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Issue for July 2016

Editors Find Success with Responsive Web Design

Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 11:05 AM

Top editors discuss how RWD adoption has affected their publications.

By William Dunkerley

"Our website employs responsive design and it has been very successful," said Monica Bradford, executive editor of Science.

She was responding to a mini-survey Editors Only conducted for insights into how editors are doing with responsive Web design (RWD). It is a relatively recent approach to fitting content into a variety of screen sizes and formats. This is a very important matter as readers turn more and more to mobile devices for reading publications.

One of our questions asked how the transition to RWD has gone from an editorial standpoint. Dave Zoia, editorial director for WardsAuto, quickly said, "It hasn't changed how we operate on the editorial side." He adds, "It has simply made our content look better and easer to use and access for our readers."

Gary Ward, online managing editor for The State, reports going to RWD has had "a minimal impact on editors."

A number of respondents commented on the imperativeness for RWD. "I think it is essential to have it today," says Zoia. "We have a reasonably high and growing penetration of readers accessing our content through mobile devices. It's critical that content displays optimally whether viewing on a desktop, smartphone, or tablet."

For Kate Robertson, director of editorial strategy for NowToronto.com, editors are not involved with the RWD production mechanics. That's handled by their IT team, art department, and the Web manager. But Robertson says she feels very strongly that content be presented "in the best possible way on all devices." She adds, "Stories just look much better with the new design, and look great on whatever device -- tablet, phone, desktop, etc."

Keith Ward, editor-in-chief at Virtualization Review, has a similar perspective. "We went to responsive about two years ago," he says. "In terms of editorial work there's no difference. It's a design thing. But anything that brings more readers to your site is a very, very good thing."

Ward offers further thoughts about RWD: "It's been good for my website. It took us a while to move to responsive design. But it was well worth the huge amounts of time and effort that the Web team put into it.

"Especially since my magazine is in the techie realm, it was necessary to keep up with the times. Ultimately, it's about the reader experience. You don't want to do anything to drive them away, since getting them there in the first place is difficult enough."

That's right in line with what Ryan O'Meara tells us. The editor-in-chief of K9 Magazine says, "With mobile engagement now higher than desktop readership across our websites, failing to adopt RWD now would be the equivalent of publishing a magazine that more than 50 percent of the readers couldn't access."

O'Meara adds, "RWD is essential. The key to making the transition is to accept that RWD is now a standard. It shouldn't be viewed as a highly complicated or even innovative process."

Offering a tip to other editors, he points out that "responsive websites rank better in the search engines." What's more, "a lack of mobile-friendly design in 2016 gives an impression that the publisher is considerably behind the curve in technology -- and in putting readers first."

What's the change process like for editors? Yvonne Hill, editor of Ensign magazine, says she "transitioned to a WordPress responsive framework several years ago." The toughest aspect? "Finding a stable, responsive framework that fit our needs or could be easily customized took the most time. Implementation was fairly straightforward." She emphasizes, "Mobile Web usage continues to increase, making responsive design essential for any publication website."

For some, the transition is not yet complete. John Drescher, executive editor of The News & Observer, says, "Most of our digital products use responsive design. We have one product that doesn't use it yet, but it soon will be converted. It's vital that all our digital products be effective on smartphones."

At LeadingAge magazine, an early RWD adopter, editorial director Gene Mitchell, reports, "We are using RWD, though it's an antiquated version of it. Our newly overhauled website will update that."

Also in transition is Visit Detroit. Editor and publisher Laura Coniglio tells us, "We are in the process of merging two websites into one. A key objective is to incorporate RWD." Joanne Erickson, editor-in-chief of Provider, says they're "looking at it for the future."

A number of other respondents disclosed that they are not using RWD. A few are unfamiliar with the technology or don't have a budget to fund the transition.

Monica Bradford asked her technical expert to share his thoughts with us. We end this report with what Christopher Coleman told us:

"It's important to think of content in terms of semantics and structure first, and visual presentation second. If the structure is consistent, a well-designed site will take care of the presentation. In the early days of the Web, designers and producers were concerned only with presentation, because the tools to do more just didn't exist. Today, modern HTML and CSS give us the tools to create accessible content that works well on all devices. Properly structured content will work well on future designs and with technologies that we haven’t even thought of yet.

"In 2016, responsive design is the only kind of Web design. Today's mobile-first approach to front-end development means that responsive is the default, and preventing a design from working well on all devices would actually require extra effort. Since launching Science's redesign in January of this year, we've seen a real year-over-year increase in traffic and unique visitors. A disproportionate percentage of this increase comes from mobile users taking advantage of our new responsive design."

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

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The Most Important Question

Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 11:02 AM

To develop a unique voice, writers must first ask themselves who they are.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Those of you who have been my readers for a while or longer may remember that about this time each summer, I share with you the lessons embedded in a keynote address I give at a workshop designed for writers who focus on young readers. My thought has been that advice I believe is good can benefit writers, no matter what the makeup of their readership.

The title of this year's lecture is "The Most Important Question." And I opened with selections from a very sweet picture book by Margaret Wise Brown, whose most famous work is the widely revered Goodnight Moon. The Brown creation I chose is "The Important Book," focused on the theme, "The important thing about..." The author completes those words with fanciful declarations for grass, wind, snow, spoons, shoes, the sky, and about a dozen more.

Sample: "The important thing about the sky is that it is always there. It is true that it is blue and high and full of clouds and made of air. But the important thing about the sky is that it is always there." Brown ends the collection with this: "The important thing about you is that you are you. It is true that you were a baby, and you grew. And now you are a child, and you will grow into a man or into a woman. But the important thing about you is that you are you." The last three words are exhibited in huge script filling an entire page.

"Who Am I?": Establishing Voice

That led me to "The Most Important Question." The writer must first accept the reality of "you are you" and then follow with that most important question: "Okay, but then, who am I?" To that, French writer André Gide recommended perceptively: "Be faithful to that which exists nowhere but in yourself -- and there make yourself indispensable."

Successful writers understand and employ that dictum. We, the consumers of their gifts, await and celebrate the results. We listen for voice, meaning the writer's individuality, personality, distinctiveness, his or her artistic signature. No matter what we're reading by, say, E. B. White --a story for children or an essay for adults, a piece of fiction or nonfiction -- it has that recognizable voice, qualities baked into the language by a writer who has vented his preferences.

If we like E. B. White for his writing, we come to the reading with expectations based on the traits and temperament this very special wordsmith developed and refined over time: the way his language sounds and the honesty and uniqueness we see in print -- in other words, how he approaches and expresses his work, meaning his voice.

Attributes of Highly Effective Writers

From writers, I seek singularity and creativity in their labor, factors that separate the best artists from others. I look for conviction, the writer's belief in what he or she is striving to reveal. I'm always game to be entertained. Entertainment, to me, does not necessarily mean something light or frivolous or funny; the very serious needs to be entertaining, too. A well-written biography, for instance, probably will include sad moments in that person's life as well as lighter ones. It matters how the writer expresses the hurt. Entertainment is an important goal; it's a magnet that won't let me go.

Zeal also impresses me. I want to recognize hard work, a lot of effort, in the product presented to me. I value generosity, too -- generosity of spirit, a writer's desire to give all and then some. Rich content attracts me. Authenticity works for me, as well; I want the article or essay or news story or what have you to contain substance rather than empty fluff, and I want the writing to sound stylistically right, comfortably natural, maybe even inspired. A given, of course, is that the basics have been carefully taken care of; I expect that technical matters (grammar, spelling, flow, completeness) are all to the good. I don't like an editorial mess; it destroys my trust. Lack of care means lack of love to me, and I like to feel love in what I read.

I want to be reminded by the profundity of substance and the excellence of writing that the art of writing is a positive force in this troubled world. The writer John Updike put his finger on it: "My first thought about art, as a child, was that the artist brings something into the world that didn't exist before and that he or she does it without destroying something else.... That still seems to be its central magic, the core of joy."

I've cut down the supporting arguments and removed the literary samples that helped prove the points. But think about the above trail of suggestions; it should be helpful for you, as writer, and/or for the writers you edit.

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, July 30, 2016 at 11:00 AM

Assessing the readability of a NewYorker.com excerpt.

This month's Fog Index text comes from a July 27 NewYorker.com article, "Does the Snapchat Generation Even Know What Yahoo Is?" by Om Malik. Here's the sample, with longer words italicized:

"Yahoo is a perfect illustration of how large Internet companies die -- by fading into irrelevance. A healthy Internet service possesses three qualities: it encourages habit formation; it appeals to a younger demographic, which can age alongside it; and it displays evidence of growth. Yahoo once had all of these qualities; now it has none. These days, despite my early affinity for the company, I don't use any Yahoo products except for its fantasy-baseball pages -- and those only because my fellow stat nerds won't switch to ESPN. Every time I log in, I am reminded of the company's mediocrity."

--Word count: 98 words
--Average sentence length: 20 words (15, 28, 11, 32, 12)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 14 percent (14/98 words)
--Fog Index: (20+14)*.4 = 13 (13.6, no rounding)

This sample is in pretty good shape. The Fog score is slightly inflated at 13, so we'll need to trim at least two points from it to fall within ideal range. At first glance, sentence length appears to be the main culprit. Let's see what we can do:

"Yahoo is a perfect illustration of how large Internet companies die -- by fading into irrelevance. A healthy Internet service fosters habit formation, appeals to a younger audience that can age with it, and shows clear growth. Yahoo once had all of these qualities; now it has none. Despite my early fondness for the company, I no longer use any Yahoo products except its fantasy-baseball pages. I use those only because my fellow stat nerds won't switch to ESPN. Every time I log in, I am reminded of the company's mediocrity."

--Word count: 90 words
--Average sentence length: 15 words (15, 21, 11, 18, 13, 12)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 11 percent (10/90 words)
--Fog Index: (15+11)*.4 = 10 (10.4, no rounding)

We didn't need to do much here to shave three points from the original Fox Index. The main culprits were the second and fourth sentences. In the former instance, we cut 7 words from the sentence to lighten the load. In the latter, we split the sentence in two. These changes cut 5 points, or 25 percent, from the original average. We also were able to shave 3 points from the ratio of longer words.

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Time Inc. Restructuring

Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 10:58 AM

In the news: Time restructures editorial and sales to emphasize digital.

Earlier this month, Time Inc. underwent restructuring to bring digital publishing to its forefront. On the editorial side, Fortune editor Alan Murray is now the chief content officer. According to Media Life magazine, "The aim is to make the management structure more efficient and help advertisers buy not just across media but across brands as well. The company will emphasize cross-magazine buys as well as cross-media ones."

Magazine titles have split into four divisions, each headed up by an editorial director: news; celebrity, entertainment, and style; lifestyle; and sports. Read more here and here.

Also Notable

Increased Emphasis on Digital at Meredith Corp.

Time Inc. isn't the only magazine giant focusing more on digital. Elsewhere, Meredith is ramping up its video content efforts, with a new studio opening in Seattle for production of live streaming content. The company has attracted several streaming video ad sponsors thanks to its successful experimentation with Facebook Live video. Read more here.

Print Readership Up at Meredith Corp.

Although Meredith is diversifying its content delivery with the aforementioned live video plans, its print performance to date in 2016 has been robust. Writes Ellen Cools of Foliomag.com: "Even in a year of industry concern over print revenues, the publisher boosted its magazine readership to a record 127 million.... Print advertising increased 3 percent and circulation revenues increased 5 percent to $329 million." Overall revenue was up 3 percent over last year. Read more here.

Dance Ink: A Case Study in Modern Print Magazine Design

Recently, a popular dance magazine from the 1990s, Dance Ink, relaunched with a new print edition. The magazine is edited and designed by Abbott Miller, who was tasked with creating, in his own words, "performance in print." According to Gia Kourlas of NYTimes.com, the magazine is a larger format (10 by 14) and has a plastic cover. Read more about the relaunch and redesign here and here.

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