« May 2021 | Home | July 2021 »

Issue for June 2021

Publications Face Staffing Shortages

Posted on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 at 6:39 PM

In the news: Many publishers are having a hard time finding talent in the post-Covid employee pool. What’s causing the shortage?

The industry, the newspaper segment in particular, is slowly rebounding from the Covid-19 pandemic. Jerry Simpkins of Editor & Publisher discusses some of the promising upswings and some of the challenges ahead in a recent piece. “Most of you have already seen an increase in pre-prints versus the dry period of COVID,” he writes. “Shelves that were bare over the past year are now starting to fill up again, and advertisers seem to be coming back in both preprints and in ROP advertising.”

But publishing (and other industries) are facing new staffing challenges now that the pandemic is receding. “It has become increasingly challenging to find and hire lower wage production workers,” Simpkins says. Due to a confluence of factors, including extended pandemic unemployment benefits, “there is now a significant shortage of qualified workers, and it is affecting our ability to get the job done.” Read more here.

Also Notable

In-Flight Print Magazines: An Endangered Species

Joanna Bailey of SimplyFlying.com discusses the future of in-flight magazines in a recent piece. “As airlines begin to remove the inflight magazine from the aircraft cabin, many are turning to digital downloads to provide the information that was previously offered here,” she writes. But not every passenger has a compatible device, and some are lamenting the loss of this resource. Airbus has patented an innovative idea that sees inflight magazines moving to flexible OLED screens.” Print in-flight magazines are expensive to produce, and inventory management (including finding and replacing damaged copies) creates more work for flight attendants. Some airlines are offering the content in digital format, while Airbus has patented a flexible digital magazine screen, Bailey reports. Read more here.

Journalism Students Step in to Save Local News

Some news companies facing staffing challenges are turning to journalism students to keep things afloat. Mark Jacob of Poynter.org reports that, among others, “University of Kansas students are operating a local news website in a ‘news desert’ about 10 miles east of the campus. Students at Franklin College in Indiana are covering state government for a nonprofit website that is battling against civic disengagement.” Read more here.

Consolidation Boosts Editorial for News Publisher

Last week, Gabby Miller of the Columbia Journalism Review discussed Ulster Publishing’s consolidation of four Upstate New York newspapers (the Woodstock Times, Kingston Times, New Paltz Times, and Saugerties Times) into the new Hudson Valley One. The consolidation, the end result of years of financial struggle made more pronounced by Covid, allowed the publisher to cut the steep overhead costs of running multiple print editions and reinvest the recouped money on editorial content. And it’s stoked some controversy in the region, reports Miller: “Many community members donated to the struggling publishing company ... while other readers were less sympathetic, saying they’d only subscribe if their specific community’s print paper returned.” Read more here.

Summer Fridays and Other Employee Perks Post-Covid

Many media companies are looking for ways to perk up employees burned out by the pandemic. Some are instating “summer Fridays,” which allow employees to work a shorter day and get a head start on the weekend. Sara Guaglione of Digiday reports that some of these companies are also offering flex holidays and additional paid time off. Of course, for employees working in the news sector, summer Fridays aren’t possible: “Sometimes it is not possible for an employee to take advantage of Fridays off, so publishers are trying to find a balance between enabling employees to take care of their work and ensuring they take care of themselves,” says Guaglione. Read more here.

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

Engaging with Your Readers

Posted on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 at 6:39 PM

Which reader engagement tools and activities are most valuable to editors?

By William Dunkerley

Making your articles enticing to read goes a long way toward reader engagement. Good writing and editing are requirements for achieving that.

There's another element that now bears a fresh look: the matter of getting reliable feedback from readers on what you are publishing. The acceleration of social change in how we all acquire and digest content is one aspect. Further change that is a consequence of Covid is another.

The massive 2010 editorial failure at Newsweek is now a classic example of how badly things can go when editors fail to get and act on audience feedback. The magazine's demise followed an in-house attempt to reinvent itself editorially. The fatal flaw was that editors implemented changes to suit their own tastes and not those its target audience might have preferred. After that plan failed, the magazine ultimately was sold to a buyer for one dollar.

Successful editors have used several tools to garner feedback from readers including online reader comments, letters to the editor columns, attending or sponsoring group gatherings that attract members of their target reading audience, readership surveys, and focus groups.

Online Reader Comments

The advent of online publishing opened vast new opportunities for readers to express themselves on each article published. That sounds like a great way for an editor to monitor reader reaction, but it came with some big problems. Instead of offering substantive feedback, many posters use a comments section as a soapbox for pet issues. Often they debate their issues among themselves, even heatedly; some posters use the opportunity to promote shady business pitches or political material; coarse and inappropriate language can appear; rights of others can be infringed upon; and legal liability considerations can arise. Overall an image unbefitting your publication can be associated with the comments section.

One response by editors has been to institute active moderation of submitted posts. But that can be time-consuming and expensive. Another response is to simply eliminate reader comments altogether. There has been a growing trend toward that solution. But that shuts down a major means of reader engagement.

Letters to the Editor

Publishing a regular column with letters to the editor is a long-established feature dating far back into the print era. My first editorial job was as letters editor for a national special interest consumer publication. Each month I would accumulate a large pile of submissions. I had two print pages to fill. It was a popular feature. The letters I selected dealt both with comments about the publication (good and bad) and other comments of general interest to the audience the magazine served. Through reading all the submissions I acquired a good sense of how readers were reacting and what interested them. That information was of little interest to my chief editor, however. Basically, the letters editor was expected to simply fill the allotted two pages with interesting letters. Analyzing the overall nature of the comments and observing trends over time was overlooked by editorial management.

How are letters to the editor handled at your publication? Perhaps they too are considered simply as editorial input for the column, without serving as a useful source in editorial management decisions. If so, you might want to look at the bulk of letters received as a form of valuable reader feedback.

Trade Shows

Trade shows are a natural venue for B2B editors to mingle with the people in their respective industries. Many publications participate as exhibitors, presenting the benefits of reading their publications. Often editors can also participate as expert speakers at these gatherings. A similar situation exists for editors of special interest consumer publications.

There are also opportunities for editors of other consumer publications. They can take part in conferences, seminars, and workshops that are attended by their target audiences. There are also trade shows in which your advertisers participate. They may not be attended largely by your own target audience, but instead by advertisers and their spectrum of customers.

Take a look at the categories of advertisers that appear in your publication. Often they are concentrated in several particular areas. Participating in related trade shows can give editors insights into participant business interests. Acquiring and retaining audiences that will be responsive to your advertisers is important to your publication's financial success. These trade shows can help you to focus your content accordingly.

Surveys and Focus Groups

The aforementioned reader engagement activities focus on giving editors a general sense of reader wants and needs. Focus groups represent a research methodology that can enhance that sense, as you can more directly explore and test reader reactions. But all these approaches will give you qualitative, not quantitative, input. That's where more formal surveys come in. They generally elicit responses from a randomly selected sample of your target audience. From that you can reasonably project the results upon the total universe comprised by that audience.

Many publications regularly survey their audiences. However, surveys are typically geared toward collecting information for the ad sales department’s use. But those advertising-oriented surveys offer a good opportunity to tag along with questions that could provide valuable input to editors.

There is typically another aspect of surveys that should be addressed. These surveys often target existing readers. If you are interested in audience development, it will be helpful to learn the needs and interests of potential readers. They may differ from those of your existing readers. That means surveying potential readers will be an important objective too.

In the above instances, the impact of the Covid pandemic should be taken into account. Many annual gatherings have been postponed, cancelled, or permanently shuttered. Participants may be reluctant to take part in focus groups that require their physical attendance. One happy consequence of the pandemic is that it forced many people to become adept at meeting online. People's facility in using Zoom, for example, has, well, zoomed. View these all as opportunities for opening new ways of getting close to your audience and facilitating engagement.

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

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

Elements of Good Writing

Posted on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 at 6:38 PM

One trick is to know what to include, what to discard.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Leave it to Voltaire. He said: "Woe to the author determined to teach! The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out."

An editor must, of course, test a writer's sense of completeness in an article. Are the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions answered? Gaps disconcert.

But the editor knows that virtually no subject can be totally covered in a single article. Space limitations preclude it. So informational completeness is less of a goal than atmospheric completeness, this being the result of an editor able to select those elements of a subject that must be included, lest the reader senses something or other is missing. It's a matter of the essentials versus tangentials, of the necessary versus the dispensable.

The good writer, who is also a good information gatherer, knows that much more information should be gathered and can be used. That good writer may, however, fall in love with his or her information and force all too much of it into the written product. He forgets, in the process of stroking the fax, that the iceberg theory still exists and works: an article of carefully chosen morsels suggests a far larger, hidden base. He forgets that the reader hasn't the need or patience for everything collected. The piddling puts her off. The parochial doesn't concern her.

Barbara Tuchman was a thorough researcher and forceful writer. She once warned: "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."

As editor, don't make your story cuts for space reasons alone or at all. Determine, instead, what must be present on the pages of your magazine to engage the reader and to give her the impression, the feel of completeness. The mark of a good editor is always to know what to include and what to discard. The mark of a professional writer is a willingness to let the editor make such decisions. Good editor and willing writer make an ideal relationship, one to strive for.

The editor's task, and working with authors, also includes the realization, in each published piece, of the four elements of writing. Remember them?

1. Unity
2. Coherence
3. Emphasis
4. Style

A Logical Flow

The element of unity concerns beginning, middle, and end: a beginning that sets things into action; a middle that reads from the beginning and expands it explains it; and, pending that, moves the action and/or the information to a natural conclusion that gives full meaning to the initial situation or question. Unity involves completeness. Unity involves flow. Unity supplies the reader with the comfort of getting all the necessary information and getting that information and linkage, without chop or jump-cuts.

Structural Bonding

Coherence refers to the system and structure, to giving an order to the incidents or events or ideas that make up the whole action or topic. It refers to the maintenance of a suitable point of view as well as a single predominant tone or attitude, as well as integration of sending, as well as a proper atmosphere.

Pace, Space, and High Points

Emphasis comes from pace, proportion, and climax. Pace means the speed or lack of speed at which the writer moves the action or information along, and that should be appropriate for the kind of material covered: fast where the movie stunt artists do their thing; slower where they sit down to ponder why they do what they do; short, breathless sentences and strong, active verbs when they perform; longer, softer sentences and language when they reflect.

Proportion depends on space decisions, the amount of space given to various parts of the article, the more important sections capturing fuller treatment.

Climax is a synonym for high point. Build to it, you should tell your writer. Build to them, you should tell your writer because stories of any length probably require several climaxes: one up front to get the reader in; a couple more along the way to rekindle interest; one at or toward the end to give the reader a final memory.

The Writer's Voice

And then there's style, that fourth element of writing, that elusive presence an editor always looks for in a piece of writing in hopes for and begs for and works for. Style means clarity and vigor and individuality. It means personality, the writer in residence, his or her voice distinctly evident to the reader.

"I guess," wrote E. B. White, "I have watched my coon descend the tree 100 times; even so, I never miss a performance if I can help it. It has a ritualistic quality, and I know every motion, as a ballet enthusiast knows every motion of his favorite dance. The secret of its enchantment is in the way it employs the failing light, so that when the descent begins, the performer is clearly visible and is part of the day, and when, 10 or 15 minutes later, the descent is complete and the coon removes the last paw from the tree and takes the first step away, groundborne, she is almost indecipherable and is a part of the shadows and the night. The going down of the sun and the going down of the coon are interrelated phenomena; a man is lucky indeed who lives where sunset and coonset are visible from the same window."

That has style. It is not style one can copy because it comes from the life and times and mind of E. B. White. But is this style one can emulate, and emulation comes from reading. Encourage your writers to read, dear editor. Fiction. Nonfiction. Write for the glory of his words. Some classic examples: John McPhee for how he handles exposition, how he can flood dry subjects with romance and excitement. Ellen Goodman for her droll sense of humor. Charles Kuralt for the simplicity and dignity and folksy charm he gets to people and places, always with just the right words. William Least Heat-Moon for the detailed power of his description. Russell Baker for how deliciously he can twist information to make a point and for the poignancy he can command. (Have your writers read Growing Up.)

"In the rain forest, no niche lies unused. No emptiness goes unfilled, no gas of sunlight untapped." So wrote Diane Ackerman, another author, one of prose and poetry, your writers should read. "In a million vast pockets," she continues, "a million life-forms quietly tick. No place on earth feels so lush. Sometimes we picture it as an echo of the original Garden -- a realm ancient, serene, and fertile, where boas slither and jaguars lope. But it is mainly a world of cunning and savage trees. There is nothing mild-mannered or wimpy about rain-forest plants. Truants will not survive; the meek inherit nothing. Light is a thick yellow vitamin they would kill for, and they do."

That has style. The writing is clear and vital and visual. Ackerman's personality, her voice is well defined. As counselor, she once reminded herself and other poets that their job is to teach "a way of seeing, lest one spend a lifetime on this planet without noticing how green light flares up as the setting sun rolls under.... The poet refuses to let things merge, lie low, succumb to visual habit. Instead she hoists things out of their routine, and lays them out on a white papery beach to be fumbled and explored."

That's what the search for style is all about.

And a good writer seeks and finds it, no matter what the subject. Warren Brown was an automotive writer for the Washington Post. Most of the time he took cars out on the road to test them, then followed the driving with his evaluation on paper. "There was no love between us, no kindness. We simply tolerated each other during our time together. There was tension, occasionally relieved by surreptitious speeding along Virginia's back roads. But those were cheap thrills, which didn't merit post-title conversation."

And so on. Brown gave his presence to every column of his, his own presence and the presence of subject matter. You should expect no less.

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 Tuesday, June 29, 2021 at 6:37 PM

During this time of crisis recovery, 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)

« May 2021 | Top | July 2021 »