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Issue for October 2010

If I Were Your Editor, I'd…

Posted on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 4:52 PM

My checklist of 13 points for editing your pieces. Try using it yourself!

By Peter P. Jacobi

If I were your editor -- aside from carefully copyreading your written submission to catch grammar, spelling, and punctuation problems along with obvious errors -- I would evaluate the work against a checklist of thirteen critically important points I’ve made in columns past.

Therefore, to head off a negative response from me, I’d urge you -- before turning in your material -- to test it first against this same list and make the changes deemed necessary. For you not to do so would represent, in my mind, a dereliction of duties (or, at least, your loss of an opportunity).

When tackling your manuscript, I would seek to determine whether or not you offered me the following.

#1 -- Anticipation

With an article that enhances the scope of coverage in your publication, this by providing something of a more timeless, lasting nature than the usual timely, print-now-or-never stories. Did you?

#2 -- Focus

Planning your article so that its approach matches reader interest, that its slant suits a particular audience and occasion, and, really, only that audience and occasion. Did you?

#3 -- Insight

Providing coverage that passes along to the reader material not available elsewhere because of the sources you’ve managed to exploit and the depth of information you’ve garnered through your research and reporting. Did you?

#4 -- Structure

Causing your facts, theme, and developments to bond so that the article unifies, makes sense, and moves ever forward. Did you?

#5 -- Context

Surrounding the critical details of your article with sufficient background, an environment that gives full meaning and import to the point you’re trying to get across. Did you?

#6 -- Perspective

Shaping a point of view, a means for the reader to understand a subject or an issue the way you want him or her to understand it. Did you?

#7 -- Epiphany

Seeking a “see the light” life changing moment for your central character because in such an event there’s drama or a lesson the reader can take away and perhaps use in his or her own life. Did you?

#8 -- Zoom

Locating a metaphoric situation that casts a spotlight on your entire subject, one that in compressive form clarifies everything you’re trying to say. Did you?

#9 -- Completeness

Providing all necessary information and shaping it in such a manner that the reader is satisfied with the provided substance and yet retains a curiosity for more. Did you?

#10 -- Reality, Spontaneity, and Visibility

Giving what you write a sense of presence, of creative spark, and of sensual power. Did you?

#11 -- Flow

Making your words an unbroken stream. Did you (read your manuscript aloud)?

#12 -- Resonance

Supplying the sort of substance and/or the sort of writing that reverberates in the reader’s mind and heart, that jars his or her sensibilities and, thereby, makes what you’ve prepared more likely become the stuff of memory. Did you?

#13 -- Voice

Individualizing your copy, making it yours, giving it a distinguishing personality that only you could have contributed because of who you are and how you practice the process of writing and in what manner you use the language. Did you?

The above words are significant. Your making them real in your writing is even more so. So, as you self-edit the piece you wrote this morning, judge yourself. Did you?

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 Editing (RSS), Writing (RSS)

Digital Reading Terminology

Posted on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 4:51 PM

A handy glossary of digital reading vocabulary for editors.

By Meredith L. Dias

There are a great many devices available for reading digital content. You may already be using some of them at home or in your editorial department. However, for many, the technology can be a bit confusing and overwhelming. This month, we have compiled a glossary of devices and terms to help identify and differentiate between portable digital reading devices.

Digital Reading Terminology

E-reader: A computing device, usually a unitasker, engineered specifically for consumption of e-books and digital magazines and newspapers. E-readers come in a variety of sizes and offer a wide range of features, from annotations to 3G connectivity. (Examples: Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader)

Laptop: A portable personal computer, often with similar specifications to a desktop computer. Characterized by its ability to sit on a user's lap. (Examples: Toshiba Satellite, MacBook, HP Pavilion, Dell Inspiron)

Mobile device: A blanket term that describes any pocket-sized computer (e.g., iTouch), PDA, or smartphone.

Netbook: A smaller version of a laptop with lower specifications, often geared toward Internet browsing and on-the-go word processing. Netbooks are engineered for longer battery life than their larger laptop counterparts. (Examples: Acer Aspire, HP Mini, ASUS Eee, Toshiba Mini)

PDA (personal digital assistant): A palm-sized computer or smartphone that allows users to manage information (e.g., appointments, contacts, etc.). Many modern smartphones have integrated PDA functionality, so there is some overlap between PDAs and smartphones. (Examples: iPhone, iTouch, Palm Pre, Blackberry)

Smartphone: An advanced mobile phone with Internet connectivity via Wi-Fi or 3G networks. Other advanced features include PDA functionality, on-the-go word processing, social networking, and email. (Examples: iPhone, Android, Blackberry)

Tablet computer: A portable computer characterized by touchscreen maneuvering and virtual keyboard. Some models offer traditional keyboards users can plug into USB ports. (Examples: iPad and the upcoming Blackberry Playbook)

For Your Consideration: A New Term

All of the devices above share an important feature: portability. While some are more unwieldy than others, any of the above devices can be transported to and fro' with relative ease -- unlike, say, a desktop computer. We find that there is no commonplace term to categorize all of the devices -- the laptops, the netbooks, the smartphones, the tablets -- that facilitate on-the-go digital reading. For simplicity's sake, Editors Only has devised a new term for this purpose: portable digital readers (PDRs). You will likely see this term pop up again in our future coverage of mobile and tablet publishing.

Why the New Term?

We felt that a blanket term like "PDR" was necessary, particularly given the wide range of digital reading devices and the development of non-portable technology like Google TV. We wanted to differentiate between the devices that anchor readers to the nearest outlet and those that run on battery power and can be taken virtually anywhere, much like a print magazine. PDRs include not only the dedicated devices like the e-readers, but also devices capable of various other functions. Essentially, any portable device upon which someone may read a digital book, magazine, or newspaper qualifies as a PDR.

There is overlap between some of the terms on the list (e.g., between smartphones and PDAs), but there doesn't seem to be one term to unite all of these portable reading devices. For instance, while the term "mobile" applies to the pocket-sized devices in our glossary, it doesn't apply to the laptops, netbooks, e-readers, and most tablets. Similarly, the term "e-reader" doesn't really fit the other devices on the list, which tend to be multitaskers. It is the word "portable" that unites them all.

So which PDRs do you use? I remain faithful to my rather large (but, oh, so slick) 17-inch Toshiba Satellite, reading digital galleys of books for review while the graphics processor warms my lap. Someday, my schedule may demand a shift to an even more portable device that allows me to read digital content while on my lunch hour or during my commute. For the time being, though, I like to leave the Internet at home or in my office. But thanks to the Editors-Only-coined PDR classification, I can feel like a part of the rapidly expanding digital reading culture rather than a total Luddite!

Meredith L. Dias is senior research editor of Editors Only.

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Posted in Editing (RSS), Technical (RSS)


Posted on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 4:51 PM

Using type to engage your readers, and avoiding some common missteps.

By Jan V. White

In our context of commercial publishing type is not an art form but a lubricant for ideas. It is not "artistic" but journalistically functional. That's why you -- yes, even you, Editor -- can control it with confidence!

Face it: Regardless of whether it is Centaur or Univers, Times New Roman, or Helvetica, to readers type is just "PRINT" and they see it either too damn much, or too damn small.

Unfortunately, few journalists and editors are more sophisticated than their victims. (They gave up "art" in high school -- remember? Type is part of "design" and, therefore, Art. Ugh! Cop out and pass it to someone else.) To writing-people, the content of the words is uppermost, of course. Any necessary "Artistic Decisions" they are forced to make are based on ancient newspaper axioms passed down as Revealed Truth, which is usually what was in place wherever they got their first job. That is deemed correct -- whether it makes sense or not. Furthermore, the choice of Font (what used to be called "face") is what editors are most worried about. They stick to the safe tried-and-true because they lack confidence in their own judgment in an area where they fear inferiority. Stop! Relax! Let's be REALISTIC about this whole business (See how the look of the type has helped here?) and list some facts:

Readers' reactions

Before settling down to read, all potential readers weigh the cost/benefit ratio of effort expended versus intellectual advantage gained: "Does this interest me enough to invest this much effort?" The way the piece looks at first glance helps that decision. We make up their mind up if the type looks too small or the piece too long. "I think I'll come back to it later" is their excuse for rejecting it.

At the same time, they also decide "what's in it for me." If there is something, their curiosity may tip their reluctance to read. So they look at a piece twice. First, they scan the pages fast, in an erratic sequence of jumps mostly in a north-to-south direction. Then, if something has tickled their curiosity, they follow in slow, east-west flow -- i.e., actual reading!

As clever journalists/editors/communicators, we must understand this psychological kinetic geometry in order to take advantage of both speeds (fast then slow) to persuade the unconvinced hesitators to become readers. We must win them over, and then keep 'em. We must understand the five verbo/visual streams that affect working typography:

1. Type as speech made visible This affects display type headlines, decks, captions, pullquotes etc., where we catch their interest. So type has to be handled subtly, not just big and black. The way it is arranged visually can mirror what it says by its phrasing, breaking for sense, shouting, whispering.

2. Type as story-telling This is the steady, slow text. Like listening to speech, reading is sequential and lineal. A speech can be lively and fascinating in its delivery, or it can be monotonous and boring. That is directly translated into its visible form.

3. Type as explanation Organizing facts, analyzing, listing, cataloging information for easy and fast understanding, and retrieval. Think of this as tabulation, organized charting.

4. Type as image Playing on the emotions and curiosity of the viewer/reader. Not just concrete poetry, but the interaction of words and images so 1 + 1 = 3.

5. Type as technology Pixels enable us to meld the pictures with type, just as Medieval scribes blended images with words (but they used paint on parchment). It was Gutenberg who split the mechanically-set words away from the images. The images were then relegated to secondary status as "illustrations" that were dropped in. That divided us into two fighting professions: the "wordsmith" intellectuals and the "artist" page-decorators. The war between writers and designers has gone on for 500 years.

We can and must return to the intellectually/visually integrated way of communicating that the Medieval monks used. Not because it is "beautiful" or "innovative" or even "creative," but because it works better, and so helps us stay in the race for the readers' attention and preference. Not by amusement or ever-more-startling effects, but by better service.

Writing and editing are now as much visual skills as they are verbal skills. Word-people must have a feel for the type that expresses their words and the layout that presents those words. Journalists and editors must think visually while they are writing and editing. Equally, the visual people must have a feel for the words -- not just how much space they take, but what they say and what their significance is to the readers. Only that way can the intellectuals and the decorators become verbal/visual communicators who blend their efforts to make the most of both content and form.

Hooking 'em

They don't start out as readers, but as investors expecting a return on their investment of energy, time, and money. They are skimmers, looking for stuff worth bothering about. They are searchers. If the publication is free, they are uncommitted, uninterested, uncaring page-flippers. Whoever they may be, they are all first lookers. (Visual reactions! Not verbal. Sorry, Editor!)

We must seduce them into the text, which contains the substance of the story. We must achieve that at first glance. They must want to get in there with "Wow! I gotta read this now!" They must then understand the information (which is a function of blending the editing with visual organization) ... and then, if the story jumps off the page into their minds vividly, they will remember it ... and as a result of feeling well-served, they will think of our publication with appreciation, pleasure, and loyalty.

Persuading 'em to read

Reading is deemed hard work. Many excuse their reluctance to read by saying, "It's hard to read." What they mean is that it is hard to get into … hard to understand … hard to find what they are looking for … and, most important, hard to know why they should bother at all.

Which fonts are easiest to read? All normal fonts in general use are "easy to read." It is how we misuse and maltreat them that robs them of their friendliness. The best type is so comfortable and obvious that it is unnoticed ... invisible ... transparent. The reader should never become aware of the act of reading, for if they notice what they are doing, they stop.

Formulas for "Good Type." There aren't any. There is no such thing as "correct" or "incorrect." There are no laws or rules, except common sense. If it works well, it is "correct." If it doesn't work, it is "incorrect." Everything is relative. Type's flexibility is limitless, its possibilities endless.

Think of type as speech made visible. Open your eyes and listen to it -- literally. Read it out loud, using the clues it gives, because the way it looks reflects a tone of voice: loudness by boldness, whispering by smallness, shouting by bigness, emphasis by comparison, dialect by the visual character. Type can even be onomatopoetic word-pictures and puns. If it follows formulas, it probably looks boring and "sounds" monotonous. If it is handled as the flexible medium that it is, it can help the transmission of thoughts as expressively as does the human voice.

Common-sense insights

Even communication professionals are like everyone else: short of time and patience. We are pulled in every direction by competing signals, and becoming aware of our own reactions can help us service our readers. We must trust ourselves. If we are a bit uneasy about something, we must change it; is that editorial instinct or experience? Who cares? Depend on insights. Not "rules," because those are rigid. On the other hand, once they are understood and absorbed, insights are flexible to allow variable contexts. Most are obvious -- but the obvious is valuable, because it is the basis for logical decisions:

1. Words flow lineally, one word after another, whether they are spoken or translated into type. There are no shortcuts. We hope to push the reader along from start to finish, but they enter wherever something interesting catches their eye.

2. Reading is horizontal, flowing from left to right, in an endless strip. That is an inconvenient form, so we arbitrarily cut the strip into a series of short bits, which we stack as "lines" one below the other in vertical "columns." Alas, the column shapes take over and dictate everything, even though they are nothing but a convenient construct. Encouraging that horizontal flow of thoughts in the horizontal lines is more important.

3. Reading comfort depends on the ratio of 1) line length, to 2) type size, to 3) spacing between the lines. All three have to be in balance. Who judges that comfort? We do (and there are no rules). If we feel uncomfortable, so will our reader. To improve comfort, we must make the type bigger, the lines shorter, or add space between the lines in some combination. As you get older, you say, "All of 'em please!"

4. Type size does not depend on arithmetical point-size with which it is specified. Its appearance depends on the x-height. Everything depends on the proportions used in the design of the font. Forget generalizations that say that "ten-point type is ideal for text." Set a sample, print it out as close as possible to the finished product, examine it, and judge it visually.

5. Readers' habits affect their feeling of comfort. They'll stay with us if they feel at home. Departing from the normal costs us. We should do it when it makes logical sense, with deliberate purpose, but never for the fun of it, to show off, or to be different.

6. All-capitals are hard to decipher in bulk. A few words for special emphasis or character are, obviously, fine. But avoid using them in bulk because that precious info you emphasized in all-caps will be resisted and skipped.

7. Italics, just like all-caps, are uncomfortable in bulk. People find them less friendly, so why risk alienating them? Use italics sparingly.

8. Sans-serif type is harder to read than serif type, though readers are becoming used to it since it is being used more. Make it is easier by adding extra space between the lines to compensate for the lack of serifs (which help move the eye along from left to right).

9. Sizes. Big type implies important thought; tiny type equals footnote. Use the contrast to emphasize what is essential and play down what is secondary or supportive information. You have interpreted the material and thus made the piece more understandable. If this is so obvious, why do we use it so seldom and instead homogenize our thoughts in those monotonous grey columns?

10. Bold type stands out best in contrast to pale type. No news. Exploit its capacity, so pick fonts that yield good contrast of "color."

11. The context. Type is not an independent standalone entity, but one component of a cluster of related elements. Whether type is reader-friendly or -unfriendly is not merely a factor of the type itself, but of how it fits into its context. Again, there are no rules other than visual awareness. Here is a list of the major variables to be aware of in printed pieces, because they affect the way the type is perceived:

--the page size
--the number of pages
--the language used
--the 'muchness' of the type to be read
--the way the text is broken up
--the way the printed piece is held in the hand
--the weight, color, texture, shininess of the paper stock
--the color and shininess of the ink on that paper
--the quality and resolution of the printing

Bad habits to reject

Substituting traditional folk-wisdoms and clichés for analytical thinking is quicker, safer, and less work. But reflex habits get between your message and the reader.

1. Up-And-Down-Style Capitalization of Initials in Headlines That Robs Us of the Capacity to Allow Proper Names and Acronyms to Stand Out Clearly, Which Makes the Message That Much Harder to Understand and Hopeless to Scan Fast. Not a big problem in any one instance, but multiply it by the number of headlines in your issue, and it certainly becomes a problem. Current trend is all-lowercase, except for first initial, proper names, and titles and acronyms.

2. Centered symmetry may look dignified and traditional, but neat balance is dead, ideal for tombstones. Asymmetrical layout encourages not only kinetic motion and activity on the page, but also that vital left-towards-right flow of words to persuade the reader to continue reading.

3. Arbitrary arrangements where the visual overwhelms the message. The medium is not the message, the message is the message -- despite what the designer may claim as "original solution" that will "attract attention." Will it attract reading? is the question. If it does that, then great, but if it is there merely for its own sake, throw it out, because it misdirects the viewer.

4. Standard formulas and unthinking treatment of anything. It is uninviting and unexciting.

5. Flowing everything into columns whether it is sequential or not. The three-column or two-column page is a prison into which we force our thinking. Break it and arrange the material in patterns appropriate to its structure, instead of squeezing everything into a format that was developed for the convenience of weekly news-magazines.

6. Playing with type just to be different, inventive, "creative." There may well be a good reason why something hasn't been done before.

Turning 'em off

1. Making lines too long. One line is no problem. Even two or three are OK. The trouble starts when you have more than three.

2. Making type too small. If you are uncomfortable, so will the reader be.

3. Irregular word spacing disturbs the smooth rhythm of eye motion along the flow of words. Anything that disturbs must be avoided.

4. Irregular character spacing attacks the way we "read" words, which we perceive as letter-groups, not as individual letters. Loose setting of characters makes words harder to recognize. Inconsistent letterspacing is a sin.

5. Competing against ourselves by making some type units in friendly texture and others less so. Shorter, easier-to-read units inevitably gain more attention than the difficult ones.

6. Using weird fonts, just because they are fresh or new. Only depart from what readers are used to where there is an overwhelming functional reason to do so.

7. Setting type vertically. If something needs to be deciphered, it won't be.

8. Messiness. Type on a background that vies for attention and disturbs the viewer's concentration -- or worse, hampers reading -- will not be read. Words must never fight their background, despite current fashions.

9. Ignoring the structure. The text written as a list should look like a list. Bullets should align above each other. Indentations should be visually/intellectually logical.

10. Nonsensical line breaks. Read what the words say to make the phrasing dictate the line breaks. The spoken language must control the way the thoughts are translated into visual format.

Inviting type

1. As you edit, keep in mind the type-as-it-will-appear-laid-out.
2. Use visual type as a logical extension of your intellectual thinking.
3. Make type so smooth and easy that the reader is unaware of it.
4. Make type big enough -- and then make it a size bigger.
5. Have ample doorways to welcome the potential reader.
6. Break up long, daunting-looking masses into short bits.
7. Organize the material for two-level readership: fast-scan and slow-study.
8. Exploit size to mirror importance.
9. Help the reader find those wonderful nuggets right on top.
10. Isolate elements in space for immediate noticeability.
11. Poke out display as hanging indents for fast scanning down-page.
12. Allow the reader to skip what they are less interested in.
13. Add blackness to focus attention and create rankings.
14. Marry the type with spacing to organize thoughts into zones
15. Use space (as moats) and rules (as walls) to separate or link material.
16. Relate elements to each other logically.
17. Don't think "design" ("What does it look like?").
18. Do think "function" ("Are we transmitting the thoughts clearly?").
19. Do order your copy of Editing by Design, 3rd Edition, by Jan V. White.
20. Get it from Allworth Press, www.allworth.com target="blank">. Less than $29.95!

Jan V. White is a communication design consultant and author of Editing by Design (3rd Ed.), Allsworth Press, 2003. He may be reached at janvw2 [at] aol [dot] com.

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Posted in Design (RSS), Editing (RSS)

Sloppy Editing Leads to Global Tiff

Posted on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 4:50 PM

Object lesson: what a misplaced paragraph break can do.

By William Dunkerley

An early October news story identified China and Russia as enemies of the United States. Media outlets quoted a U.S. foreign broadcasting official (Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time magazine). To many, Isaacson's comments sounded quite outrageous. But, when I looked into this story, I found that it did not have a factual basis. There was no such statement as carried by news outlets. That may be hard to believe since many of us heard the comments with our own ears in broadcast reports.

To elucidate, I'd like to detail for you my findings. They indicate how a simple mistake can distort a story and result in misleading headlines appearing around the world. Here are a few such headlines that I just found in a search:

"News Head of BBG, Voice of America, cites Russia and China as enemies of America"

"Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman makes news by calling Russia's and China's official media America's 'enemies'"

"Globalist Mockingbird Media Attacks RT, Press TV as 'Enemies'"

"Russia Today television is on Washington's enemies list"

This all was the subject of an analytical report on Russia Today (RT, an English language TV service of the RIA Novosti press agency). It included a clip from an Isaacson speech that began, "We can't allow ourselves to be out-communicated by our enemies. There's that Freedom House report that reveals that today's autocratic leaders are investing billions of dollars in media resources to influence the global opinion. You've got Russia Today, Iran's Press TV, Venezuela's TeleSUR, and of course, China is launching an international broadcasting 24-hour news channel..."

Is Hearing Believing?

The foregoing quote certainly seems to support the headlines. But then I found and listened to the entire portion of Isaacson's presentation. Here's what I heard:

"All over Afghan and Pakistan, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe are achieving great successes. RFE's very popular Radio Azadi is the leading source of news in Afghanistan, and it hosted, as all of you know, in August [2009], the first-ever presidential debate to feature an incumbent in Afghanistan's history.

"When Jeff asked me to speak here, I asked who spoke last year and he said, Richard Holbrooke, so I almost said, no, I'm not sure I want to follow in Holbrooke's outsized footsteps -- (laughter) -- but I did notice how we stressed the role of RFE and VOA in the struggle in Afghanistan. We can't allow ourselves to be out-communicated by our enemies."

The speaker then went on to another topic, saying "There's that Freedom House report that reveals that today's autocratic leaders..."

Listening to the RT report, the "enemies" comment seemed to attach to the Russia-China commentary. Listening to the larger segment of the speech, it was clear that the "enemies" comment attached to the Afghanistan commentary. Isaacson was talking about enemies in Afghanistan. That attachment was clear from not only the speaker's pace and timing, but also from making more sense that way.

Who's the Editorial Culprit?

My first reaction was that whoever did the video editing of the clip at RT produced an unprofessional result. But then I looked further into that matter. I found a printed transcript of Isaacson's speech that was prepared by a private company called the Federal News Service. I read the segment in question, and it seemed like the "enemies" comment was again attached to Russia and China. Here's what the transcript said:

"...but I did notice how we stressed the role of RFE and VOA in the struggle in Afghanistan.

"We can't allow ourselves to be out-communicated by our enemies. There's that Freedom House report that reveals that today's autocratic leaders are investing billions of dollars in media resources to influence the global opinion.

"You've got Russia Today, Iran's Press TV, Venezuela's TeleSUR, and of course, China..."

Take note of the paragraph breaks. They clearly place the "enemies" comment with Russia and China, not with Afghanistan. I asked Isaacson's office whether they supplied FNS with Isaacson's prepared remarks complete with paragraphing, or whether FNS inserted the paragraphing. They claim the paragraphing was done by FNS. That makes sense because the sound of the spoken remarks seem at variance with the FNS paragraphing. FNS apparently transcribed the speech from Isaacson's audio, and they got the paragraphing wrong.

Where It Started

The Russia-China-enemies story seems to have been broken by Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy magazine (owned by the Washington Post Company) on October 5. He attached the enemies comment to Russia and China. Did he do that deliberately to mislead? Or was he merely working off of the FNS transcript, which presented a misleading version of Isaacson's remarks? I don't know. But it certainly seems plausible that Rogin, the RT producers, and others who covered the Russia-China-enemies story were working off the faulty transcript.

That one little mistake, a misplaced paragraph break, sure got a lot of bad press for Isaacson and the United States. The way in which this story emerged as so misleading is one for the textbooks.

The Takeaway Points

Lessons for editors? First, pay attention to little things. Even paragraph breaks. When done wrong, they can have a big impact. Second, try to get back to the original source. In this case, the FNS transcript was inaccurate. Relying upon the original video of Isaacson's speech would have been a better choice.

William Dunkerley is editor of Editors Only.

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Posted in Editing (RSS), News (RSS)

Recently Tweeted

Posted on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 4:48 PM

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