This is the first issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health that will appear online through Blackwell Publishing and in print.
Inspired in part by our own irritation at only having access to online versions of some of our favourite journals in university libraries, we have chosen to retain production of the Journal in paper format. The printed copy of the Journal is of high quality. We take pride in its clear format and printing. A print version is also a boon to those of us who do not have fast electronic access.
We have also retained a submission process and communication with authors that depends on e-mail contact. Submission and tracking of papers on the web may be a change that we make in the future but, at present, we are persuaded that personal contact with staff at our production house (Sarah Kleinitz and Jane Hawtin at Substitution) is a more efficient way of addressing queries and keeping track of papers.
Initially, the benefit of online publication will be primarily to our authors, whose papers will be accessible world-wide and promoted through the international Blackwell Publishing network. This should increase the number of times a good article is cited by other researchers, an important issue for many authors, especially those who work in academic institutions and have research roles. If our papers are cited by authors from other countries, it would also indicate where Australian research is contributing to an international understanding of public health issues.
If citation rates rise, so does a journal's Impact Factor. While we share the concerns about a blinkered reliance on Impact Factors as an indication of a journal's worth, these figures are now an inescapable aspect of academic life.1 We value the contributions of all our authors, from first-time contributors to those who have a distinguished career in public health. We want to ensure that they continue to submit their research papers to our Journal. A higher Impact Factor is attractive when deciding where to submit a research report.
Researchers writing research reports all too often want access to the literature at their desks – and that means immediate, electronic access. Libraries are experiencing budgetary restrictions in many institutions and the processing of paper copies of journals is not cost-effective unless there is a strong call for the paper journal. The inevitable outcome is that libraries turn to packaged sets of relevant electronic journals. It is our hope that our readers will continue to pressure libraries in Australia and New Zealand to provide access to our printed journal. Increasingly, postage rates to libraries in other countries are too high to make printed copy a feasible option and here, again, the online version is an important means of dissemination.
Through the Public Health Education and Research Trust, we have encouraged members of the Public Health Association of Australia to make donations of the Journal to organisations which do not have the resources to pay for a subscription. Some of these have been in Australia but many have been in resource-poor countries. Airmail postage of journals has absorbed much of the donation and surface mail has proved unreliable. Where electronic access is feasible, the online version provides an improved opportunity for making the Journal available in these countries by donation from PHAA members. Blackwell Publishing is also part of the Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) which provides free online access to health journals to local, not-for-profit institutions in extremely resource-poor countries, where the GNP per capita is below US$1,000 or for very low cost where the GNP per capita is between $1,000 and $3,000.2
On the Journal website, Blackwell Publishing will highlight selected articles in each issue with the aim of drawing attention to the findings. The Editors are also provided with regular reports of the number of times these articles, and others, are cited. We are not sure how much benefit this will be to us as Editors. We prefer to keep a reasonably independent stance when deciding what the key public health issues are for the Journal but the information may well prove useful.
An addition that will be useful is that Blackwell Publishing provides a publisher's perspective on publication ethics, drawing on the international debate on publication ethics.3 The document covers many of the issues that we have debated with authors and the Editorial Board, but in more detail. We look forward to your comments on these guidelines.
These benefits to our readers and our authors require some changes in our publication procedures, the main one being the requirement that authors locate their studies clearly in an international context. Research into local issues certainly has local value but we already require that research papers should justify a study by reviewing the literature on a topic. If we are to engage more fully with an international audience, there is the need for careful assessment of the literature that covers international debates so that authors themselves can define the relevance of a study to other settings or to similar problems in other countries. Of course, this task is made much easier if the research is available in online journals from these various settings! At the same time, we welcome contributions from researchers located in other countries but, as before, these need to spell out the implications of their research for Australia and New Zealand. We suggest that these papers start with a thorough review of papers in our Journal, available online.