Are Publishers Reopening Offices Too Soon?

Posted on Sunday, June 28, 2020 at 9:14 PM

In the news: A new Covid-19 case in a South Carolina newsroom is raising critical questions about how safe it is for editors to return to their offices.

Staff at the South Carolina Post and Courier recently returned to their desks despite widespread concerns about the safety of the workplace. Those concerns, it turns out, were not unfounded: This week, reports Maxwell Tani of the Daily Beast, management notified employees that there was a confirmed Covid-19 case in the Charleston office.

“The Post and Courier has ... eschewed the work-from-home ethos embraced by many media companies and newspapers, which has aggravated some staff who were concerned about potentially coming into contact with coronavirus in an office space,” says Tani. Even worse, he says that an editor was recently fired for allowing an article critical of the newspaper’s decision to reopen offices to be posted on the paper’s Facebook page.

The strategy comes as several states are experiencing major Covid-19 surges. The city of Charleston itself has become an outbreak zone in recent weeks, a source of anxiety for Post and Courier staffers required to return to work. Read more about the controversy here.

Also Notable

AP Style Update: Capitalizing “Black” and “Indigenous”

In response to recent antiracism protests, the AP is updating its style guide to capitalize Black when “referring to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context,” reports the Associated Press. In addition, the AP will capitalize Indigenous “in reference to original inhabitants of a place.” Read more about the AP style updates here.

Note from the editors: Editors Only has also adopted this style change.

Overcoming Newsroom Racism

This week, Amanda Zamora of Poynter.org discusses how newsrooms can combat racism. In an open letter to newsroom leaders throughout the industry, she discusses specific strategies including salary transparency, not hiding behind human resources departments, frank discussions about race, and adjusting workplace practices that have traditionally benefited white employees at the expense of others. She writes: “I am ... acutely aware. Aware that the system of white supremacy that paved the way for [George] Floyd’s death is the same system at work in our newsrooms. Aware of the ways newsroom leaders have allowed white superiority to harm our colleagues. And aware of the part I’ve played in that harm, enabling people who have both given me so much and benefited from my silence.” Read the full letter here.

Publishers Experiencing “Engagement Surge”

This week, Caysey Welton of Foliomag.com explores the “engagement surge” publishers have seen during the Covid-19 pandemic. “During the pandemic,” she writes, “Americans were hungry to devour news and information about the virus and its impacts on society and the economy. Likewise, they also wanted to be entertained and have a chance to escape, even if for a moment. This was evident to several publishers we’ve spoken to since the pandemic began, many of whom saw significant upticks in traffic and engagement across all of their channels.” These gains, she says, present publishers with an opportunity for sustained growth. Read the full article here.

Google to License News Content from Publishers

Why is Google suddenly announcing intentions to pay for publisher content licenses? Lucinda Southern of Digiday.com explores the sudden pivot in a recent piece. The new initiative, she reports, will first launch in Australia, Germany, and Brazil -- and Google is reportedly in talks with several other countries. But the internet giant’s motives are unclear: “Writing a check to publishers in regions where it’s feeling the heat from regulators for not paying publishers buys some goodwill, according to sources,” Southern writes. “Google’s responded to comment saying it recognized it needed to do more for publishers and is keen to expand the project but could not be more specific.” Many are skeptical of Google’s real motives, and their carefully worded statement only raises more questions for some publishers. Read more here.

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Back to the Office or Play it Safe?

Posted on Sunday, June 28, 2020 at 9:00 PM

Editors discuss their plans for telecommuting or returning to the office in the near future.

By William Dunkerley

As the Covid-19 pandemic hit, many if not most editors headed home to work remotely. Now some political leaders are calling for a "reopening" of the economy. How are editors responding?

"The New York Times will not require staff to return to offices until January 2021, at the earliest," reported MediaPost.com. The story says a few staffers may be asked to return before then. But the paper will honor individual choices to not return.

The Times' staff policy seems in line with the paper's overall view on the matter of "reopening." NYT opinion columnist David Leonhardt wrote, "The bottom line: If the country reopened now, we would probably end up in lockdown again soon, while also needlessly increasing the death toll from the virus."

To reopen or not to reopen has sadly become a political issue, judging from stories in the general news stream. One side is pushing for a blanket, albeit staged, reopening of businesses. Others favor a more selective approach. That would involve a process that prioritizes strategic economic necessities.

Editors Only readers are telling us that they are mostly taking a cautious approach. Some even say they've learned some valuable takeaway lessons from the Covid-19 disruption.

Amy McPherson, managing editor, American Journal of Botany

Working from home every day means really having to organize a working space, and figuring out a schedule that allows a semblance of work-life balance. We also have a lot of calls and meetings online. They are usually productive, but somehow even more exhausting than meeting with people in person. I do foresee a lot of work-from-home in the future, and perhaps a lot less travel to meetings. A mixed bag.

Paul Rauber. senior editor, Sierra magazine

We're still remote and will be so until the end of August at the earliest. We're making do, but it's getting old.

Gary Vasilash, editor-in-chief, Automotive Design and Production

Much of what we do is sit in a room and write. The rooms the team uses have changed. They are kitchens and dining rooms and porches. But with a good internet connection -- certainly not as good as what's in the office, but good enough -- and a phone, we can still do our jobs of connecting with people that we report on.

One major change -- one that doesn't seem to have a reversion to the norm anytime soon -- is that we had spent plenty of time traveling to attend auto industry events to obtain information about new vehicles by spending time behind the wheel as well as by talking with engineers, designers and executives. All of that is gone. As are the various automotive conferences -- physical conferences, not the variants that are now taking place on our screens.

What have we learned? For one thing, to appreciate seeing the people both internally and externally with whom we work. Funny how just passing someone in a hallway of the office is something we miss.

Loren Edelstein, content director, Northstar Meetings Group

We are all working remotely; no plans to return to offices soon. Not much difference in the workflow or communication!

Mark Zusman. editor and publisher, Willamette Week

Our staff has been working from home since March. While our office is open and a few people are working there, there are no current plans to require anyone to return to the office. We have put rules in place for those who do choose to return (wearing masks).

Dave Zoia, editorial director, WardsAuto

We continue working remotely, and that likely will remain the case for at least another couple of months. The main things we've learned from this are that we are capable of working from home and attending to the needs of the business without negatively impacting productivity. We've used TEAMS and other online portals to communicate regularly as a staff and conduct interviews or hold backgrounders. Some of our business is built around conferences and events, and we've moved those to digital-only this year with good success. That's also been a learning experience for us in terms of the technology required and in discovering best practices, and that will continue to be valuable knowledge gained for us even after we've moved beyond the Covid-19 stage.

Bill Wolpin. editorial director, American City and County magazine (informa.com)

With 11,000 employees worldwide, our company has decided to start to re-open the office slowly beginning in September. We have the option of not coming back to the office. That's the long and short of it at this point.

C.G. Masi, cgmasi.com

We are not "reopening," as we've never really been "open" in the first place. We started "guerrilla publishing," which involves all-remote work (writing, editing, and production), in 1995, and haven't looked back since.

Where Have All the Editors Gone?

We've recounted above the success stories of editors who have acclimated to the changes imposed upon us all by the Covid-19 crisis. But that's not the whole story.

Each month when we email subscribers the notice that a new EO issue is available, we typically get back a slew of "out-of-office" responses. Some of the editors are off interviewing subjects, others are away at meetings and conferences, while others are enjoying a vacation break.

That's all changed in this Covid-19 era. Auto-responses are now dominated by notices of retirement, furloughs, and "no longer works here" messages. That seems to be a raw measure of how starkly our profession has been struck by the pandemic. And then there's the matter of how many of our new-issue notices are going to inboxes that no one ever sees anymore. There's no way of gauging that.

There is reason to believe that things will never return to exactly how they were before this crisis. It has been disruptive enough to have made a sociological impact on our work culture -- perhaps even on our society in general. And some of that change may end up being for the better. It may be a growth experience. We'll see.

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

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Getting Down To Details

Posted on Sunday, June 28, 2020 at 8:27 PM

Are the articles you publish compelling? Do they engage the reader? Are they really interesting? If not, they may be incorporating insufficient detail.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Demand of your writers, or at least recommend from your writers, stories with sufficient and the right details. Generalities and lacks in specificity destroyed writing, no matter how jaunty the technique.

Plunge Into It George Plimpton in his writing career gained details from immersion. He played percussion with the New York Philharmonic so he could more sensitively write about it. He sparred with Archie Moore. In his classic, Paper Lion, he recounted a try to pro football. And here he is, out on the field, ready for his moment of quarterbacking: "I cleared my throat. 'Set!' I called out, my voice loud and astonishing to hear, as if it belonged to someone shouting into the ear holes of my helmet. 'Sixteen, sixty-five, forth-four, hut one, hut two, hut three, 'and at three the ball slapped back into my palm, and Whitlow's rump bucked up hard as he went for the defense men opposite. The lines cracked together with a yawp and smack of pads and gear. I had the sense of quick, heavy movement, as I turned for the backfield, not a second having passed, I was hit hard from the side, and as I gasped, the ball jarred loose. It sailed away and bounced once, and I stumbled after it, hauling it under me 5 yards back, hearing the rush of feet, and the heavy jarring and wheezing of the blockers fending off the defense, a great roar up from the crowd, and above it, a relief to hear, the shrilling of the referee's whistle."

Detail: Detail brings us close.

Include Quotes

Quotes are an important detail, or can be, or should be.

But writers tends to become too relaxed about the amount of quoting to do and the kind. Too much direct quotation tends to weaken the story, unless it is specifically and carefully designed around the words of others. And soft quotes, those soft on language or information, hold back rather than enhance the value of an article.

An excellent little story in People proves what judicious quoting can do. The subject was the gold miners of Peru. The writer undoubtedly spent considerable time down there, getting the feel of things, observing, interviewing. But when the story appeared, the focus of the piece was on just one gold miner, a fellow named Pereira, one of the oldest of the bunch.

He told the reporter-writer: "Years ago I was a wild guy drinking, smoking a lot and wasting my strength. But no more. I'm a grandfather. I just work and work, say my prayers at night and stay out of trouble. I guess now my only vice is hope."

He told the reporter-writer: "That fist of gold is right here under my feet. If I work hard, I know I'll find the big one. God will reward me. We work like slaves, but every day we pray for the gold and the freedom it will bring."

No need for a lot of quotes from a lot of minors. Pereira becomes the story. His words reveal the philosopher and him.

Sufficient detail. The right detail. There's power in the good quote.

Pulling in the Reader

Connie Fletcher in Chicago magazine writes about "What Cops Know." She listens to the police officers. They tell her, and us:

"In families of drug dealers, it's common to hide drugs in a baby's diaper -- with the baby in it."

"The most time cops have to execute search warrants on dope houses -- before dope can be flushed, thrown out the window, or dissolved in a pan of water -- is 30 seconds."

"We picked up a prostitute the other day. She is 28 years old. She's been on drugs for maybe eight years. She just had a bypass operation. The doctor said to stay off the junk. And she's walking the street to get more drugs. She is faced with death, and she still can't break it. The first thing she'll say to you is 'How do I look? Don't I look good?' And she is dying."

"When you pull over a motorist for speeding, the motorist will always look at the speedometer, even though the car is now at a complete stop."

This is the sort of detail that brings a reader close to a world not otherwise known to him or her. This makes the reader feel like an insider, and isn't that what we strive for in magazine writing: to bring the reader close to whatever subject our publication is developing?

Another Example...

Consider also the human detail, as Time correspondent Jon D. Hull did in the story about the plight of the homeless. He met a former construction worker named George, observed, gained the man's confidence, then wrote:

A smooth bar of soap, wrapped neatly in a white handkerchief and tucked safely in the breast pocket of a faded leather jacket, is all that keeps George from losing himself to the streets. When he wakes each morning from his makeshift bed of newspapers in the subway tunnels of Philadelphia, he heads to the restroom of a nearby bus station or McDonald's and brings an elaborate ritual of washing off the dirt and smells of homelessness, first the hands and forearms, then the face and neck, and finally the fingernails and teeth. Twice a week he takes off his worn Converse high tops and socks and washes his feet in the sink, ignoring the cold stares of well-dressed commuters.

George, 28, is a stocky, round-faced former high school basketball star who once made a living as a construction worker. But after he lost his job over a year ago, his wife kicked him out of the house. For a few weeks he lived on the couches of friends, but the friendships soon wore thin. Since then he has been on the street, starting from scratch and looking for a job. "I got to get my life back," George says after rinsing his face for the fourth time. He begins brushing his teeth with his forefinger. "If I don't stay clean," he mutters, "the world ain't even going to look me in the face. I just couldn't take that."


Details don't come easily, but what a difference they can make.

Reveal Something New

Of course, it's not just any detail. Their writers should be pushed to gather information that the reader is not likely to know. Well-known intelligence gains the reader nothing, and he is likely to react with: "I'm not learning anything new. I expect more from the magazine."

Beth Dickey taught me the new in her "Life in Zero G," an account of the shuttle astronauts for Sky magazine, when she wrote: "Some people grow 1 to 2 inches taller and suffer lower back pain as the spine stretches in space. Half of all astronauts report feeling queasy with a malady NASA calls 'space adaptation syndrome.' Virtually everyone gets a puffy face and a stuffy nose. Blood and other bodily fluids pool in the torso, neck, and head when there is nothing to hold them down. Muscles lose protein and shrink, and the cardiovascular system droops because neither works as hard without gravity. The result is that shuttle fliers feel dizzy and out of shape on coming home, as if they had been bed ridden for days."

It's never like that on Star Trek, I realize, but in real life, well, this is what I expect to learn from a magazine, a publication of import and record, a medium that should go beyond the newspaper and the telecast.

The Editor's Role

A magazine writer should understand the importance of detail. If memory fuzzes, the editor must step in.

"Here's what you need to do," you say. And so forth.

A classic article from a past issue in tribute to the late Peter J. Jacobi, longtime EO writer and author of The Magazine Article: How to Think It, Plan It, Write It.

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Free Assistance

Posted on Sunday, June 28, 2020 at 7:13 PM

During this time of crisis, we stand ready to answer any specific questions our readers may have, time permitting. You can contact us at: crisis-help@editorsonly.com.

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