There has been much attention on journals and journal practices recently on the Leiter Reports, as well as elsewhere. The Association of Philosophy Journal Editors (APJE) has been relaunched by Carol Gould and me. Additionally, the APA has a subcommittee looking into journal practices at present as well.
Journal articles are highly important for academic careers. There are many reasons given for perhaps the more obvious benefits:
1. Journal articles as a seal of approval.
Journal articles are a seal of approval (of sorts). When a journal accepts an article for publication, it is giving its support to the essay's "publishability" (is this a word? Well, it is now!). This stamp of approval says to the wider community that an essay has a particular importance as judged by the journal and its associates.
Not all seals of approval are the same. One example is that not all journals run the same review process. Thus, journal x may be double-blind while journal y is triple-blind. Or journal x may use one referee while journal y will use two or three referees. There are also differences in persons used. Some journals may have a more prestigious list of editorial board members and referees to use in assessing essays than another. Therefore, even if two journals had the same formal procedures for assessing essay submissions, papers would be assessed by academics with very different backgrounds.
A further comment is worth noting. Many critical of journal practices have focussed their attention almost entirely to the mechanics of review: what procedure is followed, how long reviews take, etc. These are highly important issues, but far from the only central concerns. Others include how referees are selected and who these referees are. A further concern is the standard that referees employ in assessing submissions. Thus, the same referee might recommend different decisions for different journals. This is not always problematic. It may be that paper x submitted to journals y and z falls outside the remit of journal y but not journal z: there is then nothing specifically problematic about a referee recommending rejection for one journal and acceptance at another for the same paper on such grounds. Things are different where the remit of the journal is not at issue, but judgements about the necessary standards of publishable quality are an issue. The blog Ethics Etc had an interesting poll where many colleagues said that they would employ different standards.
In the end, getting published in a journal is a seal of approval by a certain team -- journals should be seem as a collective project involving editors, editorial boards, referees, and authors -- although there may sometimes be questions about the relative value of one seal approval versus another.
2. Journal articles as an academic job qualification.
In large part due to the fact that journal articles are understood as a seal of approval, journal articles also are often tickets to academic jobs as they are seen as academic job qualifications. Let me elaborate. Candidate x may be qualified for an academic job without articles. However, earning tenure regularly involves satisfying some standard of research productivity which, in turn, regularly involves demonstration of publications.
Furthermore, journal articles may be helpful to those candidates who come from more modest academic training grounds. Perhaps their department was not in a top ten list, but nevertheless the quality of research is quite high by candidate x as in the evidence of an article in journal y. The journal article as seal of approval can also play an additional role as providing further job qualifications both to acquire a new position and to earn promotions.
While many focus on the related (1) and (2) points above, I believe that there is a third element often overlooked:
3. Journal articles as academic brand awareness.
(I can already see readers cringe at my use of business-speak....I share your pain!) The article as seal of approval is a leading reason behind the importance of publishing in academic journals. However, I believe that there is something more to be said about this importance often overlooked, namely, articles are an excellent medium to communicate ideas. Suppose there are journals x, y and z. Some libraries may get all three; some libraries will have some combination of them; some libraries will only subscribe to one of them. Publishing in more than one journal is not simply a sign that you have earned several seals of approval by different journal communities, but an opportunity to reach a wider audience. This should give many reason to publish in more than one journal: it offers a better opportunity to communicate your ideas to more people. This is not to say that academics should publish the same thing again and again. However, often one's work explores new issues in a field where one has engaged in previous research on different issues. A person's work is often composed of papers that together make up a larger project on a set of issues, questions or concerns. Publishing in multiple venues may offer better brand awareness about your research project than if you stuck with a single venue.
The above are some reflections on academic publishing. What have I missed?
UPDATE: Many thanks to Brian Leiter for kindly noting this post on the Leiter Reports!