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Issue for August 2010

Managing Continuous Editorial Change

Posted on Monday, August 30, 2010 at 1:13 PM

The New Media landscape has put the job of editing into continuous flux. Here are 6 tips for coping.

By Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

A reporter once asked Dale Berra, son of baseball great Yogi Berra, and a major leaguer himself, if he was similar to his father. To which Dale replied, taking a page from his oft-quoted father, "No, our similarities are different."

I thought of this comment the other day when a client I had worked with several years ago contacted me about speaking at an upcoming leadership event.

"Sure!" I said, "I'd love to work with your organization again. But tell me, are you facing the same problems with organizational change as when I last addressed this audience?" He quickly replied, "Oh no, it's nothing like before. Sure, we are still trying to get people to embrace change, but the change is completely different!"

The Human Side of an Editor

Over 20 years ago, I began researching, writing and speaking about managing the "human side" of organizational change. At that time I thought it was a topic that would be a top priority -- for a few years (until we'd all mastered the strategies and techniques of change management) -- and then the focus would shift to more current organizational challenges.

I was wrong.

Two decades later, dealing with change remains the crucial organizational challenge. In many editorial organizations the situation is acute.

In a recent survey by the Conference Board, 539 global CEOs were asked to list their top concerns. In Europe and Asia as well as in North America, organizational flexibility and adaptability to change consistently ranked at the top of the list. Only revenue growth received a higher ranking.

What I overlooked in my assumption of change mastery is the radical way change would, well, change. Many leaders did become proficient in managing incremental change (continuous improvement) and the occasional (or annual) large-scale transformation. But managers today are facing a flood of continuous, overlapping, and accelerating change that has turned their organizations upside down. That's particularly obvious in the publishing business today. And managing people through that kind of change requires all the communication and leadership strategies we learned in the past -- and then some.

Editorial Practices Will Keep Changing

The shift from "a change" to "constant change" is more than just semantics. The increased difficulty lies in the fact that most people and processes are set up for continuity, not chaos. We're built to defend the status quo, not annihilate it. But the world is throwing change at us with such intensity that there is hardly enough time to regain our equilibrium or catch our breath. Nor is there much hope that the rate of change will ease in the future.

So, what does it take to manage people through continuous change? Here are some suggestions:

Tip #1

Realize that resistance to change is inevitable -- and highly emotional. This may not really surprise you, but understand that it is a very real result of our neurological makeup. Change jerks us out of our comfort zone by stimulating the prefrontal cortex, an energy-intensive section of the brain responsible for insight and impulse control. But the prefrontal cortex is also directly linked to the most primitive part of the brain, the amygdala (the brain's fear circuitry, which in turn controls our "flight or fight" response). And when the prefrontal cortex is overwhelmed with complex and unfamiliar concepts, the amygdala connection gets kicked into high gear. All of us are then subject to the psychological disorientation and pain that can manifest in anxiety, fear, depression, sadness, fatigue, or anger.

Didn't think as an editor you were hired to manage emotional turmoil? Think again.

Being aware of and responsive to the emotional component of change is now a prerequisite for effective leadership. This task is complicated by the fact that the emotional cycle of transition (denial, resistance, choice, acceptance, engagement) overlaps -- as one change begins while others are in various stages.

Tip #2

Give people a stabilizing foundation. In a constantly changing editorial organization, where instability must be embraced as positive, a sense of stability can still be maintained through corporate identity and collective focus of purpose. The leader's role here is to create stability through a constant reinterpretation of the publication's history, present activities, and vision for the future. And, by using the term vision, I'm not referring to a corporate-like statement punctuated by bullet points. I'm talking about a clearly articulated, emotionally charged, and encompassing picture of what the editorial organization is trying to achieve.

Tip #3

Help your staff/team/department realize that change really is the only constant. Never let people believe that once any single change is completed, the organization will solidify into a new form. Instead, help them understand that solidity has a much shorter life span than ever before. As processes temporarily manifest themselves in structures, we all should be getting ready for the next transformation.

Tip #4

Champion information access and knowledge sharing. As one savvy communicator put it, "My most important function is to feed back organizational data to the whole editorial organization. The data are often quite simple, containing a large percentage of information already known to many. But when an organization is willing to publicly present that information, to listen to different interpretations and to encourage the conversation -- the result is a powerful catalyst for change."

Tip # 5

Encourage the editorial staff to mingle. The new change-management fundamentals include an increasing focus on relationships and collaboration. Social networks -- not just Facebook and Twitter, but those ties among individuals that are based on mutual trust, shared work experiences, and common physical and virtual spaces -- are in many senses the true structure of today's organizations. Anything you as a leader can do to nurture these mutually rewarding, complex, and shifting relationships will enhance the creativity and change readiness within your team or throughout your organization.

Tip #6

Give up the illusion of control. Publication deadlines may be rigid. But, otherwise, the biggest obstacle to the organizational flexibility that top editors say they want may be their unwillingness to give up control. Rather than tighten the reins, leaders need to loosen their grip in order to align the energies and talents of their teams and organizations around change initiatives. No one likes change that is mandated -- but most of us react favorably to change we are part of creating.

A New Perspective on Change

Editorial leaders need to loosen their hold on information, as well. Transparent communication means disclosing market realities and the publication's inner workings to everyone -- not just to the upper echelon. It requires an unprecedented openness: a proactive, even aggressive, sharing of financials, strategy, business opportunities, risks, successes, and failures. Your people need pertinent information about demographic, global, economic, technological, consumer and competitive trends. They need to understand the economic reality of the business and why that reality is the driving force behind change. Most of all, people need to understand how their actions impact the success of change initiatives -- and how those initiatives impact the overall success of the publication.

I often tell audiences that "organizations don't change. People do -- or they don't." The similarities in today's continuous editorial change may indeed be different from change in the past. But here's one thing that has hasn't changed. People -- your editors -- are still the key.

Or, as Yogi Berra might have explained it: When it comes to the importance of the human element in change, "It's déjà vu all over again."

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., presents keynote addresses and seminars for management conferences and major trade associations around the world. She is an expert on helping individuals and organizations thrive on change. Carol is the author of nine books, including "This Isn't the Company I Joined -- How to Lead in a Business Turned Upside Down." She can be reached by email: cgoman@ckg.com, phone: 510-52601727, or through her website: www.ckg.com.

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Posted in Editing (RSS), Management (RSS)

Giving Up on Print

Posted on Monday, August 30, 2010 at 1:12 PM

Editors weigh in on the idea of eliminating print editions.

By Denise Gable

The advantages and disadvantages to both print and web publications are vast. While the Web has the advantage of offering timely information, print is more portable and many prefer the "reading experience." Print magazines aim for one particular target audience and can be costly to produce. Online editions are cheap, but tend to be less stable. While some publications, such as PC Mag, have completely eliminated their print publications and concentrated solely on their online magazine, most are opting to offer both. This month, editors shared their strategy in dealing with the print vs. online dilemma.

Powergrid International, Pennwell Corporation
Frequency: Monthly
Description: Since its launch in 1996, Powergrid International magazine has been the electric utility authority on power delivery automation, control, and IT systems.

Kathleen Davis, senior editor, "While we have a number of high-tech boys and girls among our readership, a lot of engineers are 'old school' and like the paper. They enjoy getting the physical form of the magazine, and they tell us so in surveys. There's just something grounding and more personal about getting a magazine in the mail with your name on it."

Maximum PC and Mac|Life, Future US
Frequency: Monthly
Description: Maximum PC: Magazine featuring the latest technology news, computer mods, computer news and the latest computer and notebook reviews. Mac|Life: Up-to-date news, reviews, and information on the latest Apple products.

Jon Phillips, editorial director, "Print still plays a major role in the lives of passionate enthusiasts. As editors, the key thing to remember is that people who buy magazines are looking for an entertainment experience, meaning they receive entertainment from learning more about subjects that really interest them. They don't buy magazines for purchasing information. They buy magazines because the sheer act of reading about an interesting subject is entertainment in and of itself. Magazines won't survive if they attempt to solely satisfy information needs. The Web does this better."

ADVANCE for Occupational Therapy Practitioners, Merion Publications
Frequency: Biweekly
Description: Biweekly newsmagazine serving 60,100 occupational therapists nationwide. Dedicated to securing the future of occupational therapy by preserving the record of its unique contribution to allied health, educating others to understand that contribution, and helping therapists enhance their impact on the healthcare industry.

E.J. Brown, editor, "Though we are moving many things to the Web, we have no plans to abandon print. Our magazines are smaller, but they are intact. Most of the editors here agree that until electronic reading devices change, print will not 'go away.' People like to 'curl up' with magazines when and where they want to, to relax and read. Although electronic readers offer 'pages' that look like printed paper pages, they are still cumbersome and heavier than paper, of course. They do offer the capability of storing much reading material in a single place, which means you don't have to pack loads of reading material to take on a trip. But I believe that many advertisers still prefer print, and contributors would rather see their articles there."

Les Nouvelles Esthétiques & Spa (American Edition), Les Nouvelles Esthétiques, Inc.
Frequency: Monthly
Description: Dedicated to up-to-date knowledge in the world of spas, well being, and beauty. Encompasses all aspects of the spa industry: skin care, body care, makeup, spa therapies, and business management, with a high fashion feel to complement its contemporary nature.

Denise R. Fuller, editor-in-chief, "Due to the specialty of being a trade magazine for therapists, we have found that our readers value a print magazine over the online version. Estheticians, massage therapists, and spa owners feedback has been that they love sitting down with their favorite beverage and learning the newest trends and techniques that our magazine has to offer. We will not be discontinuing our print edition; it is a valuable commodity for our readers."

Denise Gable is managing editor of Editors Only.

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Posted in Editing (RSS), Management (RSS)

The Elements of Story

Posted on Monday, August 30, 2010 at 1:12 PM

A reference book that is rich in advice it is and a pleasure to read.

By Peter P. Jacobi

I enthusiastically recommend for your reference The Elements of Story, Field Notes on Nonfiction Writing, by Francis Flaherty (Harper). It is wide and yet also deep in coverage.

Flaherty, an editor at The New York Times who specializes as "story doctor," includes in the book's 280-or-so pages a welter of points designed, if we follow the advice, to improve our own writing and that of folks who write for us. Each point, to add value, is given sufficient specifics so that the reader might gain a firmer grasp on the lesson.

Instructive Wisdom Throughout

Chapters begin with a well-phrased and summarized expression of the instructive wisdom that is to follow. For instance, "A writer must regard his story through theme-colored glasses" is the nugget leading into Chapter 6, titled "Bang the Drum Strategically," a section devoted to descriptive techniques.

Sounding Out

"The sound of words and the rhythm of sentences are a language wholly apart from the dictionary. Make sure your story not only says what you mean but 'sounds' what you mean." That's the prelude to Chapter 7, "What Babies Know," an argument about the importance of sounding out your copy, this to determine the potential impact of written words on the emotional membranes of the reader's heart or mind.

The Important Verb

"Verbs are the most important words in a story, and the most important verbs are those that reflect the main theme. They are verbs with a capital V." Flaherty offers that nugget for Chapter 8, "Temptation Alley," his discourse on how verbs should be selected and for what distinct and differing purposes.

Five Senses

The author reminds us in later pages that "The five senses are a writer's most formidable tools;" that you should "Look until you see something new, for the writer is the watcher of the world;" that "Writing is an act of assertion and judgment" and, therefore, you should "not evade that part of the job by hiding behind bland language or others' words."

The Lead

In a chapter on beginnings, he argues: "No words are more important than the lead. Invest the time to compose, and compare, several possibilities." He then offers factual (straight) and anecdotal (feature) leads for three stories, accepting all for having been written well but revealing his choices and the reasons for them.

A Must-Read Book

He addresses nut graphs and transitions, organization and empathy, humanization ("Every story, even the driest, has a human face") and endings ("the bow on the package" that "can also be something more substantial"). He deals with movement, pace, and symbols; with theme, story unity, and accuracy of detail. He even covers "The Big Type," meaning titles and subtitles, which Flaherty identifies as "turbocharged text ... your work distilled."

Samples abound, from nonfictional and fictional sources. "Sometimes in this book," he explains, "I quote from real, published stories and then invent an alternative to the published version to make a point. Other times, I sketch wholly imaginary articles, many but not all inspired by subjects that have been addressed in the City Section" to which he is assigned.

This is a help book I wish I could have written, so rich in advice it is and so pleasurable it is just to read. But there's no envy in that statement because, fortunately, Francis Flaherty did write The Elements of Story. It is available now for us all to use, and the "us" certainly, happily includes me.

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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Posted in Books (RSS), Writing (RSS)

That Is So Cliche

Posted on Monday, August 30, 2010 at 1:11 PM

Clichés can make writing "as dull as dishwater."

As an editor, you probably see clichés often. Even the best writers use them, and in some instances, they can be effective. Sometimes, when an article needs some personality, writers turn to similes, metaphors, and idioms for emphasis. Not a bad idea. It is when writing becomes loaded with superfluous imagery and needless abstraction that it loses all effectiveness.

Here are a few clichés from SuspenseNet's extensive list:

--beyond the pale
--cut the mustard (some consider this to be an incorrect rendering of "cut the muster")
--stranger than fiction
--reign supreme
--last-ditch effort
--experts agree
--garbage in, garbage out
--goes without saying
--law of the land
--know the ropes

It is probably best to review this list, and others, to familiarize yourself with the most commonly used clich├ęs. Let them stick out to you like the sore thumbs they often are. In most cases, they can be revised out of a sentence without mangling the meaning.

Consider the following passage:

Because Jessica knows the ropes better than anyone in the office, it goes without saying that she will get the promotion tomorrow. Leslie has made a last-ditch effort to prove that she cuts the mustard, but it is too little, too late.

Here, we have a whopping five clichés (set in italicds). The passage is loaded with idiomatic abstraction. How can we make it not only less cliché, but clearer? Let's try some revision:

Because Jessica works more efficiently than her coworkers, she will likely get the promotion tomorrow. Leslie has taken on some extra projects this week to prove herself, but her efforts are too little, too late.

Notice that we have let the last cliché stand. It works here. "Too little, too late" tells us that Leslie's efforts are not only insufficient to win her the promotion, but also not in time to sway her boss' decision. We have made this concept clear with just four words.

Even if you don't have a list of common clichés memorized, you can likely pick out these culprits in a lineup. Look for overused similes ("like two peas in a pod," "as stubborn as a mule," etc.) and idioms that complicate things needlessly.

You don't need to strike all clichés from existence -- as seen above, they can be useful. Earlier this year, Randy Michaels of Tribune Company banned 119 clichés from his newsroom and encouraged employees to keep tabs on one another with bingo cards. No need to be that vigilant. Just make sure to present copy that is low on fog and high on clarity. Don't let an otherwise informative article become "cheesy" thanks to excessive use of clichés.

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Posted in Editing (RSS), Grammar (RSS), Writing (RSS)

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Posted on Monday, August 30, 2010 at 1:11 PM

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