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Issue for May 2013

An Editorial Turnaround with Limited Resources

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 9:29 AM

A reader's question: How can I work an editorial miracle?

By William Dunkerley

Q. I just took over the editorship of a business magazine in a specialized import/export field. It has been published for 25 years. The publisher is concerned that the book is losing ground to a competitor. He wants me to work a miracle.

The first thing I did was sit down and read all the editorial content from the past year. What I saw was so upsetting that I couldn't keep my mascara from running. What had I gotten myself into, I wondered. The copy was dull and hard to understand. The competing magazine, on the other hand, had articles that were crisp, inviting, and interesting.

My staff consists of five people: four editors and an editorial assistant. The editors all have a background in the import/export business. My predecessor, the founding editor, had a similar background. They all learned editing and writing on the job.

So far, my impression is that the present staff is very dedicated and technically astute. They believe they are doing a good job and are at a loss to explain why the competition is outpacing them.

The publisher doesn't want me to undertake a staff shakeup and is not offering much of a budget increase for me to turn things around. Help! What should I do? And how can I do it?

A. The impression I get from your description is that your magazine has content that is good but a presentation that is poor. Poor presentation can almost always be improved. That's what you should do. Fix the dull, confusing presentation.

But, how can you fix it? One obvious approach would be to provide your staff with training to improve their writing and editing skills. But that's not something that can be arranged overnight, nor is it something that would produce quick results. And besides, we don't know if they would all have the aptitude for writing and editing at a higher professional level.

I recommend is that you implement something akin to the copy desk at a newspaper. This is a place through which all news copy passes on the way to the presses. Exactly what happens at the copy desk varies from one publication to another. Usually this is where headlines are written and facts are checked. But what goes on there depends upon what's needed.

Here's what I think a copy desk at your publication should do:

1. Write concise, attention-grabbing headlines for each article.

2. Write decks that capitalize upon the attention created by the headline and build interest to motivate the reader to start reading the article.

3. Prepare leads that will fascinate readers, orient them to the theme of the article, and draw them into reading further.

4. Ensure that the beginning paragraphs of an article are sufficiently general and understandable so that they can be appreciated by readers who may not have a specific interest in reading the entire article.

5. Prepare pull quotes so that readers flipping through your pages can get an increased sense of what an article is about and what it has to offer.

6. Write effective captions that not only describe what's in a photo or illustration, but also give page-flippers interesting details that will motivate them to read the whole article.

If you implement these recommendations you will give your publication the facelift that it needs. And you'll accomplish that without having to replace editorial personnel.

But who will staff this new copy desk? That's a question of budget. If you have the resources to do so, simply hire someone who has the skills for doing these tasks. If that is not in the cards, look for freelance help and use it to the extent that your budget will allow. You may not be able to fix all of the content, but this will at least get you started. And if you can't afford even to hire a freelancer, take the lead article from each issue and perform those tasks yourself.

I strongly recommend that you institute a means of measuring the results of this effort. Find a reliable way to sample reader reactions to each piece of content in an issue. Get a benchmark from issues produced before inaugurating this program. Then track the results once your implementation begins. This approach has two benefits: First, it will allow you to fine tune your program of change. You'll be seeing from the results what produces a favorable response and what doesn't. Second, you will be gathering data to validate whatever editorial budget increases you are using, or to justify requests for additional funds.

Some editors to whom I've presented similar recommendations for editorial improvement has been apprehensive. They've been concerned that editorial staff will be resistant to someone else's intervention with their copy. But what I found is that most editors welcome resources that will make them look better. And that brings up an important point: this program should be presented as a way to make them look better.

This should be presented as a means for helping them compete with the other publication. It is absolutely important that they not view this move as punitive. What's more, the results from your reader-reaction surveys will reinforce the notion that the program is indeed making them look better. And when they look better, your publication will look better.

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

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The Imagination, The Labor, and You

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 9:28 AM

Part I -- The process of writing.

By Peter P. Jacobi

A recent lesson of mine for conferees at a writers' conference dealt with process. To save space, I've removed flourishes and examples. I've abridged, but here are the matters I covered.

I told them at the outset they've got guts, having made the choice to write as professionals and, thereby, having set themselves up for judgment, for analysis, for evaluation, for criticism, for editing, "all this on top of engaging in an activity that's damn hard."

I expressed the hope that my comments would "ease your discomforts, enhance your assurance, build on your skills, and lift your spirits," just what you, my readers, should as editors be doing from time to time for your writers and for yourselves.

I continued (for you, I'm dropping the quotation marks from what I said, leaving them for use when I quote the words of others).

The Process

You all know writing is process. It's not a matter of "Pouff! There's my masterpiece." It's process. First in the process: IMAGINATION applied, step by step by step. Then, it's LABOR applied, step by step by step. That's what can make writing so frustrating: all that effort. That's what also can make it so wonderfully satisfying.

Let me review the process with you, not that you don't know it already but so that you might re-freshen it in your mind and re-enlighten yourself. Here are the basics so you can be even more masterful masters than you are. [I then played a portion of Beethoven's Romance in F as bridge to what follows.]

We generally acknowledge Beethoven as one of music's supreme geniuses. Another musical genius of more recent vintage, Leonard Bernstein, greatly admired his predecessor. "I'm a nut on the subject," he insisted. But why, Bernstein asked himself, is Beethoven so admired? There are "better melodists, harmonists, rhythmisists, contrapuntalists, orchestrators in musical history. So, why all this hullaballoo about Ludwig van Beethoven?"

Argues Bernstein: "Many composers have been able to write heavenly tunes and respectable fugues. Some composers can orchestrate the C-Major scale so that it sounds like a masterpiece or fool with notes so that a harmonic novelty is achieved. But this is all mere dust -- nothing compared to the magic ingredient sought by them all: the inexplicable ability to know what the next note has to be. Beethoven had this gift in a degree that leaves them all panting in the rear guard."

Well, for you, the writer, the notes are words. And from them, too, must come melody, harmony, rhythm, counterpoint, orchestration, and always an effort to know what the next word should be. That is if you would make me laugh or weep, become elated or angered, be aroused or soothed, be transported out of my habitat, my skin, my mind.

It begins with you and, if all goes right, is transmitted to me. You establish the contact, and if all goes right, the words that leave you transmogrify into communication. Your struggle, your mental muscle turns into a magic substance that stimulates my brain and romances my heart. For that to happen, you must imagine and do labor. Permit me to expand on what I've labeled this talk: "The Imagination, the Labor, and You."


The imagination comes first in the process we call writing: the imagination to generate the idea, to conceptualize that idea, and to develop a plan for its usage in your manuscript.

The British playwright Christopher Fry once warned that "we should take care never to let rust through disuse that sixth sense, the imagination." He called it "the wide-open eye which leads us to see 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."

I think of the line from Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, when Estragon complains, "Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful." Well, the nothing and the nobody were shaped by Beckett's imagination into one of the most influential plays of the twentieth century, perplexing, yes; elliptical, yes; both despairing and absurd, yes; provocative, yes, but influential and important, the product of Samuel Beckett's fertile imagination.

Your imagination is potentially just as fertile. Call upon it. Urge it to be open to the power of suggestion. New ideas are rare. Imagination encourages creative re-use. That's valuable. Good ideas should be used more than once. How? Well, here are four words that symbolize an active, keenly-applied imagination on the prowl: appropriation, application, modification, and amplification.

Appropriation means using again what's been used before but not doing so in copycat fashion. Application means altering the idea so that it suits the particular needs of your reader in a particular time and place. Modification means making changes so that the idea acquires new boundaries and a new appearance, even a new identity. Amplification means expanding the idea through new factors or an altered perspective, thereby adding to what has been. You are urged to appropriate, apply or alter, modify, and amplify.

Ideas can come from self-assessment, from within you, from what you've been thinking about, from what you've been experiencing, what you've read, what you've heard, what you've seen in the reality of your daily life or in fantasy projected on the movie screen; from what you've eaten, what you've smelled -- yes, aromas evoke memories; from what you've received in the mail, what's on your television or in/on your iPad; from what the arts and sciences come up with; from practitioners and philosophers, from treasures and detritus; from memories, yours and those of others; from what's happening now, what happened in the distant past, and what predictions are for the future. Let your imagination roam.

Imagination not only welcomes ideas but guides us into conceptualizing them, into transforming the thought that is an ephemeral idea into a substance that is, for the writer, malleable, workable, usable. Imagination turns ideas into subjects and, through planning begins to turn subjects into stories. Notion becomes topic; topic becomes form; form becomes the skeleton that you will eventually transform into your manuscript. Planning means carefully plotting out just exactly what you wish to offer your reader in substance (the what), purpose (the why), and logical order (the how).

Labor -- To Be Continued

That's where labor takes over. The process continues in Part II, coming soon.

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 New AP Stylebook

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 9:26 AM

What's new in the 2013 edition, released May 29, 2013.

Yesterday, the Associated Press issued the latest edition of its Stylebook, an update that coincides with the guide's sixtieth anniversary. So what can changes readers expect in the new version? Among others:

--New additions to the word lists in the fashion, food, and social media sections.
--A simplified approach to number style with hundreds of demonstrative examples.
--New standards of usage for mental illnesses and immigration terms.

The updates reflect not only changes in the popularity of certain subjects in the media, but also debates about how those subjects are covered. Last month, for instance, the AP did away with the term "illegal immigrant" and ruled that "illegal" should describe the act (i.e., "illegal immigration"), not the person.

The AP continues to draw criticism from some writers and editors for omitting the Oxford comma from simple series, as reported in a May 29, 2013 piece on TheAtlanticWire.com.

The new Stylebook print edition is priced at $16.75 for members and $20.95 for non-members. Online access is aavailable through the AP Stylebook website (www.apstylebook.com), and on tablets and mobile devices via iTunes.

To read more about the changes in the new edition, visit the following links:

AP Stylebook Marks 60th Anniversary with New Print Edition (AP.org)

The AP Stylebook Marks 60th Anniversary with New Edition, Out Today (Poynter.org)

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Wired Redesign and Restructuring

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 9:19 AM

In the news: Wired has undergone extensive changes to meet current reader preferences.

Wired has just undergone massive design and editorial changes. The magazine has just rolled out its new design in the June issue. Gone are the design bells and whistles of yore; in their place is a much simpler design. The design reflects a hope that, over time, readers will see Wired as not just a tech magazine, but also a lifestyle magazine.

In addition to the redesign, the magazine has also undergone editorial restructuring. Mashable reports that the masthead has merged Wired and Wired.com staffers. "It's all one operation now, and the floor plan of the San Francisco office has been rearranged to reflect it, so I'm told: The guys who write about gadgets for the magazine are now sitting next to the guys who write about gadgets for the website, and so on," writes Lauren Indvik in a May 21 Mashable.com article. Read the entire article here.

Also Notable

More Magazine Readers?

Despite stagnant circulation and newsstand numbers in 2012, magazine readership is on the rise. According to GfK MRI, total readership is up and digital readership has nearly doubled. Food magazines continued to grow, while fashion and men's magazines saw marked readership drops. Read more of the numbers here.

Huffington Magazine on Multiple Platforms

Big changes are afoot for Huffington magazine. The iPad-only publication has hired a new editor, and the magazine will adopt a more lifestyle-oriented editorial focus. Later this summer, the magazine will start publishing across multiple platforms, including mobile. Read more about the planned changes here.

More on iPad Publishing

While the iPad-only model hasn't worked for Huffington, others are still optimistic about its potential. Benjamin Bajarin, director of consumer technology practice at Creative Strategies, believes we are entering "the next evolutionary ... step in publishing" thanks to the iPad. In a recent TabTimes.com article, he discusses magazine consumption on tablets, citing interactivity and media enhancements as major advantages. He sees a future where more and more publishers create "highly curated -- and edited -- platforms for quality long form content." Read Bajarin's complete article here.

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