« April 2017 | Home | June 2017 »

Issue for May 2017

Saving Space for Decks

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 2:05 PM

Give your readers a smoother hello.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Shall we title this column "The Practicality of Decks" or "The Enrichment from Decks" or, perhaps, both?

I'll opt for both because decks are both practical and enriching.

The argument against them, particularly from editors of space-short newsletters, can assume staccato form: "They take too much room. They take too much room. They take too much room."

I accept the complaint, fully understanding of that position. But I have a counterargument: "They help clarify the message you're trying to promote. They help you get your message across. They help the reader choose to read what you have to say and, then, to understand the message.

What you're doing through use of a deck is offering a three-part entrance to the copy: a headline or title, a subhead or subtitle, and a lead. That can mean a smoother hello.

Hey, even book editors and publishers are increasingly doing the three-move shuffle into what the writer has put together, easing the way to get in.

Intriguing Deck

Here's an example. A stark white cover features small but distinctive letters in black. There's the title: Schubert's Winter Journey. There's the subtitle: Anatomy of an Obsession. You're teased by just four words into opening the book to read next the sales pitch on the front flap of tenor Ian Bostridge's fascinating analysis of a Schubert song cycle. The flap material begins: "An exploration of the world's most famous and challenging song cycle, Schubert's Winter Journey (Winterreise), by a leading interpreter of the work, who teases out the themes -- literary, historical, psychological -- that weave through the twenty-four songs that make up this legendary masterpiece." And on it goes.

It is the subtitle, Anatomy of an Obsession, that intrigues and, thereby, I believe, walks us more comfortably into a book that is little in size but thick, a book of 504 pages, all about a set of songs. Gorgeous they are, but how about that?

Informative Deck

Or take one of my books. Title: The Magazine Article. The subtitle: How to Think It, Plan It, Write It. The flap contains this opening paragraph: "Your job as a writer is to captivate your audience by making what you have to offer of great interest or importance. This is where your creativity comes in -- it's where you make the most of a subject by being original and inventive." And on it goes.

The subtitle suggests that the book contains steps in a process, steps designed to clarify how that process works. Again, doesn't that add to your earliest knowledge about a book you're asked to consider buying and using?

Bargain Deck

Switch to the magazine Chicago. Because I lived in the neighborhood during high school and college years, I was immediately attracted by the title: "This Is Rogers Park." Being so familiar with that neighborhood, I didn't need the subtitle but could respect the need for it by readers without that close knowledge: "Chicago photographer Joshua Lott captures daily life in the city's most diverse community."

The story's lead reads: "Over the last two decades, documentary photographer Joshua Lott has lived everywhere from New York City to Detroit to Phoenix. But Lott says that no matter where he landed, his childhood neighborhood of Rogers Park always felt like home. 'It's just comfortable here,' says Lott, who moved back in 2015. 'My mom's side of the family is from Belize, and that's fitting because a lot of people who immigrate to this country end up establishing their lives in Rogers Park. The diversity is one of the big things that drew me back.'"

The deck enables better movement from a turn of pages within Chicago to being immersed in a fascinating neighborhood that still beckons about 65 years after I moved away. And after all, how much room does this deck actually take? The subhead is a bargain.

Descriptive Deck

Lauren Collins' Reporter-at Large story in the February 27, 2017, print edition of The New Yorker follows a thrifty title that by itself does too little for the important story that follows. "The Children's Odyssey," it says. There's hardly a clue in that. But a savvy editor added a subtitle, short but tremendously helpful: "Europe is supposed to protect young, unaccompanied refugees. Why is it failing them?"

I'm beginning to get it as I move to the story's opening, which covers a couple of paragraphs, the first of which reads: "Wasil awoke to the sound of a knife ripping through nylon. Although he was only twelve years old, he was living alone in a small tent at a refugee camp in Calais, France, known as the Jungle. Men entered his tent; he couldn't tell how many. A pair of hands gripped his throat. He shouted. It was raining, and the clatter of the drops muffled his cries, so he shouted louder. At last, people from neighboring tents came running, and the assailants disappeared."

I might have missed reading this gripping story, had I not had the benefit of the informative subtitle. As I wrote in my opening paragraph: decks are practical and enriching.

Concise Deck

A news story on the front page of The New York Times early in March begins the necessary task of reminding the readers where we were on that particular day: "Unity Is Elusive as G.O.P. Presses Health Overhaul." Two decks are efforts to bring the reader up to date: "Trump's Stance Vague" and "Rules for Tax Credits Are a Sticking Point for Conservatives."

The presence of those decks, both concise, made my entry into the story considerably easier: "President Trump's address to Congress on Tuesday night buoyed House Republican leaders who were hopeful that his leadership would unite fractious lawmakers around a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. But fundamental disagreements still divide Republicans on one of the central promises of their 2016 campaigns: repealing the health law."

Getting me updated step-by-step is a practice I'm always grateful for. The Times obliged me. You can do that for your readers, if you can just convince yourself that small bits of space reserved for decks can vastly expand the reader's comfort level and desire to read. If you haven't done so, try it. Then ask your readers how they feel about the change. I think they'll benefit and recognize so. I think you'll come to benefit and recognize so.

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.

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

Sloppy Editing Makes National News

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 2:01 PM

CNN editors report on one writer's mishandling of quotes while they themselves offer a tenuous characterization of what happened.

By William Dunkerley

Editorial practices don't usually garner headlines nationally. But they did when David Clarke, the Milwaukee county sheriff, was rumored to be joining the Trump administration. CNN published an extensive analysis taking Clarke to task for his editorial handling of quoted material. The examples come from his master's thesis at the Naval Postgraduate School.

For Instance

One example cited by CNN is a quotation from professor Erik Dahl writing in Homeland Security Affairs journal. Here is Dahl's original statement:

"There is good news here: this domestic intelligence system appears to have been successful in increasing security within the US, as demonstrated by numerous foiled terrorist plots and the lack of another major successful attack on American soil since 9/11. But there is also bad news: these gains are coming at the cost of increasing domestic surveillance and at the risk of civil liberties."

Clarke handled it this way:

"The author writes that the domestic intelligence system appears to have been successful in increasing security within the U.S., but that the gains are coming at the cost of ever-increasing domestic surveillance and at the risk of civil liberties."

Clarke's text is followed by a footnote (Eric J. Dahl, "Domestic Intelligence Today: More Security but Less Liberty?" Homeland Security Affairs, [September 2011], https://hsdl.org/?view&did=691059.). But the absence of quotation marks makes it hard to differentiate Clarke's voice from that of Dahl. A paraphrase and a quote were mashed together. Clarke also gratuitously added emphasis to Dahl's reference to "increasing domestic surveillance" by calling it "ever-increasing domestic surveillance."

A Better Approach

Clarke would have better served his readers with:

"The author writes that the 'domestic intelligence system appears to have been successful in increasing security within the U.S., but that the 'gains are coming at the cost of increasing domestic surveillance and at the risk of civil liberties.' This cost is ever-increasing in this writer's view."

And More

In another passage Clarke writes:

"The war-fighting approach allows for the use of any and all means of intelligence gathering with little attention paid to safeguarding rights to privacy and other civil liberties."

He follows that with a footnote to the source. But it is instantly unclear to the reader whether this is a quote or a paraphrase. Here's what the source actually said:

"Moreover, this strategy allows for the use of any and all means of intelligence gathering without the need to safeguard rights to privacy or other civil liberties, as it usually targets noncitizens in the territory of foreign countries."

Clarke could have written:

"The war-fighting approach gives rise to what Nadav Morag calls 'the use of any and all means of intelligence gathering' while paying little attention to safeguarding 'rights to privacy and other civil liberties...'"

CNN's Exposé?

The CNN story cites almost 50 editorial transgressions by Clarke. Most seem to involve very sloppy adherence to standards in the use of quotes.

Why was that a national news story?

It is because CNN authors Andrew Kaczynski, Christopher Massie, and Nathan McDermott characterized Clarke's sloppiness as plagiarism. Their story was titled, "Sheriff David Clarke plagiarized portions of his master's thesis on homeland security."

So it was actually the accusation of plagiarism that propelled the story to the top, not the unprofessional use of quoted material that CNN's evidence supports.

CNN's Bad

In my view the authors went overboard with their allegation. Plagiarism is commonly understood to be presenting someone else's work as one's own. If that had been Clarke's intent he certainly would not have included footnotes to the sources. In reality his offense is limited to failing to follow accepted norms in quoting others.

I asked one of the sources cited in the CNN piece about this. He declined accusing Clarke of taking credit for his writings or that Clarke had distorted his meanings. In fact, he seemed dismayed that he had been drawn into this controversy.

The CNN authors' allegation of plagiarism is perhaps the most egregious part of this all. They are members of what CNN calls its "leading investigation team." If they are bent on distorting what they investigate, as seemingly evidenced here, it will be hard to trust the fruits of their future investigative revelations.

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

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

The Fog Index

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 1:52 PM

Assessing the readability of a Newsweek.com excerpt.

This month's Fog Index sample text comes from a May 24 article on Newsweek.com ("Learning to Read Can Dramatically Change the Adult Brain" by Jessica Wapner). Here's the excerpt, with longer words in italics:

"Scientists have long known that learning shapes the brain. Speaking multiple languages, accruing new skills or even just quitting a habit can forge new neural pathways. But a new study has brought a surprising twist to our understanding of how the brain molds itself to new abilities -- in particular, learning to read as an adult. Literacy, it turns out, changes ancient regions of the brain that researchers never suspected played a role in reading. The finding expands not only our understanding of reading but also disorders that impair it, namely dyslexia."

--Word count: 91 words
--Average sentence length: 18 words (9, 17, 29, 19, 17)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 11 percent (10/91 words)
--Fog Index: (18+11)*.4 = 11 (11.6, no rounding)

This sample falls within the ideal Fog-Gunning range (below 12), so we won't edit the text. Instead, we'll discuss what went right.

For starters, we have a low ratio of longer words-- just eleven, by our count. The author was able to discuss the science behind adult literacy without losing the layperson in dense lingo. We might swap out a few longer words to drive down the percentage further, but it isn't necessary here. We aren't inundated with highly technical language. It's used economically to drive home key concepts.

Sentence length is the crucial factor here, though. We have 91 words split into 5 sentences. This structure allows the author to deliver technical information in easy-to-read fragments. But note that despite the high number of sentences for a 91-word excerpt, sentence length varies. Rather than a series of short, staccato sentences, we have a mix, with sentences ranging from 9 to 29 words. This creates a nice rhythm without driving the Fog score over 12.

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

Case Study: Adding Print to a Digital-Only Brand

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 1:49 PM

In the news: How one publication is experimenting with print after two digital decades.

Earlier this month, online architecture magazine Archinect.com discussed its upcoming foray into print publishing. The magazine, which had been online-only for 20 years, is now adding a print edition entitled Ed. Writes founder and director Paul Petrunia, "We will publish in print from the perspective of a digital-first and digital-only publication, taking the lessons we've learned from pioneering new media, and applying them to an age-old format that offers a different type of value."

Each Ed issue will be conceptualized by a different designer in what Petunia dubs "an experiment in how to evolve architectural publishing ... [to] elevate and enliven the profession's discourse by maintaining a high standard for editorial." Read more about the magazine's plans for print here.

Also Notable

Magazine Media Data Literacy in 2017

Folio: has released its 2017 Data Survey. The survey of publishers, editors, and marketing managers paints a picture of industry-wide data literacy. Writes the Folio.com staff: "For all the buzz in the media industry about the mounting vitality of maintaining a unified, organized, and practical audience database, most publishers' systems for managing such data remain rudimentary at best." To access the report PDF, click here. (Note: You will need to fill out a form to complete the download.)

"Print Just Feels Good"

So reads a May 5 headline on Fortune.com. The piece by Adam Lashinsky discusses Airbnbmag, a joint venture for Hearst and Airbnb. The recently launched print magazine is powered by social media trends (e.g., commonly searched locations on the Airbnb website/app). Read more about the new magazine here.

New Facebook Media Deals

Facebook has begun teaming up with media brands to make shows exclusively for the social media platform. Getting in on the action are Buzzfeed, Vox Media, ATTN, and Group Nine Media, according to MobileMarketingMagazine.com. Episodes will run 20 to 30 minutes. Read more here and here.

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

« April 2017 | Top | June 2017 »