It is one of the paradoxes of running a magazine that sooner or later the magazine starts to take on a life of its own.
However closely the editor is identified with the magazine, the magazine soon begins to go its own way and take on its own character. This is what has happened with Current Archaeology. We soon identified and began to occupy our own particular niche: we were the magazine that reported on the latest discoveries in British archaeology, particularly the latest excavations. We began to pride ourselves on our unique formula: we were both readable and authoritative. The articles were either written by ourselves and checked by the excavators, or written by the excavators and edited, sometimes heavily, by ourselves – and then checked again. We began to be “authoritative”; we even, horror of horrors! began to find that we were recommended as set reading to students as providing the easiest and best introduction to the crucial sites in archaeology. Our book reviews began to carry weight and to sell books – or not, as the case may be. In other words we began to become respectable, part of the establishment even.
This led to a contradiction, because I am not really part of the establishment. For the past 30 years the archaeological establishment has been near unanimous in its belief that what British archaeology needs is more government money, and more government control, with ever more laws, the more stringent the better. I am not by nature very happy with this belief. As editor of Current Archaeology, I tend to have a split personality. I live half my life with academics and civil servants, imbibing their beliefs and values. But the other half of my life is lived as a publisher, mixing with publishers, printers and advertisers and their very different values in the world of business in the marketplace; and business men do not on the whole take kindly to the idea of more government control and more government spending.
When we launched Current Archaeology, I began happily with editorials proclaiming my beliefs and prejudices. Gradually however problems arose. For one thing I began to repeat myself – and ever since I have had a healthy respect for the newspaper columnists who manage to write a column week in week out without repetition, or at least not too much. And secondly I found that my sentiments began to jar, they were out of tune with the majority and were not befitting what was in other respects becoming an establishment magazine. So in CA 63 I decided to stop pontificating, and axed the editorials and we went straight into the Diary. It was not until we relaunched with CA 120 that I found a satisfactory solution, with a welcome page designed to lure the reader into the delights awaiting him or her in the rest of the magazine.
Mind you, opinion was not entirely abjured, for the Diary continued, and it was always tempting to infiltrate some of my own views into the Diary. I did my best to restrain myself: I made myself a rule that in a three paragraph note, the first two paragraphs should be reportage, and only the third paragraph should be comment. This compromise means that Current Archaeology has in fact taken its place more or less as being part of the establishment in the archaeological world – perhaps a rather superior part, for we avoid the politics and the polemics that play such a large role in archaeology today.
But should this remain so? What is a good meal if it lacks any pepper? A magazine without the occasional controversy can perhaps be a little jejune, and who knows, some of my views, even if unorthodox, might even be welcomed by some and stimulating to many. Therefore, for this issue at least, this has been my Last Word: an explanation of my stance as Editor. But may I also take this final page opportunity to express how much I have enjoyed being the Editor of Current Archaeology – from its humble beginnings, almost four decades ago, to its present status as Britain‘s best selling archaeology magazine. On behalf of us all at Current Archaeology, I hope that we can continue to entertain, stimulate, and to inform you.
This opinion comes from CA issue 200