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Issue for February 2015

Is Wikipedia a Reliable Source? Part I

Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 11:42 PM

A survey of what fellow editors think about it.

By William Dunkerley

Some people swear by Wikipedia. Others swear at it. What about editors?

We did a quick survey to find out generally what editors think. We also asked what their editorial policies and practices are with regard to Wikipedia. Do they cite it as a source? Do they allow quotes from it?

Some editors come down solidly for Wikipedia, while others are firmly against using it. But most editors fall somewhere in between.

Use It

--Rob Fixmer, editor, Travel Weekly: "I use Wikipedia at least daily to check facts, spellings, etc. And I have no qualms about attributing facts to it. Over the years, I've come to trust it and to believe that the biggest difference between Wikipedia and other great encyclopedias is that you can correct Wikipedia when it's wrong, which increases my trust of it enormously."

--Ava Caridad, editorial director, Spray Technology: "We use Wikipedia mostly to verify places and place names and reference acronyms. We use it for anything that is regarded as 'common knowledge,' a fact-finder, but not for deep research." Caridad gives Wikipedia top marks for convenience, but regards it slightly less for accuracy and comprehensiveness. She allows authors to quote from Wikipedia and use it as a source.

--Skip Ogden at iBest.net: "I am impressed with Wikipedia. I've found it to be quite accurate and up to date. I'd rate it with a solid A.


--Chris Glenn, editor-in-chief, Review of Ophthalmology: "We do not use it at all in our work."

--Angela Hartley, managing editor, Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses: "We would not allow a Wiki citation in one of our articles, nor would I cite it myself."

It Depends...

--Brian Whipkay, editor, Daily American: "We use it for background, but not a quotable source. We try to confirm what's there through other avenues." He adds, "The problem with Wikipedia is that you don't know if people are being accurate when they update a listing."

--Arif Durrani, editor, Media Week, and media editor at Campaign Magazine: "It's a great starting point for research, but would never serve as a source in itself. Anything picked up would have to be substantiated by reputable sources elsewhere to be included in news or features. Nine times out of ten, this is possible. Very rarely does Wikipedia host information that cannot be found elsewhere. However, its ability to pool information altogether in one easy package, coupled with great SEO, make it a fantastic addition to the mix." Would he cite or quote traditional encyclopedias such as Americana or Britannica? "Yes, as they are closed sources that can't be changed by users."

--Andrew Kaplan, managing editor, Beverage World: "I would not want my authors to quote from Wikipedia ever in their stories. I personally only use Wikipedia as a jumping off point and always confirm with other sources anything I read there. Perhaps it's an unjustified bias since, being in my mid-40s, most of my journalism career was pre-Wikipedia. But I have a hard time trusting as fact anything for a story I am researching unless I get it from the horse's mouth, so to speak, and not an intermediary on the Internet. I would give it an A as a convenience, and an A- in terms of comprehensiveness (depending widely on the topic). As for accuracy, I don't check up on it enough to be able to give it an accurate grade.

--Carolyn Ulrich, editor, Chicagoland Gardening: "I use Wikipedia primarily for a quick check on information but don't consider it entirely reliable. I might allow a passing reference to information from Wikipedia in an article, but it would have to be identified as such. ('Wikipedia says there are 25 species of GENUS X.') I edit a gardening magazine, so my writers and I don't usually find much need for it."

Wikipedia vs. Blogs

--Ann Mahoney, director, ICMA publications: "Most problematic for us of late has been authors using all or some of their own or other people's blog content, but never mentioning that it's been lifted from their own or someone else's blog. (And by 'their own' I mean a blog they have written, but the actual platform for the blog might belong to someone else.) My fear is that our authors (including our academic authors) may be doing a lot of plagiarizing and we don't even know it. It amazes me that so many authors, regardless of age, seem to have no compunction about taking material from the Web as if it belonged to them."

Is Wikipedia Reliable or Not?

In a future issue we'll further analyze Wikipedia from a reliability standpoint, and hope to present tips on how to judge content that interests you.

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Voyages Of Discovery -- Part II

Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 11:40 PM

More on how to make your Voyage of Discovery the reader's.

By Peter P. Jacobi

We continue the discussion about those two related Voyages of Discovery, the writer's and the one that the writer wants to make happen, the reader's.

The successful writer keeps certain techniques and opportunities and responsibilities in mind while pursuing the task of writing, each and all designed to woo and win the reader for his or her Voyage of Discovery. The points are numerous, but you cannot wish them away. They beckon. They belong.

One -- Accuracy, Brevity, and Clarity

The journalistic trio that never should be forgotten or ignored. Whether you're dealing with a fine point of costuming in 17th-century France or a corporate meeting coming up in Dallas or showing your reader how and where to hunt for trilobites, you must make sure the facts are right. Be accurate. Readers deserve to be repaid for their trust in you with information that's reliable and true. Let them catch you with an error, and trouble you will have.

Brevity works in something meant to be brief and something designed to be far longer. Don't waste space. Be as sparing as can be. Cut the unnecessary dialogue, the unnecessary scene, the unnecessary action, the unnecessary detail, the unnecessary words and sentences. Know what is excess for your chosen reader.

As for clarity, well, of course! If you obfuscate, if you muddle, if you in any way confuse, the reader will demand an exit from your vessel. A nearly-always reason for travel is pleasure. Confusion destroys pleasure very quickly.

Two -- Completeness

Determine very carefully what the reader needs to completely understand, to know what's going on, what's being said, what's being taught, what's being passed along. What's to be reflected on, what's to be remembered with comprehension.

Don't fall into the trap of telling your reader everything, sharing every speck of information you've gathered, burdening him or her with every bit of contemplation in your head. If you do, the reader will swim in a sea of confusion. Decisions on inclusions and exclusions need to be made. Put yourself in the reader's place, one who knows little or less about the subject. What needs a place in your piece? What doesn't? It's hard to do but imperative. Supply the necessary. Cut the rest.

Three -- Context

Context: that which enriches the critical aspects of your article, which supplies background, which provides an environment for the plot, the main character, the event, which contributed meaning and/or specificity and/or significance and/or enlightenment to the subject under scrutiny.

Four -- Epiphany

Seek a life-changing moment for your central character or institution, when the light of understanding came to the scene. In such a moment, such an event, such a happening, there's inherent drama or a lesson the reader can take away and perhaps use in his or her own life. Epiphany: the follow-up to a shock of recognition, a revelation, an eye-opener that brings change.

Five -- Flow and Rhythm

Flow, quite simply and yet not at all simply, means your copy moves so that the reader knows at every moment where he or she is, has been, and is likely to be going. Flow also means the copy reads smoothly, sounds natural, and gives comfort to mind and ear. To make that happen, listen to your copy. Read it aloud. Test it against those two ears as well as the two eyes.

As for rhythm, I turn, as I did last issue, to James Kilpatrick. He said effective writing "has to have cadence. By that I do not mean metronomic regularity. I certainly don't mean that we should strive for a singsong effect; for if you get to be self-conscious, if you strive for rhythm only, you will wind up getting dizzy, you will sound like Hiawatha. And I pray, you, sir, avoid it. No, I suggest only that we cultivate the inner ear. Let us listen to our sentences as they break upon the mind."

Six -- Focus

Plan your piece so that your approach matches reader interest, that its slant suits a particular audience, that its content coaxes and caresses. You need a clear understanding of what will satisfy your reader. Focus is a way of looking at a subject and its world so that you attract aimed-for readers and hold them. Achieve focus by selecting the right material and keeping out the rest, by writing with a selected reader in mind, and by using language designed to captivate that reader.

Seven -- Harmony and Dissonance

Your manuscript should make music.

Harmony: in music, means sounds pleasing to the ear, soothing, falling gently, comfortably onto the membranes; in language, words chosen and brought together to engender pleasure, calm, easy acceptance, relaxation.

Dissonance: in music, discord, acerbic bite, sounds harsh and grating, potentially uncomfortable for the ear; in language, words harnessed to disturb, words that chill, that shrill, that are seemingly out of place and jarring.

Composers know how to work it, how to spice the nice or untangle the jangle. For those of us dealing with words, take the advice of novelist and essayist Anne Bernays. "Nice writing isn't enough," she says. "It isn't enough to have smooth and pretty language. You have to surprise the reader frequently.... Provoke the reader. Astonish the reader with the unexpected verb or adjective." But remember by the end to bring resolution, that ultimate sense of peace sought by the reader's mind and inner ear.

Eight -- Insight

As you develop your story, provide coverage that passes along to the reader material not generally available elsewhere, that you uncovered in high quality research and reporting, material of a depth that separates you from others who've tackled the same subject. As a reader, I want to come away feeling you've made me an insider to your created world, that you've given me an understanding others around me don't possess.

Nine -- Perspective

That's the writer's effort to help readers understand what something really means or what the writer wants the reader to think it means. Perspective is a point of view; it's guiding the reader toward a new pattern or direction of thought and belief.

Ten -- Reality, Spontaneity, and Visibility

Reality: Giving what you write a sense of presence, closeness, and believability.

Spontaneity: Giving your work a creative spark, the essence of freshness, inventiveness, sparkle, originality, the vigorously new.

Visibility: Giving your story sensual power, something to be seen, heard, felt, smelled, even tasted. Bring me close.

Eleven -- Resonance

In writing, that means a quality of richness, of variety, resulting from your search for words and material that, in tandem, bring about reverberation in a reader's brain and heart, that shake up the senses, that stick to memory. It's writing so juicy to read, so delicious in wordplay and/or so inviting in content that the reader is caught, unable to resist tuning in.

Twelve -- Voice

Individualize your copy, make it yours, give it a distinguishing personality that only you could have contributed because of who you are and how you practice the process of writing and in what manner you use the language. The true artist makes of his or her art an expression, an extension, an outgrowth, a reflection of self. Release your voice. Offer me YOU.

Thirteen -- Zoom

It's a photographic term that can be applied to us as writers. To draw in our readers, we need to locate metaphoric situations that cast a spotlight on our entire subject, to locate a moment, a scene, a quote, a situation that in compressive form clarifies everything we're trying to say. In photography, one uses the camera lens, the zoom lens, to zoom in on a subject and, thereby, draw attention to what is considered a most important element. In writing, we strive for that, too, by finding a way to immerse the reader in an aspect, a tidbit of the story that immediately clarifies what is most significant about the whole.

Enough for you to think about? I think so. But if you aim to provide a Voyage of Discovery, first for yourself, then for your reader, you best heed all of the above.

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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The Fog Index

Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 11:38 PM

Assessing the readability of a WashingtonPost.com excerpt.

This month, we examine the Fog Index of a passage from a February 24 WashingtonPost.com article ("How the FCC Could Use an Obscure Internet Power to Change the Pay-TV Market" by Brian Fung). Here's the sample:

"It's a complicated line of reasoning, so let's look at an example. Think of Google Fiber, which is trying to compete with large cable companies around the country. It has said that the biggest impediment to further network buildouts isn't the cost of infrastructure, or getting permission from cities to tear up streets. Instead, what holds Google back the most is having to pay programming networks for video content as part of the bundle it offers to consumers. Google Fiber has said that in some markets, it pays programmers twice what larger, more established cable companies pay for content."

--Word count: 99
--Average sentence length: 20 words (12, 16, 25, 25, 21)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 13 percent (13/99 words)
--Fog Index (20+13)*.4 = 13 (no rounding)

This excerpt comes close to meeting the Fog ideal -- i.e., a score below 12. There's no clear culprit here, so we will make minor tweaks to shave off a point or two off each element (sentence length and syllables).

"It's a complex line of reasoning, so let's look at an example. Think of Google Fiber, which is trying to compete with large cable companies around the country. It has said that the biggest roadblock to further network buildouts isn't the cost of infrastructure, or getting permission from cities to tear up streets. Instead, what holds Google back the most is having to pay programming networks for the video content offered to users in its bundle. Google Fiber has said that in some markets, it pays programmers twice what larger, more well-known cable companies pay for content."

--Word count: 97
--Average sentence length: 19 words (12, 16, 25, 23, 21)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 7 percent (7/97 words)
--Fog Index (19+7)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

As expected, we didn't need to do much work here. By culling some longer words and tightening up just one of the longer sentences, we cut the Fog by 3 points. Editing further would have been unnecessary for our purposes. The author has done a good job of breaking up his tech commentary into readable parts.

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New Magazine Publishing Software

Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 11:36 PM

In the news: Adobe's new Digital Publishing Suite offers magazine editors new digital publishing tools.

As Brendan Klinkenberg notes in a recent Buzzfeed piece, the iPad didn't prove to be the "silver bullet" magazine executives had hoped it would. Adobe is aiming to fix some of the problems with iPad publishing with hits new Digital Publishing Suite. Writes Klinkenberg, "Adobe is...creating a publication that is a smarter halfway point between the static traditionalism of print and the ephemeral rush of the web. This means that the publications you currently subscribe to on mobile devices and download month-to-month will now update constantly instead of periodically. In other words, they'll be more like websites and less like print magazines."

The real question, however, is whether or not today's readers demand this level of content curating. Read Klinkenberg's full article here.

Also Notable

Good-bye, Replica Magazines?

Adobe isn't the only entity steering away from static print edition replicas. Recently, the Good EReader blog ran a piece entitled "Digital Publishers Turning from Replica Magazines." For a long time, the digital publishing paradigm amounted to little more than PDFing the print edition and presenting it to readers on a digital platform. But, as Mercy Pilkington notes in her article, "as mere digital copies of the print original, these versions simply weren't taking advantage of all that the technology had to offer." Pilkington credits recent advances in digital publishing -- e.g., magazine apps and embedded video -- with an "upswing in consumer response." Read the article here.

Keeping Magazines Relevant

Social media websites have presented a challenge to magazine publishers, who must curate content in a way that appeals to readers who are getting their news primarily through Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, and other sites. Last week, the Wall Street Journal interviewed chief executive Joe of Time Inc. about the current state of the magazine industry. He acknowledges that people aren't reading traditional magazines as they used to, but "they aren't reading less of our content," he says. The challenge is reaching readers on the platforms they're using. Read the interview here.

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