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Issue for January 2010

Editor and Publisher Magazine Returns

Posted on Friday, January 29, 2010 at 4:57 PM

Miracle, mixed blessing, or Hail Mary pass?

By Meredith L. Dias

What can magazine editors take away from the recent demise and subsequent resurrection of Editor and Publisher? While news reports associate Editor and Publisher with the newspaper industry, the publication is a trade magazine; therefore, news of the magazine's resurrection is significant to newspaper and magazine editors alike. Embedded in this saga are valuable lessons regarding the volatility of mastheads during uncertain economic times, shrinking editorial staffs and growing workloads, and the importance of editors getting involved in their publications' print and online decision-making.

About two weeks ago, the news broke that magazine publisher Duncan McIntosh Company, Inc., had purchased the recently defunct Editor and Publisher. The new owner plans to produce a February 2010 print issue; thus, despite the disruption caused by last month's closure, Editor and Publisher will not skip a single issue.

Like a lot of publications hit hard by the publishing crisis, Editor and Publisher's editorial department has taken a hit. With the promotion of editor-at-large Mark Fitzgerald to editor comes the dismissals of top editor Greg Mitchell and senior newsroom editor Joe Strupp. According to Mitchell in his January 19th Huffington Post article ["How I Lost My Job (Thanks for Asking)"], "This would bring the size of the editorial staff down to four from six."

The dismissals of Greg Mitchell and Joe Strupp raise an important question: How can editors safeguard their jobs in this uncertain climate? Perhaps the only thing they can do is get involved with their publications' print and online decision-making. If they can succeed in changing reader preferences that would lead to new sources of ad revenue, perhaps they can help bring their publications out of this economic Dark Age.

Many of you are probably all too familiar with editorial department downsizing. Few newsrooms and editorial departments have been immune to staffing changes during this joint global recession and publishing crisis. The downsizing of Editor and Publisher's editorial staff, however, accompanies a planned increase in editorial pages for the magazine. We spoke with new owner Duncan McIntosh via email, and he told us that "the cheapest thing we can do to improve the quality of Editor and Publisher is to give our editors the pages they need to write about the newest trends in production without cutting back on the newsroom. It comes down to a few extra pages on a printing press."

Thus, the new incarnation of the magazine will increase its editorial pages while reducing its editorial staff. This is hardly anomalous in today's publishing world, where editors everywhere are facing heavier workloads with smaller staffs.

There is some debate over what the change in ownership means for the future of newsroom and editorial coverage in the magazine. Various press releases have indicated that the magazine will shift its focus away from newsroom and editorial issues and toward business and technology topics. In his email, McIntosh tells us that "a lot of information being circulated isn't necessarily correct. ... The only changes you can expect to see is that there will be more information on the digital side of the equation, but not at the expense of the newsroom." However, the New York Times claims in its January 15th edition that McIntosh told them that "he wanted to shift Editor & Publisher's focus toward the business and technology of the industry, with less emphasis on what happens in newsrooms." Former editor Greg Mitchell chimed in on this same point in a late-January email to us: "Duncan McIntosh made it clear to me that they planned to focus almost entirely on the business and printing/tech aspects of newspapers," he said. Mitchell cites the discontinuation of the "newsroom-oriented blog, E&P Pub," as an example of this shift away from journalistic coverage.

Mitchell's implication seems to be that McIntosh thinks there's more ad money to be had with publishers than editors. McIntosh himself, however, tells us he believes that publishers aren't spending any more on equipment than editors right now. What's more, Mitchell himself points out that it is editors who are spending money and participating in purchasing decisions regarding computers and software, and on other products and services related to the move toward digital.

In Mitchell's late-January email to us, he states that the magazine's publisher, Charles McKeown, "has long claimed that newsroom people 'do not buy things' so they are allegedly no help in getting advertising. Of course, this is a tragic misreading, since editors -- especially Web editors -- have so much say in what gets purchased most today: software, other digital tools and equipment, everything related to the Web." The future of magazine advertising, he argues, lies with digital and Web products. "On the other hand: What do you think the future of the printing press looks like?" he asks. It is a question that all publication editors should be asking.

McIntosh's online strategy seems to be geared more toward ushering readers into the digital age. "We are redesigning and building a new website with an eye to allowing readers to post individual stories," he reports. "That site will take a couple of months to go live so in the meantime we're doing the best that we can to work with the very limited site that we have. The blogs are part of our plan as we go forward." What is most significant about this online strategy is the apparent introduction of user-generated content (UGC) to the website, the same concept that propelled YouTube, Wikipedia, Photobucket, Wordpress, and others to Internet superstardom. Promoting such a change in reader habits and preferences is important when the publishing industry is in a state of flux and struggling to keep up with current technology, and when more and more sites are employing various forms of UGC.

All eyes are on Editor and Publisher as it makes this transition. Can the revamped publication help rescue the industry it serves, thus saving thousands of editorial jobs nationwide? With the planned increase in business and technology content, will this iconic publication uphold its titular promise: to provide content of value to editors and publishers? Whether or not the magazine succeeds in these two areas, Editor and Publisher's roller coaster of a month has taught us a lot as editors. Our purchasing decisions, our insights and ideas, and our willingness to adapt to sometimes impossible conditions make us not only relevant to the future of publishing, but vital. Conversely, inflexibility on our part and an unwillingness to adapt can leave us out in the cold. The past month has also served as a reminder that even the most entrenched mastheads are subject to change. Even the best of us aren't invincible.

Meredith Dias is the research editor of Editors Only.

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Posted in Editing (RSS), Management (RSS), News (RSS)

What to Do About White Space

Posted on Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:11 PM

Less advertising means smaller issues. In turn, many editors cram more text into less space. But what about white space? Here's what...

By Jan White

Is white space wasted space? Not if we make it work for its living. We must use it as a tool to improve the capacity of the visible page to tell our story both clearer and faster. Used to practical purpose, we don't need to invest vast swaths of emptiness for dramatic contrast. Forget conspicuous consumption. We can hardly afford the luxury of "a place for the eye to rest." Probably never will again. Instead, concentrate on servicing the readers. Use deliberately controlled bits of white space as raw material to lead them to what matters and expose the information in clear, fast, and bite-size chunks.

I'd like to offer 7 reasons for making white space "work" for you:

It Makes You Look

Breaking the expected pattern draws the eye. A little unexpected emptiness in the midst of fullness produces curiosity. Where the norm is tightness, a simple square inch of gap shines out dramatically. Position that "hole" as a beacon to pull the eye to the important element you want to emphasize.

Technique: The simpler the shape (square, rectangle) the more deliberate it looks and works best. It doesn't matter whether it comes in from the outside margins or is inserted within the fabric of the story. Its job is to contrast strongly with that key point and make it stand out.

It Creates Importance

Enclose the element (whether image or words) in a white frame as though it were a picture hanging on a wall. That gives special value, so the viewer's attention is concentrated on it.

Technique: The overall shape is what must be noticed first. Simple rectangles are ideal. The more complex the geometry, the less clearly does it jump off the page.

It Helps the Reader Navigate

By separating elements from each other, it explains what belongs to what. That reveals the geography of the page at first glance. Keep the spaces within a story narrow, and make the space between the stories wide. Then build the pages by arranging the blocks as separated blocks.

Technique: It isn't the specific dimension of the gaps between things that matters but their comparative sizes. The normal is thin, the special is broad. The effect is created by contrast that doesn't demand excess space: Narrow vs. Just-a-bit-wider is just as effective as Wide vs. Broad.

It Is a Clue to Effort

It shows how long the various bits on the page are. "Am I interested enough in this subject to invest the time and effort it probably requires?" asks the reader, who can immediately decide whether to bother to read or not. That is done with moats that are a bit wider than the normal space between columns. Normal spacing creates an expected scale of space-between. A small change in widths yields that helpful magic if it is clearly recognizable.

Technique: A simple horizontal or vertical moat is the ideal. Moats with wiggles in them are harder to recognize for what they are, so they don't work so well. Keep it simple.

It Makes Stories Grow

Exploiting the fact that the publication is multi-paged, repetition of a small detail can tie individual pages into a Big Story. Recognizable
bits -- even tiny ones -- can accumulate and add up to large effect.

Technique: Whatever the size of the white space and its placement on the page, it must recur exactly the same way on the next and the next and the next. That deliberate precision makes it a noticeable characteristic and magnifies the story. Everything depends on controlled accuracy.

It Adds Flexibility

Think outside the white box. Don't decry the fact that the available space is too small (which it may well be!). Consider whether a little judicious cutting of a few precious words mightn't be a good tradeoff. If the piece is so crammed that it is off-putting, nobody will read it anyway. Consider the cost/benefit ratio. Make yourself a bit of whiteness.

Technique: If you have a given space for the headline, don't regret that you can't fit a larger type size (which is every editor's knee-jerk reaction to increase shouting). It is probably much more successful set smaller and bolder within that same space because the words appear against valuable white background that also separates it from the surrounding text. The white space is a valuable hole in the wallpaper.

It Is Hiding There

Tighten the type. You'll be amazed how looseness wastes space. Squeeze out the excess from between the characters and the lines. Congeal the space thus saved into a blob. Then apply it strategically.

Technique: Set the "tracking" tighter, i.e., "minus-something". Set the "interline space" (leading, ledding) narrower, and make up for the greater difficulty of reading by making the lines shorter (i.e., columns narrower). Tighten the gutter between columns. Now do the same thing with the display type.

Jan V. White, author of Editing by Design, is a publication-making guru. Janvw2 [at] aol [dot] com.

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"Found this through Twitter. I've always enjoyed your commentary, first at Folio: conferences, later at Cahners meetings." --Jim Carper, Editor, www.jimbocarper.com. 02-19-2010


"It's always a treat to see information from Jan -- thank you for providing this platform for him!" --Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, WriterRuth.com.

Posted in Design (RSS), Editing (RSS)

Did I Remember? A Writer's Checklist

Posted on Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 3:46 PM

Here are twelve questions to ask yourself and find appropriate answers or solutions to as you work your way through an assignment.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Have I:

--A clear sense of purpose as I dig into my story, a concept and a goal for my piece, a specific accomplishment that is meant to serve those I'm trying to reach.

--Just as clear a sense of direction for me to follow as I move along with a plan and its execution (do I know where I want to go and how, and will my reader be able to discern it?).

--Made as sure as possible that I am writing with sufficient and the best material, that the matter I have to work with is correct and will be convincing.

--Allowed my imagination to be released, so to make the most of my opportunity to entice the reader, and thereby make the reader's desire to accept what I write the equal of my desire to reach and satisfy that reader.

--Begun my story with what is most likely to encourage the reader to take the verbal journey I'm preparing, something that intrigues and also suits what is to follow.

--Built on the opening in substance, detail to detail, subtopic to subtopic, idea to idea, all into a logical structure with an architecture that's acceptable and attractive.

--Provided continuity, a sense of informational and environmental flow that makes for clarity and easy reading.

--Aimed for completeness, giving the reader a feel of such: that all his questions have been answered or that all her wants or needs have been taken care of.

--Used language in a provident versus prolix manner.

--Found the right words, those that say what I mean to say, that describe properly and excite sufficiently, that add a twist of lemon or a pinch of salt and pepper to my content.

--Edited my copy for accuracy, brevity, and clarity.

--Read my copy aloud and listened to it, this to make sure that everything on paper makes sense.

Know that by skipping any of the above, you should be prepared to accept failure.

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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Posted in Editing (RSS), Writing (RSS)

The Fog Index

Posted on Friday, January 15, 2010 at 1:51 PM

Assessing the readability of an MSNBC.com excerpt.

This month, we assess the readability of an excerpt from the January 11, 2010, edition of MSNBC.com ("Apple May Wipe Slate Clean for New Tablet," by Jessica Mintz):

"But the mechanics of the human body may be stronger than Jobs' charisma. We tolerate devices like smart phones with their tiny screens and awkward keyboards because they're fine for what we need them for -- quick, on-the-go reading and messaging. As soon as the screen gets bigger, though, people tend to start wanting to do more with the device, such as typing longer missives, says Mark Rolston, chief creative officer for Frog Design, a firm that designed one of Apple's first computers. At that point, the limitations of small screens and the lack of a real keyboard could be intolerable, and people would move up a rung to a small laptop."

-- Word count: 112
-- Average sentence length: 28 (13, 28, 42, 29 words)
-- Words with 3+ syllables: 7 percent
-- Fog Index: (28+7) x .4 = 14 (no rounding)

The ideal Fog score is less than 12. This particular passage contains rather long sentences (13, 28, 42, and 29 words). Trimming or splitting them up would yield a score well within the ideal Fog range, as there is a fairly low percentage of long words. For instance, we might revise the passage in the following manner:

"But the mechanics of the human body may be stronger than Jobs' charisma. We accept devices like smart phones with their tiny screens and awkward keyboards. They're fine for what we need them for -- quick, on-the-go reading and messages. As soon as the screen gets bigger, though, people want to do more with the device, such as typing longer missives, says Mark Rolston, chief creative officer for Frog Design, a firm that designed one of Apple's first computers. At that point, the small screens and lack of a real keyboard might compel people to upgrade to a small laptop."

Here are the statistics for the revised sample:

-- Word count: 99
-- Average sentence length: 20 (13, 13, 13, 39, and 21 words)
-- Words with 3+ syllables: 4 percent
-- Fog Index: (20+4) x .4 = 9 (no rounding)

We have trimmed 13 words from the MSNBC version. Changing "tolerate" to "accept" and "messaging" to "messages" brings down our percentage of long words (reminder: "-es" noun endings do not count as a third syllable) to 4 percent. Our sentence length has decreased because have split the second sentence into two sentences.

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"I'm not sure of the exact calculations, but using the calculator at http://simbon.madpage.com/Fog/fog.cgi, the original comes out to a Fog Index of 14.06.

The revised version above comes out to 10.00

Here's a version I came up with:

'But the mechanics of the human body may be stronger than Jobs' charisma. We accept devices like smart phones with their tiny screens and awkward keyboards. They're fine for what we use them for -- on-the-go reading and texting. When the screen gets bigger, though, people want to do more with the device, such as typing longer missives, says Mark Rolston. He's chief creative officer for Frog Design, a firm that designed one of Apple's first computers. The small screens and lack of a real keyboard might compel people to upgrade to a small laptop, he says.'

That clocks in at an even better 8.529." --Don Tepper, Editor, PT in Motion

Editor's Note: Fog scores may vary slightly depending upon the calculation tool used. We make our calculations by hand; however, there are online Fog calculators available. We suspect that the online instruments are not as sensitive to some of the Fog Index nuances (e.g., compound words and words with "-es" or "-ed" endings). Also, we do not round our final Fog score; therefore, although our edited sample weighed in at 9.6, it received a Fog score of 9.

Posted in Editing (RSS), Writing (RSS)

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