Cinema Journal Name Change
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11/28/2017 at 10:54:16 PM GMT
Posts: 9
Cinema Journal Name Change

We are pursuing this initiative because the majority of respondents to the Fall 2017 Cinema Journal survey indicated that they would support a name change. While the name Cinema Journal speaks to the journal’s esteemed and important history in our field, it no longer reflects the breadth of work being done by the members of SCMS. The survey revealed that many SCMS members do not submit their work on television, digital media, radio, and other subjects to CJ because its name and/or its reputation signal that it will not be interested in their work. That could not be further from the truth. SCMS’s journal of record should publish the best, most innovative work being done by all members of SCMS. That’s why I am initiating a name change referendum among the SCMS membership, as no one can or would change the name of the membership’s journal without the membership’s approval.


If you would, please take a moment to share your thoughts, questions, and concerns about changing the journal’s title from Cinema Journal to Journal of Cinema and Media Studies. I will use the ideas developed here as the basis for one-hour live discussion of the issue on Cinema Journal’s Facebook page on Monday, January 8, from 1:00-2:00PM EST. Video of this event will thereafter be available on Cinema Journal’s Facebook page. An email with a link to the online ballot will be emailed to all SCMS members on Tuesday, January 9. Voting will open from January 9 through January 22.

12/1/2017 at 5:16:23 PM GMT
Posts: 3
Hi Caetlin,

Thanks for your email regarding the initiative to propose a Cinema Journal name change. I had two questions, one general and one specific:

I can’t see any defintion of “referendum” in the Society’s bylaws. Is there another document that defines that term (re. quorum and majority needed)? Or, do you have in mind something more general like “hold a semi-formal, non-binding vote” (more than an informal poll, but less than a regular motion)? If it’s non-binding, I’m curious if the editorial board explicitly commits to following the referendum outcome.

More specifically, you write that “this will be a no-protest vote, meaning that not voting counts as a yes rather than a no or an abstention.” Unless the Society’s membership tends to have an unusually large voting turnout, it seems likely this provision would by itself guarantee the result is positive. Robert’s Rules, for example, generally requires a majority of affirmative votes (whether a majority of the whole body or a majority of votes cast) for a measure to pass, and it would be unusual to declare all abstentions as affirmative yes votes. Was there discussion about why all non-votes would be counted as affirmative? Why not require a majority of votes cast (if that’s allowed in terms of my first question)? Is it that you expect less than half the members to vote but the referendum needs a simple majority to proceed? Or am I missing something?

Thanks again for your work and leadership,


12/2/2017 at 6:20:11 PM GMT
Posts: 10

I appreciate that you are doing this right out of the gate. One question that does occur to me is: why did the Society keep the name of the journal back in the '90s when we went from SCS to SCMS? I would think there is some recorded dialogue on that, which could be worth revisiting.

I recall from those discussions that many members were concerned about diluting the focus of the society, even as it was becoming evident that motion picture media were long past being limited to celluloid and cinemas. There was some talk then of adopting the name "Screen Studies" because it's more economical than "Motion Picture Studies" and it would distinguish us from broader media studies that incorporate radio, music, print, and other non-cinematic media.

Well, since then we've seen a healthy infusion of media studies in the journal that intersect with cinema, particularly in the digital realm, and they aren't all based on "screen" works per se. So, without proposing a name change for the society itself, I think one option could be calling our publication the Journal of Cinematic Media Studies. That seems to me a most accurate title for what we publish and present, since we are not nearly as broad as all "media" but we do retain a focus on the cinematic, even in video, digital, holography, virtual reality, or whatever other motion media continue to come along.

Having offered this suggestion, I still think the name Journal of Cinema and Media Studies would be an improvement, because the Society (and the society) have indeed moved beyond mere movies and screens.

12/3/2017 at 10:22:39 PM GMT
Posts: 1
Hi, Caetlin --

I share Kevin's concern about not voting counting as a "yes." This makes it seem like the vote is rigged in favor of a change.

While I have no problem with the journal having a more expansive scope, I do fear that the name change will create unnecessary confusion. Cinema Journal has become a respected "brand," and it may take quite a while for those outside of film studies to understand that the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies is the same (and just as prestigious) as Cinema Journal. For example, at my institution, tenure and promotion decisions are generally made by those who know little about film studies, but who do know that Cinema Journal is a top-tier journal. They might intuitively (and mistakenly) think that the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies is a newer--and less prestigious--journal.

Regarding the concern that some "SCMS members do not submit their work on television, digital media, radio, and other subjects to CJ because its name and/or its reputation signal that it will not be interested in their work": I think that as long as Cinema Journal continues to publish valuable work on TV, radio, digital media, etc., those who read it will understand that it takes such scholarship seriously. In my view, one should not make strong assumptions about a journal's content based on its title. Rather, one must read that journal (at least occasionally) to determine if one's own research would be a good fit.

12/4/2017 at 6:32:12 PM GMT
Posts: 3

hi Caetlin

I think Kevin's second question in particular (echoed by J. Remes above!) does need to be asked publicly. As the previous editor of CJ, I certainly support initiatives that encourage more submissions by the membership. I believe that the contents of CJ over the past five years will confirm that the journal publishes far more widely than cinema, but if the title puts people off, that's unfortunate and I would be glad to change that impression.

Personally, then, I would be inclined to vote for a name change. However, the survey results demonstrated that 'Most respondents (57%) would like the journal to change its name, but a large constituency (43%) disagree.'

As Kevin notes, a no-protest vote virtually guarantees a name change. When 'not voting counts as a yes' we can can surely anticipate that the yes votes will outnumber the no votes. (Only 452 people responded to the survey -- inevitably, those who do engage are a small minority).

That seems to make the name-change vote a foregone conclusion that 43% of the survey respondents would disagree with. Those members might feel it was more fair to count the votes of yes against no, from those who voted at all.

Otherwise, the result will seem like an overwhelming landslide decision of around 200 'no' votes with the rest of the membership seeming to vote 'yes'. This arguably does not represent the opinion of the membership accurately, and again, those (almost half of the survey respondents) who preferred to keep the current name could feel that it was an unfair process, resulting in an inaccurate picture.

To count the yes and no votes from those who vote would probably also lead to a change of name, but it might seem like a fairer reflection of the membership's wishes?


The point about brand is a good one.The BBC's magazine is called Radio Times, because it was launched in 1923. Nobody in 2017 assumes it's just about radio.

Last edited Monday, December 4, 2017
12/5/2017 at 3:25:24 PM GMT
Posts: 9
Hi Kevin, Tim, Justin, and Will,

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts-- I really appreciate it personally, and it's vital to the mission of this institution and Cinema Journal in particular.
As you know, I want to use the comments from this forum to guide our real-time discussion on Cinema Journal's Facebook page in January, but I'll provide background and information here too as I can to help people consider their position on the referendum.

So, to begin with your excellent questions, Kevin (echoed by Justin and Will), there's no definition of referendum in the SCMS by-laws. I am using term in its common-use sense to refer to a general vote by an electorate on a singe issue. Once the results of the survey were in, I presented them to the Executive Board of SCMS at their October meeting. The board discussed the results and my recommended responses, which included a membership vote on a journal name change. After some deliberation, the Executive Board voted on the procedure I outlined in my email to the membership.

As for why the Executive Board voted for a no-protest vote, the precedent was taken from the SIG bylaws and policies, where it has been used for the past two or three years to deal with the problem of low voter turnout. As those bylaws explain, "A no-protest vote is one in which it is explained to members that if they do not vote, their lack of vote will be counted as a 'vote of no protest,' a yes, rather than an abstention." The intent, as I interpret it from this document, is to interpret a non-response as "sure, why not?" rather than a considered abstention. (That's my personal interpretation, by the way; I am happy to hear others and/or stand corrected.)

No form of democracy, direct or otherwise, will be perfect, and all must find some way to interpret low voter turnout. It is my strong hope that the majority of SCMS members will vote on this referendum--really, I hope everyone will vote. But I know that's unlikely. I think the board's plan was to try to ensure that we had a healthy debate of the pros and cons of a name change so that those who wanted to vote would and could vote in an informed manner.

Am I answering all of you questions, Kevin? If not, please do let me know!

As for Tim and Will's question about the name and the content of the journal, I think we've got a bit of a chicken-and-egg debate here. On the one hand, Cinema Journal could be said publish "far more widely" on cinema because its name encourages more submissions on cinema. On the other hand, one could say that its name should be Cinema Journal because it gets more submissions on cinema. When I applied to become Editor of Cinema Journal, I crunched a few numbers on the breakdown of feature articles in CJ on cinema vs. other media as compared to papers presented at the most recent conference. Roughly 85% of the articles in CJ articles over the past ten years were on film or film theory, but only 47% of the papers presented at the last SCMS conference were on film (as opposed to other media platforms or multiple media). That suggests, to me , that CJ is lagging behind the interests of its membership. Personally, I think a name change is in order, along with greater outreach and other measures, to solicit more submissions from SCMS members who work on media other than film. If we are the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, then our mission should be to represent and support cinema and media studies equally, should it not?  

But that's just my opinion! Which is why I am so happy we're having this debate and this vote.

I look forward to your thoughts.

All the best,

Last edited Tuesday, December 5, 2017
12/5/2017 at 3:48:21 PM GMT
Posts: 3
Two things.

1) On the question of brand. My sense is that the name change is catching up to the brand. The Society changed to include Media in its name over a decade ago. The proposed journal name change just matches that. While the BBC's Radio Times may stay the same, we decided to change our identity twice in the past -- from the Society for Cinematologists (and similarly named journal) to the Society for Cinema Studies (with Cinema Journal) to the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. The reality is that the Society and the Journal are about more than cinema -- just look at the program and contents. This just lets more people know that and helps people who might feel unwanted feel wanted.

2) On the vote. The only reason the no protest vote looks like it stacks the deck is that you assume the majority will not vote and thus be counted as yes. That may well be true. But if they vote, it will not. So please encourage all and sundry to vote. We try to encourage voting and you can do the same through any facebook groups, listservs or other systems of communication you have with SCMS members. If we were not sensitive to member opinions, we would not be holding this forum, or having a live facebook event before the vote. We know this is a sensitive issue and we do want members (as many as possible) to be involved in the decision.

12/5/2017 at 8:17:23 PM GMT
Posts: 3
Thanks very much Caetlin for the response, and Pam for the further points.

I am surprised that the number-crunching revealed CJ's content was 85% film or film theory, but that just goes to show that impressions can be wrong - even if you're as close to the material as I was!

On the vote, the reasons I suggest that the majority will not vote are

1) Only 452 people replied to the survey

2. The whole concept of a no-protest vote is based on the assumption of low voter turnout - to quote Caetlin, 'the precedent was taken from the SIG bylaws and policies, where it has been used for the past two or three years to deal with the problem of low voter turnout'.

So it's kind of there in the model itself.

I think the 'sure, why not' argument is interesting and I like it as a way of encouraging people to get out there and let their opinion be heard. But we don't use that in political elections, where there's also a historically low voter turn-out. Just over half of Americans voted in the 2016 election, but if non-voters had been treated as a vote for one of the candidates, that would surely not have seemed representative of the country's intentions.

The survey recorded that 57% wanted a name change, and 43% didn't. That would have been a clean and fair result: fairly close, but clear and decisive. If everyone who didn't take part in the survey had counted as a 'yes', it would seem like a huge majority wanted to change the name, which I think wouldn't really be accurate.

I'm not sure if I do see that low turnout means SCMS won't get a clear decision. If only 100 people voted, we could still easily see a majority one way or the other?

I'm sorry to be awkward here, and I appreciate both the difficulties involved, and this valuable opportunity to discuss them.

12/5/2017 at 10:00:42 PM GMT
Posts: 3
Hi all,

Caetlin: thanks for your clarification about how this process came about. I can see how it responded to the SIGs, although because the name change is more wide-reaching and potentially controversial, I feel it might have warranted a different approach.

Will articulated some of my thinking about counting abstentions as “yeses,” and I appreciate Pamela’s encouragement to get members to vote. But, with due respect, counting abstentions as “yeses” absolutely stacks the deck, even if unintentionally. For example, even if an improbably high 95% of the membership voted, the voting would already begin with 5% tilted for the yes side. Alternatively, if only half of the membership votes, then even if 95% of those who voted were “noes” against the name change, the measure would still pass regardless because non-votes count as yes. Both those scenarios seem unfair, to different degrees, and because the vote is more than a mostly-agreed upon formality, could lead to a sense of unfairness. (You can see my own institutional biases at CUNY bringing out both my fiercely democratic and deeply bureaucratic sides.)

But none of this speaks to the merits of the proposal. I think the debates about the consequences and brand of the name change are more important so I won’t keep harping on the voting (and I look forward to more discussion pro and con), but I would have preferred to see a voting system that directly compared affirmative and negative votes, or that more simply required the affirmative position to reach a pre-determined quorum threshhold.

(i’m just seeing Will’s second message now, which I think I’m somewhat repeating.)


12/6/2017 at 1:26:15 AM GMT
Posts: 1
I don't have much to add to the thoughtful comments already posted, but I wanted to briefly echo the concerns many of us have about the voting process. It's clear that the name change is an inevitability if the voting goes ahead on a 'no-protest' basis, and I consider it an urgent matter to reconsider this method of voting as soon as possible.

While I certainly understand the desire to rename the journal, in my own view the current title is enormously valuable and should not be changed. "Cinema Journal" as a title is prestigious, world-renowned, historical, and concise (this last feature is a real novelty in a crowded journal market, not to be underestimated). I think a new, lengthier title would undermine a lot of a value the current title has earned.

There are many other ways the journal can re-brand itself as open to wider scholarship from emerging multimedia fields.

That said, I have huge appreciation for the delicate efforts being made by those in charge of overseeing this vote, and hope a truly democratic solution can be achieved.

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