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Issue for July 2012

Providing Clarity!

Posted on Monday, July 30, 2012 at 8:44 PM

Clear writing that is properly and accurately told.

By Peter P. Jacobi

All too often, when I'm covering a concert featuring contemporary music, I get program notes with explanations by the composers such as this: The work "juxtaposes six kinds of musical mechanism to create a jagged, pulse-dominated structure, forcing them into continuity by the superimposition of separate dynamic and registral schemes," and so forth.

These are program notes, mind you, written to be handed out to an audience including mostly lay listeners. They're close to useless for an attendee, obscure as they are. And they're of very little help to me as I later attempt to describe for folks who weren't there what I heard and why, according to the composer, I heard it. I'm left to divine that for myself.

Similar obscurantism goes on in other fields of knowledge and endeavor, this in our age of ever-increasing separations between professional specialists and consumer generalists. And it's an always present danger to journalism when a writer and editor attempt, often with great difficulty, to interpret for their readers the murky language used by information sources, so that the story is properly and accurately told. Sometimes, we're stymied by what we have to work with.

Maybe those specialists can get away with lack of clarity. We cannot.

Strive to Produce Clarity

That's why I was happy recently when Rod Spaw, a reporter for my local newspaper, The Herald-Times in Bloomington, Indiana, found a way to help me catch up and understand an underway argument about roundabouts, a here-and-there traffic reality that I use but rarely give much thought to. Other folks, living in neighborhoods where additional roundabouts are contemplated, do give the issue quite a lot of thought. Spaw's story made that and more clear to me. Let me quote the first three paragraphs, amounting to a gem of contextual catch-up. They'll clue you in:

"A clash of visions about the future of transportation in Bloomington played out Tuesday in a city council discussion of three roundabouts included in the 2012 city budget proposal.

"One version perceives a diminished need for expansive and expensive street projects as higher prices and scarcer supplies of petroleum push cars to the curb. In such a future, capital spending would prioritize pedestrians, bicyclists, and mass transit and discourage urban sprawl.

"The other vision -- represented by the proposed roundabout designs -- is of a community that grows in fairly traditional, if slower ways and requires continued investment in street infrastructure to move people safely through the community and ease points of congestion for cars, as well as for pedestrians and bicycles."

I appreciate such clarity. As reader, I don't always get it. As writer, I should always strive to produce it.

Clear Understanding = Clear Writing

Justin Gillis of The New York Times gained my appreciation for the way he served up a natural menace that seems to reflect climate change. Following a Wise River, Montana, dateline, Gillis wrote:

"The trees spanning many of the mountainsides of western Montana glow an earthy red, like a broadleaf forest at the beginning of autumn.

"But these trees are not supposed to turn red. They are evergreens, falling victim to beetles that used to be controlled in part by bitterly cold winters. As the climate warms, scientists say, that control is no longer happening.

"Across millions of acres, the pines of the northern and central Rockies are dying, just one among many types of forests that are showing signs of distress these days."

We need to give our readers an understanding that comes from our own clear grasp of the subject and from clear writing to match it.

Simplicity of Expression

The great World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle had that gift. Nearly 60 years after he wrote "A Lovely Day for a Stroll," scene and message are conveyed with crystal clarity. I share with you just a portion of his report:

"I took a walk along the historic coast of Normandy in the country of France. It was a lovely day for strolling along the seashore. Men were sleeping on the sand, some of them sleeping forever. Men were floating in the water, but they didn't know they were in the water, for they were dead. . . .

"I walked for a mile and a half along the water's edge of our many-miled invasion beach. I walked slowly, for the detail on that beach was infinite.

"The wreckage was vast and startling. . . . There were trucks tipped half over and swamped, partly sunken barges, and the angled-up corners of jeeps, and small landing craft half submerged . . . you could still see those vicious six-pronged iron snares that helped snag and wreck them. . . .

"But there was another and more human litter. It extended in a thin little line, just like a high-water mark, for miles along the beach. This was the strewn personal gear, gear that would never be needed again by those who fought and died to give us our entrance into Europe.

"There in a jumbled row for mile on mile were soldiers' packs. There were socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles, hand grenades. There were the latest letters from home. . . .

"I picked up a pocket Bible with a soldier's name in it and put it in my jacket. I carried it half a mile or so and then put it back down on the beach. I don't know why I picked it up, or why I put it down again."

The simplicity of expression that was Ernie Pyle's, the detail, the ability to determine what needs to be said and how to say it and why is a lesson for us.

I plead for clarity: Rod Spaw's, Justin Gillis's, Ernie Pyle's. In a confused world, clear writing can be our gift of amelioration.

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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Surveying Your Online Readers

Posted on Monday, July 30, 2012 at 8:42 PM

How are other magazine editors surveying their readers?

By Denise Gable

Surveys can be used as an effective research tool to get feedback from readers, and to find out what interests them. How many editors regularly survey their subscribers? Their online readers? If they do survey, are they finding the surveys to be helpful or a waste of time? This month editors talk about when, if, and how they survey their online readers.

EXHIBITOR, Exhibitor Media Group
Frequency: Monthly
Description: Magazine for trade show and corporate event marketers.

Lena Valenty, managing editor, "We don't survey online readers, specifically. We do issue a readership survey but have found most of our readers prefer the print publication."

Senior Market Advisor, Summit Business Media
Frequency: Monthly
Description: Magazine for insurance, annuity, and LTCI sales and marketing information.

Daniel Williams, editor, "We average 4–6 per year. In our surveys, we're sending out to our readership, who are financial advisors. We're looking to find out what trends they're seeing in the market, find out about their biggest challenges, and learn how their communication with clients is going.

"We find out what we were looking for and are then able to shape our editorial to fit the information we've gathered.

"We have numerous surveys: 1) an advisors survey where we look for the information I described above, 2) a technology survey where we learn what kind of gadgets they're using and how tech is helping/hindering their practice, 3) a sales survey where we get the best sales or marketing ideas from respondents, and 4) a client survey where we go directly to the end user and find out how their advisors are helping or not helping them.

"We have a print publication but I don't know that responses are different. We use survey monkey and all of the answers are posted there."

Printwear, NBM, Inc.
Frequency: 13 issues/year
Description: Apparel decorating business magazine.

Emily Kay Thompson, editor in chief, "Printwear does not segregate surveys per online/print readers. Printwear does survey its readership periodically (6 to 10 times a year). Mostly, these surveys are used in a publisher's capacity. NBM publications also offer surveys as a service to our sponsors; asking questions on their behalf.

"I don't feel we get sufficient response to report the information in an editorial context. I mostly help my publisher design the surveys to elicit responses we can use for marketing purposes. I'll occasionally throw in some questions to confirm some of my perceptions of trends and such, but I don't find it to be a totally reliable practice to establish industry trends. I am also suspicious of our industry associations and competitors publishing findings from surveys in any official capacity.

"On a related note, we did have a poll feature on printwearmag.com, but we recently disabled it. This unofficial survey strategy did not get a lot of response, generate much interest or elicit a big enough sample to provide accurate representations. Whether it was a content or a traffic problem isn't very clear, but we felt it wasn't a very responsible way to inform our readers."

ACC Docket, Association of Corporate Counsel
Frequency: 10 issues/year
Description: Professional journal for in-house counsel.

Kim Howard, editor in chief, "We survey our readers every three years. We want to gauge whether the content we deliver is still applicable to their profession. We also ask them about reading habits in print and digital so we can gauge when, if ever, we will go all digital. Because we do not have a separate readership for our digital publication, we simply survey the member who receives both print and digital.

"Here's what the official report says about why we did this survey: The readership study examined reader characteristics such as demographics, employment area, reading habits, purchasing behavior, length of engagement, affinity for publication, editorial preferences, consumer habits, and other areas of interest to ACC Docket's staff."

Frequency: Weekly newsletter, monthly letter from the editor
Description: Newsletter and blog for vocalists, singers, vocal artists, and backing vocalists.

Gregory A. Barker, PhD, commissioning editor, "We are surveying online readers (twice in the past year). We learned reactions and attitudes toward the name of our publication and the content.

a. We asked many similar questions around feelings about the name of the publication.
b. How readers access our content (via email links, Facebook etc.).
c. Which content categories are most important.
d. Detailed demographic questions, as we wanted to "drill down" into this data and introduce some content initiatives for younger readers

WE Magazine for Women
Frequency: Quarterly
Description: Magazine for professional women.

Heidi Richards, publisher and editor in chief, "We are surveying our members right now. Here is a link to the online survey so you can see the type of questions we are asking: http://wecai.org/take-the-women-in-ecommerce-web-presence-use-survey. We just launched the survey recently and were gathering responses until July 31st.

"We hope to gain insight as to what they need in terms of training online such as internet marketing, social media and more. We also want to be able to identify the members who are experts in certain fields so we can tap into that expertise and cross promote. This is our first survey this year."

Michigan Township News
Frequency: 11 issues/year
Description: Premiere magazine for Michigan's township officials.

Jenn Fiedler, managing editor, "We haven't surveyed online readers in the past five to six years, but are planning to do so in the upcoming year."

Automation World, Summit Media Group, Inc.
Frequency: Monthly
Description: Magazine for the automation market. Gary Mintchell, co-founder and editor-in-chief, "We are both print and online. We only do online surveys. We got up to monthly and then started getting pushback from some readers complaining it was too often. We use survey monkey and look for trends and ideas (we do lots of open-ended questions). Responses are usually good enough to write an article around them."

School Planning & Management/College Planning & Management, Peter Li Education Group
Frequency: Both magazines monthly
Description: Education industry magazines for construction, facilities, business, and technology news.

Deb Moore, president and publisher, "We do one survey per year that covers both print and online. Questions asked include:

1) demographic info about the reader and their business
2) involvement in purchasing decisions by product type
3) purchasing calendar
4) reading habits
5) actions taken after reading an article
6) level of interest in reading articles about...
7) use of websites and other e-media
8) quality and usefulness of magazine/website
9) competitive
10) changes, improvements, suggestions
"The survey is an online survey. We get good response and use it to help develop our next year's editorial calendar and media kit offerings."

Denise Gable is managing editor of Editors Only.

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The Incredible Invisible Online Reader

Posted on Monday, July 30, 2012 at 8:40 PM

Using surveys to find out more about online reader preferences.

By William Dunkerley

The Editors Only survey about surveying online readers turned up a paradox that exists at many publications: Few editors are specifically measuring the interests of online readers. But at the same time, we know from other sources that many publishers are looking to online publishing for major revenue growth.

For editors, the needs and interests of online readers are invisible. They're not being surveyed; they're not being seen. Meanwhile, publishers are maintaining incredibly high hopes for online business development.

That's the paradox here. It is pretty hard to develop publishing revenues without knowing what appeals to the online readers and what doesn't. That's where the conflict comes in between publishers' aspirations and editors' practices.

Managing editor Denise Gable presents a selection of our survey responses in "Surveying Your Online Readers" elsewhere in this issue. But we discovered the paradox when we analyzed the overall survey statistics, which indicate that only about 15 percent of editors are specifically homing in on online readers through surveys. Our survey was intended to be anecdotal, not statistical. As a result, there is a wide margin of error in that 15 percent figure. However, even taking it with a large grain of salt, it is still pretty clear that we're not doing a lot of research on the interests of our online readers.

Nonetheless, knowing how to attract and keep online readers is an essential component of online business development. There are actually quite a few things we need to find out if we want to produce an effective editorial product.

Certainly, researching the basic areas of reader interest is a starting point. We need to know what topics are of interest and how readers respond to different articles.

If a publication has both print and online readers, it is important to understand how the interests of those two groups differ. That will allow us to put the right content in the right medium. Some publications serve both print and online content to all subscribers. Even there, it is important to know if readers prefer consuming certain parts of the content in print and other parts online. That knowledge will help us to make smart decisions as opposed to just shooting in the dark.

Beyond surveying areas of interest, we also need to know about reading habits. Editors who have produced print publications over time have a sound understanding of how, where, and when readers consume the content. Content has been conceived and formatted accordingly. Print reading habits are well established and haven't seemed subject to radical change.

On the other hand, there is no long-term track record for online reading habits. What's more, they are still evolving. What was comfortable to read on a desktop PC may not be so on a smartphone or even a tablet. And while such reader habits are still evolving, the devices on which content is read are evolving, too. There is no reason to believe that the situation will regulate anytime soon. It's in constant flux.

We should be prepared for ever-changing reading habits for a long time to come. The best way to be prepared is through an active program of researching online reader interests and habits. Don't let the interests and habits of online readers remain invisible. Survey them! The results will be incredibly useful.

William Dunkerley is editor of Editors Only.

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What Is Your Magazine's Digital IQ?

Posted on Monday, July 30, 2012 at 8:39 PM

In the news: L2 calculates the "digital IQ" of consumer magazines.

Magazine editors have had to evolve quickly in an increasingly digital world. How well have they adapted to digital, mobile, and tablet publishing? L2, an entity dedicated to helping various sectors digitize, has calculated the "digital IQ" of 80 consumer magazines.

According to L2, Wired has the highest digital IQ of them all. Also among the top ten are The New Yorker, Cosmopolitan, and Better Homes and Gardens. These magazines and others are leading the digital pack; however, many magazines still struggle to establish a successful digital presence.

What are these magazines doing wrong? Among other things, they aren't engaging subscribers via social media. According to Mediapost's roundup, only half of magazines allow Facebook subscribers to post on their timelines or walls, and only 20 percent or so post more than ten times per day.

To read more about L2's findings, click here.

Also notable

Next Issue Media App

Recently, the Next Issue Media app launched on the iPad. With one subscription, users gain access to a variety of magazines offered up by five major publishers. This single-fee subscription structure is making waves in the news. Could Next Issue Media be the Netflix of digital magazine publishing? Read more here.

People's Mobile Redesign

People magazine has revamped its mobile edition to a "responsive design" powered by HTML5. This new design protocol offers the magazine increased adaptability as new reading devices emerge and empowers editors to maintain the site. Read more about the redesign here.

Weekly Reader Folds

After eight decades, popular classroom newspaper Weekly Reader has folded. Parent company Scholastic plans to merge the publication with its existing Scholastic News. The closure means layoffs for all but five of Weekly Reader's staffers. Read more here.

New ASME President

In May, the American Society of Magazine Editors elected a new president to replace two-term president Larry Hackett (managing editor of People). Self editor-in-chief Lucy Danziger now holds the title. Read more here.

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