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Issue for August 2012

Outsourcing Editorial Work

Posted on Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 11:31 PM

Does your publication outsource editorial, layout, or design work to freelancers?

By Meredith L. Dias

This month, we surveyed our readers about outsourcing. We wanted to get an anecdotal sense of how many magazines are using freelancers to complete various stages of the editorial, production, and design process. Editors spoke candidly about their outsourcing practices and offered helpful tips for fellow magazine editors who might be thinking about hiring freelancers.

What Is "Outsourcing"?

Some editors weren't clear on what we meant by "outsourcing." To clarify, we were referring to the practice of hiring freelancers or outside companies to complete various tasks. As we discovered when we reviewed the survey responses, in some cases this means actual overseas outsourcing. In other cases, it meant outsourcing to outside editorial or design service providers.

Outsourcing means different things to different magazines. For some, it's a stopgap measure during tough financial times. For others, it's a luxury possible during only the most prosperous of times. Some magazines only hire freelance writers, while others use freelance editors, designers, and/or layout artists.. Let's take a closer look at some of the trends our survey revealed.

Survey Results Overview

When we reviewed the survey responses, we noticed right away that there was a near even split. Roughly half of the respondents hired freelancers in some capacity, while the other half didn't outsource at all.

Editors offered up a lot of reasons for outsourcing: lean full-time staffs, the desire for an outsider's eyes on the copy before press time, or requiring a level of expertise that only an outside consultant could provide. Reasons for not outsourcing were just as varied: sufficient full-time staff, lean budgets, or a perceived lack of quality in freelance work. Here's what some of them had to say.

To Outsource

Ryan Alford, owner and founder of Snowshoe magazine, employs freelancers often: "I outsource my editorial about 95 percent. I do most of the editing, project management, research, proofreading, and so forth. All the writing is performed by freelancers whom I've worked with for several years or recently jumped on board to help--based on inquiries they sent personally. I pay flat fees for articles, $50 to $250 (depending on the length and involvement)."

One editorial manager of an international nonprofit association spoke enthusiastically about her freelancers: "I produce the two electronic publications, including article planning, editing from other internal sources, original interviewing and writing, and building them (previously done by graphic designers). I outsource copy editing/proofreading to a freelance editor at a rate of about $100/hour. This is a huge help to me and she does a terrific job. I have always been very satisfied with any freelance person I have worked with over the years. My experience has been that they are hungry for the opportunity, work hard to produce what you are looking for (the more you are able explain your expectations/needs at the outset, the more successful they will be at producing what you want), and are fairly reasonable on the budget."

Not to Outsource

Carol Mangis of Consumer Reports tells us, "We don't outsource much. Unlike many other publications, our magazine has in-house copy-edit and research departments. If there's a special project coming up, we may bring in temporary editorial, copyediting, or writing help, but that's infrequent. And we tend to use the same people from project to project."

Martha Jolkovski, associate director of the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Assocation, reports that most of her publication's work is done in-house. "Our use of outsourcing is minimal," she tells us. "We do all of the graphic production of our magazine and other printed materials in-house, as well. Most of the work on all of our publications is done right here in our office by our tiny staff. This has worked well for more than 10 years.

Outsourcing Overseas

Some editors actually outsourced various stages of the publishing process overseas. One business magazine editor outsources his magazine's design to India. "We give them our more templated pieces, while our in-house art director handles heavier lifts, like covers, feature spreads and the like." He finds that outsourcing overseas is beneficial not just to his publication's bottom line, but also to the magazine's schedule. "What's nice about working with a global partner is the flexibility it gives you with time. For instance, we can send them stuff at the end of our day and have it back in the morning. It's sort of like having a second shift."

The Economy Effect

The weak economy has affected how magazine publishers do business with freelancers. Laura Porinchak, editor of AWCI's Construction Dimensions, told us, "We have been outsourcing our feature article writing (and nothing else) for more than 15 years. There was a time when we averaged four freelancers for almost every issue, but as the economy got worse and page counts went down, so did the number of features in each issue of our magazine. When the economy picks up again, we expect budgets and ad pages will increase; the use of freelancers will increase as well. That said, we've experienced a downsizing with our outsourcing as a reflection of the economy, but we hope we've hit bottom and look forward to the recovery."

What the Results Tell Us

Our anecdotal results indicate a ripe market for freelancers, who are the lifeblood of some magazines. That's likely why roughly half our respondents use freelancers in some capacity or other, whether it be writing, proofreading, editing, design, or layout. During times like these, when magazines are replacing fewer and fewer departing staffers, freelancing can be an attractive option for publishers who can't afford another full-timer and for unemployed (or underemployed) magazine professionals in search of work.

Come back next month for a short piece on how to employ freelancers to your publication's advantage, with tips from our own editors. If you have any tips to share with fellow editors on hiring freelancers, email us at editorsonly@publishinghelp.com.

Meredith Dias is senior editor of Editors Only.

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Be A Listener

Posted on Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 11:30 PM

Assure that your readers will spend sufficient time with what you wrote.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Back in December 1994, for my sixth column in this now long-running series (what you're reading right here and now is column number 209), I offered my "Ten Commandments for Writers." The last of those was: "Be a listener."

I went on to say:

"Listen to what you hear around you: the baby's gurgle, the bee's hum, the neighbor's chatter, the leader's call, the anthem's ring. Reflect the environment. Be open to the power of suggestion. To listen is to feel the currents in the atmosphere. Listen also to what is within you. What tones and rhythms and timbres do you discern from the words you've chosen to tell, to show, to explain what's you've set out to tell, to show, to explain?

"Listen to your words. How does each word sound? How do the words in pairs and groupings sound? How do they bunch? How do they merge? Have you captured a rhythm? Have you captured a melody? Have you captured a harmony, or even a planned versus unplanned dissonance?"

I further explained: "You cannot listen, of course, if you only look, if you depend on your eyes alone to reflect what's in your manuscript. The eyes will deceive you. They will cause you to miss fact or clarity or nuance or color. The eyes cannot hear -- the naturalness of chatting, the flow of conversationality, the feel of linkage from word to word, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, idea to idea.

"You must listen. Test all you write against the ears: to be unburdened of convolutions and, instead, to be enveloped, if you work at it, by the radiance of flowing crafted language. Be a listener."

Write for the Ears

The lesson used to be drilled into me decades ago when my teachers at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism repeatedly commanded: "Write for the ears." Granted, I was being trained for radio and television journalism, my goal at the time and the part of the profession in which I first worked. But I found it an immediate help in the other writing courses that I took and, of course, while doing the freelance assignments for print publications that ultimately led me out of broadcasting.

I am constantly reminded of my commandment, "Be a listener," this when I read my own copy aloud for editing. This, too, when I thrust myself through the assignments of students, students who've been told repeatedly, "Read your copy aloud," students who insist they've done just that, students who I know are not telling me the truth because, as I read the copy they've turned in, I find it dotted or flooded with awkward phrases and gaps in thought, all proving the lie.

By not testing copy against the ears, the writer cheats first himself or herself, then, of course, the reader.

It's All Rhythm

If you wish not to take my advice, take that of others.

Poet Dylan Thomas, when he spoke so excitedly of "the shape and shade and size and noise of the words as they hummed, strummed, jigged, and galloped along."

Novelist and short story writer Joyce Carol Oates: "The key ... is a voice, a rhythm, a unique music, a precise way of seeing and hearing that will give the writer access to the world he is trying to create."

The late editorial columnist and grammarian James Kilpatrick: "Effective writing ... has to have cadence. By that, I do not mean metronomic regularity. I certainly don't mean that we should strive for a singsong effect; for if you get to be self-conscious, if you strive for rhythm only, you will wind up getting dizzy, you will sound like Hiawatha. And I pray, you, sir, avoid it. No. I suggest only that we cultivate the inner ear. Let us listen to our sentences as they break upon the mind."

Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Eudora Welty: "The sound of what falls on the page begins the process of testing it for truth, for me.... When I write and the sound of it comes back to my ears, then I act to make my changes. I have always trusted this voice."

The late newspaper columnist and teacher George V. Higgins in his book, On Writing: "Reading your work aloud, even silently, is the most astonishingly easy and reliable method that there is for achieving economy in prose, efficiency of description, and narrative effect as well. Rely on it: if you can read it aloud to yourself without wincing, you have probably gotten it right."

Novelist Virginia Woolf addressed the subject this way: "It's a very simple matter. It is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can't use the wrong words."

Here's part of a Woolf sentence, as released by one of her characters walking on London streets and pondering death. Does it capture a rhythm? Has it been tested against the ears? "Did it matter then, she asked herself, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely? but that somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she survived...?"

The above is structurally complicated and continues to be as Woolf works her way to the end of the sentence, still a bunch of words away. But to read that passage is to be captured by the natural way the words sound, the way they come together as storytelling.

Words That Read Well

Listen as you read aloud the opening of an essay run in Harper's by the expert science writer David Quammen. The article is titled, "Planet of Weeds: Tallying the Losses of Earth's Animals and Plants."

"Hope is a duty from which paleontologists are exempt. Their job is to take the long view, the cold and stony view, of triumphs and catastrophes in the history of life. They study the fossil record, that erratic selection of petrified shells, carapaces, bones, teeth, tree trunks, leaves, pollen, and other biological relics, and from it they attempt to discern the lost secrets of time, the big patterns of stasis and change, the trends of innovation and adaptation and refinement and decline that have blown like sea winds among ancient creatures in ancient ecosystems. Although life is their subject, death and burial supply all their data. They're the coroners of biology."

Quammen has taken complex material and manipulated it into something understandable and readable and go-on inviting. The words read well. That's because they sound good. Their author listened before sending them to us.

So, I repeat: "Be a listener."

Should you be interested in the other nine of those Ten Commandments, they are: Be sensitive. Be confident. Be specific. Be yourself. Be perceptive. Be clear. Be liked. Be courageous. Be passionate.

Be them all. The tenth, however, "Be a listener," assures that readers will spend sufficient time with what you wrote using those other nine. The tenth will make them comfortable.

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 Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 11:27 PM

Assessing the readability of a NewYorker.com excerpt.

This month, we calculate the Fog Index of a NewYorker.com article ("Stargazing" by Richard Brody). Here's the excerpt:

"Anyone who has ever had the privilege of spending even a little time with notable actors (a frequent element of journalism) sees them being approached by strangers, noticed by strangers, or very deferentially yet conspicuously not noticed by strangers. Life in the spotlight is inseparable from the mere fact of being recognized -- and, all the more, for being recognized with adulation and fascination. Yet the intrusion of paparazzi raises the distortion to another level -- we know, from ordinary snapshots, that anyone can come out looking insane or foolish or menacing at offhand instants in daily life, but only the star, whose livelihood depends on public opinion, risks being harmed by the exposure and publication of their unguarded moments."

Word count: 120 words
--Average sentence length: 40 words (39, 25, 56)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 17 percent (20/120 words)
--Fog Index: (40+17)*.4 = 22 (no rounding)

While the number of longer words is on the high side, it's the average sentence length that's really weighing down this sample. Can we split up some of the longer ones? Let's find out:

"Anyone who has ever spent time with famous actors (a frequent part of journalism) sees how the public treats them. Strangers approach them, notice them, or try not to look like they're noticing them. Fan recognition and fascination are a given for stars in the spotlight, but the paparazzi distorts them. We know from photos that anyone can come out looking crazy or menacing at offhand times in daily life. But only stars, whose success depends on public opinion, risk harm from the exposure of their unguarded moments."

Word count: 88 words
--Average sentence length: 18 words (20, 14, 17, 19, 18)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 7 percent (6/88 words)
--Fog Index: (18+7)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

We edited this sample rather heavily to bring down the Fog score. We trimmed the total word count by 25 percent (from 120 to 90). We also reduced the average sentence length and number of longer words by more than half.

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Are Magazines in a State of Decline?

Posted on Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 11:25 PM

In the news: According to a recent Newser.com article, magazines may be at the same crossroads as newspapers.

Magazines are flocking to the digital frontier, and we've seen some memorable covers in 2012. But is the industry still lagging? In a recent Newser.com article, Matt Cantor asks, "Are magazines beyond saving?" The deck reads, "Editorial moves may be irrelevant in fading industry: David Carr."

Cantor quotes David Carr of the New York Times, who sees magazines at the same precipice as newspapers. In his article, Carr discusses the recent merger of Newsweek and TheDailyBeast.com and readership trends that are veering toward smartphones and away from print editions. He doesn't mince words: "Magazines, all kinds of them, don't work very well in the marketplace anymore," he says, citing recent Audit Bureau of Circulations data that shows a 10 percent decline in magazine newsstand sales over the past year.

Read more here and here.

Also Notable

Plagiarism at CNN and Time

High-profile journalist Fareed Zakaria was been suspended both Time and CNN over his piece in the August 20 issue of Time. His article, an analysis of gun control, was markedly similar to an article from a recent New Yorker issue. A similar article that ran on CNN.com also contained plagiarism. Fakaria has issued a public apology for the plagiarism, calling it a "terrible mistake." Read more here.

Helen Gurley Brown

Legendary magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown died on August 13. Brown was editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan from 1965 to 1997 and international editor of the magazine until her death. Read more here.

Lessons from Huffington Magazine

Huffington, the digital magazine from the publishers of the Huffington Post, is getting ready to publish its tenth issue. What has the new magazine learned in 2012? The publishers share some of the top lessons learned: how the iPad has shut the door on the "too dark for print" woes of yore, how the app-oriented concept behind a digital magazine differs from that behind a traditional magazine, and the magazine's "commitment to a tightly drawn editorial calendar and daily work flow." Read more here.

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