New editorial leadership: new ideas, but same old values


‘The discussion of new views as well as the reporting of new facts will … continue to be a main pre-occupation of the journal’ ( Clapham et al., 1932 )

The year 2012 is another milestone in the 110 yr history of New Phytologist, as it marks the retirement of Ian Woodward, Editor-in-Chief, and Ian Alexander, Chair of the New Phytologist Trust. It seems appropriate under the circumstances for the new incumbents in these roles to pause and reflect on where the journal is now and where it is headed in the future. Indeed, this is exactly the same exercise that A. R. Clapham, H. Godwin and W. O. James conducted when they took over the reins from the founding editor, Sir Arthur Tansley, 30 yr after the publication of the first volume of what was then known as The New Phytologist. The definite article in our title may have disappeared, but the quotation at the beginning of this article, from an editorial written to mark the start of their 30 yr tenure as editors, is as appropriate today as it was in 1932. Not surprisingly, we have continued to reflect upon the aims and objectives of the journal and, in the relatively recent past, these have been codified. Before thinking about the future, it is worth reminding ourselves what the journal is aiming to achieve. Foremost amongst these aims is the publication of excellent, novel, rigorous and timely research and scholarship in plant science, and to provide a high-quality service to authors, readers and reviewers. A second key aim is to recognize and promote emerging areas of plant science and to encourage continued progress and innovation in the field, achieved principally through support for symposia and workshops (e.g. Atkin et al., 2010; Herr, 2011; Spanu & Panstruga, 2012) and through the New Phytologist Tansley Medal, which recognizes excellence in plant science by those in the early stages of their careers (Woodward & Hetherington, 2010, 2011; Dolan, 2012).

In terms of achieving these objectives, New Phytologist is in a fortunate position, in that it is neither owned by a publisher, and therefore subject to the vagaries of market forces, nor in thrall to one of the scientific societies. In fact, because it is owned by a not-for-profit charitable trust, known as the New Phytologist Trust (, it is totally independent and can steer a course decided by its editors and trustees. Over the years, successive editors and chairs of the trust have striven to ensure that New Phytologist publishes the best contemporary plant science as original research papers, reviews and opinion pieces. This will continue and, in keeping with our editorial forefathers’ vision to promote the exchange of ideas and debate, we are pleased to be able to offer free publication of articles (there are no publication charges) and to maintain free access to the Forum and the prestigious Tansley reviews series. Tansley reviews cover all research areas within the plant sciences, from intracellular processes through to global environmental change, and also serve as excellent teaching tools. Recent example topics include cell signalling networks (Dietz et al., 2010), ecosystem science (Currie, 2011), mycorrhizal fungal ecology (Kennedy, 2010) and evo-devo (Mathews & Kramer, 2012). A complete database of all Tansley reviews published can be searched at We also recognize that the success of New Phytologist comes from the reputation it has earned for publishing high-quality, rigorously peer-reviewed science and for providing our authors and readers with an excellent service in terms of production values and the journal–author interface. Indeed, our current time from submission to first decision is less than 25 days and, on average, the majority of authors will receive three referee reports per paper. Maintaining and striving to improve on this will continue to be a priority.

However, we face a number of challenges and, indeed, opportunities: the world of scientific publishing is in flux. Readers will be aware that New Phytologist has recently moved to online-only publication (Alexander & Slater, 2011). The debate concerning different publishing models, especially open access, is lively and provoking much interest. However, what is really exciting are the technological developments that promise, in the short rather than in the medium term, significant changes in how we read scientific papers. What the publishers refer to as ‘content enrichment’ is set to make a major impact on scientific publishing. Our publishing partner, Wiley-Blackwell, is at the forefront of such innovations and we, our authors and readers will be benefiting from these in the near future. Maintaining the success of New Phytologist will involve exploiting the best of these new technologies and this means that the journal will have to be light on its feet and not afraid of experiment or change. These challenges and opportunities were recognized by our immediate predecessors, Ian Woodward and Ian Alexander, and it is our intention, without any sense of complacency, to carry on their good work.