Job Descriptions for Changing Times

Posted on Monday, October 29, 2018 at 1:37 PM

With editorial jobs in a constant state of flux, editorial managers may need to rethink how they evaluate their staff.

By William Dunkerley

"No, I won't mess with video content. It's not in my job description, and besides, I don't know much about video." That's what senior editor Lisa told her editor-in-chief when asked to assume responsibility for overseeing video content in their online publication.

This hypothetical clash is just one of the many possible areas of conflict as editorial organizations adapt to the ever-evolving landscape in publishing today. It points out a new wrinkle in the writing of editorial job descriptions.

The Current State of Editorial Job Descriptions

A main function of a job description is to avoid misunderstandings, keep staff members focused on objectives, and provide a basis for periodic performance assessments. The idea is to keep everyone on the same page.

But what to do if the page keeps turning as a result of external market forces and evolving reading habits?

In my experience, the job descriptions in many editorial organizations have sometimes been inadequate. Often a job description is written as an aid in recruiting a new staff member.

Here is one such list of responsibilities that I found online for an open editorial position:

--Oversee editorial team, set deadlines, and host daily scrum meetings.
--Review trending news and assign features to writers.
--Manage production of daily newsletter, including liaising with sponsors and partners.
--Make sure all features and newsletters go out on time.
--Analyze all available data to create writer assignments.
--Set measurable goals for teams.
--Recruit new writers and video creators.
--Ensure all content has been promoted via all available tools.
--Create detailed editorial calendars based on all available data.
--Plan editorial strategically considering the long view.
--Grow the publication's presence on social media platforms.
--Conceptualize new and innovative ways to tell stories across our media platforms.
--Fact-check, proofread, and edit copy where needed.
--Liaise with team to boost sales and revenue.
--Monitor staff performance and give relevant feedback.
--Work with online advertising platforms to monetize our content.
--Work with our social media team to create viral content.
--Manage a team of interns.

That's a very comprehensive list and will likely serve well to give prospective candidates insight into the job they are about to apply for. But as a working job description for an on-the-job editor the list lacks some essential elements.

Writing Better Job Descriptions

Two elements that are missing: (1) defining the authorities the editor has to carry out those responsibilities, and (2) enumerating what circumstances will exist if the editor carries out the responsibilities successfully.

Those elements will tell the new editor exactly what latitude he or she has in carrying out the responsibilities and will provide explicit guidance on what must be achieved in order to receive a positive evaluation.

Overall this kind of job description will help keep the editor and his or her superior on the same page and avoid misunderstandings. It's a good formula to use when the publishing environment is relatively static.

Accounting for Frequent Change

But what about today, when our profession and industry is in a state of flux? Under current circumstances it has become necessary for job descriptions to account for an element of change.

Orchestrating change is tricky business. If not handled carefully, efforts to institute new changes can backfire. A significant obstacle is often staff resistance, a leading cause of failure when making changes in any area of business. People usually respond to imposed change with resistance.

Typically resistance comes when staffers fear loss -- things like job, income, status, future opportunities, perks, reputation, influence, responsibility, autonomy, relationships, familiar routines, and security.

That's why change imposed from above can be very problematic. It is far better to use leadership techniques to create a shared vision of what needs to be changed. That can be aided by adding something to the job description. Give the editor the responsibility of monitoring trends and making recommendations for adjusting strategies, capabilities, and work routines in response to emergent trends. Often people at the working level are in closer touch with how things are evolving than are executives at a higher level. Be sure that the job description promotes tapping into those insights. Be sure to reward positive contributions.

Be perceptive to these issues:

1. Are current capacity and resources adequate or can they be augmented?
2. Is there a satisfactory managerial or supervisory structure in place?
3. Are your strategies workable?
4. Are the objectives and strategies working in consonance, or are they at cross-purposes?
5. Is there sufficient expertise for carrying out the tactics?
6. Is there a need for training in new areas?
7. Are the financial resources available for effectuating the changes?
8. Is the amount of risk acceptable?
9. Is the timing appropriate?
10. Does the plan anticipate future conditions?

In the past I've tended to recommend an annual job appraisal plus a review and update of the job description. That's no longer adequate, in my view. In these times things should probably be done at least biannually and perhaps even quarterly if warranted by the pace of change.

Many editorial managers may groan over these recommendations, which may seem like a greater administrative or bureaucratic burden. But addressing issues on a shorter timeline can avert serious misunderstandings and maximize your ability to capitalize on changing circumstances.

You'll have a competitive advantage in being on the leading edge of change in your marketplace. That's far better than struggling to catch up if you've been left behind.

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

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More "Surprise"

Posted on Monday, October 29, 2018 at 1:36 PM

Additional elements of surprise you can use to capture reader interest.

By Peter P. Jacobi

"Intensity" is the element of surprise that I concluded with last month.

However, to the contrary of "intensity" there can be surprise in geniality and lightheartedness. Davis Benjamin's delightful memoir of growing up in the Midwest, The Life and Times of the Last Kid Picked, supplies these in scoops. Here's a scoop:

"Summer was for detachment. Families drifted apart blissfully. Kids had no hours. We had no plans. We had no summer jobs. We had no meetings. We barely had lunch. We had no goals or expectations. We had no coaches, no guidance, no batting order, no lineup cards. We batted but we had no batting averages. We kicked and counted no goals. We fought, we fell, we crashed, we bled, we twisted and strangled and throttled ourselves. We almost drowned, in unfiltered water. Set loose without instructions, we melted into the neighborhood, populated the playgrounds and sandlots, pilfered the orchards, and puked green apples. We slunk into the woods and we hunted." Shareable memories.

Wonders

Surprise also comes from the wonders of possible but very unlikely experience, such as Robert Mads Anderson's life achievement: making a solo ascent of the highest mountain on every continent. His account is compelling:

"The temperature started at minus 10 degrees and went down; high on the peak the winds started at 80 kilometers per hour and went up. Exposed skin turned white in seconds, and black blisters formed the next day.... The wind cut through my clothing as though I were naked. Fifteen minutes on top reduced me to a shivering ball of ice, the climb down warming me to marginally freezing. Thirty hours after I left the tent, I crawled back through the door."

Thrills

Thrills we can and do experience can and do surprise, in the writing as well as in the experience. Robert Klara rode the Cyclone at Coney Island and wrote about it in the USAir magazine, when, not so long ago, there was still a USAir and its magazine:

"At the top of the hill, the cars lean nauseatingly to the right before dropping you, nose-down at a 58.1-degree angle, the distance of a seven-story building. Your heels dig into the wood floor as your fanny, devoid of gravity, floats off the seat. Screaming might feel better, if only there were time. You hit the trough fast enough to trip a speed gun on I-95 and rocket to the peak of another hill, which knocks hats and glasses loose as the cars bank the turn. Now breathe, curse the person who persuaded you to do this -- and down you plummet again. Go ahead and scream now." The thrill is there, in words.

Act of Love

Finally, I believe surprise is an act of love: writing that exudes love for the task, the process; love for the topic; love for the word, the language; love for the wisdom being passed along; love for life and living; love for your reader.

In my keynote, the example, chosen to represent that consuming word and act, was Byrd Baylor's Everybody Needs a Rock. The Texas-born Baylor who, as a lover of the desert and outdoor spaces, made her home in Arizona in an adobe house she and a few friends built, also wrote If You Are a Lover of Fossils and The Way to Start a Day. Her works are love poems to the earth and how to live upon it. Here is a small portion of her multi-numbered argument for a personal rock. Again, I'm not spacing her words in a poetic manner, to save space, and I can't provide any of the illustrations that her literary partner Peter Parnall adds to her little books.

"Everybody needs a rock. I'm sorry for kids who don't have a rock for a friend. I'm sorry for kids who only have tricycles, bicycles, horses, elephants, goldfish, three-room playhouses, fire engines, wind-up dragons, and things like that -- if they don't have a rock for a friend. That's why I'm giving them ten rules for finding a rock. Not just any rock. I mean a special rock that you find yourself and keep as long as you can -- maybe forever." The book holds magic that emanates from the heart and mind of Byrd Baylor and sweeps onto printed pages to surprise me, her reader, with love.

What more can I say: "I Didn't Expect That, and It Is Wonderful."

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 Monday, October 29, 2018 at 1:36 PM

Assessing the readability of a Time.com sample.

This month's Fog Index excerpt comes from an October 9 Time.com article ("Here's Why You Shouldn't Take a Sleeping Pill Every Night" by Markham Heid). Here's the sample, with longer words in italics:

"The authors of the study tried to control for pre-existing medical conditions and other factors that could explain why people taking these drugs died or developed cancer at higher rates than non-users. The drugs were also associated with car accidents, falls and depression -- all of which could explain the elevated mortality risks. But the risks remained. The authors also found associations between the use of hypnotics and specific types of cancer -- notably, lymphomas and cancers of the lungs, colon and prostate -- but they did not offer any cause-and-effect mechanisms that might explain the links. More recent research, in both people and animals, has turned up more preliminary links to cancer."

Word count: 110 words
Average sentence length: 22 words (32, 20, 4, 38, 16)
Words with 3+ syllables: 15 percent (16/110 words)
Fog Index: (22+15) *.4 = 14 (14.8, no rounding)

Cutting the fog in medical reporting can be challenging. Complex medical terms can inflate the percentage of longer words, but they're not easily replaced. Let's see if we can cut 3 points' worth of fog without culling vital information.

"The authors of the study tried to control for pre-existing illnesses and other factors that could explain why people taking these drugs died or developed cancer at higher rates than non-users. The drugs were also linked to car accidents, falls and depression -- all of which could explain the higher mortality risks. But the risks remained. The authors also found associations between the use of hypnotics and certain types of cancer -- notably, lymphomas and cancers of the lungs, colon and prostate. But they did not offer any cause-and-effect mechanisms that might explain the links. More recent research, in both people and animals, has turned up more preliminary links to cancer."

Word count: 110 words
Average sentence length: 18 words (32, 20, 4, 25, 13, 16)
Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (11/110 words)
Fog Index: (18+10) *.4 = 11 (11.2, no rounding)

By eliminating 5 longer words and splitting up 1 longer sentence, we cut the fog by 3 points.

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New Union Contract for Thrillist Writers

Posted on Monday, October 29, 2018 at 1:36 PM

In the news: Thrillist has just ratified its first union contract with the Writers Guild of America East.

In a unanimous vote, the editors of Thrillist have ratified the magazine's first union contract. Dave McNary of Variety.com outlines the benefits made possible by the contract: "$50,000 minimum starting salary and wage increases of 8.5% in the first year and 2.5% in the second and third year; eight weeks of paid parental leave (at the employee's regular salary) for primary care providers; and four weeks of paid parental leave (at the employee's regular salary) for secondary care providers." The contract ratification comes after a single-day protest in August. Other media brands represented by the Writers Guild of America East include Vox Media, Onion Inc., and Slate. Read more here.

Also Notable

Mobile and Video Magazine Audiences on the Rise

MPA has released a new Magazine Media 360° Brand Audience Report with audience numbers for August 2018. Print, web, and digital magazine audiences are on the decline, while mobile audiences are in the rise. Perhaps most notably, reports Sara Guaglione of MediaPost.com, "Audiences consuming video magazine media grew a whopping 47.9%." Overall, the report shows a robust 1.8 billion magazine media consumers. For more data from the report, click here.

Startup Companies Developing Brands with Print Magazines

Some companies are producing print magazines as a means of promoting their brands. In a recent AdWeek.com piece, Sarah Jerde examines some of the brands experimenting with the print magazine medium. Among those brands is Away, a luggage company that offers a copy of its print magazine, Here, inside its products. Elsewhere, the Dollar Shave Club offers a print magazine with its monthly razor subscriptions. Read more about recent brand magazines here.

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