Use Your Voice, Part III

Posted on Wednesday, January 30, 2019 at 12:18 AM

Use the elements of your voice -- and remember: without you, nothing matters.

By Peter P. Jacobi

To conclude the now-three-part pass-along of highlights from my summer 2018 keynote titled "Without You, Nothing Matters," meaning the application of your own voice in copy, or the request to your writer to offer up his or her strongest application thereof.

Show Purpose

To have voice, your writing must show purpose, a goal, a reason for being. As reader, I must sense that the writer is writing for a reason, with some sort of goal, with a need to fulfill, with heat in the belly.

I'm not saying a crusade is required, but as your reader, I want to recognize that something urgent from within has propelled you into this project, that in some evident way you have been drawn in by a story, or a feeling or a person or happening has come into your life and is pushing you to make artistic use or comment.

Purpose in Facts

Maybe, it's just FACTS that stun. Brian Doyle wrote an article called "Joyas Voladoras" for The American Scholar. "Joyas voladoras" means "flying jewels," which is what the first white explorers in the Americas called hummingbirds, creatures whose "heart beat ten times a second, whose heart is the size of a pencil eraser, whose heart is a lot of the hummingbird."

Each hummingbird, writes Doyle, "visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at 60 miles an hour. They can fly backward. They can fly more than 500 miles without pausing to rest. But when they rest, they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a 15th of their normal sleep rate, their hearts sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not soon warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be."

Here are facts that took Doyle's breath away, compelling him to share them in an essay.

Purpose in Prose

Maya Angelou had a more pronounced purpose for writing. "I write for the Black voice and any ear which can hear it," she insisted. "As a composer writes for musical instruments and a choreographer creates for the body, I search for sound, tempos, and rhythms to ride through the vocal cord over the tongue, and out of the lips of Black people. I love the shades and slashes of light. Its rumblings and passages of magical lyricism. I accept the glories of stridencies and purrings, trumpetings and somber sonorities. I write because I am a Black woman, listening attentively to her talking people."

Angelou put her purpose in lovely prose, a distinctive, distinguishable voice that reveals why and how she wrote.

Detail Is Essential

From purpose, let's move to another essential ingredient of voice. It is detail. For your writing to have distinction, it must have substance. Abstractions, generalities do not work magic. They're skippable. They're avoidable. To the contrary, there is power in details, in specificity, in facts that startle or cause ruminations that prove contention or simply reflect a sudden feeling. I return you to Brian Doyle's hummingbirds. It is the detail in those facts, the awesome specifics, that sell the subject, that so astonish me and keep me reading.

Be True to Your Writing

We turn to honesty. Bring honesty to your writing. Be honest to who you are and how you express yourself. One strives, you know, to have one's writing come across as spoken, as informal, as conversational, another sound reason for reading your copy aloud. Does your writing sound natural or forced? I hope not.

I think of writers negotiating themselves painfully through description in which words sort of float meaninglessly, rootless in the air adjectivally or passages burdened or passed along to the reader with nouns and verbs that obviously don't belong in the writer's own vocabulary and that don't belong in copy written for any audience. Writing is not a reason to show off one's vocabulary or one's dexterity using Roget's Thesaurus.

Avoid sounding phony. Be true to yourself. And think also about trying to be too show-offish with information. You've done research. You want to prove you've done research. And you pour fact after fact after fact into your copy, too excessively for your readers to grasp or care about. That's being phony, too.

Make Your Reader Feel Loved

As significant as honesty in writing is love. Let your reader recognize you love what you're writing. Love the language. Love your idea. Love information, the substance, the content of your story or article or poem: the plot, the characters, the message imparted. Love the process of writing. Love your reader. Love not your readers but your reader, the one reader in your mind's eye as you work, remembering it is one reader who will read your copy by him or herself, alone, in the privacy of place, mind, and spirit. Show me a little love.

Be Yourself

What else for voice? Personality. And singularity. We return to the you in your writing. Releasing the you, I mean not half of you or a laid-back you or a reserved you or a better-not-let-myself-go you or a better-not-get-too-bold you or an I-don't-want-to-embarrass-myself you but the full you when you are most at ease with yourself, the you that shows you as you really are as communicator when comfortable with family, friends, relaxing, just waking up, in the shower, enjoying the green or white outdoors, talking to yourself, the let-yourself-go you.

Don't be dull. Don't be dreary. Be the confident here-i-am me. You do need to cross the chasm between writer and reader. You do need to interest, intrigue, invest, inspire. Theater comes into play. Where there is good theater, there exist an author's personality and singularity, long before the performers get into the act.

Show, Don't Tell

Another huge must for voice is that you don't just "tell," but that you "show" your reader what you're talking about. Show versus tell. Take the reader there. Bring the reader up close. Make of your writing a journey for the reader. He or she may be sitting peacefully in a living room chair, physically inert while your copy offers travel through space or time or wonders. Take advantage of such an opportunity. Be a travel guide. Make your written world real.

Show versus tell. Let's go to history. Pliny the Younger left the only written account of Pompeii's burial when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Serving as journalist, he wrote:

"We saw the sea sucked away by the heaving of the earth ... a fearful black cloud forked with great tongues of fire lashed at the heavens and torrents of ash began to pour from the sky. Although it was daytime, we were enveloped by night -- not a moonless night or one dimmed by cloud -- but the darkness of a sealed room without light."

What if Pliny had written, "It was horrible." "It was ghastly." "It was unbelievable." "It was unforgettable." "It is indescribable." We would have nothing of meaning. Fortunately, he "saw the sea sucked away by the heaving of the earth." Show versus tell.

Use Your Perspective

The use of perspective adds to voice. That means approaching a subject from a different, perhaps surprising, direction or view. Perspective, when different, when used from an unexpected mental angle, can startle. It can charm, it can make the reader smile. It can also bring renewed understanding of the topic under the microscope. Take charm and a smile. Let the words of Tom Wayman illustrate. Here is his poem, "The Feet":

"At night, the feet become lonely.
...
"Hidden away in the darkness under sheets and blankets, no wonder the two abandoned feet begin a clumsy relationship. One foot suddenly crosses the ankle of the other like a blind horse putting his head over the neck of another blind horse. The feet lie like this touching all night -- stiff, self-conscious, not saying a word."

Perspective.

Use the elements of voice: your voice and yours alone. Remember, without you, nothing matters.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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Editors' Goals for 2019

Posted on Wednesday, January 30, 2019 at 12:18 AM

See what fellow editors have in mind for this new year.

By William Dunkerley

We asked a sampling of editors what their goals and aspirations are for 2019. Here's what they said:

--Deborah Lockridge, editor-in-chief, Heavy Duty Trucking and Truckinginfo.com: "I would say the top priority for my publication is to become more organized and productive in creating digital content. We're in the process of creating an editorial calendar, both with topics for the sales team to use as well as a way to plan better internally week to week and month to month.

"Professionally? Doing a better job of being a manager. It's too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of answering emails, producing content, and putting out fires, and neglect the strategic and supervisory parts of my job."

--Rebecca Stauffer, managing editor, pda.org: "For my publication my top priority is to continue striving to produce a more data-driven publication."

--Dave Zoia, editorial director, WardsAuto: "Professionally: We are moving toward becoming more of an intelligence company, and my role is changing from strictly journalist to something more typical of an analyst. So my goal is to continue evolving along that career track, and to continue to add to my depth of understanding of the industry/technology we cover so that I can better serve our audience.

"Publication: Continue the shift to more value-added, analytical, in-depth content that provides information vital to our audience/subscribers."

--Mary Ruth Johnsen, publisher, Welding Journal, Inspection Trends, and Welding Journal en Español: "So far as my top priority professionally, 2019 is the 100th anniversary of the organization I work for. Therefore, I want us to do this milestone justice. I want to provide meaningful coverage throughout the year that reflects upon our organization's past, but also how it is relevant to its industry and readership now and will continue to be in the future.

"Top priority for my publication: to develop complementary digital content. We have only limited digital offerings at this time, but plans are being made to add a lot more. I want it to be editorially sound and in keeping with what we offer in the print publication. It needs to be content driven and not ad driven."

--Linda Longo, editorial director, Bravo Business Media: "Top priority for me professionally (as editor-in-chief) is to do a better job of scheduling and more effectively managing deadlines. Top priority for the publication is to stay on top of breaking news faster. "

--Anne Marie Mohan, senior editor, Packaging World magazine: "Our trade magazine is a bit different. We started out as a privately owned magazine focused on packaging, and then our company grew to include several more publications that tangentially deal with packaging. Three years ago, we were acquired by a major trade association. One of our pubs is now their official publication. However, more and more of the content of our flagship magazine is now being tailored to align with the programs and reports the association offers.

"Now my top priority is to find a better work/life balance, where I work less and have more of a life! The top priority for the publication is to find opportunities to align our parent association's information with the high-quality editorial on which we built our success."

--Michael Welch, senior editor, Home Power magazine: "Priority for 2019 professionally? Find a job. Probably not in the publishing industry. We published our final issue in November. As far as I know, the only plan is to make the back issues available for download in perpetuity."

--Jeff Blumenfeld, editor, Expedition News: "Top priority for me is how to do a better job monetizing Expedition News."

--Editor, name withheld by request: "Top priority professionally? Just to 'hang in there.' Our magazine is published by a professional association, and the decision has been made -- 3-4 levels above me -- to make the magazine a lot more of a promoter of the association. This isn't an overnight change; it's been occurring in some form for 3-4 years. But now we're running more promotional articles that are of questionable value to our members. I know the magazine is an association function, and that it supports the association. I'm just concerned that the balance has tipped so that the value to our members is substantially diminished. So I'll still try my best to put out a magazine that serves the needs of the members and of the association. But it'll be more difficult to do. But I'll try to keep it as useful as possible for our readers/members while meeting the association's goal of using the magazine primarily for 'branding' the association."

--David Shadovitz, editor, HRE: "Top priority professionally? It's to develop my knowledge and expertise as we continue to build out our digital capabilities. I want to ensure that we, as an editorial team, are delivering meaningful content to our audience and presenting it in a way that will gain their attention."

--Dwight Silverman, technology editor, Houston Chronicle Media Group: "Top professional priority? Return to writing, rather than producing/editing. For the publication it's to grow our digital subscribers."

--Dan Goldfischer, editor-in-chief, PM Network magazine and PMI Today: "Priorities for 2019 for me personally and for my publication are pretty much the same: Convert the content of our association newsletter from a printed and digital newsletter coming out once a month ages behind what is covered in the content to a Web microsite that can be dynamically updated. That will give the stakeholders (our members) the news when they want it and need it."

--Dave Zweifel: "I'm no longer the editor of The Capital Times, although I'm still involved as editor emeritus and as an opinion columnist. My top priority professionally is to continue, through my writing, to persuade readers to see issues in a better light. And for publication it is for it to continue to be a necessary place to keep up with what's not only the news, but what's behind it."

--C.G. Masi, cgmasi.com: "I'm spending a lot of time developing/expanding the audience for my weekly blog. Personally, I've just accepted a part-time position teaching two sections of General Physics Laboratory at Florida Gulf Coast University, so I'm spending the next couple of weeks getting integrated into their IT system and preparing for next semester, which starts in January.

"Top priority for my blog is to expand the audience. Some time ago, I determined the best day to post is Wednesday (based on weekly visitor numbers). The target readers are engineers and engineering managers of all ages and disciplines who are interested in a broad range of topics, typically outside their immediate disciplines. I use social media to reach out to potential new readers (and engage with repeat visitors) by reacting to their posts on Linkedin and Facebook. I devote a couple of hours every morning to this activity and watch daily visitorship on the blog."

--Editor, name withheld by request: "Workload has made meeting deadlines more and more difficult, so my priority for 2019 is to get better organized and better at time management.

"For the magazine the goal for 2019 is to maintain quality -- in light of said workloads -- and to add new columns/features and access technologies to appeal to a changing reader demographic. (Our readership is getting younger.)"

--Ashley Cheney, manager, exam publications, National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying: "Keeping up with technology and the way it is changing the role of editors is my top priority. For the publication it's ensuring the accuracy of the technical content from committees of subject-matter experts."

--Tricia Bisoux, co-editor, BizEd magazine: "Because we have a small writing staff, we rely heavily on submitted content for our publication. It can be difficult to allot time to write in-house features that explore single topics in depth. In the coming year, in addition to my editing responsibilities, I would like to write at least one in-depth piece on a topic of importance to the business education industry.

"For our publication it's print-digital integration. Currently, we have content that we publish in print before it goes online, as well as some content that we publish in online-only formats. In many ways, the two formats exist in separate spaces. In the coming year, we would like to create a more robust digital strategy in which BizEd's online content is posted more frequently and its online and print content are integrated more seamlessly. We want readers to view both channels as equal parts of a single publication strategy."

--Trey Barrineau, managing editor, publications, NAIOP: "I want to continue to develop my editing and writing skills, and to learn as much as possible about the industry I'm covering (commercial real estate). I want to continue to bring our readers the best, most relevant content."

--Bob Zaltsberg, editor, The Herald-Times: "I want to help our journalists do the best, most comprehensive, most meaningful work they can in covering our community. For the publication it's to tell meaningful stories on digital platforms and in print that are worthy of (and receive) support from the community."

--Brad Worrell, editor-in-chief, RV Pro magazine: "My top priority professionally is for more advance planning on my monthly B2B publication. My top priority for my publication itself is to run more big enterprise stories."

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Wednesday, January 30, 2019 at 12:18 AM

Assessing the readability of a TechCrunch.com excerpt.

This month's Fog Index sample comes from a January 29 TechCrunch.com article ("Facebook Pays Teens to Install VPN That Spies on Them" by Josh Constine). Here's the excerpt, with longer words italicized:

"Facebook's spokesperson claimed that the Facebook Research app was in line with Apple's Enterprise Certificate program, but didn't explain how in the face of evidence to the contrary. They said Facebook first launched its Research app program in 2016. They tried to liken the program to a focus group and said Nielsen and comScore run similar programs, yet neither of those ask people to install a VPN or provide root access to the network. The spokesperson confirmed the Facebook Research program does recruit teens but also other age groups from around the world. They claimed that Onavo and Facebook Research are separate programs, but admitted the same team supports both as an explanation for why their code was so similar."

Word count: 120 words
Average sentence length: 24 words (28, 11, 35, 19, 27)
Words with 3+ syllables: 5 percent (6/120 words)
Fog Index: (24+5) *.4 = 11 (11.6, no rounding)

Here we have a sample with a higher average sentence length. However, the small percentage of longer words saves the day and keeps the Fog Index below 12. Still, let's see if we can make some simple edits to cut average sentence length:

"Facebook's spokesperson claimed that the Facebook Research app was in line with Apple's Enterprise Certificate program. In the face of evidence to the contrary, though, he didn't explain how. They said Facebook first launched its Research app program in 2016. They tried to liken the program to a focus group and said Nielsen and comScore run similar programs. Neither of those programs, however, asks people to install a VPN or provide root access to the network. The spokesperson confirmed the Facebook Research program does recruit teens but also other age groups from around the world. They claimed that Onavo and Facebook Research are separate programs, but admitted the same team supports both as an explanation for why their code was so similar."

Word count: 122 words
Average sentence length: 17 words (16, 13, 11, 18, 18, 19, 27)
Words with 3+ syllables: 6 percent (7/122 words)
Fog Index: (17+6) *.4 = 9 (9.2, no rounding)

There were several "but"/"yet" clauses that made splitting up the sentences quite easy for us. Interestingly, our version is 2 words longer but 2 points lower on the Fog Index. Turning 5 sentences into 7 cut the Fog by 2 points. We didn't even need to split up the 27-word last sentence.

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Magazine Brand Meets Hospitality

Posted on Wednesday, January 30, 2019 at 12:18 AM

In the news: A British Hearst-owned magazine extends its branding, and its editorial vision, to a brick-and-mortar establishment.

Brand licensing is nothing new, but magazines are experimenting with the concept in new and interesting ways. Take, for instance, British magazine Country Living, which has entered a brand licensing partnership with Coast & Country Hotels to open two hotels (in Bath and Harrogate). Lucinda Southern of Digiday.com reports, "Coast & Country Hotels, part of Shearings Leisure Group, first started working with Hearst over a year ago on display advertising campaigns for its range of 22 hotels across the U.K. Several sites needing renovation sparked the idea to redesign them under the Country Living brand."

It's not just the brand name that these hotels carry; magazine staffers have worked to ensure that the establishments themselves jibe with the Country Living brand. "Details from the landscaping to the menu and interior design had been decided by the Country Living editorial team, led by Susy Smith, group editorial director," writes Lucinda Southern of Digiday.com.

Read more here.

Also Notable

Layoffs at Buzzfeed, Gannett, and Verizon

Last week saw roughly 1,000 media employees lose their jobs. Among those cut were editors, writers, and journalists. Hardest hit, according to Amanda Arnold of New York magazine's TheCut.com, were Buzzfeed, which cut 15 percent of its workforce; Gannett, which laid off approximately 400; and Verizon's media arm (which includes HuffPost), which let go 7 percent of its staffers. Read more here.

A Story Spiked

The Atlantic made headlines recently with its blockbuster investigative piece on allegations against director Bryan Singer. The allegations themselves are only half the story; also of note is the fact that the piece had originally been slated for publication in Esquire. After the story had been vetted and approved for publication there, Hearst executives killed the story for reasons unknown. The writers took the story to The Atlantic, which vetted and then published it. Read more about the incident here.

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