Forging Ahead Editorially, Part I

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at 12:47 PM

Keep improving despite today's editorial challenges.

By Howard Rauch

It seems like today's editors spend overtime worrying about the future. I've found that true in my work with B2B editors. With good reason, of course. Identifying challenges is easy enough. Arriving at solutions is another story. Two concerns topping my dilemma hit list:

First: In a do-more-with-less environment, where are editorial cutbacks most likely to come? How many staffs already have their hands full dealing with print and online responsibilities?

Second: How many sales teams will push harder for obvious editorial hooks? Instead, could they do much better by learning how to sell big-picture quality content capable of drawing high readership?

Regarding the first, we can improve our lot to some extent by upgrading or abandoning long followed procedures. Moreover, there are plenty of good ideas floating around waiting to have their day in court.

As for the second, don't get me started. We all know that in many typical griping sessions, the air is filled with invective about the way our magazines are sold. But I believe the more pressing shortcoming can be found in the way our magazines are bought.

That said, here are five possible ideas that fall into the first category either of a marketing or management nature:

1. Do a better job of raising our prestige flag. We provide the equivalent of thousands of dollars of information -- many times free of charge -- to help our readers run their businesses better. We do original research, attend dozens of industry events, and report back on the most important developments, sponsor conferences, and trade shows ... and, of course, websites. As an aside, and something we need to understand, advertisers learn a lot about their markets from our input. We have editorial staffs who have followed their fields and industries for years, and are in a great position to provide an authoritative assessment of where the market is heading. I'm sure you'd all agree with that observation. But somewhere along the way, awareness of our accomplishments has gotten lost in the shuffle. As editors, we need to do a better job of waving the flag of expertise in marketing situations, because nobody can do it better!

2. Create an editorial portfolio that livens up marketing presentations. This is my personal favorite. When I describe the device for collecting and showcasing editorial achievement at sales meetings, usual response is enthusiastic. But developing and updating the portfolio is time-consuming. So it's not surprising -- but certainly disappointing -- that in 30 years of consulting, I have seen only two companies test the concept. Most recently, I assisted a British online firm in putting a project together. Typical contents should include:

--Editorial columns that draw terrific response by hitting industry hot buttons.

--Reports on speeches given by editors at major industry events, articles describing industry awards conferred on editors, or other evidence of industry involvement.

--Excerpts from important exclusive research published in your magazine.

--Evidence of presence at major industry events, such as coverage of key legislative conventions or legislative hearings. And it pays to indicate that such events are widely scattered geographically.

--Especially where editorial travel has been drastically scaled back, articles demonstrating that your staff constantly makes field trips is a portfolio "must-have."

--Proof of your association with industry movers and shakers, such as exclusive interviews with top executives of major companies and key organizations.

--General indications of editorial leadership -- how the publication or website deals with important industry issues -- such as research, columns, or scoops where your editors addressed a critical development before any competitors.

--Samples of reader response. Powerful evidence can take the form of e-mails responding to a compelling editorial column or an offer of free high-value information.

3. Why should someone want to work for you? Today's screening process, in many ways, is scary. We say we want to attract star graduates into our companies. But some of us can't possibly get there unless we mend our ways. Consider that human resources folks doing initial candidate screening may not fully understand the editorial process and are unable to explain the job. Sometimes it takes three or four visits -- or more -- before a hire is made. When an astute promising grad asks about salary and benefits, the interviewer clams up! When the same candidate asks about growth prospects, he or she can't get an answer ... because the employer still hasn't figured it out. Instead we should try to accomplish screening in two visits maximum. Initial screening occupies Day One, where you are in a position to tell the candidate enough to make that person want to return for Day Two. Can you articulate a three-year growth plan on Day One of your screening? If not, work on it! Also be prepared to talk about training. For the small firm, training can be something as simple as an hour a day for the first days of a new recruit's employment.

4. Offer the highest possible e-news enterprise delivery. Yes, there's that "more with less" cloud rising up. But you have no choice. Online vulnerability is widely scattered -- perhaps even true in your case. Over the past seven years, I have posted an annual e-news delivery study showing that articles reflecting enterprise reporting account for a mere 35 percent of total output. The rest is mostly PR announcement rewriting or posting of unedited announcements. Instead we must raise enterprise level to at least 85 percent ... and that's just for starters. This year Editorial Solutions introduced a way to calculate enterprising news effort. Imagine the impact if you are paddling along at the 35 percent level while your competition operates in the 85 percent range or higher!

5. Sponsor in-house editorial expertise competition. Several firms do this already. But how about running an annual in-house editorial idea fair. Booths reflect innovations in story coverage and graphics that work for you. On a lesser but still significant scale, sponsor an annual best cover competition. I recently judged such an event where editors shared thinking about how to build maximum storytelling value into cover lines.

Howard Rauch is president of Editorial Solutions, Inc., a B2B consultation provider launched in 1989. His specialties are e-news delivery, competitive analysis, and editorial performance measurement. He has written two books: Get Serious About Editorial Management and Get Serious About Competitive Editorial Analysis. Howard is recipient of ASBPE's Lifetime Achievement Award and spent two terms as chairman of the group's ethics committee.

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Rhythms for Your Copy

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at 12:46 PM

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.

By Peter P. Jacobi

As I write this column during the last days of May, I am still thinking about the death, just a few months ago, of Mary Oliver. The news made me sad. She was and remains a poet who moved me.

Literary judges awarded her a Pulitzer for one of her always remarkable collections, which she very much deserved. It wouldn't have been out of order to give her more than one such honor. Honors or not, what has mattered for me is how cogently and gently and yet dagger-smoothly she could verbalize thoughts that merely rumbled and bumbled and tumbled in a less focused mind like mine.

Bring the Unimaginable to Your Readers

As I read Mary Oliver's obituaries, I was reminded of one statement she penned that has resonated time and again: "Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable." The unimaginable. Cogent. Gentle. Dagger-smooth. Wide and vast. Limitless. What a magnificent word: unimaginable, and what sage advice it offers for an entire lifetime of living one's life, all embodied in a single word!

Not so strangely, that word, that thought, that wisdom, that belief, has reminded me of another comment that has resonated, this one by a bookseller, a comment about what Mary Oliver did and I have tried, not nearly so successfully by any estimation, to do. Mitchell Kaplan, who built the Books & Books stores empire, expressed this view: "To me, a writer was always the highest calling one could have."

I cannot dispute that designation for Mary Oliver. I cannot dispute that designation for other writers and for creators in the other arts as special as she, for that matter. They are capable of bringing the unimaginable to us, and the unbelievable, and the unexpected. They have found the pathway to our heart, the pathway to our soul, whatever and wherever it may be.

You, as editor, are urged not to forget that writing is, indeed, a calling of the highest order. Seek out that quality in your writers and encourage it. Seek out that quality when you are the writer, since most of you who read this publication are double-duty experts, at the least: "Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable."

It will make readers your friends. It will make your publication reader-friendly. That way, make editing a calling of the highest order, too (if you don't consider it such already).

Start with Rhythm

I came avcross a useful tidbit one day while listening to the radio, to a program of music by songsmith Cole Porter. A guest, someone who knew Porter and specializes in his music, was asked by the host to "explain what Cole was all about, what essences in his music made him special, different, stand out."

The guest, and I wish I could remember his identity, but I was driving and had just started to tune myself in to the program, responded: "Cole always started out with rhythm."

Rhythm, Hmmm

Usually, with makers of song, they either have a tune ready, to which they want to add the words, or they have words in their shirt pocket, to which they want to add music. (The latter is probably more common.) With Cole Porter, however, it was neither the words nor the music. It was rhythm. And most often, he took care of all three because, unlike most other members of his Broadway brood, he, the composer, usually also served as lyricist.

That little bit of information about rhythm wouldn't let me go. And as I listened to more of Porter's music on the show being broadcast, I began to realize what the guest expert had shared was right on. Those Porter songs gain their individuality from the way they move. The love songs. The satiric songs. The songs meant to be clever. The songs into which Porter poured melodies that he wanted us to remember immediately, never mind their content. Their rhythms differ. The way they move through time, in cadence or not, slow or fast, smooth or syncopated: Porter apparently made those choices before the rest of the work on a song was initiated.

Look up the lyrics to his song "You're the Top" from the musical Anything Goes. Pre these words and pre the jaunty melody, Porter firmly had in mind the rhythm for the music and the flavor and the pace and the mood. Verbal and musical content then came along.

Be Language-Appropriate

Well, you don't have to worry about music, although making the language musical isn't a bad idea, of course. You do have to concern yourself with the words and how they're chosen and how they're put together so that the end product serves the content in every possible way.

Consider a TV show, one on PBS involving a royal romance or what have you. Here, the camera will linger and the lighting will soften and the background music will enhance a moment of quiet passion. The scene will move slowly, taking its time.

Consider another TV show, one on a network or on cable involving guts and glory and the gory or what have you. Here, the camera will never pause. Shot will follow shot. The music will crash and scream. And the passion will seethe, the scene will move lightning quick, overwhelming time.

In a way, that's what you do with language. There are times when the words need to be reflective so an idea can linger and develop in longer sentences to create an atmosphere of calm, thereby allowing what is being written about to sink into the reader's mind.

There are times when the words need to be sharper, more angular, and the sentences shorter, even in fragments, to give the subject an active, frenzied atmosphere. The writing helps to paint that environment, into which the reader then can throw him- or herself for a very different experience.

Like Cole Porter with his song rhythms, so create rhythms for your copy. That begs for consideration ahead of words on paper. Remember the importance of being language-appropriate.

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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The Fog Index

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at 12:46 PM

Assessing the readability of a Gizmodo.com excerpt.

This week's Fog Index sample comes from a May 28 Gizmodo.com article ("Confronted by Drones, Monkeys Warn Comrades of Incoming 'Eagle'" by George Dvorsky)

"It didn't take long for the monkeys to identify an incoming drone by its sound alone. When a drone neared, the green monkeys emitted a vocalization the researchers had never heard before in the species. Analysis of the recordings, however, showed that the sounds were practically identical to the eagle warning calls produced by their cousins, the vervet monkeys. This similarity suggests green monkeys have retained this hard-wired warning message in their DNA over evolutionary time. Accordingly, it can be considered a vestigial trait, in that the eagle alarm call was acquired and used by a shared ancestor common to green and vervet monkeys."

--Word count: 104 words
--Average sentence length: 21 words (16, 19, 24, 17, 28)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 13 percent (13/104 words)
--Fog Index (21+13)* .4 = 13 (13.6, no rounding)

How can we shave 2 points off the slightly elevated Fog Index of 13? Cutting through the Fog in scientific writing can be challenging. We need to trim language without trimming facts. We need to adjust wording without changing meaning. In this case, there isn't a glaring culprit, so we'll need to edit on multiple fronts.

"It didn't take long for the monkeys to detect an incoming drone by its sound alone. When a drone neared, the green monkeys emitted a vocalization the researchers had never heard before in the species. Analysis of the recordings, however, showed that the sounds were nearly identical to the eagle warning calls produced by their cousins, the vervet monkeys. This similarity suggests green monkeys have retained this hard-wired warning message in their DNA over evolutionary time. The eagle alarm call was acquired and used by a shared ancestor common to green and vervet monkeys. Therefore, it can be considered a vestigial trait."

--Word count: 102 words
--Average sentence length: 17 words (16, 19, 24, 17, 18, 8)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (10/102 words)
--Fog Index (17+10)* .4 = 10 (10.8, no rounding)

We were able to cut 3 longer words from the sample, which got us part of the way there. But we were still left with a Fog Index of 12 at that point in the editing. We turned our focus to sentence length and found that the last sentence could split into two if we rearranged the information for improved flow. The effort paid off. That minor recasting of copy cut the Fog by an additional 2 points and brought us well below the threshold of 12.

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Post-Print Publishing Strategy

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at 12:46 PM

In the news: How some magazines are navigating their post-print landscapes.

In the digital media age, some publishers have made the difficult decision to shutter their print editions. "In the last month alone, ESPN The Magazine, Money, Brides and Beer Advocate announced plans to end their print runs," writes Beth Braverman of Foliomag.com. "And they all intend to continue producing content for their digital platforms."

Pivoting away from print has given new life to some ailing brands, says Braverman. Freeing up resources and dollars previously devoted to print has allowed editors and publishers to invest in newer potential moneymakers such as video content and events. She discusses life after print with executive from several former print magazines, including Self and WWD.

Read more here.

Also Notable

Closing Comment Sections to Non-Subscribers

Comment sections on online articles can be digital cesspools. In an effort to improve the overall quality of its comments, the Wall Street Journal has made a few changes. According to Lucinda Southern of Digiday.com, the publisher has reduced the number of articles that have comment sections at all. And on those articles that allow commenting, only paid subscribers can enter the discussion. The shift in strategy appears to be working: "The publisher has claimed a higher number of subscribers now reading and writing comments, from a broader demographic than previously," reports Southern. Read more here.

Meredith Sells Sports Illustrated

This week, Meredith Corporation sold its Sports Illustrated brand to Authentic Brands Group. The sale price, according to Meredith's press release, was $110 million. According to Scott Gleeson of USAToday.com, "The magazine itself will still be run by Meredith Corporation as part of the new two-year deal in which Meredith will pay Authentic Brands an undisclosed licensing fee to continue operating the editorial production of the print magazine and SI.com." Meredith's press release seems to back this up, announcing that "the print magazine and SI.com will maintain editorial independence and continue to operate under the leadership of Meredith and Editor-in-Chief Chris Stone and Publisher Danny Lee." Read more about the sale here.

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