« March 2021 | Home | May 2021 »

Issue for April 2021

AP Stylebook Updates

Posted on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 at 4:52 PM

In the news: The AP Stylebook recently unveiled updates to better serve Asian American and disabled communities.

AP has updated its Stylebook to reflect changes in coverage of Asian American and disability issues. Kristen Hare of Poynter.org reports that AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke announced the changes at the recent ACES conference.

Notably, Hare reports that the Stylebook now asks that publications spell out Asian and Pacific Islanders and, for clarity, to use the abbreviation (AAPI) only in quoted text. Further, writers should avoid the euphemistic phrase “anti-Asian bias.” Per the AP’s press release: “‘Alternatives may include anti-Asian bias, anti-Asian harassment, anti-Asian comments, anti-Asian racism or anti-Asian violence, depending on the situation. Be specific and give details about what happened or what someone says happened.”

Disability-related language has also been updated to better serve the disabled community. Hare shares the AP’s comments on this: “‘[Writers should] use care and precision when writing about disabilities and people with disabilities; ask people how they want to be described; be specific about types of the type of disability, or symptoms; and avoid using disability-related words lightly or in unrelated situations and writing that implies ableism.”

Read Hare’s full roundup of AP Stylebook updates here.

Also Notable

US Daily Print Titles Hit Hard by Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt some resounding blows to daily print publications in the US. Earlier this month, William Turvill of the Press Gazette reported on some of the more notable losses last year. USA Today print circulation fell by 60 percent after the country went into lockdown last spring, says Turvill. (In other news, the newspaper just launched a paywall on its news content this week.) Other major newspapers such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal also saw falling circulation in summer 2020. “On average, the largest ten weekday newspapers in the US experienced a circulation fall of 20% in the six months to September 2020, Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) figures show,” reports Torvill. Read more specifics about how each of the major newspapers fared here.

Reuters Launches Paywall

This month, Reuters started putting news content behind an online paywall, reports Kim Lyons of The Verge. “[Reuters] will let users read five stories a month for free and plans to charge $34.99 a month for a subscription,” she reports. The paywall comes as part of a larger revenue strategy by the news outlet. “Reuters said it generates half of its revenue from its largest client, the financial data firm Refinitiv, and also makes money from online advertising,” Lyons says. “The company says it has redesigned its website with a ‘professional audience’ in mind and plans investment in segments like legal news and live streams of its event.” Read more here.

Pay Inequities at Gannett

A new study has unearthed major pay discrepancies in Gannett newsrooms. Gabby Miller of the Columbia Journalism Review writes: “On Tuesday [April 27], the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America published a pay equity study on Gannett-owned newsrooms that found significant pay inequity for women and journalists of color, as well as further evidence of an overwhelmingly white, male workforce ‘less racially diverse than the U.S. as a whole.’” The report covers only union-represented newsrooms, says Miller, so it likely illuminates only a portion of the problem company-wide. Overall, she reports, the Newsguild looked at “441 full-time and 25 part-time, non-managerial workers’ median pay from fall 2020 across gender and race demographics in 14 Gannett-owned newsrooms belonging to the union.” See the discrepancies by the numbers across multiple demographics here.

Diversity at Meredith, Hearst, and Condé Nast

In recent months, Meredith, Hearst, and Condé Nast have published staff diversity numbers. According to Kathryn Hopkins of WWD.com, “These numbers don’t tell the whole story as the big three magazine publishers did not break down figures for divisions and brands.... The overall findings show that while the big three differ on certain measures, much work still needs to be done, especially when it comes to getting more people of color through the door.” She summarizes the findings from all three companies’ reports here.

Editorial Restructuring at Condé Nast

Some Vogue, Vanity Fair, and GQ editors in the UK may be laid off in the coming months as parent company Condé Nast streamlines its editorial structure worldwide, reports Chantal Fernandez of BusinessofFashion.com. Read more here.

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

Preserving Editorial Prerogatives

Posted on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 at 4:51 PM

Watching a trend that could constrain our editorial judgments.

By William Dunkerley

The US Postmaster General and the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission have released a joint edict of great consequence to editors everywhere. The two federal agencies are introducing startling new regulations. They are intended to protect Americans from misinformation. Accordingly, editors will be provided with formal guidance specifying topics and issues that will be impermissible for dissemination by mail or over the internet. A "three strikes you're out" rule will apply to infractions. A violation notice will be provided to first-time offenders. A second offense will result in a two-month suspension of access to postal and internet services. Offense number three will bring about a permanent block on access to services. The effective date for the new edict is April 1, 2022.

The foregoing is, of course, not true. It is simply a fictionalization intended to dramatize a point. What point? It is the beginning of a movement to regulate content. Carried too far, content regulation can be of great danger to editors. It can constrain our prerogatives in making editorial judgments in the interests of our readers.

Historically, content regulation has been very minimal. Obscenity, indecency, and illegality have been accepted areas for regulation. But on April 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee delved deeper into content regulation. It held a hearing that, according to Politico, focused on "structural issues in how companies approach content moderation."

"In the last decade, going through 2020 with the pandemic as a capstone, there has been a lot of focus on content," said a Facebook executive in a CNN report. The recent Senate hearing specifically concerned itself with algorithms used by social media companies. Senator Ben Sasse said, "I want to dig into the role of algorithms in spreading information and shaping behavioral health."

That's certainly far afield from the editorial focus of most EO readers. But even this level of content regulation would set a precedent. It could readily lead to expansion in the future.

Whether editorial decisions are made by algorithms or by people is just a matter of means, not substance. If algorithmic editorial decisions can be regulated, so can human-based decisions. Political interest ultimately seems to be directed at the editorial result, not just the means. Politicians apparently want their particular issues promoted, and those of their opponents suppressed. The fact that editorial decision making might be constrained by political exigencies should be troubling to any editor.

Our legislative bodies should indeed be concerned about the overarching roles that the social media companies are playing. Monopolistic practices are clearly ripe for regulation. That would be a more productive role for regulation. Meanwhile, lawmakers should be more respectful of the First Amendment and stay away from content regulation intended to further their political objectives.

Consider the hypothetical dilemma of an editor at a publication covering the energy field. What if a political consensus emerges that the use of any fossil fuel places public health and the environment at unacceptable risk? Accordingly, regulation will forbid the publication of any information that does not portray the production and use of fossil fuel as a danger.

Presently, as an editor you are free to apply that editorial judgment in your publication if you want. Perhaps you believe it is a practical solution. But maybe you don't. Would you want to be forced to implement a mandated choice contrary to your own judgment? What if the readership of your publication is heavily weighted toward the interests of the fossil fuel industry? Where would that leave your publication?

This is a matter for our professional organizations to take up and defend our editorial prerogatives. But I don't see them doing it. If you are a member of an editorial association, I strongly recommend that you demand its attention to this and other matters that are of global significance to our profession. If you are not a member, this might be a good time to join and demand action.

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

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

Words to Write By

Posted on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 at 4:50 PM

Thirteen "C" words every writer should know: the final installment.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Four words beginning with the letter C were our shared topic last month: considerate, concise, correct, and complete.

I said a writer should be all these.

And I promised nine more such words this month. Here's delivery on that promise:


Be clear, of course.

"Clarity is next to godliness" becomes the commandment.

"When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair," E. B. White once observed.

And that can happen because of words -- slithery, slippery, misused, abused, or too-rarely-used words.

Euphemisms for instance. "Negative patient care outcome" versus death. "Lost workers" versus those who were fired or laid off. "Education transport modules" versus school buses. Seals "harvested" versus slaughtered.

Jargon, for another instance, code words not understood by at least some of the readers.

Clichés, which bore and turn the reader off.

Status symbol words like quantify and optimize and parameter and infrastructure and paradigm and quid pro quo and symbiosis and dialectic and longitudinal study and colloquy and replication and all the rest of them. Test a dozen walkers-by out on the street with those words and see what happens. These are words people sort of know but don't know. These are words they're not going to look up in the dictionary. These are words that could be lost in the flow or cause a reader to lose the flow of the passage.

And there's also that disease called "thesaurusitis," the hunt to find still another word to "say."

Being clearer also depends on proper pronunciation and proper grammar. Permit no run-on sentences. Permit no blends of singulars and plurals. "Everyone has their own special image of paradise," begins a story I recently came across. Such an opening sentence does not give me confidence in what's to follow. "Everyone" is singular. "Has" is singular. "They're" is plural, at least traditionally. Not good. Not acceptable.

Being clear also means using manageable sentences. Permit me to throw a dart at a distant-past "Dart and Laurels" column that ran in the Columbia Journalism Review. A "dart" item dealt with then TV commentator David Brinkley. He had taxed his credibility, according to the item. Explanation, and I quote in the words of that era: "At a time of growing unease over the apparent conflicts of interest that arise when working journalists take on lucrative assignments for corporations, trade groups and the like -- an unease made manifest in the various attempts, by Congress and by other journalists, to require disclosure of such outside sources of income, as well as in the restrictions upon such extracurricular paid assignments laid down by, among other networks, Brinkley's own ABC -- the highly respected, highly paid moderator of This Week with David Brinkley, produced an article in the fall on the 'twisted' logic of a federal tax code aimed at 'soaking the rich.'"

Well, a dart to that classic sentence, all 103 words of it.

Being clearer also means finding a flow, creating an informational and verbal chain that easily leads the reader from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph and idea to idea.

Being clear also means locating the proper structures for the information being written up. The writer needs to find an appropriate shape for the material, a logical progression or development, an understandable sequentiality, a plan. And for this, no doubt, an editor often becomes a saving partner. Writers find themselves overwhelmed by gathered material, by details and themes and options. All the informational trees hide in the forest. The editor's task is to find the forest, to help the writer determine and work out a presentational plan for the article. But that's a subject all by itself, and I'll deal with it at a future time.


Another "C" word is cohesive.

Be cohesive. Make sure that, indeed, there is flow, that there is transition, that material fits together, comes together, and stays together. The article should become a whole. It should become a unit. Call it a package; the information inside has been all wrapped up.


Be consistent. The writer who begins an article with an anecdote and then switches to informational sludge the rest of the way is not being consistent. The writer who develops a descriptive feature on an art exhibit and then, two thirds of the way in, turns to analysis or evaluation is not being consistent. What a writer seems to promise early on should get a follow-through later on.

The reader looking at the narrative lead does not expect everything that follows to be of the same nature, but he does look for a somewhat less formal piece than the writer of sludge then provides. The article that changes from description to evaluation suggests either that the writer hasn't determined purpose or is trying to sneak in some opinions via the back door.

Consistency shouldn't be considered restrictive. A writer has plenty of maneuver space. But the editor should make sure that a promise made is a promise kept.


Be concrete.

The enemy of good writing is generality, lack of specificity, the absence of detail. We've had occasion to discuss the power of detail in this series of columns. But can the point be overstressed? I think not.

Some fancy writers may want to be just that, fancy. They shun the reporting aspect of their assignment, trusting that their way with words will be sufficient. Disabuse them of that notion. Remind them that your readers need to be better served, that manner without matter is a no-no.

We speak not, of course, about the term paper approach to detail or even the encyclopedic. Our readers must not feel overwhelmed. But sufficient facts should always be present. Readers want to learn; they want to gain information, even intelligence, while being massaged with style and grace of language.


Be constructive. No, one shouldn't serve up pablum. Honesty toward subject is an imperative. But with so much gloom and doom coming at your audience from other sources -- the daily newspaper, television and radio newscasts, the newsmagazine -- there must be respite.

It was T. S. Eliot who observed that people can take only so much reality. Beyond that, market strategists have studied and ruled, people begin to stop reading or turn off their sets, saying to themselves if no one else is around to hear: "I can't take any more of this."

Deal with pessimism, with negative subjects as you must. But remember that in most stories, there are elements of progress or promise. A big-city school system may be in shambles, and if it is, the writer should say so. But that same school system contains pockets of good work. To such positive aspects, attention also should be given.

Seek balance in coverage. Point to the element of beauty. Hold out hope, not false hope, but hope. By doing so you are likely to hold on to your readers a little longer; they won't give way to despair.


Be credible. That means, first, the writer should know his audience, a matter in which the editor can be most helpful. If what the audience is interested in or is likely to understand doesn't reveal itself in an article, then that audience is lost. Idea, material, writing style will need to be on the reader's wavelength. If not, credibility is lost.

And so it is also if the writer depends too heavily on the weight of his own byline. Credibility comes to a story if the writer seeks out credible material from credible (and attributed) sources. Stronger belief is engendered through the use of trustworthy information from trusted experts or authorities. As editor, ask for that.


Be conversational.

The best writing, much of it, tends toward the chatty, giving the reader a sense that the author is in an easy chair nearby talking one-to-one.

You, as editor, must determine how far in that direction your writers can or should go, depending on subject matter and publication profile and reader types. But all of journalism, including magazine journalism, has gone in the direction of the conversational, the informal, the more down-to-earth use of language.

Well, whether or not you desire such writing, make your writers read their copy out loud. Make your editors read the copy they are editing out loud. At the very least, you and they will find that convolutions and missing steps and things that don't sound right will be eliminated. The eyes are forgiving, as I've emphasized before. The ears are less so. "Relatives served at family dinner," goes the headline. "Iraqi head seeks arms," goes another. Reading aloud will straighten out such confusions.

So come and encourage noise in your office when deadlines come. Out-loud reading should be the order of the day.

And if you seek conversationality, that, also, will be a product of reading aloud, of sounding out the words.


The twelfth "C" word is comfortable,.

It's not the writer, however, who should be comfortable. It's the writer and her writing that should make readers comfortable. That's why conversationality is a factor to consider. People out there seem to feel more comfortable with conversational writing.

With so much discomfort in people's lives, you provide a service through comfort. Poet Jean Cocteau once wrote: "Music is not always a gondola, a racehorse, or a tightrope. It is sometimes a chair." Think reader comfort.


The captivating.

That's the thirteenth and final "c" word on my list. And in a way -- actually in different ways -- I've been discussing the importance of that word in column after column ever since I started this column years ago. Never lose sight of captivation.

The reader becomes harder and harder to capture and to keep. Through the fascinating facts we gather and the delicious style in which those facts are shaped into articles, we find the means to hold on to our most prized possession, the reader.

We regale with stories. We thrill with descriptive nuggets. We amaze with startling propositions. We engage with an eye-opening analogy or remarkable examples. We play with the language. We experiment with the techniques of structure and design. We excite with approach. We surprise with perspective.

All these to satisfy the readers and keep them loyal. Our audience is not captive; it needs to be captivated.

Thirteen words. Thirteen duties. Thirteen opportunities.

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

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

Free Assistance

Posted on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 at 4:50 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.

Posted in (RSS)

« March 2021 | Top | May 2021 »