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Issue for May 2011

Is It Time for a Change?

Posted on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 9:46 AM

Stay ahead of the competition by updating your magazine's website design.

By Lynn Riley

The facts aren't pretty. With a slow economy comes flat circulation or membership revenues and flat ad sales. But along with this down time comes an opportunity. Now is a great time to evaluate how your media is working for you and to look at ways to better engage your audience. Are you attracting and keeping website browsers? Are you reaching the younger professional demographic with your magazine that you hoped for?

Four key areas to look at are your website, your publication, its flag, and your organization's logo.

Freshening the look of a publication, logo, or website generates new interest - from readers, users, and advertisers. Increasing your website's functionality captures more attention and involvement from Web users. Equally important, it shows advertisers that you're committed to delivering an engaging experience for web users.

What's the best place to start? Set goals for reader or web user responsiveness. Develop measurable criteria. If you just have a general sense that something isn't quite right, but you can't identify it, you can mistakenly "fix" the wrong thing. A reader survey is an obvious place to start. Tracking unsolicited reader feedback is another.

Here are a few tips to consider when updating your media.


Web 2.0 is practically old news. Today's sophisticated Web users expect an interactive experience, not static text. If your website is simply a brochure site, an update is long overdue. Streaming video, member access portals, blogs and discussion boards are expected these days. Involvement devices such as surveys, instantly scored quizzes, and personalized, site-based recordkeeping add value to your site and keep members coming back again and again.

"Websites should be evaluated every six months," says Eileen Coale, an award-winning marketing consultant and copywriter in Annapolis, Maryland. "The Web is a fast-evolving media, and websites can become dated very quickly."

Flags and Logos

The human brain loves "new" -- as long as it's not jarringly different from what's expected. Many businesses and organizations make the mistake of recreating a logo or flag from scratch. That approach, however, can backfire, because it creates a major disconnect between you and your audience.

A smarter strategy? Incremental changes. For instance, a slight reshaping of logo elements, or updated colors, still lets your audience recognize you instantly, while the freshness catches and keeps their eye. One good rule of thumb: if it's been ten years since your last makeover, you're overdue.


Trends in font usage and color palettes may be subtle, but they're always on the move. New design tools also shape design trends. A publication from as recently as 5 or 6 years ago can look dated. Start with a new or updated flag, and use it as a springboard to move towards an updated publication design. It doesn't have to be a major overhaul; even small changes can give a publication a fresh new look.

Besides, big changes all at once can mean big expenses. A smarter strategy is to review websites and publications regularly -- every 6 to 12 months -- and schedule incremental changes. That way, you don't alienate your audience with an abrupt change. Instead, your media moves forward into the future alongside your audience, at a pace that's comfortable for them.

Nothing lasts forever, not even recessions. When the economy picks up again, your updated website and refreshed publication will position you as the go-to place for old and new readers alike.

Lynn Riley is an award-winning graphic designer for associations. www.lynnrileydesign.com

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Your Blood, Sweat and Tears – Part II

Posted on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 9:46 AM

If you wish your reader to remember -- it takes Flesh-Mind-Spirit

By Peter P. Jacobi

We continue the "Flesh-Mind-Spirit" theme that served as subject of a recent writers conference talk and that contains lessons I wanted also to share with you. Last month, "Flesh" was our clothesline word for duties/responsibilities we must reflect in our writing. "Mind" and "Spirit" gain our attention in this column.

Mind's "M" introduces MEANING

What do you want your reader to get out of your story? Is your developing masterpiece purely on a single plane -- a simple narrative, without additional levels of suggestiveness? Or is it multi-layered, a weave of events, characters, and significances to be pondered, even argued about?

Either way, strive for a clarity that befriends the readers, that supplies a reason for the writer/reader bond. There may, of course, be surprises and puzzles galore in the "what" and "who" of your story, but the "why" for it should become swiftly evident: the why you've done it and the why I, your reader, should read it.

E.B. White preached: "Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar ... If you write, you must believe in the truth and worth of the scrawl, in the ability of the reader to receive and decode the message."

Reader commitment must be earned. The reader deserves benefits to compensate for the time and attention he or she gave you.

"I" introduces INTELLIGENCE

I'm talking here about the sort of intelligence that the Central Intelligence Agency might want to keep secret: deep down, significant, no one knows kind of information. Now, I better make clear that I don't really mean this in a CIA/spies and spying manner, in a dark, dangerous, subversive sabotage sort of form.

I just mean you've gathered material that makes me feel as if I've been briefed, as if I'm in on the know. You've given me the sort of stuff that I couldn't have gained from another source because through your research and conceptualization, you've unearthed the "isn't-that-amazing, I-didn't-know-that, I-feel-special-for-now-knowing-it" quantity and quality of substance. As a result, I feel like an insider.

"N" is for NUANCE

It's for refinement, for polish, for finding balances. There are moments when you shout, when you flamboyantly exhibit your verbal skills, when you show off. There need be others in which a quieter atmosphere is generated, in which subtlety takes over, in which the mood turns introspective, atmospheric, delicate, unobtrusive, even elusive.

Nuance refers to limits, recognizing how far to go, where and how to hold back, shifting the noise level in your copy so that gentler essences can be revealed, essences that would be squelched by tumultuous language or circus gimmicks.

Reconsideration promotes nuance. Editing promotes nuance. Anne Lamott reminds us, "Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly. There will be many mistakes, many things to take out and others that need to be added." Nuance may come with afterthought.

"D" is for DIRECTION

Have you exhibited a sense of direction, a clearly followable path for your story? Have you bestowed a design on your piece, a structure upon which to build, an architecture that commands attention? Have you tried to give the reader a perceivable destination and the feel of moving forward?

Direction leads to order and cohesion, to continuity and flow, each critical to the success of your writing.

FLESH and MIND: we're getting there. SPIRIT remains for the completion of our task.

"S" leads off, representing SONG

Eudora Welty recalls, "Ever since I was first read to, then started reading to myself, there has never been a line read that I didn't hear."

You are composers using words as notes. Whether you seek lyricism and harmony or dissonance and discord, you compose melodies of some sort. You use pitch and rhythm and tonal colors. You orchestrate in simple lines or fugal arrangements. You employ varying speeds and accents and pauses. You build toward climaxes and retreat from them and build again. You make music. And because your music comes in words, because there's a message in your music, when you write, you truly are approximating the creation of a song.

Make music, I urge you.

"P" introduces the very important PERSONALITY

Personality of and in your writing, both marking the "you" in your work and the individual personality you're able to give to the characters and settings and situations you're writing about.

Personality. Voice. Raymond Carver says it's "akin to style ... but it isn't style alone. It is the writer's particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other ... a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking."

I'm talking about a singularity, an individuality, the finding of the "you" in your work and the willingness to freely use the found "you." You are or should be the distinguishing factor that separates your finished product from that of someone else. You are the secret ingredient, the cause for uniqueness in your writing.

The reader looks for distinctiveness in language and originality of thinking. Are you offering these?


That is part of the "you" I've just spoken of. As playwright Christopher Fry put it: "The first of our senses which we should take care never to let rust through disuse is that sixth sense, the imagination….I mean the wide open eye which leads us always to see the truth more vividly, to apprehend more broadly, to concern ourselves more deeply, to be, all our life long, sensitive and awake to the powers and responsibilities given to us as human beings."

Fry reminds us we all have it. It is what makes us human. But you, the creative person, to be fully creative, best use that imagination of yours to the nth degree. Painter Edward Hopper said: "No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of the imagination."


Two different yet, in this instance, tied-together words.

If what and how you write does not resonate with your reader, if it does not reverberate, ring, vibrate, then -- no matter how important to you is your material -- it will fail to be relevant. To be relevant, it must first draw the reader in. For that to happen, what you write has to activate the reader's sensibilities, his or her desire to be touched, to be moved in some way: to laugh, to feel romantic, to weep, to be thrilled, to wonder, to be motivated into action, to believe, to be angry, to be calmed, to be uplifted.

"I" introduces INSPIRATION

A writer who has inspired me, E.B. White, admonished the tribe: "A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world. He must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge. Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry. There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation... I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me."

Keeping our sense of proportion, humor, and appreciation: that's worth remembering.


If you have contributed all of the above, then what you have shaped so diligently and lovingly will provide transport. It will radiate forth. It will captivate, elevate, provoke, enchant, stir. It will communicate.

So now, are you prepared to sacrifice blood, sweat, and tears morning, noon, and night? Are you prepared to invest your flesh, mind, and spirit?

It is all a matter of focus, language, emphasis, substance, honesty, meaning, intelligence, nuance, direction, song, personality, imagination, resonance and relevance, inspiration, and transport.

These are musts that I do not ask of you. These are musts you take upon yourself if you would write seriously and productively and proficiently, if you would give your reader something to remember.

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 Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 9:45 AM

Assessing the readability of a Time.com excerpt.

This month, we examine an excerpt from a June 6, 2011, Time.com article ("Self-Serving Stewardship: How Manufacturers Help the Planet"):

For Coca-Cola, that realization came in the mid-2000s, when the global beverage giant became entangled in a controversy over its water use at a bottling plant in India. Nearby villagers held the company responsible for a dramatic drop in the level of the region's groundwater. Their demonstrations caught the attention of environmental activists, and the resulting negative publicity sparked protests and boycotts at college campuses across the U.S. and Europe. Coming as it did at a time when the company was expanding its pure-water products like mineral water, the unrest rang as a warning. In the future, Coca-Cola's fortunes would be tied to those of the environment.

--Word count: 107
--Average sentence length: 21 words (28, 17, 25, 24, 13)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 18 percent (19/107 words)
--Fog Index: (21+18)*.4 = 15 (no rounding)

This sample is in fairly good shape, but there's enough Fog to warrant further revision. Remember, the ideal is a Fog score below 12. At first glance, we see that the average sentence length is on the high side at 21 words, and there is a significant percentage of 3+-syllable words. Let's see if we can improve the score.

"Coca-Cola realized this in the mid-2000s, when the company came under fire for bottling water in India. Villagers in the area blamed Coca-Cola for a severe drop in regional groundwater levels. Environmentalists heard their protests, and there was a rash of college protests and boycotts across the U.S. and Europe. The unrest rang as a warning to the company, who was expanding its mineral water product line. In the future, Coca-Cola's fortunes would be tied to those of the environment."

--Word count: 80
--Average sentence length: 16 words (17, 14, 19, 17, 13)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 13 percent (10/80 words)
--Fog Index: (16+13)*.4 = 11 (no rounding)

Economy of language and simplicity were the keys to cutting the Fog score of this excerpt. There were excess words and phrases that we could afford to trim without sacrificing meaning.

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Editorial Skills in Demand

Posted on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 9:45 AM

In the news: What editorial skills matter most to hiring personnel?

Last week, Foliomag.com posted a roundup of lucrative editorial skills. So what skills do top editors seek in new hires? Strong editing skills and ability to work under tight deadlines are no longer enough. According to Peter Moore, editor of Men's Health, new hires must be technologically savvy and conversant in social media. His magazine tends to hire graduates from journalism schools, but more important is wide experience across multiple platforms (print, video, web, blogs, etc.).

Meg Majors, editor-in-chief of Progressive Grocer, emphasizes that candidates should have a "sound business reporting voice." Charlene Fink, Farm Journal Media's senior vice president of editorial and content development, seeks candidates not only with basic journalism skills, but the ability to deliver content across multiple platforms. Candidates tend to be former interns or graduates of top journalism schools.

All three editors agree that multiplatform content delivery is the name of the game. Read more.

Tumblr and Subscriptions

What is the next social networking wave for magazines? According to some editors, the answer is Tumblr. Much like Twitter, the microblogging site allows for interaction between the magazine and its followers. GW, The Economist, Entertainment Weekly, and dozens of other publications are already on board and experimenting with the platform. Some editors believe that Tumblr can attract readers (particularly younger ones) otherwise unfamiliar with a given magazine brand. Perhaps more importantly, high traffic Tumblr sites can generate enough buzz to make a story or brand go viral. And, in today's frenzied social media world, all you need is buzz. Read more.

Are Static Websites Passé?

In a recent article on Editor & Publisher's website, Upstream Digital Media managing director Keith Jordan poses a scenario: "Imagine that major news breaks -- the kind that changes everything in the areas your publication covers. Your editorial team wants to throw normal design out the window and create a unique treatment that conveys the news event's importance." A static website, says Jordan, can't accommodate such a spur-of-the-moment need. The solution is metadata. Read more.

Report: Reader Engagement and App Users

A recent Yudu study finds a higher level of reader engagement among ebook and digital magazine app users. According to the results, 64 percent of app users visit the app multiple times -- 3.7 times on average. Could this trend mean digital revenue growth for magazines in the near future? Read more.

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