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It is a decade since Frontline first appeared. Rael Martell looks at where the magazine has come from and what the future might hold

Frontline may have only been launched in 1995 but the idea was under discussion as long ago as the early 20th century. While the twice-monthly magazine for physiotherapists celebrates its 10th birthday this year, the arguments for the benefits of producing a stand-alone news publication for physios have been taking place since the first world war.

So says Gillian Adams, the former managing editor of Physiotherapy, which she worked on between 1974 and 2003. She occupied a similar role at Frontline for the first two years after its launch in January 1995 until, with the rapid growth of the publication, it became clear that she could not simultaneously hold down both positions. Describing how Frontline evolved and became a separate publication from Physiotherapy, Ms Adams says that soon after the latter was launched in 1915 it was felt that research, news items and advertising were not happy bedfellows.  As early as 1916 supporters of a stand-alone publication were arguing that issues relating to clinical practice and physiotherapy education needed to be discussed in more weighty terms and should be kept separate from news and 'gossip'.

However, Ms Adams says, it was not until 1980 that a strong argument developed that 'high flying physiotherapy articles should not be diluted'. 'Although there remained a recognition that there was a place for information about other things, there was a sense that columns about births, deaths and marriages, while important, did not sit easily in a professional journal.' This became an increasingly strongly held belief as physiotherapy became a more academic profession, she says. In 1985, Physiotherapy was dropped from the Index Medicus, which catalogues top journals covering the health and medical professions. Some felt this was due to mixing academic articles with non-clinical news, features and information on courses, explains Ms Adams. Falling out of Index Medicus was the 'driving force' behind the launch of Frontline, she says.

It was felt that launching a separate news magazine to complement the clinical papers in the journal would allow the Society to develop a stronger line of communication with members. Readers could enter into discussion with each other, keep a close eye on job vacancies and remain entertained and informed about developments in the profession. Eventually, in 1994, the concept for the magazine you are reading was put before and approved by CSP Council. It pulled out all the stops to make the launch of Frontline successful and ensure that its revenue would enable the Society to improve services for members.

The magazine's title was decided upon by Council after CSP members were invited to come up with names. Suggestions ranged from the tongue-in-cheek 'Twinset and Pearls' to the more serious 'Physiotherapy People'. The first issue of Frontline appeared on January 4, 1995, under the editorship of Jane Tonkin. Looking back at it is an interesting experience. It looks distinctly old-fashioned compared to today's Frontline. And reading it is likely to have the quality of a trip down memory lane for members working then, when unions and the Conservative government were at loggerheads over local pay bargaining and Virginia Bottomley (remember her?) was health secretary.

Along with serious political news the first edition carried stories of physiotherapists raising money for charity, lobbying parliament and stressing the importance of activity in relieving and preventing back pain - no change there then. Illustrating that the Society's commitment to diversity is not a new one, the first issue of Frontline carried news of an equal opportunities survey of members to investigate issues around gender, ethnic minority status, disability, sexual orientation and sexual discrimination. It also marked the launch of a new CSP group - what is now known as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender network.

The publication you have in front of you today is, nonetheless, a very different beast to that of 10 years ago. It has seen two redesigns, the first in January 1998 when it changed from a tabloid to an easier-to-handle magazine format. This new-look publication introduced more clearly marked sections for editorial and classified recruitment advertising. It also included a new directory section offering information on courses and conferences, grants and awards, the chance for physiotherapists to exchange information and details of meetings, lectures and events around the country (as well as those births, deaths and marriages).

Four years later, Frontline underwent another facelift to breathe fresh life into it. February 6, 2002 saw the introduction of better quality paper; new colours became part of the design and the magazine was bound in such a way as to make it easier to file away. The editor at the time was Dolly Chadda, who remains in the post. Ms Chadda envisages Frontline going on to bigger and better things to ensure it meets members' needs 'as effectively as possible'. 'As physiotherapy continues to develop and grow, so Frontline must be kept under constant review and evolve to ensure it continues to meet the needs of a changing and ever more "powerful" profession,' she says.

The magazine's profits from advertising are ploughed back into that profession to support members. 'We are clearly the market leader in recruitment advertising for physiotherapists - streets ahead of anyone else,' says Steve Mann, the Society's head of business development. Chief executive Phil Gray is similarly upbeat. He points out the importance of Frontline's revenue to the profession with 'the majority of it going to research awards given by the charitable trust and supporting learning and development services'. 'The publication is an excellent means of communication for the profession and a major information resource,' he says. Council member Graham Smith chairs the Society's communications group, which monitors CSP publications and acts as a quality assurance body. He says Frontline's success both as a means of generating revenue and communicating with members is a 'cause for celebration'.

However, he adds, there is no room for complacency - the Society is constantly looking for ways to improve how Frontline can keep members informed of developments at the CSP and in the profession, both in the UK and internationally. Professor Smith draws attention to the recent survey of Frontline readers, included with the February 2 issue, to gauge what it is about the publication that they value and what they would like to see changed.

'Frontline is an essential tool for the Society in communicating with members and serving as a mouthpiece for the profession. However, the readers are what matters and it is crucial that we get feedback from them to make the service we provide even better. The past 10 years have seen the CSP improve its communications with members and Frontline has played a major role in this.' He adds: 'We expect Frontline to go from strength to strength over the next 10 years providing the most comprehensive list of classified adverts for physiotherapy vacancies of any UK publication, along with detailed listings of courses and study days and, of course, excellent editorial informing our busy members what is happening in the Society, the profession and the wider field of health and social care.'

The future, then, looks bright, and who knows, in another 10 years Frontline will perhaps be read by members who no longer have to fight to get the message across about how activity can help prevent low back pain. Although maybe that's expecting a little bit too much.


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