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Assessing SAA Bulletin Content

Mark Aldenderfer

Like the other SAA publications, SAA Bulletin must be responsive to the needs of SAA's increasingly diverse membership. In the case of the Bulletin, this means that opportunities to publish timely and useful information must be provided to all its constituencies and component parts, ranging from the Washington, D.C. office, the committee, and to the individual member. As editor, while I have some discretion about Bulletin content in terms of themes or trends, I must also balance my perceptions of their importance (and thus the space devoted to them) with competing visions of topics of importance. Clearly, our most important mission is to keep the membership informed about the myriad activities of SAA.

For my spring report to the Board of Directors, I decided to measure--insofar as that is feasible--the degree to which the Bulletin is (or is not) meeting this obligation. To that end, I created major categories of information (Table 1), and while these are for the most part obvious and self-explanatory, a few explanatory notes on the definitions are required. In the SAA category, the sub-category "Business" includes material that originates from the Washington headquarters that pertains to SAA activities and that cannot be included in the other SAA subcategories or columns by SAA committees. This includes, for instance, questionnaires, balance sheets, announcements, letters from the president, etc. No SAA-sponsored advertising was included (i.e., non-paginated advertising inserts). Such themes as NAGPRA and SOPA/ROPA information could have been placed in SAA business, but I chose to keep these separate since these were topics of major importance over the past four years. In the "Other" category, "Latin American information" refers to columns or news items about the region that did not fit into our "Dialogues" column format but were nonetheless worthy of publication. "Miscellaneous" refers to odds and ends that don't fit elsewhere: reports of conferences sponsored or attended by SAA, informative short articles--almost always unsolicited--on some aspect of archaeology, poems (yes, one), and the like. "Ads" include paid advertising. While "Point--Counterpoint" topics were often related to SAA business (like SOPA/ROPA), the format and content are distinctive and this column could be considered an occasional series; thus it was kept separate.

Data were created by counting pages of information devoted to each category, with the smallest counting unit being 1/8 page. As you can see in Table 1, the total number of pages classified to content does not equal the number of pages of the issue. This is because covers (page 1) that were used to "splash" news and information for the contents of the issue were not assigned to any category. However, the occasional use of the cover in 1996 to begin a feature article--to compensate for a shortage of space--was counted for that category. The 1/2 page per issue devoted to the Table of Contents and masthead (both on page 2 of every issue, and the mailing label space on the final page were also eliminated from the counting, as was any empty space at the ends of a column, for obvious reasons. Table 1 summarizes volume content, while Table 2 presents data on general trends and observations.

Table 1

The size of the Bulletin, as expressed in pages/volume, has increased by 57% over the past four years. This period witnessed some volatility in the size of individual issues, ranging from a low of 20 to a maximum of 56, and much of this can be attributed to SAA's financial fortunes during the period. In 1997 we established an issue maximum of 44 pages; we have averaged ca. 40 pages/issue over the year. I anticipate this pattern to continue into the foreseeable future. This means that we have some excess capacity available to us to expand the Bulletin up to the 44-page limit.

The overall structure of Bulletin publishing, in terms of the percentage of pages in major categories, is remarkably stable, perhaps due to an Adam Smith-like "invisible hand" that has kept these categories in rough proportion over the years. There is some variability in the NAGPRA and SOPA/ROPA numbers, but this can be explained by the waning of NAGPRA as a legislative issue and the waxing of SOPA/ROPA as a major SAA concern. One area of surprise and concern is the relatively small proportion of the Bulletin devoted to committee concerns, a topic I discuss further below. In general, taking SAA activity, committees, and other major SAA concerns into account, roughly 30% of the Bulletin is devoted to these issues, 30% to miscellaneous service issues, and 30% to our featured columns.

One of SAA's major initiatives through this period was to improve communication between North American and Latin American archaeologists, and the Bulletin was seen as an integral part of this process. We established the "Dialogues" column in 1994, and in 1996 and 1997 appointed two associate editors who were charged with assisting us in obtaining useful information on Latin America. Since 1994, we have seen somewhat of a decline in the proportion of the Bulletin devoted to these issues, from roughly 7% of content to 3%. The "Dialogues" column started strongly, but has faded recently due in part to its design, which was to ask archaeologists of each Latin American nation to prepare a column on the status of archaeology in their country. Despite our best efforts, it has been difficult to get colleagues in many countries, especially those with few or no SAA members, to cooperate. However, I hope that our associate editors for Latin America will help us fill this void.

I was shocked by the relatively small proportion of the Bulletin devoted to committee activity over the review period. Some committees have never submitted anything to us, while others have made very strong efforts to send something for every issue. SAA has some 20 committees (this figure does not include task forces, committees for specific awards, the Nominating Committee, and the Program and Annual Meetings committees), and fewer than 1/3 of them has ever submitted a statement about committee activity, under-utilizing us as a venue for the dissemination of their information. The best explanation for variation in the proportion of pages published (or whether anything is published at all) is related to the efforts of the committee chair to make it happen. Each of the three committees shown in Table 2 has had a strong, active leader at some point in its recent history. Two--Public Education and COSWA--show major declines in activity, and I attribute this to the retirement of chairs who gave attention to publicity. The Student Affairs committee shows the effect of having gained a strong chair. These figures suggest we need to develop outreach efforts to get committee chairs to submit brief comments to the Bulletin, and I intend to work with the Board of Directors in this regard.

Table 2

One unfortunate, but inevitable, area of growth is in obituaries. Since the decision was made in 1995 to begin publishing them in the Bulletin, we have seen steady growth in the proportion of pages devoted to them. The January 1998 issue has 7.5% of obituary content, and as the profession ages, demands on space will continue to grow.

A source of good news/bad news is the increase of paid advertisements. Although the proportion of ad pages has grown only slightly, the number of actual ad pages has doubled. The good news is that the executive director has done an excellent job at improving this important revenue stream. The bad news is that this success eats into the number of pages available for other content. While we are not in crisis, we must carefully balance revenue needs with those of content.

Overall, I think we are doing a good job of providing the membership with the information it needs to keep fully informed of SAA initiatives. In great part, this is due to the fine efforts of my editorial assistant, the associate editors, the executive director, officers, the publications manager, and SAA staff. Without them, the Bulletin would not be what it is, and I am grateful to them for their outstanding work. And while this report has identified some shortcomings, I am confident that these can be overcome.

Mark Aldenderfer is editor of the SAA Bulletin and is at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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