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Issue for March 2013

Writing for Mobile Readers

Posted on Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 12:47 PM

How are other editors approaching mobile strategy?

By William Dunkerley

With the rapid proliferation of smartphones and tablets, we wondered what editors are doing about writing or repurposing content for audiences on the go. So we surveyed a cross section of editors to find out. We asked whether they are employing any kind of different editorial approach, or if they have plans to do so in the future.

Quite a few publications are already producing mobile editions. They tend to be graphically simplified replicas of the original content, be that for print or online. The existence of mobile editions shows an acknowledgment that mobile reading is different from more traditional forms. But what about the text? Are editors handling that differently as well? Here's what we found:

As results started to come in, the first thing that struck us is how many publications don't even have mobile readers in their sights. Examples include:

--We don't currently offer content for mobile users and have no imminent plans to do so.

--I don't do anything differently for mobile right now and have no plans to do so.

--We don't really employ a different editorial approach for content written or repurposed for mobile users.

--I use the same editorial approach for all users.

Clearly, going mobile is not for everyone. Some subject matter and some audiences may not be well suited for mobile.

One editor explained,

--"We are a B2B magazine that does not offer content for mobile users, and have no plans to do so. My former colleague at another B2B publication told me the same thing concerning his publication. A production manager I know at a major consumer magazine informed me that that magazine used to have an app (with, I believe, both re-purposed and original content), but it was discontinued. He left that magazine to join another one with an app, as he felt that not having an app was an unhealthy thing for a magazine." --Ava Caridad, editor, Spray Technology & Marketing

Another group of respondents expects to do something with mobile in the future:

--"At present, we do not take a different approach to material for mobile users. This is currently handled as an automated process by a third party. We are keenly aware of this issue, however, and our company is looking at other ways to provide mobile content. Nothing to report yet." --Steve Minter, executive editor, IndustryWeek

--"While we don't offer content exclusively for mobile users, we may in the not-too-distant future." --Timothy Rhys, editor, MovieMaker Magazine

--"At this point we don't offer content for mobile users. We have recently launched a digital edition (May 2012) and do plan to create an app for iPad and iPhone within the next 12 to 18 months." --Tricia Bisoux, co-editor, BizEd magazine

--"I would like to produce mobile content, but we don't have the IT staff to break our content into chunks for delivery. If we did, I would approach the writing and editing differently, though I'm not sure how different it would be." --Bryant Duhon, editor, AIIM Community

--"We are launching an app in April, but it will be the same content as in print and online -- just in a new format." --Sue Silver, editor-in-chief, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

--"We currently do not offer mobile-specific content for any of our 40-plus B2B brands. Our newest sites are built to be mobile-friendly (Apple/Android), and we are looking at abridged mobile content for a few sites that get a high volume of mobile traffic. But the hurdle is editorial workload. Currently we post news items or Web exclusives, create e-newsletters weekly or semi-weekly, and use social media (Facebook/Twitter). Add to that video and of course magazines, and the odd event or special project, and our editors are busy folks." --Scott Jamieson, editorial director, Annex Business Media

--"To be honest, we're in the process of reworking our editorial workflows to better serve digital readers, with mobile users at top of mind. We've traditionally been a magazine publisher, so much of our content has been created and designed for print delivery. We publish to the Web too, and like most, we see our best opportunity for growth in that area.

"Along the way, we've learned that the long-form articles we publish in print just aren't a good size for digital readers. That means we've found it necessary to reconfigure by starting our editorial process with digital readers in mind and redesigning our print products to work with shorter, more focused content that first appears online.

"What's in the works for us is a focus on making our content usable on any screen from a design perspective. From there, we can begin to address the specific needs of mobile users, or the creation of content especially for mobile. My take is that most people's Web use is now so colored by the use of task-oriented mobile devices that desktop and mobile readers don't really look that different in how they access and use content." --Matt Neznanski, editor-in-chief, brass Media Inc.

So should you be handling content for mobile use differently? The answer is probably yes. But exactly what to do differently may not be so certain. We're in the early stages of mobile content consumption. It is still uncertain what and how much content mobile users are really interested in consuming.

Some research has indicated that the small screens of mobile devices severely limit reading comprehension. One finding asserts, "Users can see less at any given time. Thus users must rely on their highly fallible memory when they are trying to understand anything that's not fully explained within the viewable space. Less context equals less understanding."

That's something for editors to keep in mind. It's also worth keeping in mind that there are no time-tested answers yet. We need to employ agility in our evolving editorial approaches to mobile content.

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

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"I subscribe to a few weekly magazines on my iPad. It wasn't an easy task, I must admit, to figure out initially how to operate each of the apps. They all are organized differently, to say the least. Why on earth do I turn pages of magazine A from left to right, and magazine B from top to bottom? Some have a thesaurus, but not all. And zooming? Why does zoom sometimes work, and sometimes doesn't? And if it does, I've got to know for each different app, how to zoom. You'd think that zooming is zooming, wherever you want to do it. Think again!

"These are problems I encounter as a reader. It's even more complex when as publishers we contemplate how to design apps for our publications. We've got to be sure they are convenient and easy to use, and that they not just look flashy." --Sergey Panasenko, Moscow, Russia

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The Best American Series

Posted on Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Books to keep you occupied and satisfied.

By Peter P. Jacobi

This is column number 216 from me to you, meaning 18 years of them. From near the start, they've periodically included ones that sought to bring new books about writing to your attention. And if you've followed my advice slavishly, by now you should have for yourself quite a library.

Not that I would expect such total response from you, of course. Each of you has different needs. But I have tried to keep you posted on books that might make your work easier and potentially more effective. There were books on grammar, language usage, style and voice, vocabulary, writing techniques, editing. Once in a while, I pointed you toward works that provided good reading, not only to tempt you toward pleasure but to remind you that we learn from what other writers do. Just recently, for instance, I featured Deadline Artists, a generous anthology of historically noteworthy newspaper columns.

Topnotch Writing

Occasionally, I've reminded you also of the annual "Best American Series," put out by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in which topnotch writers are represented by topnotch writing of their making. With this column number 216, I call your attention to the latest, the 2011 set, particularly within it the collections devoted to essays, science and nature, travel, and sports. They're loaded with fine examples of the writing art, and they'll give any connoisseur of our shared craft ideas, lessons, and satisfaction.

Best Essays

In The Best American Essays, Mischa Berlinski takes us through the Haitian earthquake from a personal perspective: "My chair was on casters and began to roll. A large earthquake starts as a small earthquake. I save my novel: Control + S. The horizon swayed at an angle." "Port-au-Prince: The Moment" first ran in The New York Review of Books.

Bernadette Esposito's "A-Loc," published by The North American Review, recounts an air crash experience. Within its gripping details, one reads: "As we ascended over the Mediterranean on a routine flight to Paris, the engine over which I was seated exploded. It was a systematic and orderly blow. It did not build as in a Berlioz cantata or culminate from a collection of small, meaningless gestures -- a whistle, a hiss, a persistent rattle -- in a cacophony of tearing metal, snapping cables and shattering glass. It was a noise so full and palpable, so concise and final, that whatever followed I hoped would follow swiftly."

Patricia Smith follows a young woman from the South seeking her destiny elsewhere. In "Pearl, Upward," written for Crab Orchard Review, she tells us: "Just the word city shimmies her. All she needs is a bus ticket, a brown riveted case to hold her dresses, and a waxed bag crammed with smashed slices of white bread and doughy fried chicken splashed with Tabasco. This place, Chicago, is too far to run. But she knows with the whole of her heart that it is what she's been running toward."

There are lessons in the approaches chosen, the details selected, the language employed. And the reading, believe me, is good throughout 24 essays.

Best Science and Nature Writing

Here's a sample from The Best American Science and Nature Writing, taken from Abigail Tucker's "The New King of the Sea" (Smithsonian), which is all about jellyfish "behaving badly -- reproducing in astounding numbers and congregating where they've supposedly never been seen before. Jellyfish," Tucker writes, "have halted seafloor diamond mining off the coast of Namibia by gumming up sediment-removal systems. Jellies scarf so much food in the Caspian Sea that they're contributing to the commercial extinction of beluga sturgeon -- the source of fine caviar. In 2007, mauve stinger jellyfish stung and asphyxiated more than 100,000 farmed salmon off the coast of Ireland as aquaculturists on a boat watched in horror. The jelly swarm reportedly was 35 feet deep and covered ten square miles."

Among the book's 25 pieces, you'll find Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow's "The (Elusive) Theory of Everything" (Scientific American), Jaron Lanier's "The First Church of Robotics" (New York Times), and Sandra Steingraber's "The Whole Fracking Enchilada" (Orion). You'll learn an awful lot and appreciate the learning.

Best Travel Writing

Christopher Buckley, Maureen Dowd, Verlyn Klinkenborg, and Annie Proulx are among the authors of 18 articles in The Best American Travel Writing. So is Ariel Levy who, in "Reservations" (for The New Yorker), asks: "Do you like sand, quaintness, 28-dollar salads, parties under white tents, investment bankers, hip-hop stars, Barbara Walters, locally grown produce, DJ Samantha Ronson, and lovely tablescapes?" Her answer: "Then Southampton is the place for you, a land of natural splendor and immodest indulgence. A Victorian cottage on Hill Street -- nowhere near the beach -- rents for $100,000 a summer.... A spacious place with a water view will set you back about $500,000. The real cost, though, isn't money; it's time. To get to the Hamptons, just east of Manhattan, you must sit on the Long Island Expressway -- the biggest parking lot in the world, as they say -- for hour upon hour of overheated immobility."

I love the details and the rhythm of the writing. Levy's voice is on display.

Best Sports Writing

The Best American Sports Writing features 29 stories with enticing titles such as "School of Fight: Learning to Brawl with the Hockey Goons of Tomorrow," "The Surfing Savant," "Eight Seconds," "The Short History of an Ear," and "The Dirtiest Player."

"Breathless," reported for ESPN the Magazine by Chris Jones, introduces us to Herbert Nitsch, who, "Even before he was a free-diver ... dreamed he could stay underwater. He wouldn't need a fish's gills or tanks filled with oxygen. In his dreams, he could live underwater as he did on land -- could live a better life, maybe even a perfect one. Hidden below the ocean's surface, he could move effortlessly in three dimensions and know the freedom of birds without having to fly. All he had to do was trade liquid for air."

It has to do with the spleen, Nitsch informs us. Continues Jones: "If the idea sounds crazy -- our spleen as a third lung -- know that Nitsch is, in fact, alarmingly rational. He is quick to point out that one of the ocean's greatest swimmers, the seal, can remain submerged for more than an hour in part because of the enormous capacity of its giant, enviable spleen. Nitsch believes blood squeezed from his own spleen can sustain him through the most difficult parts of his dives. In that fist-sized organ, he sees remarkable adaptability and a reason to believe humans, like seals, are purpose-built to dive."

Fascinating information comes our way in "The Best American Series." I recommend these books. They'll keep you occupied and gratified.

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 Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Assessing the readability of a Time.com excerpt.

This month, we calculate the Fog Index of a March 20th Harvard Business Review excerpt on the Time.com website ("Welcome Edits on Your Writing"). Here's the sample text:

"A good writer welcomes good edits. A bad writer resents them, seeing them only as personal attacks. Share your material while it's still rough -- the feedback will help you improve it much faster than if you were toiling in isolation. Routinely ask your colleagues, including those you supervise, to read your drafts and suggest changes. Have them mark up the document and submit their revisions in writing, rather than in person where you might react defensively. Always thank them for their help. Encourage others on your team to seek out edits and offer them. Having room to improve should be the norm, not a sign of weakness."

--Word count: 107 words
--Average sentence length: 15 words (17, 23, 15, 21, 6, 12, 13)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 8 percent (9/107 words)
--Fog Index: (15+8)*.4 = 9 (no rounding)

Once again, we have a sample that falls well below the 12 mark. The writing is quite clear, and there are few long words. Still, we can make small tweaks to make this passage read more clearly. Here's our version:

"Good writers welcome good edits. Bad writers resent them, seeing them only as personal attacks. Share your writing while it's still rough -- the feedback will help you improve it much faster than if you were working alone. Routinely ask your colleagues, including those you manage, to read your drafts and suggest changes. Have them mark up the document and submit those changes in writing rather than in person, so that you don't react defensively. Always thank them for their help. Encourage others on your team to seek out edits, and offer them yourself. Having room to improve should be the norm, not a sign of weakness."

--Word count: 106 words
--Average sentence length: 15 words (15, 22, 15, 22, 6, 13, 13)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 5 percent (5/106 words)
--Fog Index: (15+5)*.4 = 8 (no rounding)

Our edits didn't affect word count much, but they did reduce the number of longer words. Thus, we were able to reduce the Fog Index by one point.

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Edit Your Own Magazine?

Posted on Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 12:46 PM

In the news: What does Flipboard's latest app update mean for magazine publishing?

Since its release in 2010, the Flipboard iPad app has helped to revolutionize online news reading. Now, in its recently released second edition, the app allows individual users to create social magazines from their own content and items from elsewhere online. Members can also follow other users' public magazines. "It allows everybody who uses Flipboard to help edit Flipboard," says Harry McCracken in a recent Time.com article. There are already over 100,000 user-created magazines on the app.

Does giving readers the ability to create their own magazines from other people's content pose a threat to magazine publishing? To deflect such worries, the app is trying to attract publishers of existing magazines to create custom, subject-specific magazines within the app and providing monetization tools. But, as Mathew Ingram of Gigaom.com points out, the technology might be abused by advertisers.

Read more about Flipboard 2.0 and social magazining here, here, and here.

Also Notable

Editorial Content in Apps

Recently, the Wall Street Journal posted an online article entitled "Pushing Editors into the World of Apps." The article discusses magazine startup 29th Street Publishing, which hopes to simplify the app development process, particularly for independent writers and editors in New York City. 29th Street's apps will allow smaller-scale content producers to create frequently updated apps for their content, thus allowing them to monetize previously "free" content. Read more here.

Magazine Publishing Explosion?

"It's simply the beginning of a new cycle of magazine content and delivery," asserts Jeanniey Mullen in a recent Appolocious.com article. She continues: "If you love magazines, it's all about discovery and great value right now. If you don't like magazines, this explosion increases the chances that you just might change your mind." In this short article, she touches upon the ongoing battle between print and digital and claims that these are glorious times for magazine readers and producers alike. Read her analysis here.

Social Media and Magazine Redesigns

How can magazines use social media to spread the word about a rejuvenated, redesigned product? This week, Stephanie Paige Miller of Foliomag.com shared ten tips for leveraging social media after a redesign. Read them here.

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