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Issue for September 2021

Media Focus on Climate Change

Posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2021 at 10:29 PM

In the news: As the climate crisis becomes more dire, publishers are recalibrating to devote more editorial pages to the subject.

Scientists generally agree that the climate crisis is an existential one, and many publishers are planning their editorial calendars accordingly. But those ramped-up efforts aren't necessarily reflected in the overall numbers. Sara Guaglione of Digiday.com reports: "The Media and Climate Change Observatory ... found that coverage of [climate] issues in August 2021 was the highest in more than a decade. However, climate change coverage is lagging in the U.S. U.S. print coverage of the issue was down 0.2 percent and TV coverage decreased 10 percent in August 2021 compared to the previous month."

But media companies aren't asleep at the wheel. Guaglione reports that several major publishers are creating new climate-oriented verticals to divert resources to the subject. Among them are Condé Nast (who aims to be carbon neutral by 2030, says Guaglione) and the New York Times, which will hold a nine-day event in Glasgow during the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). Read more about what publishers are doing to cover this crucial issue here.

Also Notable

Crowdfunding as Business Model?

Last week, Kristen Hare of Poynter.org discussed how philanthropy and crowdfunding have helped newsrooms to stay afloat during tumultuous times last year. "When for-profit newsrooms asked their communities to support them through donations, those communities did," she writes. Local news, already hit hard by other changes in the past decade, took additional hits they could ill afford as the pandemic took root in 2020. The issue is more complex when it comes to bigger-ticket donors. "For-profits need a nonprofit partner, Lenfest's Forman said, to offer tax deductions for people who give money. Some newsrooms are building out partnerships to make that work," reports Hare. What's more, she says, "for-profit newsrooms need to publish clear policies on how they handle gifts, what work is donor supported and what that means for the journalism." Read more here.

The Drone Journalism Controversy

Drone reporting has raised thorny First Amendment issues for a lot of newsrooms. Grayson Clary of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, reports on a recent instance this week on the committee's website. "A number of media organizations ... had been using footage from unmanned systems to document the federal response to the arrival of Haitian migrants planning to seek asylum." Border Patrol temporarily restricted flights at the border, but "media organizations could seek waivers from the ban." This temporary flight restriction prompted news outlet Infowars to sue the FAA. In response, Clary reports, the FAA has said that "the suit is meritless, pointing out that the agency quickly processed waiver applications from other outlets but Infowars had chosen not to apply for one." Read more here.

Google Search Changes

Amid all the other upheaval in the world this year, changes to Google search have forced publishers to relearn the wheel. Steve Wilson-Beales of Journalism.co.uk discusses these changes in a recent article. Among them: Google resetting webpage titles, sometimes to disastrous effect for publishers whose referenced titles in their content no longer matched the Google results. Also, Wilson-Beales writes, "Google made an update to its article schema to allow publishers to include a link to an author's bio page on each article they write for that publication.... Google [also] announced that [it] was going to remove the requirement that all publishers had to follow the AMP method of article delivery to appear in the Top Stories box at the top of the search results." These changes, among others that Wilson-Beales discusses in his article, have left publishers fumbling to figure out the new Google landscape. Read more here.

E&P Survey Alert

How has Covid affected the way your company runs? Editor & Publisher wants to know. Take their survey here.

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Resistance to Covid Mandates Raises a New Issue

Posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2021 at 10:26 PM

Is nostalgia for the pre-Covid workplace worth losing good editors who do their best work at home?

By William Dunkerley

Covid just seems not to go away. I'm not just talking about the virus itself. It's the impact it continues to have on editorial operations that is still a concern.

Recent news reports have been highlighting workplace incidents stemming from the imposition of mandates.

AP reported, "NY Hospitals, Schools Fear Shortage from Vaccine Rules." According to Politico, "Texas Airline Pilots Warn That Vaccine Mandates Could Roil Holiday Flights." Mandates for New York City teachers are in a state of flux as we write this. NPR reported, "Massachusetts State Police Troopers Resign over a Covid Vaccine Mandate."

On cable TV, switch from MSNBC to Fox News and you'll get completely different stories about the value of mandates. This is a highly political issue, and it's hard to distinguish reality from politics.

Former Obama administration official Juliette Kayyem apparently believes the mandate resistance talk is just a bluff. She tweeted, "Nervous headlines about massive resignations b/c of vaccine mandates do not deliver. Click on the stories. They are often based on 'concerns' or union litigation strategies. But there are no real walk-out numbers that suggest a crisis. Yet. It’s a gamble, but call their bluff."

A Prospective Return to the Office

We've yet to hear of mandate resistance problems in editorial offices. If you are aware of any, please let us know.

But we have heard that some editors are calling their staffs back to the office. In some cases it is just for part of the week. If mandate resistance does crop up, though, it could be quite problematic.

Many editorial staffs suffered from reductions in numbers early in the pandemic. When publications experienced dramatic drops in ad sales, some editors had to go. For those publications the loss of more editors could spell big problems.

What's at risk is the start of a downward spiral. First came the reduction in advertising revenue. Some publications compensated by reducing editorial expenses. Ultimately that could result in cutting editorial corners. That could eventually bring about lowering the amount or quality of content, and that could lead to fewer readers. Lower readership begets fewer ad dollars. I think you get the picture.

The Productivity Question

One solution for assuring that staff stays on board is by extending remote work for those reluctant to return to the office. For some editorial managers that leads to concern over productivity. There are two schools of thought there. Some at-home workers claim their productivity is up. Some managers say it's down.

Where does the truth lie? Actually there are arguments that support either side. Plain productivity may not be the only significant metric.

The Washington Post reported, "Research suggests that a switch to permanent remote work would make us all less productive. People who shift to working from home can temporarily increase the amount of work they get done in a given day. But over the medium to long term, long-distance employment can’t deliver key benefits -- including learning and new friendships -- that come from face-to-face contact." The Post also suggests, "You may get more work done at home. But you'd have better ideas at the office."

Adapting to, and Accepting, Change

My advice is to not take the Post's advice as a given for the long term. It is likely that presently some editorial managers and some subordinate editors are stressed by the experience of the Covid-forced changes in their work environments. That can lead to less individual productivity and less organizational effectiveness over time. But that does not necessarily spell out our destiny. It is a result of resistance to change.

It may be hard to imagine in today's world, but some editors had similar reactions to having to abandon their typewriters decades ago. They preferred to hand their typed copy to a "specialist" who would input it into a "word processor." Capturing keystrokes electronically must have been quite a technological innovation in the day. For many typewriter-oriented editors it took time to become comfortable with what turned out to be a better way of doing things.

The Post seems to be saying that learning and developing new friendships is an exclusively in-person function. That flies in the face of the role that social media now plays in the lives of many people. Deep friendships are being formed and maintained remotely. You can earn college degrees remotely. For some, that's not going to be the same, not going to fit the bill. But that's not a given. That's not a destiny.

Now, however, we must deal with people as they are, not as they might become. That requires us as managers to recognize individual differences, and to realize that a one-size-fits-all approach to our work environments is not the best approach.

While much of the commentary is about staff performance, the same considerations also apply to managers. They need to follow a course that is workable for them at the present. But it is important to keep in mind that the present is not necessarily the future we are headed for.

Forbes magazine has some reasonable advice: "Encourage people to consider where they do their best work. Avoid assuming all work can be done most effectively regardless of the location, and empower people to choose where they do their best work. Create places where people want to be, so they are attracted to an office where they can complete more complex work or problem solving. Also support them in curating the best conditions in their home environments. Bottom line: educate people and empower them, providing plenty of choice and control about where they do their best work whether it is more complex or more routine."

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

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"While there is something to be said for the future, overcoming past bad habits remains urgent. Many B2B editors, from the day of debut issue until now, have made an unacceptable showing when evidence of enterprise reporting is taken into account. This shortfall especially applies to e-news delivery. From the day of my first 50-site e-news delivery study until now involving 500 articles, 65 percent relied on rewritten press releases and other secondary source material. More recently, when I announced results of my first e-news enterprise reporting analysis, 60 percent of content posted was the established goal. Most sites reviewed could not surpass 40 percent. Fast forward until now, and many editors remain behind the eight ball in terms of being able to quote solid authoritative contacts. This is especially bad today because even those editors who made the grade are finding it much more difficult to reach out to past reliable sources." --Howard Rauch, Editorial Solutions, Inc., www.editsol.com

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How to Make Your Point Clearly

Posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2021 at 10:23 PM

It is our job, as writers and editors, to deliver our central point so that the reader can’t miss it.

By Peter P. Jacobi

What's the point of an article? Readers sometimes aren't sure.

They are not sure because writers have failed to identify the subject of their story. They write around the subject or wait too long to provide a clear picture of it. Whatever the reason, the result is a reader wallowing in information or wandering about a verbal landscape without a guidepost to direct the way.

The point is what an editor should always look for in a manuscript. If it isn't there, then the editor must either ask the writer to make the addition or do it him or herself.

Remember that awful lesson from high school English? The one about the theme of the sentence? Perhaps a teacher asked you to find that key to a paragraph, to spot it in a piece of assigned reading. Or she asked you to write your own paragraph built around a sentence that contained the essence of what the rest of the passage was about.

Well, just as paragraphs benefit from such a focused, central message, so articles do. The authors should be asked to include a sentence or three that tell the reader what the entire story is really all about.

Call it a thesis or a theme or an initial summary or, as they say in scientific material, an abstract. But early on in an article, the author needs to be specific about the essence of the topic. For the writer, it's a matter of coming up with a nugget -- either at or close to the start -- that lets the reader in on what's really happening in the unfolding narrative.

Granted, titles and subtitles and varying kinds of design breakouts help today's reader find out what's on a writer's mind, but the main dish, the article, should not be dependent on the frills. Writers need to make a point.

The problem sometimes is that writers, having worked so hard to develop an article and, therefore, becoming immersed in it, may believe they've been very clear, when actually they haven't. It's in their head rather than on paper. So, editors, make a point of locating the point or place it there yourself.

Back in the '90s, Howard Kurtz wrote about a then-popular talk show personality and got right to it. His New Republic article, "Father of the Slide," begins: "In the end, Phil Donahue, who invented the genre that kept sinking even lower into a miasma of tawdryness and sleaze, was simply outpaced in the race to the bottom."

That's a first sentence, a first paragraph, an opening. It also happens to be a statement that tells me exactly what this story is about. Donahue is being devoured by the monster he created. If the article is well written, as this one happens to be, everything that follows will bear out the opening. Donahue's television demise -- the what and the why -- will be clear to me when I'm done. The lesson will have been taught.

Subjects Defined in Summary Paragraph

U.S. News & World Report chose to lead with a summary paragraph in "Stellar News for Stars and Dreamers":

The heavens rained news last week. Astronomers meeting in San Antonio astounded one another with a series of dramatic reports that promise to improve our fundamental understanding of the universe. They presented conclusive evidence that stars the size of our sun have planets and those planets might be able to support life. They saw for the first time galaxies forming at the dawn of time, thanks to pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. And they learned that at least half of our own Milky Way galaxy is composed of ordinary stuff, not exotic as-yet-undiscovered particles that some have postulated.

The next sentence reads, "Here's how to understand the highlights." So the writer has compressed the news in the opening paragraph. The rest of the article will be follow-through. Subject defined. Subject to be explained.

A Terrence Rafferty review in the New Yorkerbegins: "In most respects, Ridley Scott's White Squall is a very dull, square movie, but, as with all Scott's pictures, there is something brave and stubbornly romantic about the whole misbegotten enterprise."

Here we have an excellent, pithy summation of Rafferty’s analysis. The reader becomes privy to his thoughts immediately. The support, the proof, will follow.

Indeed they do.

Thesis Delayed to Entice

Often, however, a writer wants to build toward the thesis, wants to draw attention in a more fetching way. In that case, the thesis is withheld. Richard Morin did that in "Tune Out, Turned Off" for the Washington Post National Weekly Edition:

Edward Howey of Gordo, Ala., is one of democracy's bystanders. He doesn't know the name of the vice president of the United States. He can't name his representative in Congress or his two senators. He doesn't know whether the Republicans -- or is it the Democrats? -- control Congress these days.

"Politics doesn't interest me," says Howey, 45, who owns a soap-making plant. " I don't follow it, don't vote, don't care. Never had time for it. Always had to make a living."

Howey is not alone. Whether uninterested, uninformed or simply ignorant, millions of Americans cannot answer even basic questions about American politics, according to a survey by the Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University.

The first two paragraphs constitute the attention-getting lead. The third paragraph addresses is the point of the story. And we're going to find out what that signifies.

Laura Shapiro also waits a little in her Newsweek piece, "To Your Health?" She begins, "'Oh, for a beaker of the warm south,/ full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,/with beaded bubbles winking at the brim,' sighed Keats. Chances are, he wasn't thinking about his arteries. But nearly two centuries later, the US Department of Health and Human Services also took a long look at the poet's favorite intoxicant and came up with the first pro-alcohol message in the history of health policy."

That's Shapiro's come-on.

Next sentence: "According to the department's just-released update of its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a drink or two a day may be good for you."

And we're on our way. Subject clearly delineated.

"Weird fact of life," writes Kenneth Labich in Fortune. "For every problem we face, someone has come up with a solution way too slick to be true. So we've got fat-free mayonnaise that tastes like rancid yak butter, and let's not talk about bald guys who spray-paint their skulls."

The thesis follows. It's a bit longer than some, but there are no rules on length, just so long as the author compresses the initial summary to a near-minimum. Says Labich:

In the corporate world, there's that supposed miracle cure for ailing organizations --team-based management. The notion hasn't been a total bust; freewheeling, egalitarian teams have worked wonders at companies like Boeing, Volvo, Hewlett-Packard, and FedEx. But the story’s a sad one at more and more outfits that have taken up the cause.

Again, the reader is better prepared to continue because of a main point well made.

Enticing Lead Warms to Point

Let's take one more example of a point delayed but most welcome. Phil Taylor was once on the pro basketball circuit for Sports Illustrated. One of his reports began:

Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley sat in the visitors' locker room of the Target Center in Minneapolis last week, inspecting the blue Minnesota Timberwolves practice shorts a clubhouse attendant had offered him for the next day's workout. That prompted one observer, mindful of the trade winds that have swirled around Barkley of late, to ask whether he could envision himself playing for the lonely T-wolves. He might as well have asked whether Barkley could see himself doing a swan dive off a skyscraper. "Now just hold on," Barkley said. "Don't go trading me to Minnesota. I know things are bad for us right now, but trust me, they'll never get that bad."

Close-in information. New intelligence. Interesting material. Something that even the savvy reader of Sports Illustrated wouldn't know about, a telling scene backstage. Taylor uses the unknown to get to the known, which he wants to discuss thoroughly. The known, the point to be made, comes following the above paragraph to serve as the article’s thesis or summary statement:

The Suns hope, in fact, that the worst is finally over for that believe your team, whose hellish half-season so far has included a devastating rash of injuries, a controversy of coaching change, friction between Barkley and Phoenix management, and some particularly embarrassing losses for a team that was expected to make another run at the NBA championship.

Taylor goes on to the analyze and explore exactly what we've just found out.

Seems such a small matter, the thesis, the coming to a point. But it's terribly important. It's the reader's compass. Provide it.

A classic article from a past issue in tribute to the late Peter J. Jacobi, longtime EO writer and author of The Magazine Article: How to Think It, Plan It, Write It.

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Free Assistance

Posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2021 at 8:51 PM

During this time of crisis recovery, we stand ready to answer privately any specific questions our readers may have, time permitting. You can contact us at: crisis-help@editorsonly.com.

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