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Issue for August 2009

Editors Suffer from Recession Cuts

Posted on Monday, August 24, 2009 at 2:16 PM

...Now it's time for them to go on the offensive to protect their careers and their publications.

By William Dunkerley

These days when editors speak of "future tense" they're not talking about grammar.

Publication editors are apprehensive over what's ahead. They're seeing their colleagues' jobs terminated. Their own jobs are on the line. Raises are cancelled and sometimes salaries are cut. Workloads are up. Morale is down.

And what did editors do to deserve all that? Nothing. Most have been doing their jobs well. The reason they've been receiving the brunt of this recession is because their companies or organizations have been experiencing revenue shortfalls. As a result, many top managers go looking through the budget for things that can be cut.

Why Cut Editorial?

The usual view is that if sales-related jobs are cut, revenues will decline further. That brings the focus over to the cost of producing the publication. Editorial and production are major expenses. Therefore, it's tempting to make some cuts there. Many publishing CEOs believe if they tighten the belt on editorial and production now, it can always be let out again later when sales improve.

But, the real problem isn't that editorial has been costing too much. The problem is that there is insufficient revenue. Publishers can experience inadequate income during normal economic times, too. It's not only a product of a recession. Whenever it happens, though, many publishers have a knee-jerk response to cut editorial expense.

Does This Make Sense?

Actually, it usually does not make sense to slash editorial budgets. There's a real downside. For one thing, it can decimate an editorial staff. If an editorial department has been producing a good editorial product and operating with an esprit de corps, that all can be threatened. When morale sinks, even the best of employees can develop a negative attitude. Once such attitudes develop, they can feed themselves and become entrenched. That can be a hard place to recover from, even when revenues finally improve.

Another factor is the impact on the quality of your editorial product. When fewer resources go into developing content, this inevitably leads to compromises in quality. They may not be sufficient to produce a readership revolt. But if left unchecked, content that's been degraded will drag down the brand image of your publication. That will make it harder to sell copies, subscriptions, and advertising.

Unnecessary Cuts

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of excessive editorial cuts, however, is that they may be totally unnecessary in the first place. Let me explain why...

In addition to being an editor, I'm also a business consultant to magazine, newspaper, and newsletter publishers, print and online. In that role, I get involved in helping to boost advertising sales and improve the effectiveness of a publishing operation overall. And, in all candor, after having worked with hundreds of publishing organizations, I've yet to see one where revenues couldn't be improved. In some cases, the business model has serious, unrecognized flaws. In other instances, sales performance is less than optimal. When properly addressed, both of these areas can yield significant improvement in revenues.

That's why the editorial cuts are often unnecessary. It should be possible to boost revenues by increasing the effectiveness of business operations. And with the attendant increased revenues, there's no need to cut editorial.

When the economy is normal, it may be tolerable to neglect business inefficiencies and just coast along. But when there's a recession, that's a luxury that doesn't exist anymore. That means it's now time to address these long-standing issues and finally optimize the organization and optimize the revenues.

If that sounds easier said than done, you are right. There's a common trap that appears when the economy plunges. It is to believe that lower sales are a fait accompli. That belief can kill any incentive to improve the revenue picture. What's more, many organizations tend to be change-averse. Optimizing revenues may mean that management and sales will have to face up to making a number of painful changes in how they work. That in turn adds to the allure of accepting the inevitability of poor sales in tough times. So they opt to wait out the recession and cut editorial expense to make ends meet.

Time to Move Forward

It truly is time for editors to stop taking all this lying down. Why not gear up for action? Start a dialog with your publisher on how revenues can be stimulated. He or she may not have any instant ideas on how improve sales. But, if you can engage in out-of-the-box thinking, it should be possible to make some progress.

Even in a recession, the companies that have been your advertisers want to sell their products and services. In fact, probably more so now. The need for effective advertising doesn't diminish in a recession. It's the ineffectual advertising that gets trimmed. If your publication can bring business to the advertisers, it's a no-brainer that they're going to want to advertise with you. Figure out how to get them more business. Can you attract new readers who have money to spend? Can your articles justly inspire the confidence of your readers and lead them to make purchases?

Editors can play a powerful role here. This isn't any time to let an unnecessary fate cut away at your jobs, your morale, and your future. It's time that editors take a more proactive stance and nudge their organizations to move forward!

William Dunkerley is editor of Editors Only.

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"I think what you're saying is true, up to a point. When the publisher is making the decisions based on bottom line pressures, it's tough to talk him out of making news share its load. Still, editors can do a great deal without involving their publishers, particularly by focusing on what the newsroom does well and promoting it." --John Robinson, News and Record, Greensboro, NC.


"The recession is only a part of our woes as editors. It happens to be hitting at a time when people are realizing they can get the information they need online and free, and advertisers are realizing they can buy online advertising for less cost. With collaboration, brainstorming, and taking advantage of your strong brand online, you may be in a better position to weather the storm." --Tyler Reed, The Editor's Playbook

Posted in Editing (RSS), Management (RSS)

The Twitter Revolution

Posted on Friday, August 21, 2009 at 4:56 PM

How social networking can help your publication.

By Meredith L. Dias

Established in 2006, Twitter has become something of a Mecca for publications and the professionals who run them. Thanks to its micro-blogging format (status updates in 140 characters or fewer), editors can post links to new content in just a few seconds. With just a click, Twitter users can "follow" a magazine page and see status updates on their Twitter newsfeeds. Editors can engage their followers with links, contests, special offers, and direct messages. If other users like the content, they can "retweet" it (i.e., repost it on their own Twitter feeds and link back to the source), thus widening the publication's Twitter visibility.

This sort of interpersonal connection with readers can help boost subscriptions and retain existing subscribers. Moreover, Twitter can help foster new business partnerships. Kim Howard, editor-in-chief of ACC Docket, shares her success story: "I connected, through a member, with an ediscovery group who loved our ediscovery issue. He asked for permission (which we granted) to summarize one particular article and we allowed him to post a 'look inside' version. He offered 50 free Dockets (which he purchased) to his blog followers who responded first. He said he never received that kind of overwhelming response before."

Moreover, Twitter can help editors to connect with new freelancers and writers, many of whom use Twitter to promote their services. Howard says, "I put a call out on Twitter for anyone interested in writing on a certain topic for which I have had no takers. I immediately got a response from a lawyer and he is working on something with an in-house attorney." However, she cautions against relying too heavily upon the social networking service: "Twitter is certainly not the end-all solution to marketing your magazine or association. It's simply one more communication tool."

There are some behaviors to avoid when navigating the Twitter universe. Tweeting too often can alienate followers, who are often receiving tweets from dozens or even hundreds of pages. While it is certainly permissible to tweet multiple times per day, it is important to consider whether or not the content posted is useful. Often, Twitter users will ignore or even block users who are posting too frequently, as the multiple updates push other desired tweets off the user's main page more quickly. Posting in excess can jeopardize this important opportunity to create real dialogue between publication and reader. Therefore, in this case, less can definitely be more.

Though Twitter is certainly not a cure-all for what ails the magazine industry, it can certainly provide a boost by introducing an interpersonal element to the publication. Many Twitter users enjoy the opportunity to converse with favorite celebrities and politicians who might be otherwise inaccessible to them; similarly, readers are embracing their chance to forge a direct connection with their favorite publications.

Follow Us on Twitter

Go to http://twitter.com/editorsonly and click the "follow" button to receive updates every time we add content to our newsletter.

Meredith Dias is the research editor of Editors Only.

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Posted in Management (RSS), Technical (RSS)

A Writer's Manifesto

Posted on Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 2:18 PM

A set of specifics to strive for.

By Peter P. Jacobi

I left you last month with a dozen guises that we, as writers, can assume. Well, with all that we are, we accept burdens. We are required to take on obligations, responsibilities, duties toward our dear readers.

Therefore, I firmly believe we must pledge to carry out a manifesto, a writer's manifesto, a set of charges that we promise to strive for. A manifesto, quite simply, is a public declaration of intent. In our writer's manifesto, we should -- to return to my list -- vouch to be better adventurers, comforters, educators, enrichers, entertainers, friends, historians, links, magicians, preachers, story tellers, and visionaries by make as sure as we can to do what we do to the utmost of our individual abilities.

And, yes, I have specifics to be accomplished that fit every letter in the word MANIFESTO.


I pledge to supply the MEMORABLE; or if not the memorable, the MAJESTIC; or if not the majestic, the MYSTERIOUS; or if not the mysterious, the MISCHIEVOUS; or if not the mischievous, the MIRTHFUL or MERRY; or if not the mirthful or merry, the MELANCHOLY; or if not the melancholy, the MUSHY; or if not the mushy, the MUSICAL. I pledge MOOD.


From the M in Manifesto to the A: it is for being ACCURATE. We must be accurate. Readers must be able to trust us to give them the right information, and we must deserve that trust. To pass along errors is confusing, at best, and dangerous, at worst. Remember that our readers may use the information we pass along. It's got to be usable. It's got to be correct.


The N in Manifesto stands for the NEW, that which the reader will not have faced before, something original or different or creative or unexpected, something that perks attention because of what is being written about or how.


From "new" for the N, we move to the I: be IMAGINATIVE and INTERESTING; tweak the INQUISITIVE in the reader's nature. Stir the reader's imagination with your own.


The F in Manifesto stands for FACTUAL. Be factual, thoroughly researched, specific, detailed, richly informative -- whether in support of a work of non-fiction or fiction or poetry. It is facts, details that carry the day, that make good writing complete. No matter how well you write, if you haven't the specifics to support your language skills, you'll be cheating yourself and your reader.


The E in Manifesto means to be ENERGETIC: animated, dynamic, lively, fresh, spirited, and vigorous. It means writing with plenty of vitamins, the opposite of sluggish and tired and predictable. Cause your subject to jump from a two-dimensional page to three-dimensional status.


We come to Manifesto's S: Be SINGULAR. Be yourself as you write. Let your personality loose. Allow yourself to be unique. Bring your voice to the copy. Make it your own.


Manifesto's T leads us to writing that is TRANSPORTIVE: electrifying or elevating or entrancing or spellbinding, with language that, while always reflective of purpose and topic, is lofty, ebullient, soaring, uplifting, exciting, generous.


And so, we come to our final letter, the completion of our Manifesto to make ourselves worthy of being what we are: writers. The letter is O. Let it stand for being ORDERED, ORGANIZED, OBSERVANT of the rules (and disciplined).

As Anne Lamott has observed: "Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly. There will be many mistakes, many things to take out, and others that need to be added."

And Isaac Asimov reasoned: "Remember, what lasts in the reader's mind is not the phrase but the effect that 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 cut it without mercy or remorse."

I trust you're all ready to sign the manifesto, so that when you struggle and sweat over words, you deserve to do what you do.

I leave you with a final observation. The great Argentine poet and man of letters, Jorge Luis Borges, once wrote of a great artist who, when he grew old, decided to paint a vast mural of the entire universe. He painted the stars. He painted the birds. He painted the ocean and its monsters. He painted lovers self involved and mothers doting on their children and strong men glorying in their muscularity. He painted day after day after day after day until he no longer had the strength to continue. Facing death, he -- for the first time -- stepped back from his mural to see what he had created, to see the whole of it.

And what did he discover?

That he had painted a portrait of his own face.

That he had painted his own face! As in the artist's shapes, so in your words. The words are you. And isn't that a miracle, Descartes or otherwise?

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. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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Posted in Writing (RSS)

Improving Your Listening Skills

Posted on Monday, August 17, 2009 at 1:28 PM

Editors usually pay assiduous attention to their output, i.e., their articles. But, what about the input? Are you a good listener?

By Robert W. Bly

When I was a young child, we sometimes played a game called "Whisper Down the Lane". Five or six of us would sit in a row, and the first person would make up something and whisper it into the ear of the next person. The story would then be passed down the line in this fashion. The fun came in hearing the story repeated aloud by the last person in line. Invariably, it turned out to be quite different from the original version.

While this is amusing as a children's game, it is not a very amusing situation in real life, especially in the editorial business. If you've ever heard your instructions, advice, or presentation repeated to you in distorted form by an employee, coworker, or colleague, you know what I'm talking about.

The success of many of our business activities depends on how well we listen. Studies show that we spend about 80 percent of our waking hours communicating, and at least 45 percent of that time listening.

But although listening is so critical in our daily lives, it is taught and studied far less than the other three basic communications skills: reading, writing, and speaking. Much of the trouble we have communicating with others is because of poor listening skills.

The good news is that listening efficiency can be improved by understanding the steps involved in the listening process and by following these basic guidelines

Are You Really a Good Listener?

Most people are not. Many years ago, Sperry (now Unisys) did a survey and found that 85 percent of all people questioned rated themselves average or less in listening ability. Less than 5 percent rated themselves either superior or excellent.

You can come up with a pretty good idea of where you fall in this spectrum by thinking about your relationships with the people in your life: your boss, colleagues, subordinates, best friend, spouse. If asked, what would they say about how well you listen? Do you often misunderstand assignments, or only vaguely remember what people have said to you? If so, you may need to improve your listening skills. The first step is to understand how the listening process works.

The Four Steps of Listening

Hearing is the first step in the process. At this stage, you simply pay attention to make sure you have heard the message. If your boss says, "McGillicudy, I need the Fish article on my desk by Friday noon," and you can repeat the sentence, then you have heard her.

The second step is interpretation. Failure to interpret the speaker's words correctly frequently leads to misunderstanding. People sometimes interpret words differently because of varying experience, knowledge, vocabulary, culture, background, and attitudes.

A good speaker uses tone of voice, facial expressions, and mannerisms to help make the message clear to the listener. For instance, if your boss speaks loudly, frowns, and puts her hands on her hips, you know she is probably upset and angry.

During the third step, evaluation, you decide what to do with the information you have received. For example, when listening to an expert source, you have two options: you choose either to believe or to disbelieve the person. The judgments you make in the evaluation stage are a crucial part of the listening process.

The final step is to respond to what you have heard. This is a verbal or visual response that lets the speaker know whether you have gotten the message and what your reaction is. When you give a nod of understanding, commit the expert's comments to notes, or let him proceed unquestioned, you are showing that you have heard and understand his message.

Become a Better Listener

When it comes to listening, many of us are guilty of at least some bad habits. For example:

--Instead of listening, do you think about what you're going to say next while the other person is still talking?

--Are you easily distracted by the speaker's mannerisms or by what is going on around you?

--Do you frequently interrupt people before they have finished talking?

--Do you drift off into daydreams because you are sure you know what the speaker is going to say?

All of these habits can hinder our listening ability. Contrary to popular notion, listening is not a passive activity. It requires full concentration and active involvement and is, in fact, hard work.

Tips for Becoming a Better Listener

1. Don't talk. Listen. Studies show that job applicants are more likely to make a favorable impression and get a job offer when they let the interviewer do most of the talking. This demonstrates that people appreciate a good listener more than they do a good talker.

Why is this so? Because people want a chance to get their own ideas and opinions across. A good listener lets them do it. If you interrupt the speaker or put limitations on your listening time, the speaker will get the impression that you're not interested in what he is saying -- even if you are. So be courteous and give the speaker your full attention.

This technique can help you win friends, supporters, and to conduct effective interviews. Says top salesman Frank Bettger, "I no longer worry about being a brilliant conversationalist. I simply try to be a good listener. I notice that people who do that are usually welcome wherever they go."

2. Don't jump to conclusions. Many people tune out a speaker when they think they have the gist of his conversation or know what he's trying to say next. Assumptions can be dangerous. Maybe the speaker is not following the same train of thought that you are, or is not planning to make the point you think he is. If you don't listen, you may miss the real point the speaker is trying to get across.

3. Listen "between the lines". Concentrate on what is not being said as well as what is being said. Remember, a lot of clues to meaning come from the speaker's tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures. People don't always say what they mean, but their body language is usually an accurate indication of their attitude and emotional state.

4. Ask questions. If you are not sure of what the speaker is saying, ask. It's perfectly acceptable to say, "Do you mean...?" or "Did I understand you to say...?" It's also a good idea to repeat what the speaker has said in your own words to confirm that you have understood him correctly. As Thomas Edison said, "We don't know one millionth of one percent about anything." The only way you learn is by listening and asking questions.

5. Don't let yourself be distracted by the environment or by the speaker's appearance, accent, mannerisms, or word use. It's sometimes difficult to overlook a strong accent, a twitch, sexist language, a fly buzzing around the speaker's head, and similar distractions. But paying too much attention to these distractions can break your concentration and make you miss the point of the conversation.

If outside commotion is a problem, try to position yourself away from it. Make eye contact with the speaker, and force yourself to focus on the message, not the environment.

Keep an open mind. Don't just listen for statements that back up your own opinions and support your beliefs, or for certain parts that interest you. The point of listening, after all, is to gain new information.

Be willing to listen to someone else's point of view and ideas. A subject that may seem boring or trivial at first can turn out to be fascinating, if you listen with an open mind.

Take advantage of your brain power. On the average, you can think four times faster than the listener can talk. So, when listening, use this extra brainpower to evaluate what has been said and summarize the central ideas in your own mind. That way, you'll be better prepared to answer any questions or criticisms the speaker poses, and you'll be able to discuss the topic much more effectively.

6. Provide feedback. Make eye contact with the speaker. Show him you understand his talk by nodding your head, maintaining an upright posture, and, if appropriate, interjecting an occasional comment such as ''I see" or "that's interesting" or "really.'' The speaker will appreciate your interest and feel that you are really listening.

Motivation is an essential key to becoming a good listener. Think how your ears perk up if someone says, "Let me tell you how pleased I am with that article you did."

To get the most out of an interview, speech, or conversation, go in with a positive attitude. Say to yourself, "What can I learn from this to make my articles more valuable to my readers?'' You might be surprised at what you can learn from an interviewee -- or even from routine meetings and bull sessions at the water fountain!

Bob Bly (www.bly.com) is a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant with 3 decades of experience in business-to-business, high-tech, and direct marketing. He has written more than 100 articles and 45 books, including 101 Ways to Make Every Second Count (Career Press). He may be contacted at rwbly [at] bly [dot] com, or 201-385-1220.

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Posted in Editing (RSS), Management (RSS)

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