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Issue for February 2021

Visually Depicting Covid-19 Losses

Posted on Friday, February 26, 2021 at 3:50 PM

In the news: This week, a grim milestone in the pandemic presents design challenges for news outlets.

How can a newspaper or magazine with limited editorial space drive home the enormity of 500,000 Covid-19 casualties in the US? In the past week, several prominent news outlets have published stunning infographics to depict the magnitude of the loss.

On the front page of the Sunday (February 21) New York Times is a chart of nearly half a million dots, one for each American who has died of Covid-19. At a glance, it looks like a standard gradient chart, with the darkest portion at the bottom, occupying a width of half the column space (three columns) on the page. Designers Lazaro Gamio and Lauren Leatherby created the graphic, and Gamio tells the Times: “‘I think part of this technique, which is good, is that it overwhelms you -- because it should.’”

Elsewhere, Artur Galocha and Bonnie Berkowitz of the Washington Post presented three visual analogies, which Roy Peter Clark of Poynter.org sums up thusly: “To take a half million people on a bus tour would require 9,804 buses, a caravan that would stretch almost 95 miles, the distance from New York to Philadelphia. To honor the names of the dead on a memorial, you would need blocks of marble eight times taller than ones that honor the 58,000 dead from the Vietnam War. If you buried the dead in a single cemetery you would need one just as big as the one that exists at Arlington.”

See the NYT graphic here and the Washington Post graphic here.

Also Notable

Australia’s Facebook News Blackout Ends

A standoff between Facebook and the Australia government that temporarily barred Australians from seeing seeing or sharing news on the social network ended this week. Rod McGuirk of the AP reports that Facebook had “struck a deal with the government on proposed legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.” The temporary blackout didn’t just affect Facebook news access; McGuirk says that “the blackout also cut access -- at least temporarily -- to government pandemic, public health and emergency services, fueling outrage.” The story comes at a time when internet giants such as Facebook and Google are under increased pressure to pay journalists and publishers for the content that appears on their networks. Read more here.

Journalists Versus Climate Disinformation

The ongoing crisis in the aftermath of Texas’s unprecedented winter storm is presenting journalists with unique challenges. Andrew McCormick of CJR.org says of the controversy: “Against all evidence the anti-climate political right was grousing about windmills and blaming a Green New Deal that doesn’t yet exist.” Pundits such as Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity amplified this disinformation to their audiences, making it more difficult for fact-checkers to counter the damage, especially given concurrent media distractions such as Texas senator Ted Cruz’s trip to Mexico. McCormick advises journalists trying to regain control over the narrative to “lead with the facts, not punditry” and “shirk the habit of framing everything as a two-sided debate.” Read more here.

A 300-Year US Magazine Retrospective

This week, the Grolier Club in New York City launched a temporary exhibit called “Magazines and the American Experience.” The exhibit features collector Steven Lomazow’s trove of magazines from the 1700s through today -- 83,000 issues total, reports Nora McGreevy of Smithsonian magazine. Among other things, it features coverage of major politicians and artists, slavery and abolitionism, and other notable historic events. Ultimately, McGreevy says: “As Lomazow himself points out, the exhibition also functions as an ode to the long cultural production of a now-struggling industry. Thanks in part to a revolution in digital advertising and the rise of social media, magazines -- and the media industry writ large -- now face challenging economic constraints. But in the heyday of print advertisements, magazine flourished and writers reaped the benefits.” Read more about the exhibit here.

Print Magazine Closure: Saveur

Influential food magazine Saveur has shuttered its print edition after several years of struggle. Most recently, the title was purchased by Bonnier in October 2020. Chris Crowley of GrubStreet.com writes that the closure comes “at a time of some transition in food media, including the rise of more independent magazines like Whetstone and a boom in newsletters bringing in different voices and perspectives not always given space.” Read more here.

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The Big To-Do About Reader Comments

Posted on Friday, February 26, 2021 at 3:50 PM

Misinformation, disinformation, profanity, bots, and trolls have led some magazines to shutter their comment sections. But are there other options?

By William Dunkerley

"Why We're Shutting Off Our Comments" headlined a 2013 Popular Science article. It proclaimed, "Starting today, PopularScience.com will no longer accept comments on new articles."

The article goes on: "A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics." Continuing, it says, "And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science."

The Case for Comment Sections

I can understand that editorial viewpoint. In contrast, though, comments are often considered to be a popular feature for readers. The owner of a media chain recently told me that for many people the contents section of a publication is a successful point of entry to its editorial content.

At the beginning of last year, Yes! magazine made an announcement very different from that of Popular Science. Its article was titled "Announcing a Comments Section You’ll Actually Want to Read." The story promised readers:

"Opportunities to go deeper on a story. You’ll be able to chat, ask questions, and get more insight from Yes!. contributors, editors, and sometimes even the story subjects themselves.

"Opportunities to build our issues with us. That’s right, we’re bringing you into the process of creating issues of Yes! magazine. We have a community of some of the greatest forces for good in the world. We want your thoughts, ideas, and feedback.

"Opportunities to provide input on our products. We want you to have a say on your experience reading Yes! What do you like? What could be improved? How can we make the Yes! experience better?

"Great conversations. With Yes! staffers, and hopefully each other. Ultimately, our goal is to create a space that allows us to better partner with each other."

What Our Subscribers Are Saying

We surveyed a few Editors Only subscribers about their experience with reader comments. Here are their comments:

--Michael Hrickiewicz, American Hospital Association: "We belong to an association that runs an online forum. We farm that for anonymous Q&As that we use for a column in the magazine. We believe the column provides interesting content and also promotes the forum."

--Timothy McQuiston, editor, Vermont Business Magazine: "We still carry reader comments. We don't get many, typical of a business publication, and on rare occasions we have to take one down for bad language, etc. It seems some publications in Vermont no longer offer reader comments anymore because of their vile nature. We really don't get any traditional letters to the editor except during campaign time, and we don't run those in print or online anyway."

--Ronda Parag, managing editor, Metro Life Media:" We do not have reader comments in our publications."

--Rachel Grabenhofer, managing editor, Cosmetics & Toiletries: "We carry reader comments generally as 'Letters to the Editor.' They can sometimes run around 1,000 words, but we are a technical B2B trade journal, so sometimes readers need room to explain the opposing view. If we get enough contradiction, in the past we have run an occasional point/counterpoint–style discussion. Longer pieces have made it into print, but these were more than five years ago; print space is now more precious.

"We tend to try to tie any letters to the editor about a given piece to the piece itself, sometimes as a sidebar, so that new readers to the piece will see there has been discussion about it.

"People love to get opinionated and see their voices in print."

--Mark Roseman, publisher, Contemporary Family Magazine: "I am now preparing our premiere issue of Contemporary Family Magazine. It is a new online quarterly for family professionals around the world. We want to have a section for reader comments."

--Isabella Simon, editorial assistant, Commonweal magazine: "Commonweal does accept reader comments. We print a set of them, largely received via email, at the start of every issue, in our 'Letters to the Editor' section."

--Deborah Lockridge, editor-in-chief, Heavy Duty Trucking and Truckinginfo.com: "We do allow reader comments on our online content at Truckinginfo.com. Editors must approve comments before they are posted. Although some readers find this frustrating, we don't want to allow any hate speech, personal attacks, conspiracy theories, spam, or comments that are really off-topic. Mild profanity is allowed if a comment is otherwise relevant. We try to answer reader questions that appear there when we are able, but as our staff has been cut the past year, that doesn't happen as often as it used to.

"We long ago dropped our 'Letters to the Editors' column in print. We just weren't getting that many, although we did supplement them with comments from the website. And with shrinking print pages, we felt we would rather devote that space to original content."

--Gary Crowdus, editor-in-chief, Cineaste magazine: "We make a serious effort to maintain at least one page of 'Letters to the Editor' in each issue -- we try to include reader comments and feedback in our print issue, and in years past we've even had to print spillover of such comments on our website. Our present website does not enable us to post reader comments or have a 'chat room' feature.

"In recent years, during the rise of The Age of the Internet, when people are more used to sending brief messages via Twitter, we have bemoaned in our pages the 'Dying Art of the Letter to the Editor.'

"Apart from the fact that we think a two-way flow of communication between our readers and our contributors is an important feature of our effort as a magazine of journalism and criticism on the cinema, many of our readers have advised us that the 'Letters' page is the first page they check out in each new issue, since they've said that's where they expect some of the most fascinating commentary -- or, as one reader advised, 'That's where the critical feathers really fly.'"

To Shut Off or Not to Shut Off

So we have quite a dichotomy. Many editors believe that reader comments are an editorial asset. Others are turning them off. Other than Popular Science we've not cited the many shutoff notices. But you can find lots if you Google "no more reader comments."

Low-quality comments, political misinformation, inappropriate language, bots, and trolls seem to be motivating factors. They come part and parcel with an unmoderated comments section. But moderating presents an editorial burden that many editorial departments want no part of. It's easy to sympathize with that. But an in-house distaste for reader comments isn't the only factor that should be considered.

It's hard to refute that reader comments are generally an attractive feature. It seems to me it would be prudent to explore alternative ways of handling the attendant problems.

Tablet magazine came up with one idea that's worth exploring: levying a nominal charge for posting a comment. That would eliminate a lot of clutter and whittle down the editorial burden associated with comments. Restricting comments to logged-in registered subscribers is another alternative. There are probably other approaches, too.

If you've had thoughts of curtailing reader comments, I recommend weighing the pluses and minuses. The value of an attractive feature, implemented with care, may turn out to be worth its expense in editorial time.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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Grabbing Readers' Attention

Posted on Friday, February 26, 2021 at 3:49 PM

Fourteen catalysts for stimulating reader interest in your publication.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Remind your writers that a sermon in an empty church falls on no ears, that a story too lame or tame to grab hold of readers remains untold.

Remind them of interest factors that tend to gain attention and sharpen the enthusiasm of a reader for a piece of writing.

Here for your writers are 14 such interest factors, offered alphabetically. Be sharing of them.


Celebrity. People are interested in people. They are particularly interested in the well-known people. If someone famous can be used as a source or can be the object of attention or anecdote, include that someone.


Competition. In sports or politics, in business or contests, the element of competition may be present. If such is the case, use it. Readers are fascinated by competition, by the versus in our lives. Sports pages are but one proof; they wouldn't exist without our enthusiasm for competitors in action.


Conflict. This more menacing, potentially damaging form of competition is what the news of most days is all too often about. Whether individuals or groups of nations are in conflict, their heated arguments, their bitter struggles, involve us. To dwell only on conflict is questionable in that we shouldn't over-depress our readers, but conflict and its object lessons deserve coverage. They're attention-getting.


Consequence. Every publication's readership considers certain matters consequential, of particular importance. Perhaps it is family. Perhaps it is health. Or economic well-being, or faith, or beauty, or court, or weather, or good and usable recipes, or diet, or education. Think about what subjects and what aspects within these subjects are important to your readers. Build them in.


Controversy. Disagreements, whether in political campaigns or in the halls of science, interest other people, particularly if these debates about positions and rights and wrongs have an impact on them. Controversies may be troubling, but they engage.


Fear. What we fear ensnares others and intrigues us.


Heartstrings. The child saved from death through an organ donation. Good neighbors taking in a homeless family. The reunion of father and son after years of separation. The coming clean of a drug addict. The rescue of a dog against all odds. Human interest stories (and animal interest stories) that tug at the heart captivate the reader.


Humor. What's funny is magnetic. But what's funny is natural, intrinsic to the material and the writer's style. And remember, as humorist S. J. Perelman warned: "When you endeavor to be funny in every line, you place an intolerable burden not only on yourself but on the reader. You have to allow the reader to breathe."


Problem. Readers will not hesitate to pore over your words if they agree that your subject shines the spotlight on the problem, one they share or may face. They'll pore over your words without hesitation, rest assured.


Progress. We revel in progress. Show your reader a gain in the battle against a killer disease or an environmental crisis or poverty or any sort of ongoing conflict. Bring readers to the latest on progress and improvements, and your article becomes a natural for attention.


Solution or success. When a victory occurs amid the generally discouraging course of human events, people become elated. They want to know of the good that has taken place. After all, we need encouragement. If your article can supply some, the readership is loyally yours.


The unknown. What you tell me about what I don't know or understand but should or would like to will satisfy a longing. From the safety of my den or living room or study or office, I can't explore dangerous physical or mind-numbing mental vistas with you. Inner and outer space may be troubling, but they're hard to resist.


The unusual. "Departure from the norm" is what newspaper editors call it. Or the eccentricity factor. Readers are drawn to the different embryos in divorce cases, fusion in a jar, wingless airplanes, designer vegetables, a museum for atheists, a vampire census, potty chairs that sing. Don't shun the unusual. It needn't be tabloid in nature. Refinement of treatment can make it as classy as anything else you might wish to publish.


Wants and needs. Whatever your readers want or need, they'll want or need to read about it. All you have to do is remind them that they'll want or need whatever you're asking them to want or need. That depends heavily, of course, on your understanding of what readers do want or need. All publications live or die because readers discern in them, or fail to, material for which they have a specific requirement and/or a general desire. Writers supply the material, or fail to. As editors, don't let them fail to.

Manuscripts should be tested against this list.

If the writer or editor, and honest analysis, fails to discover one or more of these interest factors etched sharply and abundantly into the article’s fabric, the project should be rethought. Start afresh.

A classic article from a past issue in tribute to the late Peter P. Jacobi, longtime EO writer and author of The Magazine Article: How to Think It, Plan It, Write It.

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Free Assistance

Posted on Friday, February 26, 2021 at 3:49 PM

During this time of crisis, we stand ready to answer privately any specific questions our readers may have, time permitting. You can contact us at: crisis-help@editorsonly.com.

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