up to debate other party leaders on the BBC after all, this worked to undermine May’s decision to avoid the debates, and arguably contributed to making her refusal appear arrogant and a weakness in her leadership. Indeed, during the BBC’s Election Debate Caroline Lucas slammed May’s absence: “I think the first rule of leadership is to show up. You don’t call a general election and say it is the most important election in her lifetime and then not even be bothered to debate the issues at hand.” Tim Farron received huge applause from the audience when asking: “Where do you think Theresa May is tonight? Take a look out your window. She might be out there sizing up your house to pay for your social care.”

She was also roasted on Twitter, for example on the official Twitter account for the TV show House of Cards: “Theresa May. They respect you more when you show strength. Or show up”. This post that was shared more than 13,000 times. Her refusal to appear also started a parody Twitter search:

As the self-proclaimed ‘political love-child’ of Gordon Brown and Hillary Clinton, one would think that Theresa May might have learnt from her adopted political parents’ mistakes. But then, as I was once told: ‘As parents, you can hope that your children will listen to the mistakes you made yourself and learn from them. But sometimes, if they won’t listen to you, it’s necessary to let them learn for themselves’. In her disastrous General Election campaign, Theresa May will have to learn the hard way.

*At time of writing, Theresa May is still “squatting in Downing Street”, as Emily Thornberry puts it (but one day is a long time in politics).


Thank you to Professor John Charmley and Dr Ellen Wright, who kindly read this piece before publication and offered excellent advice.


Llewella Chapman is a PhD student at the University of East Anglia. Her doctoral research focuses on the use of film and television in the UK heritage industry with particular reference to the representation of Henry VIII and Hampton Court Palace. She has published on fashion and lifestyle as promoted in the James Bond films, and is currently under contract with I. B. Tauris to write a monograph entitled Fashioning James Bond: Costume, Gender and Identity in the World of 007. Her research interests include British cinema and television history, fashion, costume and gender.

https://www.uea.ac.uk/ama/research-students/profile/llewella-burton

The Hollywood Glamour Photograph

Ellen Wright, De Montfort University

6 June 2017


Considering Hollywood’s reliance upon photography between the teens and the 1960s, as a means of promoting, shaping and altering star images, the photographic representation of stars remains a peculiarly underdeveloped area of star studies. This is a real missed opportunity, as these images can offer considerable insights into the construction of film stardom and the pleasures of film fandom during the American cinema’s classical era.

Developments at the start of the twentieth century, in studio, lens and lighting technologies, made effective sharp focus, short depth-of-field and close-up shots all possible, and consequently the iconic Hollywood glamour photograph format, exemplified by the work of photographers such as George Hurrell and Ruth Harriet Louise, quickly became both popular and codified during this period.

Greta Garbo photographed for Wild Orchids (Ruth Harriet Louise, 1929)

Greta Garbo (George Hurrell, 1930)

Identifying characteristics of the glamour image include dramatic, exaggerated gestures and posturing, a monochrome colour pallet and expressionistic Chiascuro-style lighting to create heavy theatrical shadows and imply danger, emotional ambiguity or depth of character, ‘dramatizing and conferring an atmosphere of sexual allure on the subjects.’[1]

Rather than being a relatively realist rendering of the film star subjects’ body, the glamour photograph fixated upon the star’s physical form as exceptionally desirable, graceful, exotic or spectacular. Using techniques similar to those developed by the earliest of experimental photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron, they drew specific attention to singular details (for example, in facial close ups it was the eyes, ‘the window to the soul’) and these were often the only element which appeared in sharp relief. [2]

A truncated depth-of-field imbued the glamour photograph with an unreal, insubstantial and dreamlike aura, and an emphasis upon textures such as reflective surfaces (gelled hair, mirrors, rhinestones, jewels), smooth complexions, wisps of cigarette smoke and translucent fabrics all helped to suggest a sensory excess.

In light of such conventions and considering the tendency to carefully light actresses hair or backlight subjects in such images, producing a halo of light behind the stars head, it is not surprising that such images and the stars they depict have often discussed within a psychoanalytical framework and why the film stars of this era came to be known in the popular consciousness as enviable screen ‘gods’ and ‘goddesses.’ [3]

The epitome of the exotic, revered Hollywood goddess, and possibly the most obvious choice for an example of a Hollywood glamour image subject is Marlene Dietrich, an actress whose close, collaborative relationship with Svengali director Joseph Von Sternberg resulted in an expert ability to utilise light in order to sculpt her own appearance and a close association with the medium close-up.

In a 1937 promotional image for the Ernst Lubitsch film Angel, Dietrich is shot in medium close-up, in a spectacular, white, feather headdress, her bare right shoulder in the foreground, presented directly to the lens.

Marlene Dietrich (George Hurrell, 1937)

Her left hand with its long, dark, gleaming fingernails, stroke her bare shoulder, inviting the spectator to contemplate the sensual experience of caressing Dietrich’s flesh. Furthermore, the composition, with the subject framed horizontally across the image, invites the spectator to read across the picture, left to right, head, to face, to shoulder, to hand. And as there is no sign of clothing in this image, presumably they are invited to imagine what falls below Dietrich’s shoulders and beyond the camera’s gaze.

The combination of feather headdress and the talon-like nails, carry a primal or animalistic implication. Dietrich is an exotic ‘creature,’ to be admired in her plush habitat. Here she is posed against satin upholstery, presumably either an approximation of luxurious booth seating in a high-class night club or an index for an opulent boudoir setting.

She tilts her head to her right, provocatively revealing her bare neck, allowing the chiaroscuro lighting to catch her cheekbones and the long, dark lashes of her heavily made-up eyes. The tilt of her head also suggests she is lost in reverie. Despite repeatedly playing fallen or sexually ambiguous women who were often brought low within film narratives, Dietrich herself had an aloof, untouchable quality. In line with that established star persona, and with a broader art tradition of iconic female archetypes such as the muse and the Madonna, Dietrich may be presented here as an object of desire but her facial expression, her pose, the short depth of field and the way she is lit, in that classic three-point style which created the ‘virtual aura’ identified by Dyer as being typical in such imagery, make her appear beatific, distant and ethereal.

The key appeal of the glamour photograph appears to have been the flagrant glorification of its film star subjects, the way these images allowed the player to demonstrate both their ‘personality’ and their acting range (see for example images produced of Garbo or Crawford by Ruth Harriet Louise) through the emphasis upon their invariably flawless visage (the face in glamour photography performs a metonymical function; carrying the burden of the star persona through feature or expression) as well as the ‘closer’ emotional access that these images purported to offer audiences to the pictured star, precisely because of the images’ facial/emotional preoccupation.

Both exoticised and, in some ways, legitimised by being ‘artful’ in form, the glamour photograph may have appeared to offer privileged access but it often concealed as much as it revealed. Its mise-en-scéne was meticulously crafted to project an air of sophisticated modernity, an image of glamorous perfection entirely denuded of any extraneous mundane details that may link its ethereal subject to humdrum reality.

 Unfortunately, this contrivance also had the added consequence of heightening the potential for the film star subject to be perceived as a malleable element within the photographic mise-en-scéne and as a result it is also not unusual for classical era Hollywood stars and the fans who enjoyed and collected these images to be discussed in passive terms, as victims of an exploitative industrial system and for the glamour photograph and the industry who produced them to be treated as suspect.

Certainly, the stars’ eyes, lips, lashes, coiffure, eyebrows, cheekbones, complexion, jewellery, clothing, were all subject to sculpting, editing or (what was referred to in the Hollywood’s burgeoning cosmetics industry as) ‘glamorisation’ in pre-production, and post-production by the notorious airbrush. The glamour image conveyed a stars’ emotional authenticity or integrity, but its conspicuous and careful construction simultaneously suggested inauthenticity or even deception or trickery. As a product intended for mass reproduction and distribution which lacked a true ‘original’ (with the exception of the negative – in itself a questionable original), the glamour photograph lacks an ‘aura’ and thus artistic legitimacy. [4] As Benjamin notes:

The cult of the movie star, fostered by the money of the film industry, preserves not the unique aura of the person but the “spell of the personality,” the phony spell of a commodity. [5]

Benjamin’s use of the term ‘spell’ here alludes to a notion of misdirection or glamour (the word ‘glamour’ being etymologically linked with witchcraft), whilst marking the star phenomenon as a ‘cult’ and a ‘commodity’ suggests an industry cynicism and that followers are devotees, lured by a heady combination of aspiration and sex appeal. This interpretation is not unreasonable, considering the plethora of monochrome images featuring stars in exotic, utopic or sumptuous settings (signified though palms and bamboo shutters, satin sheets, draped furs, modern art deco lobbies), reclining or recumbent, in poses that carry implications of passivity and/or eroticism whilst also suggest an enviable lifestyle of comfort and idling.

For me these images’ complex, deliberately multi-layered mise-en-scéne and overt contrivance, whilst simultaneously claiming to reveal an impossible level of access to ‘stars’ who somehow managed to possess what Dyer terms as ‘extraordinary ordinariness,’ their insistence upon authenticity despite overwhelming evidence of fabrication, is what makes the glamour photograph so fascinating. [6] These images perfectly encapsulate how Hollywood saw itself, and how we, the audiences saw, and still see Hollywood, as a place of ostentatious, extraordinary excess, whose idols were painstakingly fashioned through cosmetics, costuming, training and manner, situation and perhaps most importantly, soft focus.


[1] Gundle, S and Castelli, C.T. The Glamour System (Houndsmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) p. 71

[2] Whose work comprised of religious, mythical and romantic iconography and tableau vivants.

[3] As Dyer notes ‘Glamour of the Classical Hollywood period relied on creating a glowing image for the female star – the convention of three types of lighting, key, fill and back, established in the 1920’s, created a virtual aura around the female stars.’ Dyer, R. White: Essays on Race and Culture. (London: Routledge, 1997). p.87.  Carol Dyhouse’s brief discussion of the black and white photography of Hollywood cinema also identifies some key characteristics of the photographic genre. See Dyhouse, C. Glamour: Women History, Feminism (London: Zed books, 2010) p.30-33

[4] As Benjamin observes ‘aura is tied to… presence; there can be no replica of it.’ Benjamin, W. ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ Holmes, S and Redmond, S (eds) Stardom and Celebrity: A Reader (London: Sage, 2007) p.8

[5] ibid. p.9

[6] A paradox whereby in short Hollywood stars ‘live more expensively than the rest of us, but are not essentially transformed by this’ See Dyer, R. Stars (London: BFI, 1979) p.43


Dr Ellen Wright is the VC2020 Lecturer in Cinema and Television History at De Montfort University, Leicester. She has taught film studies, media studies, and photographic theory, and specializes in the representation of femininity in the leisure industries, consumer culture, and broader social contexts, surrounding classical Hollywood cinema. Her academic publications include ‘Spectacular Bodies: The Swimsuit, Sexuality and Hollywood,’ special edition on leisure industries, Sport in History 35, no. 3 (2015) and ‘Having her Cheesecake and Eating It: Performance, Professionalism and the Politics of the Gaze in the Pin-Up Self-Portraiture and Celebrity of Bunny Yeager’ Feminist Media Histories Special Edition ‘Histories of Celebrity’ (Fall, 2016). She is currently working on a series of public engagement events linked to her research on the media representation of the women who performed at the Windmill Theatre in London.

http://www.dmu.ac.uk/about-dmu/academic-staff/technology/ellen-wright/ellen-wright.aspx

 

Publish or Be Damned …

James Chapman, University of Leicester

30 May 2017


A journal editor’s top ten tips for getting your research published in academic film and media journals

We take it for granted that as academics we all need to publish our research – and that articles in peer reviewed journals carry a certain degree of intellectual kudos that’s important when it comes to applying for jobs or securing tenure. And that’s not to mention the best reason for publishing – to disseminate your research to your peers and colleagues within the field.

As editor of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, I’m often asked about how to get published in the journal – and the short answer, of course, is simply to write your article, make it excellent, and submit it!

That said, however, there are right ways and wrong ways of going about it.

This blog is intended to offer some informal guidance to publishing your work in film and media journals. It’s particularly focused on the HJFRT – though the same general principles will also apply to other journals too. The following ‘top ten tips’ are intended particularly for doctoral students and early career researchers, though some more established scholars might also want to take a peek.

1. Research your journal

This is one of the most important factors in getting published, and it’s surprising how few people actually bother to do it.

Whatever your subject and approach, you should give careful consideration to the most appropriate journals in which to place your work. A good rule of thumb is to look at the journals you consult most often for your own research. There’s little point in submitting your work on electronic or new media to a journal specialising solely in film studies, or sending a piece of purely formal analysis to a journal that prioritises archive-based research. Around four out of every five submissions to the HJFRT are turned down without being sent to readers. This is not because they are no good but rather because their subject or methodology does not fit the journal’s remit.

In the case of the HJFRT what we’re interested in is:

  • Historical research based on primary, and especially unpublished archival, sources.
  • Social, economic, technological and cultural histories of the media industries.
  • Case studies of production and/or reception.
  • Historical studies of institutions and/or individuals and/or groups.
  • Histories of film/radio/television criticism and theory.
  • Representations of the historical past in film, radio and television.

What we’re not so interested in is:

  • Articles that do not focus on the audio-visual media
  • Narrative and/or textual analysis unsupported by any historical contextualisation or archival research.
  • Abstract theoretical approaches without any empirical or archival basis.

In other words don’t waste your time writing an article on Deleuzian aesthetics for the HJFRT!

An article written specifically for a particular journal will almost always stand a better chance of publication than a generic submission for AOJ (that’s editorspeak for Any Other Journal).

2. Consult your colleagues

As with so many things in academia, taking advice from your peers and colleagues is essential. If you’re a doctoral student, for example, consult your supervisor or advisor before submitting an article for consideration to a journal – e.g. is this something that’s integral to your research (in which case you might want to save it for your thesis and think about publishing it later) or is it something that stands alone in its own right? Always bear in mind that a journal article needs to be self-standing in its own right – we are not interested in publishing chapter 4 of your thesis.

Also talk to fellow students. Have they published, and in which journals? What were their experiences? Your peers might well have useful advice of potential pitfalls to avoid.

3. Peer review is the Gold Standard

There are dozens of film and media journals out there. On the one hand this means that there are plenty of publishing opportunities. On the other hand it also means there are some journals that might be less good than others …

For academia, peer-reviewed journals are the gold standard. Peer review means that your work has been deemed suitable for publication by recognised experts in your field. It is a measure of quality control. It ensures that high academic standards are maintained. All submissions are subject to peer review – whether you’re a PhD student or a tenured professor. The HJFRT usually operates ‘double blind’ peer review meaning that articles are sent separately to two readers and the readers will not know the identity of the author. (It helps the editor if your submission does not include your name and institutional affiliation: you can provide these in a separate document.)

Of course excellent research can be published anywhere: in journals, in edited collections, in print or online. But the peer review process helps to ensure that journals such as the HJFRT publish only the very best work in their field.

Sometimes readers will recommend publishing an article as it stands, but more often than not they’ll suggest some revisions: there might be areas where some clarification is needed or where the argument could be strengthened. Readers may have come across other sources that will complement your research. All articles benefit from the process of peer review: it has turned many good articles into excellent articles and can turn an excellent one into a great article.

Publication of the article is usually conditional upon making the revisions or amendments suggested by readers – the journal editor will advise you which revisions are required and which are advisory.

4. First Contact can be a good idea

It’s perfectly okay to email a journal editor to enquire whether they would be interested in an article on Topic A (Ernst Lubitsch reference!). Occasionally it happens that the journal has recently accepted an article on Topic A and can’t therefore publish another that’s too close. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen very often. But it can be useful making that ‘first contact’ before you spend six weeks writing the article with that journal in mind.

5. No round robins please

Put yourself in the place of a journal editor. You’ve been sent an article that you’re interested in and that fits your remit. You find peer reviewers (perhaps calling in a favour or two to get them) and people take the time and effort to offer constructive advice on how the article might be improved. You email the author to tell them the good news that subject to a few revisions you’d like to publish their article – only for the author to reply that they’re publishing it elsewhere.

This is why most journals require that the article should not be under consideration elsewhere when you submit it.

It’s one of those things you can probably get away with once over the course of an academic career. But as soon as you have a reputation for doing it, don’t be too surprised if editors decline your next submission without sending it for review.

And always bear in mind that journal editors speak to each other …

6. And no generic submissions either

When submitting your article, bear in mind that nothing shouts ‘here is a generic submission that I am sending to multiple journals’ more loudly than an email addressed to ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Editor’ and which makes reference to ‘your journal’ or even (sometimes) ‘your most illustrious journal’. In these cases I’m probably not even going to bother reading the abstract before declining your article. And the same goes for the email that begins ‘Dear Professor Chapman’ in one font and then switches to another font for the rest of the generic text …

A brief covering email summarising the content, sources and approach is a good idea, including a line or two to explain why you think it’s suitable for the HJFRT. In other words show the editor that you’re familiar with the journal and the sort of material it publishes.

Show the editor that you know the journal, and the editor will already be on your side.

7. House style rules

I once heard a story about a scholar who refused to format his work according to the house style of journals on the grounds that they were all different and it took up too much of his precious time to change from, say, Chicago Manual of Style to Modern Humanities Research Association.

The same scholar also wondered why he wasn’t getting any articles published!

Our journal doesn’t need to publish your research – we have enough submissions to fill the journal for years to come – so if you can’t be bothered to follow the house style, why should we even consider your piece?

An article that doesn’t follow our house style suggests that you haven’t even bothered to look at past issues of the journal.

8. Your article is not a special case

I once received ‘an offer too good to refuse’ from a would-be author, who offered me three articles (arising from the author’s PhD thesis) at between 15,000-20,000 words each: it wasn’t going to be possible to make them any shorter because of the unique and special nature of his research, and the subject demanded the additional length because it was so important …

Oddly enough, I did not take the author up on his generous offer.

Journals have minimum and maximum word lengths for a number of reasons: all journals have an annual page budget per volume agreed with the publisher and we want to publish X number of articles across a range of topics. The HJFRT publishes around 30 research articles per year and the usual length is between 6,000 and 10,000 words: the upper limit is generous and allows plenty of space for nuanced arguments, detailed evidence and full scholarly citations.

9. Patience is a virtue

It can take time to get an article published: 12 months is about the shortest you can expect from submission to publication, and for the leading journals in the field it might well be around two years. Even the wait from submission to acceptance might take six months or longer.

Why does it take so long? There are numerous reasons:

  • The editor has to find peer reviewers for your article: good readers do not grow on trees and are often very busy (i.e. reading your article might be the most important thing in the world to you but might be only the twelfth most urgent thing they have to do this week). Around three months or even more for receipt of peer review comments is not at all unusual.
  • If your article is in a particularly niche or specialist area, the previous point applies several times over.
  • Peer reviewing is unpaid: editors depend on the good will of colleagues to do it – and so our ability to chivvy them along is limited. (Ask yourself – have you ever agreed to write a book review and have been months late in delivering it? The same applies to reading articles for journals – it takes up people’s time and sometimes gets bumped by more urgent matters.)
  • Sometimes two readers can come to different assessments of a particular piece – in which case the editor will need to seek a third opinion (back to stage one above).
  • And when your article is accepted, bear in mind that any decent journal might well have a backlog of more than a year (HJFRT – like a lot of journals these days – uses the ‘Online First’ platform whereby articles are published online before they are assigned to a print issue: this counts as the official Version of Record and can be used for citations, in job and grant applications, etc.)
  • Good journals are not short of material to publish – while we would very much like to publish your article, we probably don’t actually need it and we can afford to wait until we publish it. If you can’t wait, then perhaps try a journal with less of a backlog – though bear in mind that a journal which offers to publish your article this year obviously doesn’t have much of a backlog and you might want to ask why that is.

Bear in mind that editors have lives too. There’s little point in submitting your article two days before Christmas and expecting a reply before the New Year – and in any event it’s not going to be sent for peer review for several weeks.

It’s perfectly okay to send a polite enquiry to the editor if you haven’t heard back after, say, three months. But if you badger them with weekly demands to know what the state of play is, don’t be too surprised if your article slips to the bottom of the editor’s priority list.

Look at it this way:

YOUR priority is the publication of your article that you need to build up your CV, for your promotion application, or for the next Research Excellence Framework or equivalent exercise. MY priority is maintaining the scholarly integrity and reputation of the journal, ensuring quality and consistency, and thinking about the balance of topics and periods: your article is just one of around maybe two dozen that I am dealing with at various stages at any one time.

10. Rejection is nothing personal

Rejection is always disappointing – but it’s something we all have to learn to deal with. In fact there are very few cases where I have had to reject an article on the grounds of quality. More often I decline submissions because they do not fall within the remit of the HJFRT either in terms of their subject matter or their methodology. In such cases I will usually try to suggest other journals that might be a better forum for your research.

And there have been numerous cases where I declined an article but where the author had another piece of research that was more appropriate for the journal and we published it.

(There are very occasionally cases where rejection really is final … I once had an article that I didn’t think was very good but which in any case was not the right subject matter for the HJFRT. I suggested a couple of other journals that the author might consider. He emailed straight back to say that he’d already sent it to those journals before sending it to the HJFRT – could I suggest any others? So I did so – by this time falling back on my standard list of the second- and third-division journals in the field. It turned out they’d all rejected him too – what would I recommend? At this point I had to suggest: ‘Try doing something else.’)

If there’s one point I would make in conclusion, it’s that the relationship between a journal and authors is mutually dependent. Authors need journals in order to publish their research – and at the same time journals need good-quality submissions to ensure steady copy flow and so that the journal may prosper and thrive. So editors want to receive submissions (preferably high-quality submissions of outstanding excellence, of course!). Do not be deterred from submitting your work to the leading journals in the field – but make sure you follow the basic ‘do’s and don’ts’ I’ve outlined here to maximise your chances of success.


James Chapman is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Leicester, UK, and has been editor of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television since 2011. He is a member of the IAMHIST Council. He first published in the journal in 1995 on ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) Reconsidered’ (HJFRT, 15: 1).

http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/arthistory/people/jrc28


 

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