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Issue for May 2015

Speak as an Expert in Your Editorials

Posted on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at 8:38 PM

Every editorial column written should reflect 'industry insider' status.

By Howard Rauch

No "competitive analysis" discussion is complete without special attention to expectations for an editor-in-chief's personal column.

In fact, each column should reflect "insider status" as opposed to "observer" or "parroting" status. There is a difference.

Three Different Approaches

Specifically, the insider attempts to propose solutions to an industry problem his/her column reviews.

The best an observer can do is to describe a known problem and then hope readers can figure best courses of action.

In addition to columns that reflect "insider" or "observer" capability, a third variation exists: "parroting." Typically, the author makes no attempt to introduce original thinking. Instead, the commentary merely pulls excerpts from articles appearing in the issue. To a certain extent, what you have is a second contents page rather than an opinion piece.

A Competitive Advantage

Now consider this: Competitive editorial analysis reviews should always start with the editorial column. You can punch some very big holes in the opponent's armor if columns don't exude the desirable "insider" aura.

Then there is this thought: Insider status is not achieved overnight. From the first day a junior editor is on the job, there should be a program in place designed to raise that individual's authoritative grasp of industry affairs as quickly as possible.

For those of you who contend that columns also should reflect expertise in one's craft, here is a reference list worth considering:

Five Pointers

--The headline should immediately reflect the column's take-away value. Don't expect to do this with a format that calls for headline lengths of just three or four words.

--If a deck is required, it should expand upon rather than duplicate the headline's message.

--The main article's introductory paragraph should reach a key story point within the first ten words. Obviously that's impossible if you prefer launching each column with a multi-paragraph anecdote devoid of required immediacy.

--The best efforts are those totally based on the author's personal views. This is as opposed to a column totally devoted to quoting other parties inside or outside your industry.

--Fog Index reading levels should not exceed 10th-12th grade.

The Editor as a Leader

There is one more notable point pertaining to this discussion:

The "industry insider" is prepared to take a leadership position, either in tackling an industry problem, deploring unacceptable industry practices, or attacking unfavorable pending legislation.

Many editors write well-researched columns that deliver the insider's view every time. But too many authors still resort to parroting more often than not.

How do you fit into this picture?

Howard Rauch is president of Editorial Solutions Inc. (http://www.editsol.com). Preparing competitive analysis reports is an area of specialization for him. He is also chair of ASBPE's ethics committee.

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Thanks for the advice on writing editorials. I have to admit this is a challenge for me -- after spending so long as a reporter who works to present balanced coverage of various sides of an issue, it is often hard for me to come down on one side of an issue. There are many shades of gray, and the right solution for one portion of our audience won't be right for a different part of it. --Deborah Lockridge, editor-in-chief, Heavy Duty Truckers

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Quotes for Inspiration

Posted on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at 8:34 PM

Three book sources of quotes that invite you to sit back, enjoy, and choose.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Whenever I set about to shape a new lecture or lesson, I look for nuggets and wisdoms of others that can be used to initiate the topic under scrutiny. My first sources usually are books consisting of quotes; they're loaded, of course, with possibilities. And not only do I find what I need, but, in the process, I get reminders for myself as writer and myself as editor of matters that, over time, can slip the mind but remain essential for successful practice of the craft.

Here are three sources that I've consistently, repeatedly mined:

Good Advice on Writing, Great Quotations from Writers Past and Present on How to Write Well by William Safire and Leonard Safir (Simon & Schuster, 1992);

The Quotable Writer edited by Lamar Underwood (The Lyons Press, 2004);

W.O.W.: Writers on Writing compiled by Jon Winokur (Running Press, 1990).

The Safire/Safir collection is set up like a dictionary or encyclopedia, with quotes placed under topics alphabetically arranged, from Accuracy, Action, Adjectives, and Adverbs to Witness, Words, Work Process, and Writer's Block.

Underwood divides his gathered treasures by topicality: "Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers," "The Writer's Craft: How the Pros Master It," "The Insiders," and "The Ups and Downs of the Writing Life," among others.

Winokur uses subject labels such as Good Writing, Grammar, Material, Self-Criticism, and Style as his means of division.

All three invite you to sit back, enjoy, and choose. Here are a dozen nuggets, four from each book. If you're a regular reader of these columns, you may remember coming across a few of them before. There's no harm in that; wisdoms hold.

From Safire/Safir

Barbara Tuchman: "I want the reader to turn the page and keep on turning to the end. This is accomplished only when the narrative moves steadily ahead, not when it comes to a weary standstill, overloaded with every item uncovered in the research." (page 35)

Stendhal: "I see but one rule: to be clear. If I am not clear, all my world crumbles to nothing." (page 43)

Edna Ferber: "Life can't ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death -- fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant." (page 64)

Isaac Asimov: "Remember: what lasts in the reader's mind is not the phrase but the effect the phrase created: laughter, tears, pain, joy. If the phrase is not affecting the reader, what is it doing there? Make it do its job or cast it without mercy or remorse." (page 80)

From Underwood

George Higgins: "Reading your work aloud, even silently, is the most astonishingly easy and reliable method that there is for achieving economy in prose, efficiency of description, and narrative effect as well. Rely upon it: if you can read it aloud to yourself without wincing, you have probably gotten it right." (page 10)

William Zinsser: "The most important sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn't induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence ... I urge you not to count on the reader to stick around. He is a fidgety fellow who wants to know -- very soon -- what's in it for him." (page 27)

W. Somerset Maugham: "But the author does not only write when he is at his desk; he writes all day long, when he is thinking, when he is reading, when he is experiencing everything he sees and feels is significant to his purpose and, consciously or unconsciously, he is ... storing and making over his impressions." (page 74)

Natalie Goldberg: "Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life.... But there's another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and details." (page 274)

From Winokur

Truman Capote: "Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself." (page 5)

Anne Bernays: "Nice writing isn't enough. It isn't enough to have smooth and pretty language. You have to surprise the reader frequently, you can't just be nice all the time. Provoke the reader. Astonish the reader. Writing that has no surprises is as bland as oatmeal. Surprise the reader with the unexpected verb or adjective. Use one startling adjective per page." (page 17)

George Orwell: "The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there's a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink." (page 134)

Tracy Kidder: "You can write about anything, and if you write well enough, even the reader with no intrinsic interest in the subject will become involved." (page 158)

Look these anthologies up. You'll be richer for it.

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, May 30, 2015 at 8:33 PM

Assessing the readability of an excerpt from The Atlantic.com.

This month's Fog Index sample comes from a May 27 TheAtlantic.com article ("Inbox Zero vs. Inbox 5,000: A Unified Theory" by Joe Pinsker"). Here's the text we'll be analyzing:

"When someone drops everything just to get an unread count back to zero, productivity might be taking a hit. 'It takes people on average about 25 minutes to reorient back to a task when they get interrupted,' she says. Yes, that includes even brief interruptions, like dashing off a quick response to an email, and it often takes so long to get back on task because the project you start doing after handling an email often isn't the same as the one you were already doing. (These interruptions are so integral to modern workflows, Mark says, that when people lack external interruptions, such as a coworker striking up a conversation, they voluntarily interrupt themselves -- sometimes by checking email.)"

--Word count: 118 words
--Average sentence length: 30 words (19, 20, 47, 32)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 12 percent (14/118 words)
--Fog Index: (30+12)*.4 = 16 (no rounding)

Sentence length is the main factor that drives the Fog score above 12. In 118 words, we have just our sentences, one of which weighs in at 47 words. Let's see where this excerpt takes us:

"When someone drops everything just to get an unread count back to zero, productivity might be taking a hit. 'It takes most people about 25 minutes to return to a task when they get interrupted,' she says. Yes, that includes even brief interruptions, like dashing off a quick response to an email. In many cases getting back on task takes so long because the project they start after handling an email often isn't the same one they were doing before. (These interruptions are so central to modern workflows, Mark says, that when people lack outside interruptions, such as a colleague striking up a conversation, they voluntarily interrupt themselves -- sometimes by checking email.)"

--Word count: 112 words
--Average sentence length: 22 words (19, 18, 15, 28, 32)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 7 percent (8/112 words)
--Fog Index: (22+7)*.4 = 11 (no rounding)

We went into this sample expecting to split up the two longer sentences. We were halfway successful. The 47-word sentence easily became two sentences. However, the 32-word sentence proved more difficult, and we ended up leaving it alone. Instead, we were able to cut 6 longer words to make up the difference. In the end, we shed 5 points by making smaller changes on three levels: 1) trimming total word count, 2) turning 4 sentences into 5, and 3) cutting the number of longer words nearly in half.

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Paywalls in 2015

Posted on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at 8:31 PM

In the news: Can Time Inc. make the paywall model work?

During the Great Recession, paywalls arose as publishers scrambled to recoup lost revenues after years of giving away online content for free. Today, many publications (most notably the New York Times) still use some form of paywall to drive revenue. In most cases, a reader hits said wall after a certain number of free article views per month.

Now Time Inc. is trying to implement its own paywall structure. Last week, the publisher attached a paywall to Entertainment Weekly and has announced plans to do the same with other brands. Lucia Moses of Digiday.com shares five strategies Time Inc. is using as it jumps into the paywall arena. Read her roundup here.

Also Notable

2015 AP Stylebook Available

This week, the AP Stylebook released its revised and updated 2015 guide. The new edition includes hundreds of new and revised entries, with particularly heavy updates in the sports section. Perhaps most noteworthy is the inclusion of an index for the first time -- a hefty 85-page index, to be precise. Read Poynter.org's round-ups of the major changes here and here.

ASME Announces Cover of the Year

On May 13, ASME announced the winner of its annual print cover award. This year's prize went to the December 8, 2014, issue of The New Yorker. The winning cover featured a broken rendering of the iconic St. Louis arch, symbolizing the tragic events last year in Ferguson, Missouri. Category winners included Harper's Bazaar for fashion and beauty and Bloomberg BusinessWeek for "brainiest." Read the complete list of winners here.

Designing Covers That Sell

Content delivery is changing and production schedules have shortened, but thoughtful magazine cover design still matters. Earlier this month, Folio: examined recent attention grabbers from The Atlantic, a publication with longer lead times on stories. Read the full article here.

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