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Issue for February 2010

Recommended Reading

Posted on Friday, February 26, 2010 at 2:00 PM

Here are three books for sharing.

By Peter P. Jacobi

One -- Wisdoms That Are Strong and Instructive

The Art of Column Writing by Suzette Martinez Standring (Marion Street Press). Sandring is a working columnist, syndicated with GateHouse News Service.

Normally, I don't favor books that cover too much and, consequently, too little. Standring's 200-page paperback would be more useful had the author used the full stretch of the book to deal with the how of writing those columns, instead of also including issues of copyright and syndication, of blogging and the ethos of the field.

But her work gets my approval because the "how" pages are strong and instructive. They're well thought out and beefed by "insider secrets" from the likes of Art Buchwald and Pete Hamill. They address point of view and voice and the importance of telling the story. Standring includes a number of columns to help make her points. And along the way, just for instance, Robert Haught, Washington columnist for The Oklahoman, tells us that, in his work, he follows a "4-S" formula: make what you write short, simple, sound, and sing.

Leonard Pitts, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Miami Herald, contributes a rousing lecture about responsibilities. "The world is complexities and it is conundrums, moral compromise and amoral contrivance," he says. "And the price of being allowed to use what my editor used to call the vertical personal pronoun, the price of having that little mug shot next to your name, is that you are expected to be able to provide context and perspective, to make it make sense. Or to comfort and amuse them as they struggle to make sense of it on their own."

The Art of Column Writing contains wisdoms.

Two -- A Practical Reference Book

The Craft of Research by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams (Third Edition, University of Chicago Press).

This is a classic in the field designed, as the authors say, to "guide you through the complexities of turning a topic or question into a research problem whose significance matches the effort that you put into solving it," and to make the results usable, readable "with the understanding and respect it deserves."

For readers of this newsletter, the content may go beyond normal needs, but every facet of research is explored. And advice critical to us all is doled out carefully, clearly, and completely.

The importance of consolidating your findings is emphasized. According to the authors, the search for information and the note taking should be followed by the process of more formally writing a report, thereby to remember, understand, and test your thinking.

And just as much as writers are required to know their audience, so, too, we're admonished, should researchers. The book suggests we pose questions: "Who will read my report? What do they expect me to do? Should I entertain them, provide new factual knowledge, help them understand something better, help them do something to solve a practical problem in the world? How much can I expect them to know already? How will readers respond to the solution/answer in my main claim?"

Practical hints abound: quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing appropriately; integrating direct quotations into the text; showing readers how evidence is relevant; thinking like a reader; revising.

The book deserves a spot on your reference shelf.

Three -- Language History Lesson

I Love It When You Talk Retro -- Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech by Ralph Keyes (St. Martin's Press).

Keyes is author of previous helpful volumes: The Quote Verifier, The Writer's Book of Hope, and The Courage to Write. Here, he questions how far we dare to go in using references that might do little more than puzzle younger readers, such as French or Latin phrases, such as descriptions like "Perry Como calmness," such as allusions ("Alphonse and Gaston," "drinking the Kool-Aid," and "Mrs. Robinson").

Drop the act, Keyes suggests. Those references don't communicate.

As Keyes argues, he also loads his intriguing book with language history. He tells us how expressions and popular culture references came to be, where they came from. So, if you're interested, as I happen to be, in discovering the origin, say, of top banana or talking turkey or limelight or not worth a tinker's damn, I Love It When You Talk Retro is a construct for you.

Red herring, to offer an example, comes from Elizabethan England, "where smoked herring, a pungent comestible of bright red color like that of smoked salmon today, was dragged along the ground by fugitives to throw pursuing dogs off the scent." Thus, red herring in usage today: defined as "something used to divert attention from the real issue or matter."

Again, it's the sort of book I like having around.

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 Books (RSS), Writing (RSS)

Forget Micropayments

Posted on Friday, February 26, 2010 at 1:33 PM

Here's another proposed idea for monetizing content.

By Steve Outing

You're not listening; I can tell. Many people in the industry are already in full-fledged panic mode, and one of the recent responses has been a wave of calls to resurrect an online publishing business model that has not yet worked: micropayments.

Charging for content is a dead horse. Most news content on the Web has been free for 15 years, and attempts to charge for commodity content have failed again and again because, for example, what most news companies produce is easily replaceable, for free, with a few clicks elsewhere.

There is a better way for online publishers to get people to pay for their content -- and of the many recent articles about how the industry can get people to start paying for their content (since online advertising alone doesn't bring in enough money to support large newsrooms), I've yet to see any suggestions like a model that I learned about recently from a California start-up venture called Kachingle. I'm not sure if this company has the answer to save magazines and newspapers, but if Kachingle succeeds, it'll make a lot of digital publishers (from bloggers to newspapers to Time magazine) a lot of money.

Problems with Micropayments and Paywalls

The new wave of micropayment promoters -- while genuine in their desire to save the jobs of journalists and editors and to stop the decline in the quality of content resulting from layoffs, cutbacks, and bankruptcies -- is actually suggesting something that will dig an even deeper hole for the industry.

A significant problem with micropayments is that it walls off content and makes it difficult to share with others and spread it around the Web. If I like an article and promote it in one of my Twitter posts, many of the people will not read it if they encounter a pay demand even for 5 cents; it's a barrier that will turn many away, especially if to get to the article the prospective user first has to sign up for some content payment network account. If I've paid 5 cents to read an article and want to promote it to my social network friends or followers, will the URL that I share even work? Perhaps not if the publisher hasn't set up the system to account for that. Internet users from other countries may not be able to access the content at all because they can't sign up for the micropayment system.

And of course there's Google, and the various news and blog search services. Will they index your content if it's behind a micropayment pay wall? If Google can't point people to your content, you may as well not be on the Web. And you're out of business.

Paradigm Shift

Publishers have to get over the idea that they are going to get paid directly by the user. For the vast majority of a publisher's content, there can be no barriers before an article asking the user if he wants to pay a penny or a nickel, or buy a $2 monthly subscription, to read on.

The user must be given the option of whether to pay for a website's content (by financially supporting the site), or read it for free. I'm betting this one will be a tough pill to swallow for many industry executives with traditional media mindsets, but it's critical because it fits the culture, indeed the nature, of the Internet. Traditional micropayment schemes for online news content -- "pay up or go elsewhere" -- fight it, and thus are doomed to fail, in my view.

Executives also have to grasp the notion that few publishers will be able to get very many people to pay for their content specifically. Most newspapers, for instance, will only be able to charge online users directly for truly premium content that is not replicated somewhere else -- for example, e-books and other high-value content that's not typical fare.

Also perhaps hard to accept (but you have to): The online consumer samples many brands, from the New York Times to Joe's Blog. Most online users visit many websites on a typical day, bouncing around the world of free content. They'll have a few media brands and bloggers that they visit regularly, but they also encounter new ones frequently, via the serendipitous link spotted when reading something from a known media brand, to the recommendation of a friend on Facebook or Twitter or e-mail. Your once-powerful brand doesn't mean as much as it used to, and to get paid for content online, it must become part of a giant pool of content that's financially supported en masse.

Think of it this way and you'll understand the core concept behind Kachingle: Just as online users currently pay an Internet provider $30 or more a month for their computers to access the Internet, and perhaps a monthly fee for all the music they want from a service like Rhapsody, they'll also pay a monthly fee for all the news and blog content on the Web. Only the last fee is voluntary, and it will be up to publishers to educate the public on the importance of paying for content online. (National Public Radio has been doing this for itself for decades. Now commercial publishers and bloggers need to do it to benefit all of them, not just one entity.)

The next important point to grasp about the Kachingle model is that it allows individuals to financially support the online content providers that they like best. So if a publication wants to get paid for its content when a website visitor clicks through to one of its articles, it should ask that the visitor support the site via Kachingle.

Educating the Market

The power of the system is in its many participants. The trick -- and this is the part that traditional-thinking publishers will have trouble accepting -- is that you are not just asking users to support your content, you are asking them to support all the news, blogs, and other content online.

But if this bothers you, think about it for a minute. When you get your users to sign up for Kachingle and start paying for content, you're helping lots of other Web publishers. And as all those other Web publishers and bloggers encourage their users to sign up for Kachingle, they are helping your site earn more money. Call it the power of the commons. The winners are the blogs and websites with the best content and that attract the most visitors and fans. Publication sites can win at that game, right?

No one has tried the donation model applied in a user-simple manner across all manner of online content. If charging for news content on the web won't work, and micropayment barriers will just turn legions of potential readers (and viewers of ads) away, why not put heart and soul into this "crazy" new model and see if it can work to adequately supplement Web advertising?

Will Kachingle Save Online Publications?

Will Kachingle save giant news corporations and supplement online advertising income enough to maintain large buildings and newsroom staffs? I think that if Google used this same model, its size and power could in time get Internet users paying billions of dollars for online content.

Remember, the Kachingle model is just one revenue source that online publications should use. Many get money from participating in Google AdSense, for example; that has no effect on the rest of a site's business model. The main way that most news websites will earn enough money to survive will continue to be advertising. A main focus for them should be on reinventing their ad models, because selling banner ads and classifieds advertising is broken. Kachingle is just another revenue source.

The Editorial Angle

Recently, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller wrote in his column some answers from readers about why NYTimes.com doesn't charge for its content. (You'll recall its TimesSelect paid-content experiment with Op-Ed columnists and archives put on a subscription plan, which failed to bring in enough revenue so was scrapped for a return to free content, more readers and more ad dollars.) Keller said he favors the general idea of Times online content being paid for by consumers who value it, but leaves an open mind about what approach to take.

Keller also commented on the Walter Isaacson Time cover story, "How to Save Your Newspaper" (February 2009): "Walter doesn't really grapple with the main puzzle of a pay model: how to keep it from stifling traffic, especially search-driven traffic, so much that online advertisers go away. I'm not saying that problem is insoluble. Just that, as far as I know, no one has solved it yet."

I think that Keller and other editors, struggling to survive a nasty downturn in print revenues and unable to find a way to adequately replace them on the digital publishing side, would approve of the Kachingle approach. That is, if they can get their minds past the hurdle of the payment for their content being voluntary, and that their content payment is mixed up in the big pile of money with all sorts of publishers, down to the pajama blogger. Otherwise, the Kachingle approach addresses Keller's concerns about stifled traffic, search engines, and fleeting advertisers.

The Bottom Line

KISS -- keep it simple, stupid. Online publishers are more likely to convince people to pay a monthly "Internet content fee" if everyone is in it together and there's one ubiquitous medallion on every content site that an individual visits (which always remembers you). The publishers who make the most money will be those that produce the best content, and thus get the most people to support them via the Kachingle system. That should be to the advantage of publication websites' quality content, right?

So now you've got it, folks. This may be the model publications have been waiting for to receive money for their "free" content. And at least one company has the system built and ready to go today.

Steve Outing is a journalist, consultant, entrepreneur, and blogger at www.SteveOuting.com, and also former columnist for Editor & Publisher magazine. He can be reached at steve [at] outing [dot] us.

Editor's Note: About half a year after the above material was originally written by author Steve Outing (in articles on his website and for Editor & Publisher), he began serving as an occasional advisor to Kachingle and acquired a small financial stake in the company.

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

Who Writes Your Articles?

Posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 at 2:29 PM

Freelancers or In-House Staff?

By Denise Gable

Editors weigh in on how often (if ever) they use outside authors or unsolicited material. They also share their advice on finding and keeping that "valuable" writer. Please add your comments at the end of this article regarding your situation and advice to fellow editors.

Official Board Markets, The Paperboard Packaging Group
Frequency: Weekly
Description: For the better part of the past century, Official Board Markets has been the most respected publication serving the North American board industry. Started by the integrated paper companies, the "Yellow Sheet" has been the pricing standard for both linerboard and various types of paper stock.

Mark Arzoumanian, editor-in-chief, "The staff consists of me and my managing editor, so OBM receives and picks up many items (about the industry) over the transom and through emailed news items. Breaking it down I would say 80 percent over the transom, 10 percent commissioned, and 10 percent written in-house.

"I do receive some over the transom submissions without prompting. The vast majority of those I reject as they aren't of any interest to my readers. My commissioned articles are only from people I know well who write columns for me -- I don't need to solicit articles. All of my writers are regular contributors. In these tough economic times I don't need any new contributors. Editorial space is too limited.

"My only advice for my fellow editors about recruiting authors would be: to read what the author has already written; gauge his/her expertise; and sit down with him/her and discuss possible topics for future articles. Finally, ask yourself one very basic question: Can I work with this person on a month-on, month-out basis?"

Top Crop Manager, Annex Publishing & Printing, Inc.
Frequency: Western Edition, 8 issues/year; Eastern Division, 7 issues/year; Potatoes in Canada, annually
Description: "Canada's magazine of crop production and technology" is specifically designed to help top crop producers whose goal is long-term sustainability. Editorial content focuses on information which guides growers in such areas as weed, insect and disease management, tillage, seeding and planting, fertility, machinery and new technology.

Ralph Pearce, editor, "We have one field editor on staff, another under contract, and six freelance writers. Almost all of our articles are commissioned. Since our publications (Top Crop Manager, Potatoes in Canada, and Drainage Contractor) are specialty/trade publications, ours is a very specific audience. Therefore, we never publish an article on spec; it must always pass through my hands or that of our field editor in Western Canada. Stories are assigned and written, not accepted on spec.

"Each spring, I invite researchers, government extension personnel, various industry stakeholders (private sector companies) and ad agencies to contribute ideas or story suggestions for consideration (with no obligation). Most of the material is then assigned among our eight contract/freelance writers. I also gather story ideas from farm organization meetings, conferences and workshops, field days and outdoor demonstrations. My field editor in Western Canada does much the same. The remainder is written by researchers/extension personnel or provided by advertising agencies (in total, that represents less than 10 percent of our editorial material).

"Most of our writers are regular contributors. Almost nothing comes from new contributors. Our audience is looking for the latest in agronomy, advancements in seed and from the chemical industry, as well as the latest in farm equipment, trends and technology, markets and business management skills. New contributors rarely show the experience or even familiarity with the topics we cover, and I haven't the luxury of being a teacher. Our regular contributors are very reliable, extremely thorough and professional.

"My advice is to never worry about welcoming new styles and new voices to your lineup (provided they meet your quality/audience standards). You can add diversity without taking away anything from your mandate. I did that when I moved into the editor's chair -- no longer able to rely on myself for the bulk of the writing, I had to welcome a new field editor, as well as two new freelancers, all of whom were familiar with our goals and target audience, as well as our subject matter. Their arrival heralded a new era for our magazine, with three new voices/styles that we didn't have when I was doing almost all of the writing. It didn't dilute the message, it strengthened it."

Special Events Magazine, Penton Media
Frequency: Monthly
Description: Special Events Magazine is a resource for event professionals who design and produce special events (including social, corporate and public events) in hotels, resorts, banquet facilities and other venues.

Lisa Hurley, editor, "We use two freelancers on a regular basis -- both are former staff editors. All of our articles are commissioned. Submissions over the transom come regardless. Some people pitch stories, others just offer their services for future assignments. Recruitment of authors is never a problem for us. So many magazines have failed or cut staff that many good writers are on the hunt for work."

POWERGRID International and Electric Light & Power, PennWell Global Energy Group
Frequency: POWERGRID International, monthly; Electric Light & Power, bi-monthly
Description: POWERGRID International magazine provides information about the latest automation and control technologies used in electric power transmission and distribution. The magazine's mission is to serve as a tool for today's utilities, providing knowledge on technologies that improve reliability and power system operations. Since 1922, Electric Light & Power has been the authoritative source of electric industry business news for electric utility executives and management.

Kathleen Davis, senior editor, "We use outside authors but we do not employ them. Usually they are hired by vendors or utilities or work on the staff of those companies' communications department. Most industry magazines work this way. They write for free and, if we like it, we publish it. They get a certain academic standing and we get fodder for the magazine.

"Probably less than two percent of submissions are of the pure 'over the transom' variety. It's mostly a combination practice. I send out editorial calendars each year that say what we'll be covering a month and I'll get a few queries on that which will work along to abstracts which we will then essentially commission without paying for. Sometimes we get questions, notes, or releases that spark an idea that I'll follow up on as well. If there isn't a query coming in for a topic, I'll go to regular contacts from companies I use that I know are good writers in that area.

"Probably 10 percent of my writers contribute regularly. Most of the material, however, comes from new contributors although I often work with the same press/media/PR contacts. They just gather new authors.

"When you find an exceptional writer who can make deadlines, always keep their contact info handy. That's a true rarity in this business. I never have trouble digging up new authors. But, new authors that respect my deadlines are few and far between. I think a lot of editors are looking for writers who know the subject or are subject matter experts. I'm not. A good writer can learn the subject. My recruitment strategy is much more about organization than it is about writing skill."

Metropolis, Horace Havemeyer III
Frequency: Monthly
Description: Metropolis examines contemporary life through design -- architecture, interior design, product design, graphic design, crafts, planning, and preservation. Subjects range from the sprawling urban environment to intimate living spaces to small objects of everyday use.

Martin Pedersen, executive editor, "Our magazine employs outside authors, but due to the recent economic downturn, less than previously. We receive over the transom submissions without prompting. In ten years I have only bought one unsolicited manuscript. We use new writers but they usually come with previously published work and a strong story pitch.

"We have a stable of writers who've been writing for a magazine for a while. We generally work new or younger writers in either on the website or with shorter front of the book articles. Nearly all are regular contributors. We're an architecture and design magazine and we're always looking for new projects. The best way for writers to break into our magazine is to live in a somewhat exotic city (Tokyo, for instance) and send us interesting and beautiful new projects.

"Recruiting writers has become both easier and harder. If you pay respectable rates (even the low side of respectable), you will have no trouble finding good writers today. Because the combination of a bad economy for free lance writers, the closing of magazines, and the dirt cheap rates for internet writing, you can get really good writers for about a buck a word. This is not necessarily a good thing, since it devalues an endeavor we're all involved in. That's the easier part. The harder part is purely economic. There was a time when I could recruit 'name' writers to my fairly small magazine because I could devise fun projects for them to engage with. Writers will work for less money, even well known writers, if they're engaged with the subject matter. These kinds of games are harder to play now, with ad pages and edit pages down."

Denise Gable is managing editor of Editors Only.

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"These are very helpful insights for freelancers looking for new markets." --Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, WriterRuth.com. 02-28-2010.

Posted in Editing (RSS), Freelancers (RSS), Management (RSS), Writing (RSS)

Maximizing Your Design Dollar

Posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 at 2:02 PM

Six money-saving tips for your publication.

By Lynn Riley

Controlling costs has always been a top concern in publishing. In the volatile economy of late publishers are trying to cut back even more in every way they can. Here are 6 ways to save money in the design of your publication.

Know What You Want Before You Begin

Make a firm decision on what format your project will take. Changing formats midstream, as from a postcard to a trifold brochure, can eat up design hours and end up costing you more. Clarify your goal for the piece and who the audience will be; these will be primary guidepoints for the designer.

Kick Off the Project with a Design Meeting

Meeting early on with the designer helps save headaches (and money) later. Clearly communicate all the points listed above. If you aren't sure what's the best format or what the piece can realistically achieve, your designer may have valuable input that will save you money in the long run.

Help the Designer Help You

Provide examples of what you do and don't like. This will give the designer a better idea of what you're envisioning. It will also help avoid endless revisions and "I'll know it when I see it" syndrome. Whenever possible provide art resources, images, and files to the designer so he doesn't have to recreate work from scratch.

Keep AA Costs Down

Provide fully edited copy to the designer that requires no further revision. (OK. OK. This should at least be the goal.) Many people catch copy changes only after the piece has been designed; avoid additional revisions (and fees) with careful proofreading beforehand.

Stick to the Schedule

Poor planning and delays can mean paying rush fees to bring a project in on time. Develop a schedule early on and stick to it in order to stay on budget. If planning is not your strong suit or you just don't have the time, ask your designer to map out a production schedule for you.

Put Out an RFP

Are you getting the best service and quality for a reasonable price? If it's been awhile since you casted your net in the pool of designers maybe it's time to solicit some fresh proposals. Many design firms are pricing their services to compete aggressively in the changing economy.

Communication is the underlining key to an efficient publishing process. The information you exchange with your designer will undoubtedly yield high returns on your bottom line.

Lynn Riley, of Lynn Riley Design, specializes in design for association publications. Visit the firm's website at www.LynnRileyDesign.com or email her directly at lynn [at] lynnrileydesign [dot] com.

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Posted in Design (RSS), Management (RSS)

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