September 11, 2019 -- In spring of 2019, the Journal of Latin American Geography (JLAG), which is published by the Conference of Latin American Geography and distributed in print by the University of Texas Press and online via Project Muse, launched a new program that provides temporary free access to articles relevant to breaking news. The March 2019 issue (vol. 18, no. 1) included 11 articles, which were temporarily "opened," related to issues of immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border.
To highlight this new initiative, we recently conducted a brief interview with JLAG Editor Johnny Finn (Associate Professor of Sociology, Social Work & Anthropology at Christopher Newport University) over email.
For additional context, HAPI currently indexes eight academic journals published in Latin America and the U.S. that focus on geography. We also include citations from another six from Latin America that have ceased publishing or that we have deselected. We believe the discipline of geography is a critical field and stand by President Barack Obama's statement that "the study of geography is about more than just memorizing places on a map. It's about understanding the complexity of our world, appreciating the diversity of cultures that exists across continents. And in the end, it's about using all that knowledge to help bridge divides and bring people together."
HAPI: What circumstances led the editors at the Journal of Latin American Geography (JLAG) and the distributor to start this new program?
The Journal of Latin American Geography publishes original, high quality, geographical scholarship representing a broad spectrum of perspectives on and from Latin America. We publish articles in English, Spanish, and Portuguese with the intention of bringing the region's best scholarship to the broadest possible audience. In 2016 we introduced the JLAG Perspectives section of the journal in which we publish shorter reflections from leading scholars in an effort to bring expert opinions to bear on current events. And JLAG is now the 8th ranked academic journal in Latin American studies, according to Google Scholar. All that to say, while of course the articles and essays that we publish speak to current theoretical, methodological, and topical debates within Latin American geography, they also have the potential to inform discussions and debates well outside of the academy, and thus well outside the journal's paywall. To that end, and based on unfolding current events in Latin America, North America, and indeed globally, we have started a program to temporarily "open" curated collections of articles and essays on specific topics relevant to current events and breaking news. Our first push of temporary OA articles was in March of 2019, in which we opened access to 11 articles and essays related to the Mexico-US border. As a result, cutting edge scholarship on the human and environmental impacts of the border wall, increasing border militarization, child migration, and women's experience on the migration trail was made freely available worldwide for a six-week period (mid-April through late May 2019). We're currently working on the next breaking news OA push, and we're developing further innovations in the OA space for JLAG.
HAPI: In thinking about steps forward, what are the challenges JLAG could face in implementing a broader open access initiative?
I think there are two main challenges. The first is financial. JLAG is a non-profit journal, published by a non-profit organization, and distributed both in print (via the University of Texas Press) and online (via Project Muse) by non-profit entities. The overwhelming majority of the journal's revenues go into producing the journal and funding outstanding graduate student research on and from Latin America. The second challenge is in terms of perception. This initiative in which we temporarily "open" access to articles from our archive related to breaking news is a first step in finding a balance between maintaining the financial viability of the journal, which is absolutely necessary in order to support geographical research in Latin America, and making as much JLAG content available to as many people in as many places as possible. The second challenge is in terms of perception. I think that many people conflate "open access" with the recent flood of predatory journals that purport to be "open access" while charging authors exorbitant fees to publish articles with little to no review in what are essentially predatory and opportunistic scam journals. (This is NOT to be confused with "author publication charges", or APCs, that are increasingly common in reputable peer-reviewed publications, including journals published by Elsevier, Wiley, etc., that charge authors who want their articles listed as OA.) JLAG is, and always have been, an independent, peer reviewed academic journal specializing in the human, environmental, and physical geography of Latin America. Our interest in open access is strictly in broadening the reach of the important and groundbreaking research we publish, especially where it has an immediate public interest.
HAPI: Can you provide a bit of background on why JLAG has not partnered with a corporate publisher?
We've never needed to. The journal has always been published by the Conference of Latin American Geography and distributed by the University of Texas Press and Project Muse. That is to say, the academic production published in the pages of JLAG has never been profit oriented, which is something I'm very proud of. Furthermore-and this is my own opinion, not necessarily the position of the journal or of CLAG-I've been very clear about my skepticism toward the for-profit academic publishing model (see Finn et al. 2017). It's unfortunate, though perhaps not unsurprising, that academic research has become such an incredible site of profit accumulation for the publishing industry. In a certain sense, it's ludicrous. As I write in the previously cited article: the vast majority of research published in peer-reviewed academic journals (at least in geography and similar disciplines) is funded by universities, government agencies, non-profit organizations, non-governmental organizations, and the academics themselves (who dedicate significant uncompensated time to research, especially in summer months when many of us are 'off-contract' with our university employers). Academics once again perform significant and almost always uncompensated labor acting as editors of those journals, reviewing manuscripts for those journals, and sitting on those journals' editorial boards. Those manuscripts are then published as peer-reviewed articles in journals that profit mightily by selling the very articles back to universities, laboratories, other institutions, and individuals. Or, as Robert Darnton, now Emeritus University Librarian at Harvard University, succinctly remarked: "We faculty do the research, write the papers, referee papers by other researchers, serve on editorial boards, all of it for free... and then we buy back the results of our labour at outrageous prices" (quoted in Sample 2012, 1). I, for one, have very little interest in having anything to do with corporate publishers.
HAPI: Do you have advice for academic society journals that might be considering following in your footsteps in reinvesting into grad student field research awards?
Sure, do it! It requires a lot of work, but it's so incredibly rewarding to see the proceeds of our academic labor being reinvested, year after year, into outstanding field research being carried out by graduate students from all across the hemisphere, rather than being dumped into the coffers of corporate publishers.