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Issue for March 2021

Possible Strikes on Horizon for Condé Nast

Posted on Monday, March 29, 2021 at 2:43 PM

Labor negotiations have stalled between the publisher and staffers at three of its subsidiary brands.

A group of roughly 100 employees at the New Yorker, Pitchfork, and Ars Technica are set to strike soon if they can’t reach an agreement with parent company Condé Nast. Maxwell Tani of the Daily Beast reports that the staffers “voted this week overwhelmingly in favor of moving ahead with a strike if Condé continues to rebuff demands about key issues, primarily around proposed wage increases.”

The conflict has been simmering for quite a while, says Tani: “The trio of Condé publications threatening to strike have each separately been involved in years-long bargaining negotiations with the parent company’s management to establish first-time union contracts ... but the glacial pace of negotiations has frustrated staff, who believe the company has been in no hurry to establish contracts with the unions.” Read more about the situation here.

Also Notable

Journalists Covering Anti-Asian Hate Crimes

The recent shootings in Atlanta have brought issues of anti-Asian racism to the forefront for many journalists. On March 17, the Asian American Journalists Association issues its guidance for journalists covering this story and others like it. Among other things, the association cautions outlets not to cover Asian women in hypersexual terms, to provide greater context around the recent spikes in violence against Asian Americans, and to look to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as experts and sources for research. Read the complete set of guidelines here.

Reporting Responsibly on Covid Vaccine Efficacy

Last week, Al Tompkins of Poynter.org issued a sharp warning to journalists covering the Covid vaccine in Poynter’s daily “Covering Covid-19” column. Citing recent stories he’s seen amplifying the threat of infection after vaccination, he says: “It is not impossible for this to happen, but it is far more likely that people who test positive for Covid-19 after they were vaccinated were infected before they got the shot and didn’t know it.” He mentions some news pieces he’s seen in which even public health officials have gotten it wrong, creating a misleading picture of the real threat of infection after vaccination. Ultimately, he says, “there are rare -- very rare -- cases that may actually be breakthrough cases in which a person is vaccinated and gets infected ... but [they] are also not a reason to avoid getting the vaccine.” Read more here.

Brand Magazines Still in Print

Recent years have seen many brands launching print magazines to boost engagement with their audiences. But how many of those magazines are still in print? Kathryn Hopkins of WWD.com explores the question in a recent piece. “It turns out to be a mixed picture,” she reports. “Of the 10 brands that WWD reached out to, half (Airbnb, Away, Bumble, Goop and Net-a-porter) have ceased print production for now, while the other five (Goat, Maapilim, Ssense, Tracy Anderson and Uniqlo) are still going strong, finding that having a print magazine is a positive and useful extension of their brand.” She takes a closer look at each of the 10 aforementioned titles to see where they’ve landed and how they got there. Read the full piece .

Meredith/Amex Shutters Two Magazines

Elsewhere in brand magazine publishing, two copublished titles from Meredith/Amex shuttered this month: Departures and Centurion magazines. Keith J. Kelly of the New York Post reports that “American Express ... will now take it over and run the mags as digital-only brands.” Kelly reports that group publisher Giulio Capua will stay at Meredith, but most of the magazines’ staffers were let go late last week. Read more here.

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One Chief Editor Fired -- Are You Next?

Posted on Monday, March 29, 2021 at 2:40 PM

The recent firing of a prominent magazine editor raises questions about what behavior consititutes a firable offense.

By William Dunkerley

Shivers are running through the editorial community after the very public termination of the newly hired editor-in-chief for Teen Vogue, a Condé Nast publication.

CNN ran the headline, "Teen Vogue's new editor out of a job after backlash over old tweets."

This matter came up when the new editor, Alexi McCammond, "resigned" under apparent management pressure regarding offensive online comments made in her teen years. She had subsequently deleted the old comments and openly offered contrite apologies for having said something not representative of her current beliefs.

The old comments, however, were dug up by Condé Nast staffers who, according to reports, disliked the selection of this new editor and advocated firing her. According to CNN, the controversy caused advertisers Ulta Beauty and Burt’s Bees "to suspend their campaigns with the publication."

The New York Post opined, "If Teen Vogue can fire an editor for her teenage tweets, no one is safe."

EO Readers React

We asked a sampling of Editors Only readers to share their reaction to the controversy. We posed three questions: (1) Do you consider it warranted to fire an editor over comments that were posted online during her teenage years?; (2) Do you feel potentially vulnerable to someone doing that kind of thing to you or your staff?; and (3) Is there anything editors, as a professional group, should do to protect ourselves from this kind of takedown? We received very thoughtful responses. Here they are:

--Curt Harler, freelance writer at curtharler.com: "You can't put today's values on yesterday's acts. Well, you can, but it is unfair both to the individual and to society. It is the height of intolerance and arrogance if one assumes that other people do not change, grow, learn, re-evaluate, or mature as years pass. Demanding resignation from a job based on a long-gone statement or action is the height of bullying. To hold one's past against them would mean George Washington never could command the Patriots in the Revolution. After all, he had fought with the British, saluted Braddock, and had supported British troops in the French and Indian War.

"Likewise, we should revile John Adams, strip him of his patriotic reputation, and condemn him as a traitor. He defended the despised British soldiers who fired weapons at citizens during the Boston Massacre. (Worse, Adams got the redcoats off with very light sentences -- mainly just a brand on their thumbs.)

"In each case, the person changed. Cancel culture practitioners need to recognize improvement and not try to stop the clock on a person's life at a moment convenient to their argument de jour. Ability to re-evaluate and embrace new ideas should be a positive personality trait -- not a negative one."

--Donald Tepper, editor, PT in Motion: "To answer your questions: 1. Maybe. It depends on the nature of the comments and how long ago those 'teenage years' were. Some remarks probably justify firing no matter how long ago they were made. Comments advocating that an entire race or religion be killed or eliminated would serve as justification, even if it were made 50 years ago. On the other hand, I can think of some comments that might have been awkward jokes that could (and probably should) be forgiven. The length of time since the posting (thus considering both the possible maturing of the individual and different societal norms) also can make a difference. An awkward joke 50 years ago might be far less serious than a clearly homophobic or racist comment five years ago. In addition to all that, we should consider the role of an editor. If the editor is to be the public face of the brand, then politically the person must be 'clean.' If the editor toils away in a windowless paper-filled office and isn't known to anyone outside of the publication, then the political concern is not as great. That does not mean that the offense is any less, or is watered down because the editor has little visibility -- only that if one of the roles as editor is to be a public face to a publication, then there's an additional consideration beyond the offensiveness of the remarks.

"2. In theory, yes. I can't recall anything I may have done that would come back to haunt me decades after my teen years. But someone could always make an allegation that I'd said something, and it would be nearly impossible to refute it. Now, if I'd written it (for me, this was well before Twitter or even the Internet), that would be a different issue. Today, the best protection would seem to be to think twice (or thrice) before doing or saying anything that could be perceived as offensive or racist -- not by the person saying or writing it, but by people who might take offense at what was written or said. Even then, though, is that enough? A number of magazines are running articles or entire issues on DEI -- diversity, equity, and inclusion. But suppose a magazine runs an article on efforts in the industry to promote DEI, but omits some group from the article. Maybe the omission was inadvertent. Maybe the article profiles eight people -- different races, different religions, different sexual orientations, and so on. But there may not be space to profile a ninth or tenth person. And offense is taken. The magazine is accused of not fully representing the spectrum of members, readers, or others. Meanwhile, there may be readers who think the magazine is going too far with DEI and feel they're being dismissed as racist and homophobic. You can't please all the people all the time. But sometimes you may anger both ends of the spectrum. All you can do is to do your best. Get other people involved to read the material for any potential problems you may have missed."

"3. I suppose a Code of Ethics is worth a shot, though I don't think it would have much effect. One thing that might is a "Best Practices" manual or guide. Something that could provide guidance to editors on how to present DEI in their pages (and any other issues that might be related). And especially to show that DEI isn't just a 'theme issue,' but that it must be an organic part of the magazine. There are also a lot of publication contests and this year, after Covid-19-related stories, one of the most common themes is DEI. Perhaps a collection of good, solid, articles that approach the issues raised regarding DEI in a number of different ways. Give editors some examples of creative, effective ways these issues have been handled by other editors."

--Howard Rauch, president, Editorial Solutions, Inc., www.editsol.com: "While I was chairing ASBPE's ethics committee a few years ago, it became apparent that editors should anticipate the possibility they might be asked to delete published information deemed harmful by the party making the request. Will your policy be one of total refusal? Or will exceptions be made? It's conceivable that some of those requests may be from individuals seeking to bury a past experience."

--Gary Burns, professor emeritus, Northern Illinois University journalism faculty: "I think it would depend on the specifics. What were the comments? How long ago did she make them? Did the employer try other steps to resolve the situation? Was her performance good in other respects? Did she sign a contract that allowed herself to be fired over something like this?"

--Angela Hartley, senior managing editor, JOGNN: "These are my opinions and not the opinions of my employer. In the scenario given, no, I do not think firing was appropriate. I think the amount of time since the comments were made and whether a formal apology was posted are issues to take into consideration. I think the content of the comments must also be considered, e.g., advocating murder vs. calling someone fat. Both offensive, obviously, but certainly not equally so.

"Personally vulnerable? No. I don't post anything but garden and dog pictures on social media. I am 'old school.' My political beliefs, stance on controversial issues, etc. are my business, no one else's. I don't air dirty laundry on social media.

"Is there anything we can do? Yes, simple: If you are in a position where your comments could be used against you, keep your controversial comments and beliefs to yourself and off of social media. Isn't this common sense? The cultural pendulum has swung very far in the direction of being 'politically correct.' Anything you say could potentially offend someone, and you need to be aware of that fact."

--A senior editor at a popularly recognizable national magazine requesting anonymity: "I think it's a horrible precedent to fire someone for their juvenalia. 'Lucky I've never written or said anything offensive. Too bad about you guys,' I joked to my friends on Facebook.

"Of course I feel vulnerable! 'Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?' I worry about the many run-ins -- with writers, publicists, activists -- I've had over the years, and wonder who is carrying a grudge. I recently had a dispute with a writer who was upset when I complained about her missing deadlines! In today's atmosphere she could absolutely try to have me disciplined or fired.

"It's a terrifying time. I don't know what a professional group can do about it other than to speak out and urge publications not to respond in a knee-jerk way to accusations about employees."

--Dave Fusaro, editor-in-chief, Food Processing magazine: "I'll answer all three of your questions, on the record, with a single (non)answer:

"I'm not going to give you my thoughts. If I did, there would be people who agreed and disagreed with me, and in the normal course of events both sides are good and defensible. They create dialog. But in the current climate, whichever side I take, people who disagree with me might very well threaten me or my job."


The above reactions and concerns cover a lot of important ground.

According to news reports, inappropriate online comments are not all McCammond is being held accountable for. The Independent (and other sources) added to the blame by reporting, "McCammond also faced criticism over a photo from 2011 showing her dressed in a Native American costume on Halloween."

I looked on Amazon and find that consumers can readily buy costumes depicting Native Americans. There's one called, "Women's Native American Indian Maid." It's also available in plus sizes. There's a "Women's Tribal Princess" outfit. The model is shown with tomahawk in hand. One can even be costumed as an actual historical figure with the "Women's Sacajawea Indian Maiden Costume Set." Men can get a "Deluxe Men's Native American Costume" that will make you look like an Indian chief. Costumes for children are available too. (The widespread availability of such costumes online raises much larger questions regarding "cultural appropriation" that are beyond the scope of this article.)

That leaves one to wonder how objectively to define appropriateness in today's political climate.

Prince Harry once stirred much criticism when he wore a Hitler costume to a party. Perhaps he was ridiculing and not venerating the Nazi leader. Nevertheless it's easy to understand how tasteless the costume was. But does something foolish like that deserve what for non-royals could well have been career terminal? On the other hand, if your job as editor will put you in the public spotlight, you might be a sitting duck for competitors seeking to denigrate your publication.

What strikes me, however, is that the McCammond issue is not unique to editors. She was targeted not because of something that was posted or published recently. Someone had to dig deeply into her past. The unsavory tweets that have been cited, reportedly, had been deleted by her a couple of years ago.

Digging up dirt is something that has commonly been practiced within our political culture. It's called opposition research. And the dirt found is used for character assassination. If a person who once took an unwise position learns to recognize it as a transgression and alters his or her position, that's usually not considered good enough. In fact, such learning and development is pejoratively labeled as flip-flopping, another reason to nullify the person.

This reputation savagery has apparently slipped from the political culture into our general culture.

In the editorial community, for now, all this is causing many to feel vulnerable. But we do have the power of the press. It is hard to comprehend how unprincipled opposition research and "cancel culture" is beneficial to society, let alone editors. Why don't we use our editorial pulpits to create an awareness of the problem for our audiences? Anyway, that's what I've tried to do here.

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

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Words to Write By

Posted on Monday, March 29, 2021 at 2:39 PM

Thirteen C words every writer should know.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Writers should remember -- and editors should make sure they remember -- my thirteen Cs.

Thirteen words that begin with the letter C. The words aren't mine, of course. I've just collected them into a list and consider the list worth noting.


Considerate is the first word.

To be considerate of the reader ask of the writer. To put the reader first in priority. To plan everything and do everything with the reader in mind. To serve the reader in the best possible way. My feeling is that if the rest of the C words are observed, the reader has been served.


Be concise.

That's word number two. Our readers tell us in all sorts of ways that they're busy. They don't want to be shortchanged, but they want brevity, no wasted words. It was Shaw, I think, who said he was sorry to have written one of his correspondents such a long letter but that he hadn't had the time to write a shorter one.

Editors can be of tremendous help here. I., as a writer, often feel that every word I've poured so painfully onto a page is a gem, a treasure, and that not a single word is cuttable. And then, a competitor comes along, and finds, if necessary, some eminently cuttable words. Like the word "amnesty." It's probably cuttable. Like the word "probably." It's cuttable.


Be correct.

Here, surely, editors can be of help. They question. They research or ask for proof. Writers should rarely be left to their own editing devices. A second person, with the power to distance himself, will find aspects of an article to doubt.

If a writer finds herself to be the only reviewer, to be the writer-editor, then somehow that person should set an earlier deadline, put the manuscript aside for a couple of days, go on to other projects, then return to the previously done article. The passage of time will have distanced the writer, making it easier and more likely to spot flaws.


Be complete.

And once again, the editor becomes a critical link between writer and reader.

For informational completeness, writer and editor need to put all the who-what-one-where-why-how questions on the table and seek the answers to them in the article. Whatever isn't there needs to be added, or at least the absence thereof needs to be explained. The exercise of asking the questions carefully is vital, lest troubling holes get in the reader's way.

Often, absolute informational completeness is impossible. Articles aren't long enough to hold all the available information. In that case, atmospheric completeness should be aimed for. Selected into the articles should be those elements deemed absolutely essential -- part of the central issue, information which, if absent, will leave the reader in a state of dissatisfaction, knowing that something is wrong, something is missing, that his education, on the basis of this article, is insufficient, deficient.

That's four C words. I promised you thirteen. I'll complete that promise in a future issue. The other nine C words are forthcoming.

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 Monday, March 29, 2021 at 2:33 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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