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Issue for February 2011


Posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 10:14 AM

Practice editing that also exploits the visual dimension. It will accelerate your communication!

By Jan V. White

"Nobody reads any more" eh?

They will, if they realize that the thing is worth bothering with.

Is it obviously Great Literature?

Is it clearly Useful Poop?

Is it glaringly Fascinating Insight?

The key words in this context are obviously, clearly, glaringly. They are visual techniques when you see them on the page. Trouble is that we take anything so "obvious" for granted and assume they demanded no thought. They are, in fact, the result of extremely clever editing.

By definition, "obvious" and "clear" provoke immediate reaction -- as fast as as you can get. That's vital for us as editors, because we serve people whose excuse not to read is their claim that they "don’t have time." Hence the need for speed.

Obviousness, clarity, glare, are the result of clever editing-and-designing. Don't think of them as "design," because that word daunts word-people. Think of them as editing-that-also-exploits-the-visual-dimension.

Here "design" has nothing to do with Art or Prettiness, but everything with efficiency in getting that irresistible sales-point off the page into the reader's mind. No, not reader but the viewer's mind. The viewer is just a potential reader whom we need to persuade to read by what we show and demonstrate at that quick level when they just glance down at the page. The first things we show them to notice are crucial. Noticing is visual. Becoming interested (i.e, curious) is verbal. The two must work together.

Four Slow Preliminary Steps

Step 1: The key is to pop out what we know that our potential readers will cotton to. We must make it conspicuous. Its inherent interest requires no analysis or cogitation from them -- just an immediate reaction. How do we know what those potential readers might cotton to? The very reason you decided to run this piece in the first place. (Remember?) Now the job is to distill that What'sInItForMe value into easy, direct language. That's your "display".

Step 2: Discuss the story with its author as well as the designer, so the well-defined and agreed-on value-to-the-reader is honed and polished and enthusiastically understod so it can be sparkingly displayed. Clarity of thought is vital. Shortness is thought to be good, but the final must be as long as necessary to get the thought across vividly.

Step 3: Edit out verbose introductions, complex off-the-point contexts. Avoid duplications of any kind, so never, ever repeat, duplicate, redouble or echo. Anywhere. Especially in the display leading into the text. Get on with it.

Step 4: Encourage the designer to interpret the message using type as tone of voice, and/or adding another dimension with images. Ideally, combining them both into a one-two punch. Its purpose is to expose the story idea clearly for its first-glance value. Immediate understanding. Reaction. Impact. Curiosity. The Wow! factor. This does not only apply to the headline and display, but to the handling of the entire package.

Ten Common-sense Visual Techniques to Accelerate Communication

1. It is not Who What Where When Why but the "So what" that readers cherish. It is just good salesmanship to allow it to be the dominant.

2. For heads use big black bold type, set tight, stacked with minus leading to concentrate the words into a black blob to which the eye is irresistibly drawn. Which typeface? Who cares? Its dominance and its message are what matters.

3. Show that signal off in generous white space. Space is not "wasted" if it succeeds in bringing attention to your prime selling-point.

4. Don't decorate or gussy up your message. Let it speak for itself forthrightly. It should not need side-issues or exclamation points. Avoid extraneous red herrings no matter how beguiling.

5. Don't waste space on anything that is not useful or significant to the thrust of the story. Keep to the point. The function of editing is to edit: cut cut cut. If there is sidebar material, be helpful and put it in a sidebar. Readers are grateful for such time-saving help, if they prefer to skip it.

6. Obviously, shortness is quicker than length, but make everything long enough to carry its point, especially the headlines: give them as many words as they need, because they are your prime salesmen. Perhaps even emphasize key words in some noticeable way.

7. Allow the substance of the piece to sell itself. It must be important enough to do that. If it isn't, should you be running it? Don't try to impress or startle with efflorescent graphics and colors in order to help it along. Suich transparent phoniness undermines your credibility.

8. Pouring text into endless flowing columns is deadening (unless you are presenting literature). Short bits get highest readership. Spoon-size shredded wheat is more popular than great big bricks'-worth. Construct pages out of discrete units of information.

9. Break up information into its components and organize it -- tabulate it visually. Stacking it all in neat columns is only slightly better than plain running copy, but not interesting enough. Place the units in a more random fashion to derive the most advantage from their smallness and shortness. Encourage the eye to skip from this unit to that one to find the most valuable element for that particular reader. Label each element with its own headline. Not with just a copout label, but a headline that sells: "why this thing is useful."

10. Nobody will ever read everything. (They never did.) The best strategy is to present a smorgasbord of lots of small-sized choices to be pecked at, because the little tastes lead to wanting more. Appetite grows by what it feeds on. Smorgasbords are also feasts for the eye, deliberately arranged to make the little dishes appear appetizing. That's functional "design" used by chefs. That is precisely the same professional cleverness that canny editors who know how to exploit the capacity of design use to make their intellectual smorgasbord irresistible. What is more, it isn't just irresistible. It is FAST!

Jan V. White is a communication design consultant and author of Editing by Design (3rd Ed.), Allsworth Press, 2003. He may be reached at janvw2 [at] aol [dot] com.

Posted in Design (RSS), Editing (RSS)

Interviews with Literary Legends

Posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 10:14 AM

A collection of wisdoms on craft and conscience

By Peter P. Jacobi

As with previous volumes of The Paris Review Interviews, so it is with the recent, Volume 4, as edited by Philip Gourevitch (Picador, 2009). The major rush that comes from digging into its pages results from becoming privy to personalities and adventure-filled biographical material, to author alliances with fellow figures of fame, compellingly expressed literary insights, and comments -- sagacious, satiric, and otherwise -- made about fellow writers.

Gourevitch edited the remarkable Paris Review for five years, stepping down just about the time the book was published, so to return to his writing (for The New Yorker and to complete a book about Rwanda). The 16 interviews included in this collection, done across several decades, reportedly constitute the final volume in the set. They focus on writers of prose and poetry who turn out to be sharing, each generously responsive to long series of questions.

And that leads me to elements scattered through most of these question/answer dialogues that deal with craft and conscience. I thought that passing along a few such wisdoms might be useful to you.


Poet Marianne Moore, interviewed by Donald Hall in 1960, said: "I am governed by the pull of the sentence as the pull of a fabric is governed by gravity ... I like symmetry."


Poet/editor Ezra Pound, when asked by Hall in 1962 about the greatest quality a poet can have, said: "I don't know that you can put the needed qualities in hierarchic order, but he must have a continuous curiosity, which of course does not make him a writer, but if he hasn't got that, he will wither. And the question of doing anything about it depends on a persistent energy."

Strong Plot

Humorist P.G. Wodehouse, interviewed in 1975 by Gerald Clarke, said: "I believe the only way a writer can keep himself up to the mark is by examining each story quite coldly before he starts writing it and asking himself if it is all right as a story. I mean, once you go saying to yourself, This is a pretty weak plot as it stands, but I'm such a hell of a writer that my magic touch will make it okay -- you're sunk."

Prosaic Language

Poet John Asbery, who spoke with Peter Stitt in 1983, said: "For a long time a very prosaic language, a language of ordinary speech, has been in my poetry. It seems to me that we are most ourselves when we are talking, and we talk in a very irregular and anti-literary way."

Possessed Readers

Novelist Philip Roth was interviewed in 1984 by Hermione Lee and noted: "What I want is to possess my readers while they are reading my book -- if I can, to possess them in ways that other writers don't. Then let them return, just as they were, to a world where everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt, and control them."

Make It Look Easy

Poet/novelist/essayist Maya Angelou told George Plimpton in 1990: "Nathaniel Hawthorne says, 'Easy reading is damn hard writing.' I try to pull the language into such a sharpness that it jumps off the page. It must look easy, but it takes me forever to get it to look so easy ... I know when it's the best I can do. It may not be the best there is. Another writer may do it much better. But I know when it's the best I can do. I know that one of the great arts that the writer develops is the art of saying, No. No. I'm finished. Bye. And leaving it alone. I will not write it into the ground. I will not write the life out of it."

Perfect Paragraph

Novelist Paul Auster and interviewer Michael Wood chatted in 2003. Auster spoke of the paragraph: "The paragraph seems to be my natural unit of composition. The line is the unit of a poem; the paragraph serves the same function in prose - at least for me. I keep working on a paragraph until I feel reasonably satisfied with it, writing and rewriting until it has the right shape, the right balance, the right music -- until it seems transparent and effortless, no longer 'written.'"

Details, Details

The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami said to John Wray in 2004: "I like details very much. Tolstoy wanted to write the total description; my description is focused on a very small area. When you describe the details of small things, your focus gets closer and closer."

Tidbits from the Style Guy

E.B. White said a lot of things about the art of the essay to George Plimpton in 1969, just as one would expect from The Elements of Style guy: "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper ... Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer -- he bides his time, waits for the perfect wave on which to ride in. He waits for the surge (of emotion? of strength? of courage?) that will carry him along. I have no warm-up exercises, other than to take an occasional drink. I am apt to let something simmer for a while in my mind before trying to put it into words ... I don't think it [style] can be taught. Style results more from what a person is than from what he knows ... A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter."

And, as part of a summary to his interview, White added: "A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world. He must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge. Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry. There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation ... I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me."

I recommend the collection to you.

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)

The Daily, The Tablet, and The Editor

Posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 10:14 AM

Viewing News Corporation's launch from an editor's perspective.

By Meredith L. Dias

"New times demand new journalism. The devices that modern engineering has put in our hands demand a new service, edited and designed specifically for them."

With that statement, media mogul Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. has thrown his hat into the digital publishing ring. Earlier this month, he launched The Daily, a daily iPad newspaper. So just how "new" is the Daily brand of journalism? Is the "new service" really all that new? What is the role of editorial in tablet publishing?

The Daily Contents

The Daily, says Carl Bagh in a recent International Business Times article, "is an attempt to rekindle the old print-based newspaper on a different platform, the tablets." It is, in New York Magazine's words, "an iPad-only tabloid."

An editorial team, led by The New York Daily Post managing editor Jesse Angelo, creates each iPad-optimized issue and beefs up the text with photographs, panoramic images, HD video, and the ability to share certain content with social networks. Subscribers log in to the app daily to receive the latest issue. They can scroll through a "carousel" of stories and select the content that interests them, much like flipping through a traditional print newspaper.

Will readers latch onto this multimedia-enhanced version of a traditional newspaper? Some believe that its app-based subscription model could be the answer that has eluded newspaper publishers for years. However, for the time being, The Daily is available to iPad users only, so its reach is limited. Still, the newspaper constitutes a compelling tablet publishing experiment. Will 3D imagery, streaming HD video, and sharing capabilities be enough to shift reader habits away from free content and a 24/7 news cycle?

The Daily takes into consideration the twenty-first-century news cycle; editors can update the issue throughout the day to cover breaking news that arises. About that, James Poniewozick of Time.com says, "I haven't seen much evidence of that yet."

Editorial Responsibilities

The Daily presents a challenge to its editors. They are responsible not just for a collection of up-to-the-minute news articles, but also a multimedia experience. To quote The Princess Bride, "That doesn't leave much time for dilly-dallying." So much more is involved than just formatting articles in a grid. It's seeking out the photographic and video content that will engage the reader and turn the article into a rich multimedia experience. It's keeping the content relevant when there other online news outlets update constantly throughout the day. And it's generating attention-grabbing Facebook- and Twitter-ready headlines for social sharing.

A publication this media-intensive would be difficult enough to maintain on a monthly basis. So how will editors churn out issue after daily issue of multimedia news coverage? According to macstories.net, editor-in-chief Jesse Angelo's newsroom is powered by over 100 journalists. In a memo to his editorial team, reproduced on New York Magazine's website, he expresses his desire to move beyond web and wire reporting. He wants exclusives. He wants The Daily to become an original source, rather than an aggregator of wire content. He wants his "crack news team" to produce original, groundbreaking content on a daily basis.

The Element of Reader Choice

According to some media analysts, The Daily falls short in its failure to incorporate the concept of reader choice. Like a print newspaper, The Daily is a static editorial product -- readers cannot filter daily content to suit their specific preferences. Apps like Flipboard, on the other hand, allow readers to create their own magazine based on personal interests. "Thus," says Bagh in his article, "the choice before the user is to create their own customized content experience or to rely on a group of editors to define their experience."

However, readers can define their Daily experience to a point. The app allows them to personalize their subscription with local weather data and preferred sports team news.

A Compelling Experiment

Just how important is reader choice in today's digital publishing world? Vital, according to some. The Internet has empowered readers to seek out the content that interests them and ignore what doesn't. So how appealing will a digital version of the traditional print newspaper be to young readers who have cut their teeth on the 24/7 news cycle? Will they embrace this repackaged version of a classic concept, or will they continue to rely on tailored newsfeeds from their favorite sites? Can News Corp. and other publishing entities lure these readers away from constantly updated (not to mention free) news content from Google News?

The Daily has posted a YouTube video that demonstrates the newspaper's major features. Their iPad publishing vision: "Touch, swipe, tap, and explore to bring stories to life." If enough readers heed this intriguing instruction, The Daily may prove to be the first of many daily news publications edited and designed specifically for tablets.

Meredith Dias is senior editor of Editors Only.

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Posted in News (RSS), Technical (RSS)

The Daily Romp into Multimedia Content

Posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 10:13 AM

News Corporation's start-up could give us all a glimpse of where magazine editing is headed.

By William Dunkerley

So, you can edit. But do you do audio, video, and 360-degree photography? That's a question you may be asked on some future job interview if News Corporation's The Daily becomes the model for our future. The new launch promises readers a rich assortment of multimedia content. The concept of the publication also promises to remake the editorial office, as various new media presentation features become more central.

That's all to the good. Editors need to keep pace with the ever-emerging technologies for configuring and delivering content. If The Daily becomes a popular publication, it may serve to intensify reader demand for more up-to-date features from all the publications that they read. That could have a profound impact on how we staff our editorial offices and what skills are required.

There's some reason to believe, however, that the architects of The Daily may been more bedazzled by the new technologies than respondent to actual reader needs and interests. For example, number 3 on their list of The Daily's features is 360 degree photos. That feature certainly sounds appealing. But will it really rank in third place in terms of what will sustain reader interest in the publication? Time will tell whether The Daily is in tune with actual reader preferences, or just a publication over-embellished with bells and whistles.

Defusing Audience Focus

Most publications recruit readers based on attributes that are in consonance with the editorial focus. The Daily, however, will be on sale in the Apple iTunes App Store. That will make it easy for consumers to make impulse purchases of single copies and subscriptions, based on little understanding of a publication's focus. That's not a bad sale for Apple. But it may produce a disinterested or disgruntled reader for the publication. What's more, that reader may have little interest in the advertisers, too. Over time, that could make the publication less appealing to advertisers and result in a loss of pages or space.

Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?

Apple plays a strong role in the concept of The Daily, and other publications that join in with an iPad app and App Store sales. The company sets limits on how much you can know about your readers. There's also an approval process to get your publication into the App Store. In all, some believe these factors constitute a loss of control for the publisher.

Google is now offering a competitive product to publishers that may not be quite so restrictive. But nonetheless, it inserts a big company with interests that may at times diverge from the interests of your publication, right between you and your readers.

All this leaves one wondering who is the customer and who is the vendor here. What's more, Yahoo has announced a tablet newsstand of its own. According to reports, it intends to gather content from its own website and create an assortment of digital publications aimed at the tablet computer users. Associated Press calls this an "attempt to lure advertisers away from print and broadcast media."

To me this seems to be pointing in the direction of the commoditization of content. Historically, magazines and newspapers, both print and online, have strived to customize content for readers. Now, a situation may be emerging wherein mega-companies seeking to control the means of distribution may regard content as a mere commodity, banking on impulse purchases instead of long-term reader satisfaction.

Some have suggested that this new tail-wags-dog relationship between publishers and their distribution vendors could spell war. Perhaps it should!

Will the iPad Last?

The Daily is a device-specific publication. Without an iPad, you can't read The Daily. In the future, versions may be offered for additional tablet devices. But, in any case, the tablet computer will be the substrate of The Daily. That raises the interesting question of how long the iPad, or the tablet-class of PDRs (portable digital readers) will be around. To date, paper and the ubiquitious computer screen have served as the substrates for print and digital publications. What will be the fate of The Daily and other such publications if tablet technology sometime is superseded by something else?

There is already a sign that the popularity of the iPad is waning as a substrate for magazines. During a period of triple-digit percentage growth in iPad sales, initial sales of digital magazines designed for the tablet computer have been plummeting.

Follow The Daily

We've focused on a number of possible pitfalls for The Daily. But the concept is certainly forward-looking and worth following closely. We all could learn a lot from its success or failure. Without question, The Daily could become a transformative publication in the evolution of our industry.

(Note: for a look at The Daily from a publisher's viewpoint, see "The Daily Quest for Online Profits" in the STRAT Newsletter.)

William Dunkerley is editor of Editors Only.

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Posted in Management (RSS)

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