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On January 17, 1990, the American consulate in Cape Town sent a cable to the U. S. Secretary of State reporting on the imminent announcement of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison after 27 years. Three years later Mandela would receive the Nobel Peace Prize; four years later he would become President of South Africa. The diplomatic cable, reporting on conversations with Mandela’s lawyer, made it clear that Mandela and then South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk were working together toward Mandela’s release and the end apartheid. The words in the cable suggest admiration for Mandela’s leadership of the African National Congress, the anti-apartheid group:
ASIDE FROM BEING AN EFFORT TO SEIZE THE MORAL HIGH GROUND BY PUBLICLY DEMONSTRATING FLEXIBILITY, THE ANC'S RECENT ANNOUNCEMENT THAT IT IS PREPARED TO NEGOTIATE EVEN WHILE APARTHEID LAWS LIKE THE GROUP AREAS ACT REMAIN IN PLACE MAY BE PART OF THE ORGANIZATION'S REPLY TO DE KLERK.
The U.S. may have been officially neutral in its dealings with South Africa at that point, but its official representatives were silently cheering Mandela on.
That telling quote is from one of more than 250,000 documents, mostly diplomatic cables, released by Wikileaks  amid great furor in recent weeks. Much of what is in those documents was already known (we knew that the U.S. supported an end to apartheid), but seeing the actual words of U.S. diplomats helps us feel what was happening in ways that interpretive reports often did not.
However, interpretation is important because it brings in other information, new findings, and context that the cables and other original material does not have. The important Wikileaks’ contribution will be magnified by interpretations from historians and sociologists who will use this source materials to help us better understand the world: they provide new knowledge, and that in turn leads to still more new knowledge. This successive distillation of facts and interpretation is the essence of scholarship. Whether it starts from leaked diplomatic cables, from first-hand experience, or from a new reading of a text, interpretation is the key. And this issue of The Journal of Electronic Publishing is full of interpretation.
Alexander Hay, in “Hypernews, Hyperreaders, and Beyond,” looks at original works by people who participate in the news-publishing effort on line. Hay thinks that these people are creating a different kind of publication, one that complements traditional journalism, and also changes it.
Roxana Theodorou’s survey of researchers in Europe and the US showed that while researchers give lip service to open access repositories, they still are wary of submitting papers to them or of citing them. See her findings in ”OA Repositories: the Researchers’ Point of View.”
Jöran Beel and Bela Gipp took their previous research, which explored the algorithm for positioning academic literature in search engines like Google Scholar, and tested whether it could be fooled into giving better placements to articles that might not reflect their actual importance. Read “Academic Search Engine Spam and Google’s Resilience Against It” to find out what they discovered.
Steve Urbanski and Amanda Miller turned publication around: what, they ask, is “Online Communities’ Impact on the Profession of Newspaper Design”? Their answer took them far beyond the actual publication process, to the role of newspaper designers in their newsrooms, and their ability to get and keep jobs.
The successive distillation of facts and interpretation mentioned above—scholarlship—is at its core what JEP is all about. The Journal of Electronic Publishing is scholarship about the publication of scholarship in the electronic environment. It’s a rather recursive attribute, but one that is valuable nevertheless.
I have helped to bring you this scholarship for 13 years: 29 issues, 264 articles, 339 author bylines. This is my last issue as the editor of The Journal of Electronic Publishing. JEP will grow stronger and more valuable under new leadership.
It’s been a great ride, and I am indebted to five people in particular, without whom I could not have been successful, and without whom I would not have had as much or fun:
Colin Day, the Director of the University of Michigan Press, who started JEP in 1995, and graciously and eloquently persuaded me to take over as editor in 1997.
Eve Trager, the managing editor of JEP for many years, who caught and corrected the errors I let slip through, edited with wisdom and insight, and kept JEP on line and functioning.
Mark Sandler and Maria Bonn, co-conspirators at the University Library at Michigan, who rescued JEP from near death and gave it (and me) another chance. Mark moved on; Maria remains JEP’s champion to this day.
Shana Kimball, whose long title at the University of Michigan Library is just a cover for her fabulous work as the current managing editor and brains behind so many innovations at JEP.
JEP’s success is also a credit to its authors, readers, and users: more than 2,000 people who registered as JEP supporters (including those who revealed their favorite ice-cream flavors in the registration process), and the tens of thousands more who read, reviewed, cited, and wrote articles for JEP.
Being an editor is fun, and also work. Here are the metrics that journal editors everywhere are welcome to cite:
- 10 hours of work, on average, on each article
- attending meetings, or reading blogs, listservs, and other posts to find people to solicit
- persuading people to write for JEP
- reading submissions and responding to each author (including those who thought “The Journal of Electronic Publishing” meant that the journal would take articles on any subject, and then publish them electronically)
- in the early days, formatting the articles for HTML (thank goodness for content-management systems!)
- finding appropriate peer reviewers, sometimes for esoteric subjects, and persuading them to review for JEP
- anonymizing articles and sending them to peer reviewers; tracking reviews
- anonymizing reviews and sending them to authors
- editing articles
- tracking authors’ acceptances of edits
- sending articles to the copyeditor and tracking that
- writing each issue’s e-mail with a sentence or two about each article
- 25 hours/year, on average, on policy, planning, and implementing decisions
If you are keeping track, this is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,645 hours, a total of more than 10 months of work. In this time I received the knowledge equivalent of a Ph.D. in scholarly electronic publishing (admittedly ABD). It was great fun, as learning always is, because I worked with some of the smartest, most thoughtful people in publishing today.
Thank you all for allowing me to do it.
1. http://www.wikileaks.ch/cablegate.html Accessed December 12, 2010