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Issue for August 2019

Ten Great Ways to Crush Staff Creativity

Posted on Thursday, August 29, 2019 at 2:06 PM

Ten years ago we published this great article that is quite relevant today and bears repeating.

By Paul Sloane

As editors, you have much more power than you realize. You can patiently create a climate of creativity or you can crush it in a series of subtle comments and gestures.

Your actions send powerful signals. Your responses to suggestions and ideas are deciphered by staff as encouragement or rejection. If you want to crush creativity in your organization and eliminate all the unnecessary bother of innovation, then here are ten steps that are guaranteed to succeed.

#1. Criticize

When you hear a new idea, criticize it. Show how smart you are by pointing out some of the weaknesses and flaws that will hold it back. The more experienced you are, the easier it is to find fault with other people's ideas. Decca Records turned down the Beatles, IBM rejected the photocopying idea that launched Xerox, DEC turned down the spreadsheet, and various major publishers turned down the first Harry Potter novel. The same thing is happening in most editorial organizations today. New ideas tend to be partly formed, so it is easy to reject them as "bad." They diverge from the narrow focus that we have for the publication, so we discard them. Furthermore, every time somebody comes to you with an idea that you criticize, it discourages the person from wasting your time with more suggestions. It sends a message that new ideas are not welcome and that anyone who volunteers them is risking criticism or ridicule. This is a surefire way to crush the creative spirit in your staff.

#2. Ban Brainstorms

Treat brainstorming as old-fashioned and passé. All that brainstorming does is throw up lots of new ideas that then have to be rejected. If your organization is not holding frequent brainstorming sessions to find creative directions, then you are not wasting time on new ideas. Instead, you are sending a message to staff that their input is not required. If people insist on brainstorming meetings, then make them long, rambling, and unfocussed with lots of criticism of radical ideas.

#3. Hoard Problems

The editor-in-chief and senior editorial team should shoulder the responsibility for all the major editorial decisions. Strategic issues are too complicated and high-level for the ordinary staff. After all, if people at the grassroots level knew the strategic challenges the organization faces, then they would feel insecure and threatened. Don't involve staff in serious issues, don't tell them the big picture, and above all don't challenge them to come up with solutions.

#4. Focus on Efficiency, Not Innovation

Focus solely on making the current publishing model work better. If we concentrate on making the current system work better, then we will not waste time on looking for different systems. The current publishing model is the one that you helped develop and it is obviously the best one for the publication. After all, if the makers of horse-drawn carriages had improved quality, they could have stopped automobiles taking their markets. The same principle applied to makers of slide rules, LP records, typewriters, and gaslights.

#5. Overwork

Establish a culture of long hours and hard work. Encourage the belief that hard work alone will solve a problem. We do not need to find a different way of solving a problem -- rather, we must just work harder at the old way of doing things. Make sure that the working day has no time for learning, fun, lateral thinking, wild ideas, or testing of new initiatives.

#6. Adhere to the Plan

Plan in great detail and then do not deviate from the plan regardless of circumstances. "We cannot try that idea because it is not in the plan and we have no budget for it." Keep to the vision that was in the plan and ignore fads like new media and Twitter -- they will pass.

#7. Punish Mistakes

If someone tries an entrepreneurial idea that fails, then blame and retribution must follow. Reward success and punish failure. That way we will reinforce the existing way of doing things and discourage dangerous experiments.

#8. Don't Look Outside

We understand our publication better than outsiders. After all, we have been working in it for years. Other industries are fundamentally different, and just because something works there does not mean it will work in publishing. Consultants generally are overpriced and tell you things you could have figured out anyway. Freelancers don't have good ideas, either. We need to find our sense of direction inside the business by working harder.

#9. Promote People Like You from Within

Promoting from within is a good sign. It helps retain people and they can see a reward for loyalty and hard work. It means we don't get polluted with heretical ideas from outside. Also, if the editor-in-chief promotes people like him, then he can achieve consistency and succession. It is best to find editors who agree with the editor-in-chief and praise him for his acumen and editorial foresight.

#10. Don't Waste Money on Training

Talent cannot be taught. It is it a rare thing possessed by a handful of gifted individuals. So why waste money trying to turn ducks into swans? Hire good editors and let them learn our system. Work them hard and they can emulate the success of the editor-in-chief as he leads the publication forward into the future.

Paul Sloane is the founder of Destination Innovation (www.destination-innovation.com). He writes and speaks on lateral thinking and innovation. His latest book, The Leader's Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills: Unlock the Creativity and Innovation in You and Your Team, is available on Amazon.

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Editorial Conferences -- Part II

Posted on Thursday, August 29, 2019 at 2:05 PM

Insights from leading editors.

By William Dunkerley

The task of editorial planning confronts all editors. In Part I we reviewed some of the ins and outs of editorial conferences. Concurrently we conducted an anecdotal survey to peer into editors' current practices.

Our survey received a robust response, which indicates that most editors can clearly relate to this topic. Two of the survey respondees offered extensive comments. We present them here in this issue. Next time we'll give you a roundup of other comments along with our analysis.

PT in Motion

Donald Tepper, Editor: We publish eleven times a year (monthly with a combined December–January issue).

The magazine itself is put online each time we publish a print issue. We put it online as both a PDF and HTML. In addition, we have a separate online presence that's handled somewhat differently by a different staff member (but still under the magazine's banner). Typically, we'll have one or two news items daily. We then take a small selection of those and include them in a "News" department in our printed magazine.

We don't have editorial conferences per se to plan content for our next issues. But we do have regular staff meetings (generally every two weeks) where we go over any problems. We have an annual editorial calendar and stick to that unless there's a major reason for changing it. Our editorial conferences usually address selecting which article will be the cover story, brainstorming possible cover designs, and other items like that. But the content usually is pretty much set.

The publisher, editor, and associate editor take part.

Roughly 70–80 percent of our meeting time is devoted to the next two issues -- most of that to the next issue. But we also look ahead. Relatively little of that time is devoted to longer-range planning, however. That's usually addressed separately when we develop our editorial calendar for the next year.

At least for us, creating the editorial calendar is similar to assembling a jigsaw puzzle. We typically run three features (and a number of departments and columns) in each issue. We aim for a balance in each issue. We're published by an association, so usually one of the articles is somehow association-related. Examples: recaps of major meetings or a major anniversary in the profession's development.

We'll also try for an article on how our members (physical therapists and physical therapist assistants) work with/help patients. Examples: easing chronic pain, working with survivors of cancer, using hippotherapy (use of horses) as part of an intervention, treating athletes (a different sport each time, from roller derby to football to eSports), and so on.

The third article is sometimes a bigger-concept article. Examples: regenerative medicine, impact of the consumer movement, 3D printing, the future of clinical education, or the continued value of low-tech tools and devices.

It can be a challenging puzzle at times to present that variety in each issue ... and to have that variety in a series of issues without overlapping the themes. For example, "chronic pain" may overlap with "survivors of cancer." "Hippotherapy" might have the same sources as an article on therapy animals -- two very different topics, but there's overlap. There are other challenges: covering a range of practice settings, addressing different demographics (age, gender identification, race and ethnicity), and so on.

What seems to work for us is to begin the jigsaw puzzle by plugging in articles we'll be required to cover: meeting recaps, some awards, major anniversaries. Those usually already have a "traditional" slot in the calendar. Then we take other important topics (for example, social determinants of health or combatting burnout) and weave them into the schedule. Then we have the "fun" ones. They're still important, especially when we can show that the issues affect many/most of our members. These will include articles such as treating roller derby contestants or eGamers, plus, often, technology articles (3D printing, regenerative rehab).

Once that's done, it helps to step back and look for conflicts. Or look for contiguous months with similar articles. That usually requires some additional tweaking.

And when that's all completed and reviewed and approved by others in the association, we're generally set. The meetings then just become "Are we on track?"


Rosalie Donlon, Editor in Chief: Our magazine publishes monthly in print and in a digital edition. The features and columns are published on the website throughout the month.

In September I plan out an editorial calendar for the next year for print, consulting with the managing editor and the sales team. We plan around conferences where we know we'll have distribution. For example, the August issue focuses on workers' compensation because that one is distributed at the annual workers compensation conference for the Workers Compensation Institute.

For online, we have an ongoing team editorial calendar that is the responsibility of the online managing editor. Each member of the editorial team is responsible for checking the calendar daily to ensure that they're meeting deadlines and for adding upcoming stories to the calendar as well as the date they'll be ready to publish.

We have a team meeting once a month to talk about long-term story planning, such as traffic safety week or back-to-school-themed stories. We spend about 25 percent of the time on long-form story ideas. We also exchange story ideas daily via email, and the editors have beats they're responsible for. The team includes the editor in chief, managing editor, digital managing editor, and two associate editors as well as the editor in chief of a sister publication, Claims magazine.


--Plan as far in advance as you can for all content, especially long-form stories or to take advantage of themes, but be flexible so you can react to breaking news or trends.

--Maintain an online calendar that's accessible to everyone on the team. We use TeamUp and color-code entries.


Our survey shows there are many variations in how editors do their planning. In the next issue you'll hear from a cross section of other editors on the topic.

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

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The Fog Index

Posted on Thursday, August 29, 2019 at 2:05 PM

Assessing the readability of a Wired.com excerpt.

This month's Fog Index sample text comes from an August 28 piece on Wired.com ("On Instagram, 'Unlink Account' Won't Unlink You from Facebook" by Paris Martineau. Here's the excerpt, with longer words italicized:

"Common sense suggests that if you unlink a Facebook account from your Instagram profile, you've unlinked that Facebook account from your Instagram profile. But like many things Facebook, common sense does not exactly apply here. Clicking Unlink Account does not actually unlink a Facebook account from Instagram, a Facebook spokesperson told WIRED, because it isn't possible to separate the two. Even if a user never explicitly linked their Facebook and Instagram profiles, they are intrinsically connected—Finstagrams be damned—and will continue to be, regardless of how many times you mash 'Unlink Account.'"

--Word count: 93 words
--Average sentence length: 37 words (23, 12, 25, 33)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (9/93 words)
--Fog Index (37+10)* .4 = 18 (18.8, no rounding)

This is one of the higher Fog Index scores we've seen. At a glance, it doesn't seem all that "foggy." The number of longer words doesn't seem disproportionate. But when we look at sentence length, the problem comes into focus. The 93 words in this excerpt are divvied up into just 4 sentences, leaving us with a longer word percentage of 37. We need to pare this down if we want to cut at least 7 points from the current score.

"Common sense suggests that if you unlink a Facebook account from your Instagram profile, you've unlinked that Facebook account from your Instagram profile. But like many things Facebook, common sense does not exactly apply here. Clicking Unlink Account does not truly unlink a Facebook account from Instagram, a Facebook spokesperson told WIRED. It isn't possible to separate the two. Even if a user never explicitly linked their Facebook and Instagram profiles, they are intrinsically connected—Finstagrams be damned. And they will continue to be no matter how many times you mash 'Unlink Account.'"

--Word count: 93 words
--Average sentence length: 21 words (23, 12, 17, 7, 19, 15)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 8 percent (7/93 words)
--Fog Index (21+8)* .4 = 11 (11.6, no rounding)

In our edit, 4 sentences became 6, and we cut 2 points from the longer word percentage. Our changes were minor, and overall word count didn't change. The text needed the lightest of touches to make a big difference in the Fog Index. And that's the takeaway point from this month's column: You don't have to reinvent a piece of writing to clear it of fog. Small changes can skew the numbers in a big way.

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Magazine Brands and "TV Envy"

Posted on Thursday, August 29, 2019 at 2:04 PM

In the news: How magazine brands are shooting themselves in the foot by chasing the successes of TV.

Magazines have experienced "TV envy" since the early 2000s, says Steve Smith of Foliomag.com. Now that "the platform silos have been dismantled ... magazines have found themselves in direct competition for ad dollars with every other media, many of which enjoy superior reach, a daily cadence and, in the case of TV, reusable and excess video assets that mapped perfectly with our broadband future." Tapping into a Charlie Brown/football analogy, he discusses where magazines have gone wrong with their video content strategies.

Smith has blunt advice for magazines plastering the internet with video content few actually watch: "Magazines also need to wake up and get out of their own damn channels. I'm sorry, but no one is going to tune into 90% of these brands. Magazines need to stop loving their own print legacy and build brands in new way." Read his thoughts on how magazines can successfully navigate the cross-platform marketplace here.

Also Notable

Publishers Delaying Video Content Until Holidays

Hoping to maximize revenue during the holiday season, many publishers are holding their video content until December, reports Tim Peterson of Digiday.com. Ad spending is typically higher in the fourth quarter, so it's a lucrative time for publishers to push new content. But timing isn't the only factor to consider-quality matters too. Peterson writes, "With platforms like YouTube taking videos' production quality into account when deciding which channels to include in its upfront ad buying program Google Preferred, publishers are trying to strike a balance between investing in improving the production quality of their shows and ensuring they will be able to make back that money and turn a profit." Read more here.

Magazine Audience Growth Year-Over-Year

Last week the MPA released its year-over-year audience growth numbers for June 2019. "The growth of magazine media audiences is accelerating, while declines are slowing," says Sara Guaglione of MediaPost.com. "One-third of the magazine media brands included in MPA's report had audience increases of 10% or greater in June 2019 year-over-year. Of this group, more than half had increases in print, as well as online audiences." Read more here.

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