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Issue for March 2019

A Different Take on Magazine Anthologies

Posted on Saturday, March 30, 2019 at 2:30 PM

A chronological anthology allows editors to revisit older content and offer retrospective context.

By William Dunkerley

Nation magazine contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen has modeled a different approach to the traditional magazine anthology. He collected articles spanning a timeline to illustrate how his subject has evolved. It offers a chronological dimension.

Thematic Anthologies

More common is the compilation of an anthology that aggregates articles simply based on a common theme. I searched the keyword "anthology" on Amazon. The results showed anthologies that cover a wide variety of subject areas. Many deal with literary topics as well as other areas of mass market appeal.

In the past I've personally been involved in creating anthologies about special interest topics such as space communications, personal computers, solar energy, electromagnetic interference, and integrated circuits. So the focus of an anthology can be as broad or narrow as you want.

One of the anthologies that turned up in the Amazon search is actually about being a magazine editor. Titled The Art of Making Magazines, it is edited by Evan Cornog and Victor Navasky. Cornog is dean of the School of Communication at Hofstra University; Navasky is a professor of magazine journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Back when Navasky was a magazine editor himself, he became an early subscriber to Editors Only.

Chronological Anthologies: A Case Study

Cohen comes to the role of anthology editor with a distinguished academic background. He is an emeritus professor at both Princeton University and New York University.

In creating his anthology he has included not only his Nation articles but input from his many online columns and media appearances. This all presented him with a couple of obstacles to overcome in his approach to creating an anthology.

One is that perspectives presented in earlier articles may have come to be seen differently or are in need of further explanation as subsequent events emerged. His anthology, incidentally, appears in the form of a book (print and digital) titled War with Russia? It covers the period from 2014 to 2018. So given what we've all seen in the news on that subject, it's clear that it is a fluid topic.

The way Cohen dealt with that was to be clear about the timeline. Cohen explains that his material appears in "chronological order as an analytical narrative of ongoing events. The date under each title is the day it was posted at TheNation.com." He adds that the commentaries appear largely as originally posted.

However, in compiling the anthology he had the benefit of retrospection and the attendant opportunity for improvement. Thus, Cohen says, "I polished the language somewhat, added some clarifying information, and combined a few related commentaries into one or two."

Another obstacle is that the articles and columns were originally written as stand-alone pieces. That means they each had to orient the reader to the subject matter.

Cohen said that he "made some deletions in order to avoid unnecessary repetition. But repetition of large themes and ongoing subjects became unavoidable, indeed necessary, for the purpose of my weekly commentaries -- and of this book: to make accessible to general readers an alternative, dissenting narrative of what I think are among the most fateful developments of our time. Whether I have succeeded or not is for readers to judge."

Mixed Reviews

According to consumer comments about his book that appear on Amazon's site, the judgments have been mixed. Cohen's writings tend to debunk many factual myths that he's found in mainstream media coverage of the US-Russia relationship. That's put him up against opposing political views on the subject. While 63 percent of the Amazon reviews were positive, 18 percent were negative, and 19 percent were in the middle.

As to reader opinions of Cohen's approach to compiling his anthology, I spotted only one remark and it was negative. The reviewer opined emphatically, "Interesting concepts-facts-but redundant!!!"

So the chronological anthology may not be something that will please everyone. But when there is real meaning in how a subject or issue has progressed over time, the approach is quite apropos and even invaluable.

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

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The Legacies of Two Writers

Posted on Saturday, March 30, 2019 at 2:29 PM

To be successful at writing, you may not always like doing it, but you need to love the doing of it.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Let me now praise two honest men, honorable men, writers who left their considerable mark and died recently. They deserve to be celebrated. I need to celebrate them for having had an impact on my life. With their lives and legacies, they leave potential imprints on you.

Russell Baker is the better known, a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning author, journalist, and columnist whom colleague Neil Postman once described as "like some fourth-century citizen of Rome who is amused and intrigued by the Empire's collapse but who still cares enough to mock the stupidities that are hastening its end." Russell Baker died in January at 93. I did not know him personally, but I learned much from his work and his apparent personality.

Dayton Hyde, described in his obituary as "rancher-author," also was 93 when he passed away in December. He won his share of awards and recognitions, mostly for literature, nonfiction and fiction, done for young readers. He also will be remembered for establishing the 11,000-acre Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota, a noble undertaking that came to dominate his later decades. I knew Dayton very well and as a friend during years of shared conferences given by the Highlights Foundation. He was a big man, physically, in behavior, in enjoying life. I learned much from him and his outlook on the world around him: the beauties of nature, the wonders in animals, and the hope in our children.

These two gentlemen of great talent always reminded me of what I so firmly believe: that to be successful at writing, you need to love the doing of it. Liking to write I always considered ridiculous, a matter of lying to oneself. There's nothing to like about writing. It is hard and gritty and can become dreadfully boring, wouldn't you say? But if one loves the act, has the compulsion, the conviction, the drive, the need, the purpose, then the negatives float away amidst the energy lavished on the doing.

Russell Baker's Motivation

Russell Baker starts The Good Times, the second installment in his autobiography, with hints of what motivated him. The story is bathed in humor, but the truth emerges:

"My mother, dead now to this world but still roaming free in my mind, wakes me some mornings at daybreak. 'If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a quitter.' I have heard her say that all my life. Now, lying in bed, coming awake in the dark, I feel the fury of her energy fighting the good-for-nothing idler within me who wants to go back to sleep instead of tackling the brave new day.

"Silently I protest: I am not a child anymore. I have made something of myself. I am entitled to sleep late.

"'Russell, you've got no more gumption than a bump on a log. Don't you want to amount to something?'

"She has hounded me with these same battle cries since I was a boy in short pants back in the Depression."

Had he made something of himself by then? Well, Baker's accomplishments included White House correspondent for the New York Times and being chosen editorial page columnist for the paper, a significant honor not previously awarded to another staffer.

Of course, there were other factors, involving push and talent, to go along with his mother's powerful, if by then ghostly, presence. He had to love what he was doing. Everything I ever read by Russell Baker revealed love for his chosen profession.

A 1975 "Francs and Beans" column in the Times addressed the following:

"As chance would have it, the very evening Craig Claiborne ate his historic $4,000 dinner for two with 31 dishes and nine wines in Paris, a Lucullan repast for one was prepared and consumed by this correspondent, no slouch himself when it comes to titillating the palate.

"Mr. Claiborne won his meal in a television fund-raising auction and had it professionally prepared. Mine was created from spur-of-the-moment inspiration, necessitated when I discovered a note on the stove saying, 'Am eating out with Dor and Imogene -- make dinner for yourself.' It was from the person who regularly does the cooking at my house and, though disconcerted at first, I quickly rose to the challenge.

"The meal opened with a 1975 Diet Pepsi served in a disposable bottle. Although its bouquet was negligible, its distinct metallic aftertaste evoked memories of tincans one had licked experimentally in the first flush of childhood's curiosity." To "create the balance of tastes so cherished by the epicurean palate," he made himself a concoction of cracker, "half-inch layer of creamy-style peanut butter troweled" into it, and half a banana "crudely diced and pressed firmly into the peanut butter." Etc.

But in June 1968 he had written, "They Line the Tracks to Say Good-by." That's when Robert F. Kennedy's family brought him back to Washington for the last time by train, after his assassination:

"Drawn by two black electric locomotives of the Penn Central Railroad, the funeral train traveled the 226 miles from New York through an almost unbroken procession of station throngs, urban street crowds, and clusters of small-town mourners.

"In the rural stretches separating the great eastern cities, girls came to the railroad on horseback. Boys sat in the trees. In a desolate swampy section of New Jersey, a lone man knelt in prayer by the roadside. In the loneliest sections, family groups clustered around cars parked in the woods to hold up flags, to wave, or to salute."

The humorous, the sad: the words had to be written. Not just because it was a columnist's job to provide coverage but because they had to, needed to be written by their writer. By Russell Baker.

Dayton Hyde's Life and Legacy

Dayton Hyde lived what he wrote of. In his first book, Cranes in My Corral, published in 1971, he introduced us to Eeny, Meeny, Miney, and Moe, four sandhill cranes he raised on his ranch in Oregon: He writes:

"In all nature, there are few sights more spectacular than the dance of the sandhill cranes. It is a happy thing, a group thing, done at all seasons of the year but especially in the spring when the joy of living seems just too riotous to be contained. It can be part courtship and pairing, or a meaningless release of nervous tension. Quick as a blink, the dance begins when one bird bows, seizes a handy stick, and tosses it into the air. Then, as others join, the bird leaps high, flapping its wings, ducking, twirling, bowing, stabbing the air, and leaping high again. The action is so infectious that quickly the whole group shares in the lunacy."

Dayton goes on to explain that this dance is good enough to get him up without his wife nagging at him to do so and get the day's chores done. Well, yes, it did get him up, but actually to skip out of the house to see his yearned-for sandhill crane ceremony.

To capture that in words became Dayton's desire, not duty. He both wanted and needed to do it, to share a little miracle from nature. The big man was marvelous at recognizing the importance of small things that less caring and less perceptive writers couldn't or wouldn't notice.

Thirty-five years later, he would write All the Wild Horses: Preserving the Spirit and Beauty of the World's Wild Horses, and in a prefatory note to readers explain:

"I was in northern Nevada back in 1987 buying feeder cattle to stock my ranch in Oregon, when I passed a government wild-horse holding facility in Lovelock. The corrals were packed with unhappy mustangs standing in boredom -- gaunt ribbed, heads hanging in sleepy stupor, lips drooping, eyes half closed against swarms of flies. As a young cowboy in the 1930s, I grew up with wild horses in Oregon. I have loved them since my boyhood as they've given me great joy -- from the first young mustang I trained and rode out on the range, to the bands running free about me, adding their beauty to an already fabulous landscape.

"Now, seeing these captive wild horses, my old cowboy heart ached. For a moment, I thought I owed it to them to sneak up in the dead of night, open the gates, and let the horses run to freedom. But the horses had been gathered because of chronic drought and lack of food on their ranges. I knew setting these wild horses free again would accomplish nothing."

Dayton adds more autobiography, then says: "In minutes, I was on the telephone to my children in Oregon asking them to take over the ranch. I was leaving on an adventure that was to consume my life: bound and determined to set up a sanctuary for wild horses that would allow them to run wild and free."

He did so. And he has documented it with his own words, words that can stab or soothe because they have emerged from a heart and conscience that deeply cared about the subject. He loved to write because he loved what he wrote about. That is what one gets when one reads the byline: "by Dayton O. Hyde."

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, 2019 at 2:29 PM

Assessing the readability of a NYTimes.com excerpt.

This month's Fog Index text comes from a January 26 NYTimes.com piece ("Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?" by Erin Griffith). Here's the sample text with longer word italicized:

"Internet companies may have miscalculated in encouraging employees to equate their work with their intrinsic value as human beings. After a long era of basking in positive esteem, the tech industry is experiencing a backlash both broad and fierce, on subjects from monopolistic behavior to spreading disinformation and inciting racial violence. And workers are discovering how much power they wield. In November, some 20,000 Googlers participated in a walkout protesting the company's handling of sexual abusers. Other company employees shut down an artificial intelligence contract with the Pentagon that could have helped military drones become more lethal."

--Word count: 97 words
--Average sentence length: 19 words (19, 32, 9, 16, 21)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 23 percent (22/98 words)
--Fog Index: (19+23) *.4 = 16 (16.8, no rounding)

We need to reduce the Fog by 5 points to fall within ideal limits. Looking at our calculations, we see a clear culprit. Nearly a quarter of the words in the sample have 3 or more syllables. Let's see what we can do to reduce the number of longer words and cut through the Fog.

"Online companies may have erred in suggesting that staffers' work reflects their intrinsic value as human beings. After many years in a largely positive spotlight, the tech industry is facing a backlash both broad and fierce. They have been accused of monopolistic conduct, spreading disinformation, and inciting racial violence. And workers are realizing how much power they wield. In November, some 20,000 Googlers joined a walkout protesting the company's handling of sexual abusers. Other staffers shut down an artificial intelligence contract with the Pentagon that could have helped military drones become more lethal."

--Word count: 93 words
--Average sentence length: 16 words (17, 19, 13, 9, 15, 20)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 13 percent (12/92 words)
--Fog Index: (16+13) *.4 = 11 (11.6, no rounding)

This was a challenging sample to edit. There were lots of longer words to eliminate, and most sentences weren't easily split up. We cut the number of longer words by 10, nearly half of the original sample. This left us with a Fog index of 12, so we split the second sentence in two to get us the rest of the way to 11.

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Reuters Combats Fake News

Posted on Saturday, March 30, 2019 at 2:29 PM

In the news: Reuters is training its journalists to spot particularly insidious fake news, or "deepfakes."

Fake news and propaganda spread at the speed of light on social media. For now, it's mainly in the form of bogus or poorly sourced articles and social media memes. But in the future, fake news may become much more insidious.

"Deepfakes use artificial intelligence to anticipate facial movements and computer-generated imagery to effectively face swap and doctor a video," says Lucinda Southern of Digiday.com in a March 26 article. Most of these deepfakes, she reports, are in the adult entertainment industry; a few such videos have featured prominent politicians.

Reuters is trying to head off the problem at the pass. Recently, the news outlet has created its own deepfakes to train its journalists to spot digitally altered content. Read more here.

E-Learning as Revenue Stream

With e-learning on a meteoric rise, some publishers are looking for ways to tap into this lucrative sector. Steve Smith of Foliomag.com writes, "Magazine brands in both B2B and B2C markets now have the opportunity to leverage both their brand equity and their existing content infrastructures to turn this taste for digital self-enhancement into serious businesses." Publishers such as Active Interest Media and magazines such as Golf Digest are offering up e-classes, instructional videos, and other tutorial content to readers for whom, as Smith remarks, "the line between hobby and vocation blurs." Read more here.

Europe Cracks Down on Digital Media Copyright

European Parliament has passed significant new copyright laws that are more favorable to content creators. Kali Hays of WWD.com reports that the new copyright law "is aimed largely at the use and proliferation of news and other creator content by Google and Facebook, two platforms which subsist on the surfacing of content created by others." Under the new law, sites such as Google and Facebook would need permission from content creators before posting their content. Read more here.

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