Bits of Wisdom from Others

Posted on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 5:13 PM

Advice and perspective from unlikely sources.

By Peter P. Jacobi

If you are a regular reader of my monthly contributions, you know I quote a lot. That's because, when I come across a morsel or two of advice or a sample of something I benefited from reading, I want to share it, having recognized that you'll get information from someone I think is smarter than I am. Or from someone with a different and useful perspective. Or someone or some place that I never would have thought of as source and I believe you also might not.

Today, bits of that.

Minders and Reminders

For instance, one day recently, while waiting in the office of a doctor for one of the needs I have, I came upon a copy of Fast Company, a magazine I had seen before but never paid much attention to. It's about business and for those engaged in such, particularly in small companies and small-scale business efforts.

This particular copy (sorry I didn't jot down the date) had a theme: "Find Your Purpose Issue." I started to look through the pages and skimming the titles (because I knew I wouldn't be in the waiting room long enough to dig deeper). I realized that the story titles heralded ideas that those of us who edit and/or write might wish to keep in mind. Here are a few. Let your mind roam and see whether you agree they could be useful to you:

Follow your instincts. Stay restless. Find your own style. Experiment fearlessly. Nail the right tone. Think deeper. When you don't know what to do, try doing something. Believe in your mission. Discover your voice. Ditch distractions. Have purpose.

I think that's a terrific short list of minders and reminders. And somewhere in the issue, I found a quote of Jack Kerouac's: "Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road." That's worth your consideration, too.

Learn. Follow. Make what you do easier and better.

Pay Attention

In the August 2017 issue of National Geographic Kids, read in my eye doctor's office, I came across a two-page story, "30 COOL Things About CITIES." I found out a number of things:

"The marble lions guarding the New York City Public Library are named Patience and Fortitude." "Rhesus macaques in New Delhi, India, often snatch eyeglasses and purses from pedestrians." "The bus station in La Paz, Bolivia, was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the same architect who built the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty." "Every night in Austin, Texas, more than 1.5 million bats fly out from under a bridge to eat insects." "Twenty miles of streets, shops, restaurants, and hotels lie underneath Montreal, Canada." "In Reykjavik, Iceland, heat for homes and businesses comes entirely from geothermal energy created by underground volcanic sources." "San Francisco City Hall in California sits on 530 washing-machine-size shock absorbers that help protect the building during earthquakes." Each tidbit comes in a box that features an appropriate photo.

Such lists are not a new concept, of course, but think how you can use them in a way that serves your readers' purpose. Ideas are everywhere if you look for them. Look.

Lessons from the Times

For me, the New York Times is a take-home textbook. Writing, editing, and coverage are exemplary. Again, within its pages, the lessons are to be found where you might not be looking for them.

On page two of the paper's opening section, mid-page, you'll see "Inside the Times: The Story Behind the Story." Peruse the space. You'll discover lessons.

On September 27, 2017, for example, you'll find Stephen Hiltner's piece, "How a Critic Opens a Book." It consists of an interview with a new book critic for the newspaper, Parul Sehgal. Hiltner asks six cogent questions. One is: "At what point during reading a book do you feel that your opinion of it begins to consolidate?"

Sehgal answers: "It all comes together in the writing for me. The writing is the moment of sifting, of thinking. Before that, I just have a bunch of visceral responses. It's only when I sit down at the computer that I start to tweeze out actual thoughts and an argument." Is that how you work as editor? Or do you have another method? What works for you?

On October 21, 2017, an Ana Marie Cox byline follows the title, "At the Heart of a Celebrity Interview." She writes for herself and a personal approach to the task, this on the occasion of stepping down as the Times Magazine's Talk columnist.

Here's one tip she offers: "We journalists often confuse soliciting new information with wanting to understand a subject. Chasing after a showy quote or treating the interview like an interrogation is a power trip, but it doesn't mean you know your subject any better. My editors supported my decision to chase after introspection instead of scoops: I never wanted a truth that talk subjects had been keeping from the world, but, instead, one they'd also been keeping from themselves." A noble effort.

More another time.

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.

Add your comment.

Editors on 2018 Editorial Plans

Posted on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 5:12 PM

Top editors discuss their goals for the coming year.

By William Dunkerley

Respondents to our mini poll on 2018 editorial goals have a clear objective this year: to focus on providing good content. Other top priorities include digital engagement and management planning. Here's what a diverse cross section of EO readers told us:

--Kent Kiser, publisher, Scrap: "Our industry (the scrap recycling industry) is facing unprecedented headwinds this year due to changes China made regarding its import standards for certain scrap/recyclable materials. Our specific editorial objective this year is to provide regular, timely, and relevant coverage of those changes to help our readers/members adapt and thrive in the new market environment. That coverage is a key part of our ongoing objective to be the most credible, authoritative, and respected information resource for our industry. The China situation just happens to be the priority issue this year.

"Also, even though our print magazine continues to hold its own financially, we continue to explore ways to increase our electronic footprint -- through our digital edition, website, and social media -- and seek opportunities to increase revenue from those sources. Our industry is slowly undergoing a generational shift, and the younger readers/members are expecting our magazine -- and, in fact, our entire association -- to communicate with them in different, primarily electronic ways compared with the older-generation readers/members."

--Paul McGrath, assistant news editor, Houston Chronicle: "My main objectives will be getting the pertinent political issues before US voters and keeping our readers apprised of national and international events."

--Keri Guten Cohen, story development editor, Detroit Jewish News: "At our publication, one of the largest independent Jewish weeklies in the country (founded in 1942), we are launching a yearlong campaign to shine the spotlight on teen mental health. A community survey conducted by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit showed that teen respondents were dealing with problems common to teens across the country -- depression, bullying, social media anxiety, drug addiction, thoughts of suicide, and actual suicide (which was fairly easy to deduce by looking at the young faces in our weekly obituaries). It is not at epidemic proportions here, but enough to prompt the DJN to work with local Jewish agencies and professionals trying to address the problem.

"The goal is to raise awareness, reduce the stigma of mental health in the community, and give readers and those in the community tools for coping with the problem in their lives.

"Our first package of stories runs February 1. We've created a logo, a story budget, ideas for community events we plan to sponsor, and a budget for reporters, photographers, and videographers.

"This is a united effort with established Jewish agencies, with us taking the lead in putting the information before our readership -- mostly the parents and grandparents of the teens. We are excited about the possibilities for making a difference and thrilled with the teens, adults, and professionals touched by this topic who are willing to speak out."

-- Jose Maria Sanchez de Muniain, deputy editor, Bridge Design & Engineering: "Our goal: increasing the editorial quality of magazine content and being more selective on what is published, and increasing the quality of print as a way of competing with online publishing."

--Ken Roberts, assistant executive director for journals at the National Science Teachers Association: "We're developing digital engagement strategies that encourage new teachers to contribute content to the association, become members, and make use of our existing content."

--Gary S. Vasilash, editor-in-chief, Automotive Design & Production: "Our objective: creating a compelling ink-on-paper product each month for the readers."

--Rob Lodder, editor-in-chief, Contact in Context: "Our most important objective for 2018 is converting the journal to online, open peer review (from its current blinded review via email format)."

--Bradley Worrell, editor, RV Pro: "We're aiming for better long-range planning for our monthly magazine, both to give the edit team more time to work on features and to provide the advertising team with more advance time for potential tie-in advertising opportunities."

--Jef White, executive editor, The Shop: "As editor of a trade magazine for the specialty automotive aftermarket, my top editorial objective is to provide content that is 100 percent relevant and of interest to our readership. It's too easy to lose readers to indifference these days, and harder than ever to win them back, so they need to be top-of-mind through the assigning, writing, and editing cycle. What keeps them engaged? What do they find exciting? What do they need to know to do their jobs better? My goal is to understand our readers and then direct content to fill their needs."

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

Add your comment.

The Fog Index

Posted on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 5:12 PM

Assessing the readability of an NYMag.com sample.

This month's Fog Index excerpt comes from a January 28 NYMag.com piece ("Fitness Data Map Shows Locations and Activity Patterns of Secret Military Bases" by Chas Danner). Here's the text, with longer words italicized:

"Information collected and published by the fitness tracking and sharing app Strava has highlighted the locations of secret military bases and revealed sensitive information about the activity of personnel at those bases. On Saturday, an Australian student and security analyst named Nathan Ruser tweeted that Stava's Global Heatmap of every GPS-linked fitness activity uploaded by users also includes data from app users at military bases operated by the U.S., U.K., Russia, and other countries in places like Afghanistan and Syria. Furthermore, because few residents of a country like Syria are likely to use the app in the first place, it is particularly easy to locate areas of activity by foreign military personnel in some areas."

Word count: 115 words
Average sentence length: 38 words (32, 48, 35)
Words with 3+ syllables: 17 percent (20/115 words)
Fog Index: (38+17) *.4 = 22 (22.0, no rounding)

This sample carries the highest Fog Index we've seen in quite a while. The percentage of longer words is somewhat on the high side. This should resolve itself with a few simple edits. The main culprit, though, is clear at a glance: sentence length. We have 115 words, a fairly long sample, split into just three sentences. Let's see if we can cut the Fog by 11 points to fall within ideal range.

"Data collected and published by the fitness tracking and sharing app Strava has highlighted the locations of secret military bases. It has also revealed sensitive personnel movement at those bases. On Saturday, Australian student and security analyst Nathan Ruser tweeted about Stava's Global Heatmap. According to the tweet, every GPS-linked fitness activity uploaded by users also includes data from app users at military bases run by the U.S., U.K., Russia, and other countries in places like Afghanistan and Syria. Few people in a country like Syria are likely to use the app in the first place. This makes it particularly easy to locate zones of foreign military activity in some regions."

Word count: 111 words
Average sentence length: 19 words (20, 10, 14, 35, 17, 15)
Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (11/111 words)
Fog Index: (19+9=10) *.4 = 11 (11.6, no rounding)

It took some editorial muscle to shave 11 points from the original sample. Although we planned to mainly tackle sentence length, we ended up cutting a lot of longer words too. Ultimately, we were able to create 6 sentences out of the original 3. This cut the average sentence length in half. We also cut the number of longer words in half, cutting the percentage by nearly half. This left us with a Fog Index of 11, half of the original.

Add your comment.

Are City Magazines on the Rise?

Posted on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 5:12 PM

In the news: A shift away from local coverage by newspapers has created a media landscape in which local and regional magazines to thrive.

These days, many newspapers must now focus most of their attention -- and space -- on breaking and national news items. In response to this gap in local coverage, local and regional magazines are taking the reins on community-related topics that don't necessarily qualify as "breaking news." Ryan Derousseau of Foliomag.com sums up the current local media environment thusly: "This allows coverage that isn't focused on breaking news or quick hits on the web. Instead, it provides a deep, drawn out analysis of the stories behind the news. That's the type of coverage that newspapers have smaller budgets and declining resources for."

However, this shift from newspapers to magazines for local content is not a cure-all; as Derousseau notes, magazines are hampered by their staff size and limited output schedules (usually monthly). Read the full article here.

Also Notable

Exploring the Hyman Archive

In a January 24 NYTimes.com piece, David Shaftel takes readers on a tour of the Hyman Archive in London, a collection of over 120,000 issues. James Hyman, a former scriptwriter at MTV, would collect two copies of every magazine issue that came across his desk. Shaftel, describing the archive, writes: "It lines more than 3,000 feet of shelving in a former cannon foundry in the 18th-century Royal Arsenal complex in Woolwich..." Over the years, the archive has grown exponentially: When Guinness World Records declared the archive the largest collection of magazines in 2012, it had nearly 51,000 magazines. Today, thanks in large part to frequent donations, Hyman's archive has doubled and then some. Read more here.

Layoffs and Title Closures at Bonnier

Earlier this month, Keith J. Kelly of NYPost.com reported: "Bonnier cut 17 percent of its US workforce, or about 70 positions, as it converted five of its leisure-time print magazines to all-digital and gutted the staff of foodie title Saveur while cutting its frequency." (The five titles going digital-only are Baggers, Dirt Rider, Sport Diver, Wakeboarding, and WaterSki.) In addition, Kelly reported in a January 25 follow-up piece outdoor print titles Field & Stream and Outdoor Life will publish less frequently. Read more here and here.

Add your comment.

Top