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Issue for January 2011

Fact-Checking Policy

Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:15 AM

How does your publication handle fact-checking?

By Denise Gable

This month’s topic was prompted by the wide-spread media reports that falsely reported Congresswoman Giffords had been killed. As non-fiction writers and editors, we want readers to trust what they read in our publication. If they don’t, they may go elsewhere. But, with tight deadlines and limited budgets for dedicated fact-checkers, many mistakes can go unseen until they are in print. By then, our credibility has been tarnished. So, how do publications go about making sure what they say is the truth and that all the facts are correct?

Go magazine, published by Ink Publishing
Frequency: Monthly
Description: AirTran Airways’ onboard magazine provides an excellent marketing opportunity for America’s top businesses. Go is full of engaging articles, essential product information, fabulous vacation ideas and an extensive business section.

Brooke Porter, managing editor, “Before we fact check, we get a list from the writer that includes all of the sources they used or spoke to. We print out the story, highlight all of the facts, and verify them one by one directly with the source or using outside research when necessary (like for historical facts), checking them off once they’ve been verified as true or changing them if something is incorrect. Since we are a travel magazine, many times we are checking directly with an institution’s public relations contact, like a museum or restaurant.

“The only bad story I have is asking a PR person at a museum to verify some facts, only to find out after we went to print that something was wrong, This is why it’s important to also use other sources for certain types of facts.”

PrintWear magazine, published by NBM, Inc.
Frequency: Monthly
Description: PrintWear magazine covers every aspect and technology relevant to the business of apparel decoration. Offering tips, tricks, step-by-step tutorials and other insights from seasoned industry professionals, each month covers disciplines of embroidery, screen printing, heat-applied graphics and direct printing, and trends in apparel and promotional products.

Emily Andre, editor, “We use traditional methods of fact-checking (cross referencing between sources, confirming with industry associations and other authorities, etc.) but since our reporting is mainly technical in nature, the most valuable resource to me in this capacity is my network of industry experts. These members of my unofficial board are on my speed dial. Any time something questionable or controversial comes across my desk, I get on the phone or on email and have had some really interesting conversations as a result. These often lead to other topic ideas, or are used to spark a debate on our LinkedIn group. Knowing the dynamics of the industry also helps me to recognize a good counterbalance, where I can make two phone calls on one issue to find the middle ground/truth. I've definitely fielded some less than even-tempered calls after publishing something that should have been investigated more thoroughly. But those were actually huge opportunities for me -- both to practice my grace as well as to expand my network. You quickly discover who is paying attention and who really knows what they're talking about when you publish something questionable. Not that I recommend that as a method to establishing contacts.

“Establishing these relationships and having such conversations has also eliminated fact-checking in certain circumstances, where I have become so intimate in the processes we report on that I can dismiss or confirm certain data off the top of my head. As a bonus, I'm always in on industry gossip and have actually established a personal relationship with many of my contributors.

“One other note on preventative measures: I find it essential to do thorough background research on any of my new contributors. Asking around, discovering their industry history and revealing potential biases has been huge to me as a preliminary to fact checking.”

EE Times, published by United Business Media, LLC
Frequency: Online, unspecified

George Leopold, U.S news director, “The reality is that editorial staff cuts place a greater onus on reporters in the field to check and double check facts in stories. Then, embattled story and production editors must, as always, look for inconsistencies and unsubstantiated claims in stories and circle back to reporters (who of course want to move on to the next story) to nail down a fact or an assertion in a story. Anything controversial of course requires independent confirmation from a second source.

“The decline in media accuracy is driven by the reality that reporters often post their own stories so as not to be beaten to the punch by competitors. There is a ‘better to be first than accurate’ mentality out there.

“In short, there is virtually no time for reporters and editors to think and reflect, only to react. This is a bad way to inform the citizenry, and will only get worse as bean counters squeeze editorial operations. That's why we, and many others, have adopted a pay model so that our "content" will generate the revenue needed to sustain our reporting staff.”

Additional Comments

“We don't have dedicated fact checkers, and in fact never have. We put the onus on the reporter to do what it takes to get it right, with the editor(s) serving as an additional gatekeeper.” --David Zoia, editorial director, WardsAuto.com

“We do peer review with two reviewers, one editor, and an editor-in-chief.” --Hans IJzerman, founding editor, In-Mind magazine

“Fact checking is largely on the shoulders of the reporters. We don't have a separate fact checking process other than the standard editing/copy editing process.” --John Dix, editor-in-chief, Network World

“We rely on the expertise of our editors to make sure that all information is correct before publication. Each article is read by at least three editors with various, complementary skill sets and technical/professional backgrounds (and one of the editors is specifically a technical editor). We are also trained in the art of discovering plagiarism.” --Doug Peckenpaugh, managing editor, Food Product Design

Denise Gable is managing editor of Editors Only.

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"We do our best to fact-check because our writers and editors have domain expertise, but so does our readership, and we hear about it when we're wrong. We use multiple readers, and if anything sounds 'unproven' or 'off' we do a detailed fact check." --Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief, Control and ControlGlobal.com.

Posted in Editing (RSS)

Lessons from the Professor

Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Lessons and reminders taken from student's story assignments.

By Peter P. Jacobi

The following are excerpts taken from edits and evaluations I put on story assignments turned in to me during the just concluded spring semester at Indiana University's Ernie Pyle School of Journalism, where I still teach part time as professor emeritus. I share them with you, hoping they might serve as reminders for you, too.

Read-Aloud Copy

"There's no way you could have read this sentence aloud. I doubt you even read it over silently. It makes absolutely no sense. Why do you ruin the effort you've otherwise put into this article, all your research, all your collecting of information, by letting such ill-formed copy through?"

Plan Your Thesis

"What you need is a thesis. We've spoken of this in class how often? As your reader, I require guidance as to what this article is going to be about. Your lead gives me a clue and, thank you, tempts me into the copy. But then, I begin to wallow because you haven't tied down for me the gist of the subject. The lead alone can't do it all. Where are you going to take me, if I go on? You've got to tell me, and you're not. A thesis, if you please!"

Make It Worth Your Reader's Time

"I'm perfectly happy moving through your copy. It flows along nicely, and you've produced some lively material. I like the anecdotes because they enrich the piece. Your descriptive work seems natural. But as I peruse the pages, I begin to wonder: Why am I reading this? What are you telling me that I need or want to know? What lasting value am I gaining? Is the subject worth my time? Was it worth your doing? It's your job to make sure that, in some informational or insightful or inspirational way, you're adding to my, your reader's, life in a measurable way. Tell me what you're trying to do for me. I can't discern it."


"There's just not enough meat here. I like your idea. I like your intended approach. But you're failing to give me sufficient substance. I'm not learning enough. I'm not getting enough. You've shortchanged your article, yourself, and me by not doing informational justice to the assignment. This piece is flimsy. As a result, you're not convincing me of the importance of the subject."

Use Only the Best Material –- Get Rid of the Rest

"You have a two-headed story. Part of it is biographical material that supports a profile. Part of it is a status piece about the field in which your 'profilee' works. Yes, you need some of the latter to shape the profile, this because she exists within the world that is her profession. But since you set out to write a profile, then you should stay in that direction. What you've done here is start with profile stuff, thereby getting me all interested in her. Then, suddenly, you shift to the field. Then, just as suddenly, you go back to the profile. Consequently, I'm not sure what I'm reading, and I'm not getting a full measure of either. Insert the best of the field material into the woman's story. Use it to enhance her life, to explain it. Get rid of the rest."

Be Careful of Your Opinion

"It's fine for your article to have a point of view, to offer a perspective, to provide a sense of direction. It's not so fine to give opinion. This is not an essay. This is not a commentary. This is not a review. This is not a personal column. This is a feature article. Any opinion passed along in a feature article must originate with your sources, not you. Let others speak, and that way guide your reader along the path you've chosen. You and your article gain credibility that way. You're the scribe. The arguments are supplied by the authorities, the experts you've sought out in support of your project."

Use Good Grammar

"Ye gods, the grammar! This is a run-on sentence. Look down to the next paragraph: you've got another run-on sentence. Sentences are not connected by commas. Do we need to have a lesson on what constitutes a sentence? ... And here you've got the singular-plural mix, a lack of agreement: 'The organization is ... They are planning...' Make it: 'The organization is blank-blank and plans blank-blank.'"

Flow and Transition

"Have you forgotten flow? These two paragraphs don't connect. You need transition. Fill in the missing step so that I can follow along a path of your devising. I think if you had read the copy out loud and listened to it, you would have caught the problem. The gap is evident, certainly to the ears if not the eyes. But, the gap was evident even to my eyes. Gaps disturb the reader. Supply transition. Supply flow."

Guide Your Reader

"I think your topic holds potential importance. The material you've given me in this version doesn't measure up. I don't sense the import. Where are the statistics that prove your point? Where are the comments from those in the know? I desire a step-by-step approach that has me gaining belief in the subject. Guide me."

Pick a Tense – Present vs. Past

"The problem here is tense. Make up your mind: present or past, not both. I'd prefer present because that makes your copy more immediate and timeless. What these people told you last week they would tell you again now. So, let them speak in the present: 'says' versus 'said.' There are times, of course, when the past is not only preferred but necessary. Here, however, you have a choice, and the better choice is now."

Show, Don't Tell

"Show me. Don't tell me. How often have I stressed that? In this paper, I get tired of the expository passages. I get even more tired of all the quotes that you parade before me. Give me some action. Give me some description. Give me the closeness of 'show.' Take me there. You're keeping me distant, and that's not fair. How much life your article would gain if you put your heroes in situations that reveal how they live and work. This is far duller than it should be."

Please Your Reader

"Think of reader interest, reader service. The task is not to please yourself. It is to please the reader. This article is self-serving. It reeks of the you, of you passing along what interests you. Well, fine, part way; you need to be interested in what you write about. But you also need to translate that interest into my interest. Let me see how all this could affect me, make my life better, more enjoyable, more manageable, or whatever. It's the reader you serve, not yourself."

Care About Your Subject

"Where's the passion? You seem to meander through the pages. Vitality is missing. A sense of belief is missing. A feel of I-love-this-and-I-want-you-to-love-it-too is missing. You don't seem to care about what you've written. So, I ask myself, 'Why should I?'"

May the above, as I said, serve to remind, to lead you toward rethinking and improving what you've put together (or what the writer whose copy you've been reading put together).

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 Writing (RSS)

Positive Anticipation

Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Tips on how to include the emotion of anticipation in your publication.

By Pat Friesen

Do you anticipate receiving birthday cards, leaving on vacation, or heading out the door on Friday afternoon? Of course you do.

Anticipation is a wonderful emotion. It literally has us looking forward, not backward, focusing on the possibility of good things to come.

Creating anticipation is a worthwhile job for all writers, designers, and editors whether they're creating content for traditional print or for digital media. Here's why this emotion is so important: anticipation leads to reader engagement.

What are you doing to build anticipation with your readers? My own work is in direct response copywriting. I'd like to share with you some of the techniques I've used. They may suggest some ideas for things you could do in your own publication.

Tips to Try

Helpful hints. These are what made Heloise famous and her column highly successful. So take this tip and create a regular column in your publication that offers helpful hints. Readers will look forward to each successive column. You'll delight readers with this and they'll await future issues with positive anticipation.

Looking for resolution. When you do an Internet search, and land on a website, what are you anticipating? Nine times out of ten, you're looking for the answer to a question or solution to a problem. Can your publication offer readers solutions to problems that they face? Let them anticipate finding resolutions regularly in your pages. Give them content that will quickly provide what they are looking for or will point them in the right direction.

Familiarity feeds expectation. It makes my day to see the familiar words Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letter in the from line of my email inbox. I always look forward to reading what artist Genn has to say. Likewise, your readers will look forward to receiving issues with content from people they know and trust.

Pre-announcements. In marketing, tests show that advance announcement messages significantly increase response, as much as 30 to 40 percent. Try this technique with your publication. You can use a prior issue, your website, or email. See for yourself how pre-announcement will leave your readers watching for that upcoming feature.

Create that special feeling. Use words and phrases like "exclusive," and "just for readers of... " to make your reader feel extra-special. They create anticipation by suggesting your reader is about to have a unique experience unavailable to the general public.

Hook 'em on a series. My last tip is to use a highly interesting article series to build anticipation. Here's an example of the underlying concept. Every week, I drive though the Flint Hills of Kansas. Just outside Lehigh, there's a sign at a farm that changes daily. The copy is always short -- just two words. Early in the season it changes from Just Planted to Now Sprouting, then Not Yet. After that, it shifts to one of these: None Today, Ready Now, Darn Rabbits, or Bumper Crop. I suspect that your article series will be more wordy, but you get the idea.

I only stopped once to buy that farmer's sweet corn. Just as I did, they changed the sign. It read Sold Out. Oh, well. But, you can see that the series concept worked!

Pat Friesen is a direct response copywriter and creative strategist, writing for online and traditional media. She can be reached at 913-341-1211, pat@patfriesen.com, or at www.patfriesen.com.

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Posted in Editing (RSS), Writing (RSS)

Reader Solidarity

Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:14 AM

Strengthening your publication's bond with readers.

Some magazines have readers who think of themselves as part of a group. They relate to one another in some sort of way. Other magazines seem to lack that kind of connection. The magazines that engender reader solidarity may have something going for themselves. Not renewing a subscription becomes tantamount to leaving the group!

What makes the difference between magazines that have reader solidarity and those that don't? A tactic used by a number of magazines is to carry content that allows readers to get to know one another.

It doesn't take a degree in psychology to recognize -- and understand -- the fascination held by some readers for learning what ever they can about the feelings, attitudes, and lifestyles of others with interests similar to their own. When given the opportunity to share their thoughts on the topic or to divulge something personal about themselves, many will likely jump at the chance. That's because many readers want to see themselves as part of a group.

One technique for promoting solidarity involves celebrities. Not necessarily the Hollywood kind, but people in your field whom readers know and admire. Quotes from such well-known people or opinion leaders can be a point of interest. Guest articles from them can be popular, too. An editor told us, "Our readers are always interested in the leaders in our field. They want to know about them. They can relate to them because these people are real, and share some of the problems and concerns of us all."

Readership surveys are also an excellent way of garnering solidarity-building content. They are one of the best ways to satisfy the penchant readers seem to have for achieving a sense of group identity. Articles based on readership surveys help to give readers a chance to see where they fit into the group.

A comprehensive survey can be a considerable project, however. One editor who recently completed one told us, "Putting one of these surveys together can be a very involved process. Ours took months to do. First you have to come up with this survey. You have to make sure that it's a statistically sound survey. Then, you've got to gather all of the responses, and have them evaluated. The whole thing has to be written. It's very complex."

But, she added, "it's very worth doing."

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Posted in Editing (RSS), Writing (RSS)

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