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Issue for October 2016

To Outsource or Not to Outsource

Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 11:56 PM

This month, we surveyed our readers about outsourcing editorial functions. What did they have to say?

By the Editors Only Staff

In our August 2012 issue, we talked to magazine and newspaper editors about outsourcing editorial, design, and production processes to freelancers. Four years later, we decided to survey our readers again, this time homing in on overseas outsourcing in particular. What are the current trends? Have opinions changed since our last survey?

The Survey

Here are the questions we asked editors:

--Would you ever consider outsourcing any of your publication's editorial functions abroad? If so, what would be the first jobs on your list?

--What editorial work would you never outsource abroad?

--Are you currently outsourcing editorial work abroad? If so, what jobs, and how is it going?

Responses ran a wide gamut. Some editors were unequivocal in their responses, telling us that they would never outsource any processes overseas. Others told us that they use domestic freelancers but would not outsource to overseas vendors.

To Outsource

Steve Anderson, executive editor of The Anderson Agency Report (TAAR), does outsource some editorial functions overseas. "I currently have two people in India that do initial research and first draft of articles, blog posts, digital course content, and social media management," he tells us. "I feel like the overall process is going well. It does take some training and teaching to overcome some limitations because of the British India English being taught. I do have to do quite a bit of line item editing. Interestingly, it seems the biggest grammatical issue is the use or lack of use of prepositions in the appropriate places. However, even with some of these limitations, it significantly increases my productivity."

Myriam Beaugé, editor-in-chief of Mall Media Inc., has also considered outsourcing: "We would outsource editorial functions abroad, and that would be writing. We have done this in the past, working with either columnists or contributing writers (i.e., freelancers). Since our magazine is a global one, it makes sense to have content come from various markets. Another function that I would consider outsourcing is proofreading."

Not to Outsource

For some association publishers, it makes the most sense to keep editorial functions in-house to preserve stylistic and functional continuity. Tricia Bisoux, co-editor at BizEd magazine, writes: "We have no plans for outsourcing any editorial functions abroad. We are a small bimonthly association publication that averages 74 pages an issue. The fact that we're an association publication requires keeping the central editorial function closely aligned with the association (and, so, closely connected to the association), and the fact that our publication is small would mean that any cost savings wouldn't be worth the additional hassles involved in dealing with a third-party service provider."

There are logistical problems with outsourcing editorial functions, particularly editing and proofreading, overseas, where English may be the vendor's second language. Mary Ruth Johnsen, editor of Welding Journal and Inspection Trends, weighs in: "We have never considered outsourcing any of our publication's editorial functions abroad. Of course, we have a small staff and prefer that we're all located in one place for more effective communications. Also, our local newspaper, the Miami Herald, has outsourced its copy editing functions ... and we have seen how its quality has changed for the worse since that happened. We have a section of peer-reviewed research articles in our publication, many of which come from [other] countries.... There are definitely language problems with those that we believe are best understood by people who understand American English."

Geography is a determining factor for publications whose content is region-specific. Michelle Perron, executive editor of Nurse Practitioner Perspective, says: "The answers to both questions are 'no.' We would not consider outsourcing abroad because our content is specific to the American healthcare audience. I don't believe writers in other countries could write with the expert voice our audiences are expecting from us."

High-Profile Outsourcing Stories

In September 2014, AdAge.com reported that Time Inc. was looking to send 160 editorial positions overseas, a rumored restructuring that put them at odds with the Newspaper Guild of New York, which characterized the move as "'hollow[ing] out its own company.'" After two years of negotiations, Time Inc. and the Guild finally came to an agreement in September 2016 allowing for the outsourcing of 50 newsroom jobs, as well as 80 temporary Guild positions, according to the New York Post.

What Our Survey Results Tell Us

As was the case in 2012 when we last covered outsourcing, mileage varies depending on several factors. Outsourcing is a sensitive topic, one that many publishing executives are understandably reluctant to discuss. It is, for many, a last resort when all other options to recover lost revenue have failed. It can be a harbinger of imminent restricting and/or layoffs, or of impending job description rewrites as workloads reshuffle. This can leave eliminated and surviving editors alike feeling disenfranchised and vulnerable.

We can't draw too many concrete conclusions from the available survey responses. For some, outsourcing is a critical component of their publishing plan and workflow. For others, it would present logistical and editorial problems that would offset any cost savings. But we can safely say that overseas outsourcing is not a black and white issue.

Perhaps in a few years we will revisit the topic and find that trends and opinions have evolved even more. Until then, stay tuned!

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Writing Is Lonely Business -- Part II

Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 11:55 PM

More wisdom from renowned writers on maintaining perspective and choosing the right words while writing and editing.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Last issue brought you the start of a stream of advice from very experienced writers. This final installment offers more ideas for you to use in the sometimes lonely task of editing and writing.

Sense of Proportion, Humor, and Appreciation

My revered E.B. White, so effective both in fiction and nonfiction and as coauthor of The Elements of Style, discussed his approach to writing this way: "The writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge. Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry. There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation. I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever they happen to strike me." That's a warning for me, as I put this column together during a truly awful pre–presidential election cycle.

The Right Words

The versatile Diane Ackerman, a poet, naturalist, and writer of nonfiction articles and books, insists that "All language is poetry. Each word is a small story, a thicket of meaning.... We clarify life's confusing blur with words. We cage flooding emotions with words. We coax elusive memories with words. We educate with words. We don't really know what we think, how we feel, what we want, or even who we are until we struggle 'to find the right words.'" Ackerman is a star when it comes to choosing words.

Mark Twain, in a letter to a friend, counseled: "The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is really a large matter -- it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

Quiet Beginnings

Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Tracy Kidder and his journalistic colleague, editor Richard Todd, have considered beginnings, how to start: "Writers are told that they must 'grab' or 'hook' or 'capture' the reader. But think about these metaphors. Their theme is violence and compulsion. They suggest the relationship you might want to have with a criminal, not a reader.... Beginnings are an exercise in limits. You can't make the reader love you in the first sentence or paragraph, but you can lose the reader right away. You don't expect the doctor to cure you at once, but the doctor can surely alienate you at once, with brusqueness or bravado or indifference or confusion. There is a lot to be said for the quiet beginning." Good points.

Writing in Perspective

And, finally, from novelist, short story writer, and humanities professor Richard Ford comes this: "Writing can be complicated exhausting, isolating, abstracting, boring, dulling, briefly exhilarating: it can be made to be grueling and demoralizing. And occasionally, it can produce rewards. But it's never as hard as, say, piloting an L-1011 into O'Hare on a snowy night in January, or doing brain surgery when you have to stand up for ten hours straight, and once you start, you can't just stop. If you're a writer, you can stop anywhere, any time, and no one will care or ever know. Plus, the results might be better if you do."

Yes, writing is difficult, but think of other professions and think what your accomplishment can mean for those you reach with your words. Long years ago, between jobs, between being forced to put a magazine to sleep and being offered a short-term university teaching position, I spent a couple of weeks selling Christmas trees in bitter Chicago cold; with two young children, my wife and I needed the money. Now, whenever I get unhappy with my writing, I think about that experience; suddenly my discontent about writing alters into gratitude for what I've ended up doing most of my life: working with words rather than Christmas trees. Writing is not so bad, after all. I've come to love 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 Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 11:52 PM

Assessing the readability of an AdAge.com excerpt.

This month's sample text comes from an October 28 AdAge.com article ("Magazine Publishers Are Changing the Way They Work. But Will It Be Enough?" by Jeremy Barr). Here's the excerpt:

"Early last year, Time Inc. instituted what was originally known as a 'pub desk' for like-minded brands Time, Fortune, and Money, though the degree of cooperation between the brands has ebbed and flowed. This desk, and the staffers assigned to work on it, were tasked with working fast and producing quick hits, sometimes by aggregating content from other publications. According to a former employee, some staffers were frustrated that getting shifts on the desk took them away from the work they were hired to do. Some of these staffers chose to eventually leave the company, the individual said. These days, though, the brands are now hiring more specifically to fill those roles."

--Word count: 112 words
--Average sentence length: 22 words (33, 26, 26, 13, 14)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (11/112 words)
--Fog Index: (22+10)*.4 = 12 (12.8, no rounding)

(Note: To avoid confusion, we did not italicize longer words this month because the sample itself contains italicized titles.)

This sample weighs in at a near-ideal 12 points. We only need to cut one point from the score. Let's see what we can do.

"Early last year, Time Inc. instituted what was originally known as a 'pub desk' for like-minded brands Time, Fortune, and Money. The degree of cooperation between the brands has ebbed and flowed. This desk, and the staffers assigned to work on it, were tasked with working fast and producing quick hits, sometimes by collecting content from other publications. According to a former employee, some staffers were frustrated that getting shifts on the desk took them away from the work they were hired to do. Some of these staffers chose to eventually leave Time Inc., the person said. These days, though, the brands are now hiring more specifically to fill those roles."

--Word count: 111 words
--Average sentence length: 19 words (21, 11, 26, 26, 13, 14)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 7 percent (8/111 words)
--Fog Index: (19+7)*.4 = 10 (10.4, no rounding)

Our modest changes yielded big rewards. Five sentences became 6, cutting 3 points from the average sentence length. Eleven longer words became 8, cutting the percentage by 3. These changes brought the Fog Index down from 12.8 to 10.4, over 2 points.

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Publishers as Retailers?

Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 11:49 PM

In the news: Magazine publishers continue to test the retail waters.

Events aren't the only alternate revenue stream for struggling publishers. Some publishers are turning to e-commerce to make up advertising and subscription shortfalls. Condé Nast recently launched Style.com, a retail website offering various designer clothing and accessories. Summarizing the overall business concept, Suzanne Bearne of TheGuardian.com writes, "Condé Nast isn't holding any stock though -- the fulfilment is handled by the individual brands -- but they do, of course, take a cut of the transaction."

This is a bold move in an already competitive market, and Condé Nast has already invested roughly £75 million ($91 million USD) in it. Other magazines, such as Marie Claire, have experimented with retailer relationships on a smaller scale. Regardless of scale, these new retailer relationships present ethical challenges for publishers, who must, according to Bearne, "balance the need for building profits whilst also retaining the trust of their valued readers."

Read the full article here.

Also Notable

Audience Building through Events

Magazines are finding new ways to look beyond their loyal subscriber base and pull in revenue from nonsubscribers. Events are proving lucrative for some of them. Earlier this month, The New Yorker hosted The New Yorker Festival, a three-day event planned almost entirely by the magazine's editorial staff. Publisher Lisa Hughes told Folio: magazine: "'It's an editorial outgrowth of what we do.... You gotta believe that the editorial staff of The New Yorker has their hand on the pulse of what's cool. Our writers are out there, they know what's coming up and what's interesting.'" Perhaps most remarkable, roughly 75 percent of the festival's attendees were nonsubscribers. Read more here.

Pulitzer Eligibility for Magazines

After several years of testing the water, the Pulitzer Prize committee has announced that magazines are now eligible in all categories. In recent years, the prize committee had opened up a few test categories to magazines. Read more about the updated prize eligibility guidelines here and here.

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