Tuesday 1 May 2012

A tale of two cartography journals

Over the past few months I’ve experienced both the best and the worst of being involved with two cartography journals so here’s a story and some advice for those thinking of getting involved on the Editorial side of things.

As most readers will know, I am the current Editor of The Cartographic Journal, the official journal of the British Cartographic Society. I have been Editor since 2006 and overseen more than a quarter of the issues published since 1964 (largely due to increased frequency of publication). It has been an immense privilege to edit the premier international journal on cartography and one that I continue to enjoy as we head into the BCS and Journal’s 50th Anniversary year in 2013. It takes considerable time but it is a team effort and I rely heavily on my Assistant Editor, Regional Editors, Special Issue Editors, the Editorial Board, the terrific team at Maney Publications and also Reviewers who do vital work in ensuring both the quality and timeliness of the publication. I am really no more than the person who steers the ship and I hope I steer it on a straight course and by rightfully acknowledging those that do the majority of the work. People have nothing but positive comments about the journal and kind words for those us who do the work to get it published. It still requires Editorials to be written, papers to push through the review process, comments to return (sensitively!) to authors, proofs to correct and all so that the journal is published broadly on time, four times a year. We’ve had great success with the Journal in recent years but it is built on the foundations of those that went before us; those that founded the journal and previous Editors whose company I am honoured to join. The Impact Factor (and other measures of so-called academic visibility and credibility) has steadily risen, subscriptions have increased and there are a larger number of international authors submitting work for consideration. It is a premier print and online journal that has always followed a subscription model with the costs of publication recovered through personal and library subscriptions. It’s a terrific publication to work on and every issue brings with it new conversations, interesting articles and an opportunity to prepare something of interest to the cartographic community. In short, I thoroughly enjoy being Editor. It brings me into contact with some amazing people across the world and I get the opportunity of a sneak peek at unpublished work before it hits the shelves which is often enlightening. Some things do occasionally slip through and I was a little horrified to see 3D, 2 segment pie charts in the latest issue, brought to my attention by a colleague on the Editorial Board. I hold my hands up…I missed them; the author should have been advised to re-draft them in a more appropriate form. The Cartographic Journal is a scholarly publication and publishes original research and, occasionally, articles that explore techniques, patterns of work or opinion pieces on change (for instance). What it doesn’t do is publish maps. It cannot publish maps and was never designed to do so. Sometimes people find that odd, but this means that if you’re looking at publishing a paper (or a map), you have to learn what the journal is designed to offer; what will it accept; and what will it reject simply because it maintains uniqueness by being specific.

Let’s contrast this with another of my roles. Nearly 10 years ago Dr Mike Smith joined Kingston University as a young Lecturer and soon thereafter we began discussing an idea he had for a journal dedicated to publishing maps rather than scholarly articles. It was designed more for practitioners or for scholars whose end result was a map of somewhere or some phenomena. Nothing like it existed (largely because of the costs of publishing maps) and he asked me to help him develop the journal. I was glad to, having some experience of publishing and, crucially, having experience of academic and commercial cartography which Mike did not possess. It was his idea and a good one. I was a co-founder and the first Map Editor (at least that’s what it said on the Business Card). I was also one of three Trustees which were required to gain charitable status under the UK’s Charity Commission. I helped devise the map review process for the journal and I also advised Mike on who he might contact to become a member of the map review team and Editorial Board. The open access approach was innovative, requiring authors to pay a small fee to help the journal cover costs of web hosting and such like and the map was then published online as a PDF which could be read and downloaded for free by subscribers. Mike has done a great job over the subsequent years of taking the journal from strength to strength, particularly as he has very little background in cartography. This amusingly led to a number of heated debates in the early days over maps which he would want to accept but which, frankly, were terrible in cartographic terms. Thankfully over the years, the natural evolution of the journal has led to improvements in the type and quality of the work submitted and I was proud to have played a small part in getting it established and promoting it. As JoM grew, so did the team and others took on map review responsibilities but I remained a Map Editor and Trustee and the financial aspects of the running of the journal required my counter-signature.

I left Kingston University about 1 year ago but my ongoing involvement in JoM was never discussed. It therefore came as a surprise (as it did to all those on the Editorial Board) to learn late in 2011 of the acquisition by Taylor and Francis. I had not been involved in any way in discussions and Mike hadn't informed me of the possibility let alone the actuality. I have subsequently asked him countless times for the details of the acquisition, asked Taylor and Francis themselves and (on the occasions when I've actually received a reply) been told in no uncertain terms that he is the sole 'owner' of the publication and that details are confidential. Now this is where things get murky. Who ‘owns’ a Journal? Clearly it was Mike’s original idea but it requires a team to get things going and maintain it. In the case of JoM, Mike needed my experience and professional contacts to get his idea off the ground. Do I or any of the early Editors have any claim of ‘ownership’? Does Kingston University have any claim by association? On a personal level, at some point, Mike clearly decided that I was no longer associated with the journal in any of the capacities mentioned above and he never thought to either involve me or inform me. It also transpires other members of the Editorial Board were unaware of the fundamental change to the journal’s operation until after the fact. But what a shift it is for JoM going from open access to behind the Taylor and Francis paywall.

JoM remains more than a one-man show but both Mike and Taylor and Francis have been clear in emails to me that that is the basis for the acquisition and that no-one else has a right to be made aware of the details. I am not suggesting the change in the publication model is necessarily detrimental; but that the process has been conducted without due consideration or the involvement of those who have an interest. It’s certainly an interesting move given the changes in publication more generally as the world is increasingly moving towards web-based patterns of map publication using open source data. There’s something quite uncomfortable about the current Editor doing a deal to move an open access journal behind a paywall without consulting people properly…and then writing a blog entry months later extolling the virtues of open access publications. Hmm…

So what’s the moral here? Well…whether you take the reigns of an established international journal of repute, or you develop a new one from scratch, it brings with it tremendous responsibilities. The Cartographic Journal is not mine. I am merely a custodian. JoM, on the other hand, seems to have developed into one man’s private estate to do with as he wishes. As Editor of The Cartographic Journal I have to report to the Publications Committee of BCS and I serve them as Editor. That exacts some control and reporting mechanism that assures BCS of what I am doing and why. I have considerable freedom to edit the journal but I simply front a team who are made aware of administrative and other circumstances as they arise. JoM appears not to run in this fashion and the lack of communication by the Editor-in-Chief is worrying for its longeivity.. No-one should be able to erase history or bring in sweeping changes without due diligence or wider discussion. Ultimately then, there are no rules. We all do the job of Editor in our own style but that style should be governed by more than one person. How many people really understand when they submit a paper to a journal how different styles might impact their chances of publication? How does editorial style impact on impartiality and, ultimately, on the quality of a journal? I’d like to think The Cartographic Journal maintains some sort of standing and reputation. JoM has been trying to build a reputation but recent circumstances can only dampen that progress.. I hope that the style I adopt for The Cartographic Journal is inclusive. JoM is clearly exclusive. With that, I am still the current Editor of The Cartographic Journal but I am now only a former co-founder, Map Editor, Trustee and Associate Editor of Journal of Maps…many of those roles are no longer acknowledged as reality.

What have I learnt? Respect for colleagues is vital in a professional relationship. Behaving with principles, dignity and openness brings rewards and mutual respect. Having a respect for the publication, its history and values is important in establishing its position and maintaining it going forward. Treating people properly is of the utmost importance. Act with courtesy, collegiality and professionalism and your authors, Editorial Board colleagues and peers will see you as someone doing a half decent job. You gain authority and standing not just by what you know and what domain knowledge and experience you can bring to the table, but in how you deal with people. Without solid values and a respectful ethic, you may as well not bother getting involved behind the scenes in a journal. You don’t get paid but it brings great rewards in terms of meeting new people and working alongside those who you share a profession with. Some of these people become close friends and trusted colleagues. On the other hand…choose your friends wisely. You never know when they’re going to use you to benefit themselves, screw you over in the process, erase history and then hide behind lies! Yes, it hurts…but you learn an awful lot about people in the process.

Why this blog entry? Well, what other recourse does one have when faced with completely unprofessional behavior and utter silence? Sure I can take legal action, I can write to Kingston University and I can write to the Editorial Board (which I have done) but, ultimately, it comes down to how people are, how they conduct themselves and whether, deep down, they actually care. It’s disappointing when you find out what people are really like. If this simply illuminates what goes on behind the scenes of a journal at least readers might reflect on who they are dealing with. If you don’t like how people are behaving then go seek another place to publish. It’s a competitive market out there and putting JoM behind a paywall has just placed it in a whole new realm. I’ve asked for papers I have had published in JoM to be officially retracted. I feel extremely strongly about how things are being handled with that particular journal. I wish Mike good luck with JoM going forward. I’ll focus on The Cartographic Journal instead. Life is too short to get overly concerned about how others want to run their professional lives.

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