May 2020

Reflections on a Decade at the Helm: Key Qualities of a Successful Red Journal Editor-in-Chief

By Anthony Zietman, MD, FASTRO

Ten years ago, I was chosen to become the editor-in-chief (EIC) of the Red Journal and, on reflection, I cannot believe how na├»ve I was entering the position, and how little I understood the qualities required to lead the journal well. I had a dreamy and romantic view that it was about reviewing some papers, making some great choices, and voila, as if by magic, quality would just shine out. What I did not realize was the level of 24/7 commitment required, the necessity to develop a dynamic and like-minded editorial team, the diplomatic stresses and the ethical, and even legal, challenges. Even though I had been chair of ASTRO previously, this position eclipsed that for its unique challenges. As my term concludes in 2021 and the search for my successor begins, I’ve been reflecting a lot on what it has taken to haul the Red Journal to where it is today and on what it will take for my successor to bring it to the next level. If you are considering the position, these are my tips.

The incoming editor-in-chief should be:

  • A time management marvel. This journal moves very fast. With 15 issues per year and hundreds of pages per issue, there is always work to be done. Often this work cannot wait more than a day or two. The journal occupies nights and weekends and pops up between patients in clinics…every day.
  • Dedicated to the journal. Along the lines of the above, the new editor should have a proven commitment to the journal, likely through editorial responsibilities, reviewing and/or writing. Because of the volume of work, the personal investment and the especially nuanced judgment required of this role, you’ll need to love the Red Journal — well before you apply. You will “need to bleed Red.”
  • Ethical, insightful and diplomatic. Serving as the EIC of the Red Journal amounts to leading and shaping our specialty’s premier record of published research. As such, emotions surrounding the journal’s decisions can run high. The successful EIC must have a keen moral compass, be able to carefully manage conflicts of interest and scientific misbehavior and have the diplomatic skills to swiftly and gracefully handle difficult situations. The intellectual safety of the journal and of ASTRO and the scientific community can depend on it. A thick skin is essential — remember, most of the papers that come to the journal are rejected!
  • An excellent writer. It is very important to be able to write well and to write quickly. Editorials, issue highlights, podcasts and similar communications need to be composed with tight turnaround times. Publishing this journal is a rapid endeavor, and being comfortable with writing quickly and decisively will help the process run smoothly.
  • Well-connected. Do you have a diverse web of contacts who can be called upon to act as resources? Networks of connections within radiation oncology and beyond (broader oncology, policy and even politics) will be tremendously helpful. Authors of opinion pieces and editorials, or tie-breaker reviews for tricky papers, are often needed in haste.
  • Visionary. As the EIC, you will be responsible for the entirety of the journal, its content and its editorial board. How will you make the journal your own? What new, innovative ideas would you like to enact? What should the journal look like in five years, and why? Scientific publishing has changed a great deal in the last 10 years and will undoubtedly continue to evolve. The incoming EIC should understand the threats and opportunities presented by this time of great change.

For the right candidate, this will be the most rewarding experience of their professional career. It was an incredible honor for me to be chosen to lead the Red Journal after Dr. Jim Cox and an even greater honor to see it fortify its position as the premier forum for science and ideas in our specialty. I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity, and when I pass the baton next year, I would love to do so into an equally proud set of hands. For those of you interested, view the job posting and details on how to apply at www.astro.org/RedJournalEIC.

Posted: May 5, 2020 | 0 comments