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Issue for August 2011

Editing for Three-Dimensional Reading

Posted on Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:25 PM

Start getting used to this new paradigm. The game has already begun.

By Robert M. Sacks

I read a quote recently that got me thinking about the role of editors today. It is by Bertrand Russell, who said, "The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it."

Sometimes it is the simplest of things that are the hardest to grasp, perhaps because they are, well, so obvious that once you see them, you can't for the life of you understand why you never noticed them before.

The idea that the new models of publishing -- the evolving Internet and information distribution itself -- are still very much in their infancy is the least complex. Yet I find that many people for whatever reason are reluctant to accept it.

A sports metaphor that I wish I wrote states that with all the changes, angst, redevelopment, and redeployment that the editing profession has gone through in the last 10 years, "it is barely the top of the first inning and there is only one out." Are you ready to accept that simple and obvious statement?

Every day, broadband gets more ubiquitous with an increased ability to deliver globally. Concurrent with the large digital pipelines for delivery is the development of superior substrates. The mechanics and complexities of iPad-like devices are also in their infancy. Heck, the iPad has barely passed its first birthday. We have yet to experience the beauty and versatility of reflective full-color e-readers. In all likelihood these will be delivered this year. And then what? Does anyone really think we are finished with revolutionary technological progress? The truth, as trite as it sounds, is we can only expect the unexpected.

Another common and simple misunderstanding is about the volume of material out there for the general consumer. It is usually perceived as being just too much. But, no, actually it isn't. We are only going to have more and more information available to us, at any time, in any place of our choosing.

Gutenberg started this democratization of knowledge, and the current technologies have taken that concept and process to the 10th power. Today's Internet-connected reader may absorb less specific data and less detail from an increasingly larger reservoir. But more material is available than ever before, and our readers know that they have the wealth of the ages at their fingertips at a moment's notice. This has caused a very subtle social change that is often missed unless you step back for a panoramic moment to view our current media-enriched society. This still-evolving change is all about knowledge.

It is now far more important to know how to search for a fact than to actually know a fact.

That societal awareness changes everything. It changes the way our children view the world, and it may change the way we look at our children. They are the offspring of linear parents.

We grew up reading books left right from the top of the page to the bottom. It is my contention that, because of the new and still-developing hyperlinked-media-delivery system in place and still morphing before our very eyes, our children will have the capacity to think in 3D. Yes, they can be reading and clicking hither and yon, while learning and jumping from topic to topic in a system that linear people of the old world can never truly understand.

They are born with this as their natural language, while we are digital immigrants with an immigrant's accent and the immigrant's difficulty in understanding the nuances of the new "country" we are living in.

Our children no longer have to memorize and know things by rote, because they can look up anything in seconds. And the information they can gather can be as complex and detailed or as simple as the situation demands.

So, in a strange way, knowing less is a defense to the total saturation of available information that surrounds us. Is it possible that what some pundits call "increased attention deficit disorder" is a skill set that is actually a newly acquired and underappreciated ability to survive the new media's continued overload?

We editors have the brightest of futures before us, and this is just the beginning: it is only one out, and a whole game is before us.

Robert M. Sacks is editor of Heard on the Web, a daily publishing industry e-newsletter (www. bosacks.com), and is president of The Precision Media Group.

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"Einstein was asked how many feet were in a mile. He responded he had no idea, why should his brain retain a fact he could easily look up? The mind is for thinking. I think his immigration papers came early!" --Elizabeth Bleu, Editor, ACR. 8-30-2011

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The Glamour of Grammar

Posted on Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:24 PM

A remarkably useful guide that deserves a spot in your library.

By Peter P. Jacobi

The writer's name on the cover should be enough to convince you to buy the book: Roy Peter Clark.

The author of Writing Tools, among a dozen or so other books, and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, Clark has earned enough plaudits as teacher of our craft to sell a book just by being credited as its author.

But the title of this volume is attractive on its own: The Glamour of Grammar. It proves a remarkably useful "Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English," as the book's subtitle sums up the content.

In 50 chapters -- they're short in length but long on specifics -- he reveals once more his love for the English language and his gentle militancy toward preserving and enhancing its strengths. He obviously wants us to love it by living with its rules and restrictions comfortably and flexibly, rather that fearfully and restrictively.

Fluid Language

Clark advocates for an English used practically. Use it, he says, to fit the needs, wants, and idiosyncrasies of the reader. Recognize, he explains, that although language lives on tradition and requires continuity, it gains enrichment through adaptation and reflection of what is going on inside and outside of us.

He urges those of you and me, who teach and edit, not to be "members of the crotchety crowd," too concerned about "useless and unenforceable rules." Hunt for and savor details, he advises, so our words are not dulled by the lack of specifics. "I love language that moves, moves from the abstract to the concrete, moves from showing to telling, moves from the general to the particular."

A vs. The

The following gives you a sense of how Clark approaches a point. An early chapter is titled, "Honor the smallest distinctions -- even between a and the." Here is how he begins the discussion:

"When you live inside the English language, you will find yourself tinkering with a and the. The switch from one to the other can bring dramatic changes in meaning, tone, and reader response. What if the title of the classic book and movie had been Gone with a Wind?

"When Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon," Clark continues, "his words, now part of history, came across as garbled and confusing. It sounded like he said, 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.' For years I scratched my head, uncertain of the difference between 'man' and 'mankind' until someone suggested that an 'a' was missing: 'That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.' That single letter a can mean the world -- and in this case the moon."

Quotation Marks

Clark instructs benevolently, intelligently, and always by example. Addressing the usefulness of quotation marks, he notes that "direct quotations, bits of dialogue, a soliloquy, a special title, a creative emphasis, even a not-so-hidden message can be defined and enhanced by those sets of inverted, elevated commas." His clarifying example is a brief essay he wrote on the subject. It includes the following sentence, and I'll not put quote marks around it, this so you can see how Clark uses them within to impart his message: Narrative is nothing more or less than taking what happened "then" and rendering it in the "here and now."

Key Points

Each chapter ends with a "Keepsakes" section, comprised of key points he means you to remember. Following a discourse on ambiguity, he offers a list of sources for this failing, sometimes of unintended nature. The list includes: "failure to account for words that sound alike" and "placing words next to each other in a way that confuses their meanings" and "prepositions that change the meaning of verbs" and "words that can be abstract or concrete depending on context," and so forth.

Transforming Prepositions

In the body of the chapter which precedes that "Keepsakes," he has shared examples: "Added to a verb, a simple preposition can transform effect and meaning. It is the ambiguity in the preposition 'over' that makes us wince when we read: 'Cubans march over 6-year-old.' The writer uses 'over' as a synonym for concerning, not recognizing that 'march over' could be mistaken for trample."


He gets into crotchets, "odd, whimsical, or stubborn notions." Such as one "going back more than a century," demanding that the writer not split an infinitive. He debunks the stricture by reminding us of the opening to the immensely popular Star Trek adventures: "Space...the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

"To boldly go." Argument made.

A Useful Guide

Words, sentences, punctuation, subject-verb agreement, gender equality, moods, active-passive choices, nonstandard English, denotation and connotation, associative imagination (similes, metaphors, comparisons and contrasts): all these and more get Roy Peter Clark's attention. The Glamour of Grammar is published by Little, Brown. Seriously consider it for a spot in your library. You'll come to use it.

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 Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:24 PM

Assessing the readability of a NYTimes.com article.

This month, we assess the readability of an August 25, 2011, NYTimes.com article ("Vaccine Cleared Again as Autism Culprit," by Gardiner Harris):

For instance, recent studies have found that many of the children who suffered seizures and lifelong problems after receiving the whole-cell pertussis vaccine, which is no longer used but once routinely caused fevers in children, actually had Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. The flood of lawsuits over the effects of the whole-cell pertussis vaccine was the reason Congress created the national vaccine injury compensation program in the first place, and children who suffered seizures after getting this vaccine have been among the most well-compensated.

--Word count: 86
--Average sentence length: 43 words
--Words with 3+ syllables: 9 percent (8/86 words)
--Fog Index (43+9)*.4 = 20 (no rounding)

The clear culprit here is sentence length. Our 86-word sample consists of just two sentences that yield an average sentence length of 43 words. Let's see if we can break these sentences up to improve the Fog score.

For instance, the whole-cell pertussis vaccine was once blamed for seizures in children. Congress created the national vaccine injury compensation program in response to a flood of lawsuits involving the vaccine. These cases have been among the most well-compensated by the program. However, recent studies have shown that the seizures resulted from a form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome.

--Word count: 59
--Average sentence length: 15 words
--Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (6/62 words)
--Fog Index (15 +10)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

Not only were we able to trim the word count by nearly one-third, but we also rearranged the elements of the sentence for improved clarity. Thus, we cut our Fog score in half.

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Editorial Salaries in 2011

Posted on Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:23 PM

In the news: How editors have fared financially in 2011.

The news is a little better for editors this year than it's been in recent years. Editors in several sectors and geographic regions saw pay raises this year. Top editors in three of the four major geographic areas saw salary increases. Average salaries were directly proportional to the number of hours in the workweek (e.g., editors working 40 hours per week earned an average of $69,000 per year, while editors working 41-49 hours earned $83,900).

Still, while the news was largely good for top editors, others felt overworked and underpaid. Despite overall salary increases across the country, editors in the west saw salary decreases. And editors are still juggling the demands of their print editions and their new digital and social media responsibilities, which have added considerably to their workload.

Read more about the survey results here.

Also notable

Guest Editor Stint Gone Wrong

Ashton Kutcher has come under fire for his recent guest editor stint at Details magazine. In his issue, Kutcher promotes various companies. The problem? He doesn't disclose anywhere in the issue that he owns stake in several of them. Although the actor won't face charges from the FTC for this legal and ethical breach, debates about the severity of his offense continue. To read more about the Details incident, click here.

Multimedia Management

What are you doing to keep your multimedia content fresh and relevant? In a recent EditorandPublisher.com article, Upstream Digital Media managing director Keith Jordan discusses some tips for managing multimedia content. He advises implementing an asset management system to manage website images. These asset management systems work alongside content management systems to help editors to use and manage licensed images effectively. Also important, Jordan says, is having software in place to integrate video into your Web content. Read more here.

Putting QR Codes to Use

You've likely heard plenty of buzz about QR codes. This month, PubExec magazine is using them for the first time. The latest issue features lines from an interview that run along the bottom of the magazine page. At the "end," the magazine has printed a QR code for smartphone users to access the entire interview. This code is mutually beneficial: It allows the reader to access bonus content, and it allows PubExec to see how many readers are accessing the content via smartphones. The magazine has opened up the floor to reader feedback and debate regarding the usability and effectiveness of QR codes. Read more here.

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