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Issue for October 2019

Online Focus: Subscribers vs. Prospects

Posted on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 at 11:18 PM

Editors discuss how they balance the unique needs of existing and new readers.

By William Dunkerley

Unless all your content is behind a firewall, you likely have more than one audience online. There are your regular subscribers and readers. In addition, people searching or following a link may wind up viewing your content. Some you'll never see again. Others may be good prospects for becoming committed readers.

How do you adapt your content for each circumstance? Articles aimed at your steady audience can assume a level of familiarity with your subject area, but newcomers may need some background orientation. The needs and interests of the two groups may differ.

We asked a sample of Editors Only readers how they react to this dilemma. The responses show a variety of approaches designed to suit the needs of each particular publication.

What did they say? How are editors deciding how best to focus content? One editor put it simply: "Our criterion is literary excellence. Period."

--For Erin Hallstrom, director of digital strategy at Food Processing, the situation is more complex. She explains, "Close to 55 percent of our website traffic finds us organically. As such, we continue to offer a variety of content types, formats, and topics. Our existing readers utilize our news postings most often. Because of that we keep our news content fresh and updated constantly."

Hallstrom adds, "Most of our content, other than news, is derived from our print magazine and is driven by the magazine's editor-in-chief. News and blogs, however, are strictly digital and are focused to engage both new and existing audiences." She ascribes equal importance to existing traffic and new traffic.

--At CSC Publishing, editor Jan Brenny says all content is intended for both purposes, too. But she admits that it's the interests of existing readers that really drives the content.

--University of Kentucky journal on astroanalytical chemistry and astrobiology editor-in-chief Rob Lodder sees it similarly. His focus is 90 percent on existing readers, 10 percent on new ones.

--Paul Fanlund, editor and publisher of The Capital Times, explains his situation: "Our online content is intended to both serve existing readers and attract new ones. We do a lot of coverage around our communities of color and the arts, and look for enterprise angles to our traditional stories, trying to regularly provide context. We do nothing with what I call ‘stickup, rollover, weather front news.’ In that way, we resemble a magazine in some respects. We aspire to provide an intensely local and distinctive focus on Madison, expecting that our readers will get their national news elsewhere. We have a young staff of digital-native reporters who naturally are drawn to writing topically and stylistically for new audiences, which we encourage."

--Jenn Fiedler is editor of another publication with a geographic focus. Indeed, it's called Township Focus, published by the Michigan Townships Association. Fiedler tells us, "Our content is geared solely toward our current members, with tips, topics, and trends on how they can successfully lead their local government. We do find that other audiences, including lawmakers, other municipal officials/employees, vendors who serve townships, etc., also benefit and learn from our content as well, though township officials are -- and will always be -- our primary audience."

--Jill Tyrer, executive editor of Arthritis Today, on the other hand, has a specific subject focus. She reports, "Our content serves people with arthritis and related conditions, so our main objective is to deliver content that informs and helps existing patients. However, we certainly want to reach those who are not aware of us and those who are newly diagnosed, so we also provide content geared to people who are new to arthritis." As to which audience segment receives the greatest focus, Tyrer says it's 75 percent to serve existing readers, 25 percent to attract new readers.

--At IFT Scientific Journals, E. Allen Foegeding is editor-in-chief of three publications. He comments, "All our journals are intended for existing and new readers. We also publish editorials that are intended for both. The content is driven by the Aims and Scope for each journal; with the desire to publish research and reviews of the highest quality. Our assumption is that excellent science and reviewing of the literature will attract more readers."

--Universal attraction is the interest of Matthew Stoss, associate editor of GW Magazine. Stoss elaborates, "In general, we just look for good general interest stories that could appeal to anyone and everyone. We don't differentiate between existing and potential readers. Basically, we like to think that if you found our magazine in a dentist's waiting room, you could read it, even if you have no connection to the university."

--For Haymarket Media Group, product lead Matt Whipp states, "In short, we don't create different content just to attract new users." He explains, "Our job is to be a business tool and help our audiences make informed business decisions. We know who our highest-value users are, and it's these people we are working for. Equally there are users and users. We are very clear about who our key audience groups are, and we are not interested in new users for the sake of numbers, although we do take great pains to ensure our content is indexed well to keep the top of the funnel open."

The foregoing editors divide their focus to differing extents. Others, particularly at association publications, focus more narrowly.

--Donald Tepper, editor of PT in Motion, says his focus is 100 percent to serve existing readers. "Our magazine is published by a membership association, and the primary mission of the association is to serve and represent its members. Therefore our magazine is written to serve members of the American Physical Therapy Association. We do have some non-member readers, but any attempt to persuade them to join (or to subscribe) is minimal. Currently, our policy regarding online copy is to post some (it varies from issue to issue) online, but to retain much/most for member and subscriber consumption. APTA does have an active membership development program, but online content from PT in Motion is designed more to confirm the benefits of membership (or subscribership) to those who are already members or subscribers."

--Similarly, Margaret Hunt, editor of association newsletters, says, "Basically all of our content, 100 percent, is directed to members of ASM International."

--Likewise for Rebecca Stauffer, managing editor of PDA Letter: "I work for an association publication. I would say the majority of our content (99 percent) is aimed at existing readers. Our magazine is a member benefit sent to all members."

--Tricia Bisoux, co-editor of BizEd, however, recognizes a secondary audience beyond association members. "Because our publication goes out to an association's membership, its primary purpose is to serve existing readers who are a part of the business education industry, including administrators and faculty. However, we have a secondary purpose of creating content that has relevance or will be informative to those outside our industry -- for example, many deans pass our publication's content to the business leaders who are a part of their business school advisory boards. That's not our primary audience, but it is still an important audience for us."

--And finally, at QST magazine, Zack Lau explains the evolution that influenced the focus of its online content: "Our site has a lot of archival and legacy content. All the articles can be downloaded from our website. There is a lot of content on our site that used to be in the print magazine that's now been moved to the Web. There just isn't enough print advertising revenue to support all that content. But, due to association political considerations, it wasn't possible to just make it go away. As a result, online content intended to attract new readers is less than 5 percent."

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

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Making Every Word Count

Posted on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 at 11:18 PM

There are certain qualities that can go a long way to bringing an author's message to our readers.

By Denise Gable

A good editor’s job is so much more than fixing grammar or correcting errors. As editors we are the main link between the writer and the reader. That's true whether we're talking about words on paper or on the screens of digital devices. We create the connection.

According to Editors Only's Peter P. Jacobi, "Success for an editor comes through a thorough and sensitive knowledge of just who a publication's reader is. It comes from the editor's understanding of what a given writer is all about, what the subjects written of really means, and what language can do to give a certain jolt to the reader."

Necessary Attributes

Anna Yeadell-Moore, an editor in the Netherlands, proposes these five essential qualities of a good editor:

1. A good editor does not have an ego.
2. A good editor will be brutally honest with [writers], and will treat [them] and [their] work with respect.
3. A good editor has an obsessive eye for detail and is sensitive to inconsistencies.
4. A good editor will make sure that every sentence counts and is structurally sound.
5. A good editor can explain, in detail, the reason why every change is made.

Beyond those qualities, however, there are practical techniques that can help us accomplish our mission.


Jacobi emphasizes that an editor has an important role as a nurturer. He explains:

"An editor can be an article's staunchest friend, loving the peace into existence, if the writer permits it and if an editor knows what his or her job is truly all about.

"Not too different all this from what Scott Russell Sanders writes of in an essay, "The Inheritance of Tools," his reverential reverie about childhood and father and craftsmanship. He recalls:

My cobbled-together guitars might have been alien spaceships, my barns might have been models of Aztec temples, each wooden contraption might have been anything but what I had set out to make.

Now and again I would feel the need to have a chunk of wood shaped or shortened before I riddled it with nails, and I would clamp it in a vise and scrape it with a handsaw. My father would let me lacerate the board until my arm gave out, and then he would wrap his hand around mine and help me finish the cut, showing me how to use my thumb to guide the blade, how to pull back on the saw to keep it from binding, how to let my shoulder do the work.

Jacobi continues: "‘Don’t foresee it,' he would say. ‘Just drag it easy and give the teeth a chance to bite.'

"That often becomes an editor's dictum. It's advice for the writer so that the reader can be cornered and won over.

"It's the father at work, suggesting that without changes, a writer's verbally cobbled-together guitar might, indeed, be misread as a spaceship. Like a father, the editor says: 'This doesn't work. Let's see why not.' That's a step beyond evaluation. That's support. That's mature.

"Much to ask, but good editors know it comes with the territory.

"They know still more is required to bring writer and reader together in the pages of a publication."

Being Passionate

Silvia Justino, a Brazilian editorial director, told Media Associates International that she regards passion as an important quality for editors. She says:

"Passion is a fundamental quality of an effective editor. Passion is what stimulates an editor’s growth and development of needed qualities and skills. After all, the editor does more than correct grammar and spelling (as important as this is). The editor is passionate about attaining a final manuscript that is stylistically pleasing, elegant and true to the author’s voice."

Justino doesn't believe that an editor must necessarily be born with editorial passion. But that passion must be reflected in a person's satisfaction in their work, she claims.

But Beware

There is a potential downside, Justino warns: “Passion does pose one danger, however: perfectionism. As I see it, not every perfectionist is passionate about what he or she does, but every passionate person is a perfectionist. We must be careful to avoid extremes, because excesses are harmful. For instance, the exaggeratedly perfectionist editor will never be satisfied that a manuscript is truly finished -- becoming a victim of the ‘unfinished syndrome.’ Finding the proper balance is key to every passionate writer, editor or other professional. We must discuss this challenge openly with our fellow editors, and especially with the less experienced ones."


Imparting wisdom is an important role for us as editors. Jacobi suggests offering writers the opportunity for that. He believes writers would be wise to heed such editorial advice.

To illustrate this, Jacobi offers a hypothetical example wherein the editor tells the writer, "This article needs suspense, a rolling, roiling movement toward climax, a sense of the ticking clock, of time running out." Jacobi explains, "When the editor does so, the writer should acknowledge that urgency is missing in an article which lives or dies, depending on whether or not that needed tension can be inserted sufficiently and naturally."

How would that play out? Jacobi offers three suggestions for the editor to tell the writer:

--"Make me hear and see and feel. Bring me close." And when the editor does so, the writer should respond with enlivened verbiage, most likely spiced up usage of the right now nouns and the collaborating strong verbs.

--"Listen to the music of your voice." And when the editor does so, the writer should seek euphony in what year she has written. Seek and find, or seek and not find and create.

--"Don't squeeze the idea. Let it breathe." And when the editor does so, the writer should air out the scope of his piece, give its conceptual and informational space while not wasting it.

So there we have three themes: nurturing, being passionate, and mentoring. They can go a long way toward fulfilling our obligation: to play a practical and constructive role in bringing an author's message to our readers.

Denise Gable is managing editor of Editors Only.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 at 11:17 PM

Assessing the readability of an AndroidCentral.com excerpt.

This month's sample text comes from an October 29 AndroidCentral.com article ("A Nearly Impossible to Remove Android Malware Has Infected 45,000 Devices" by Muhammad Jarir Kanji). Here's the excerpt we're analyzing:

"Malwarebytes suggests the app comes in two variants: semi-stealth and full-stealth. In both configurations, the app does not create an app icon or a shortcut icon in order to ensure users do not notice the app's presence on their device. This also prevents them from easily uninstalling the nasty piece of work from their devices; after all, if there's no app icon on your launcher, how can you drag it to the uninstall button? The only way an average smartphone user would even notice its presence is thanks to the xHelper notification icon that these ad notifications are accompanied by in the app's semi-stealth variant. The full-stealth configuration doesn't even have that."

--Word count: 112 words
--Average sentence length: 22 words (11, 29, 34, 31, 7)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 9 percent (10/112 words)
--Fog Index (22+9)* .4 = 12 (12.4, no rounding)

This sample isn't too far off the mark. We need to cut only 1 point from the Fog Index here to fall within ideal range. There are a lot of options to achieve this. Let's see what works best here:

"Malwarebytes suggests the app comes in two variants: semi-stealth and full-stealth. Because neither version creates an app icon or a shortcut icon, users don't notice the app's presence on their devices. This also prevents them from easily removing the nasty piece of work from their devices. After all, if there's no app icon on your launcher, how can you drag it to the uninstall button? The only way an average smartphone user would even notice its presence is thanks to the xHelper notification icon that accompanies these ad notifications in the semi-stealth app version. The full-stealth configuration doesn't even have that."

--Word count: 101 words
--Average sentence length: 17 words (11, 20, 15, 19, 29, 7)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 8 percent (8/101 words)
--Fog Index (17+8)* .4 = 10 (10.0, no rounding)

Mainly we eliminated 2 longer words and made 6 sentences out of 5. But we also tried to smooth out the syntax in places to improve the flow. These changes helped us to cut 2 points from the original Fog score.

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Editorial Shakeup at Deadspin

Posted on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 at 11:14 PM

In the news: How an unpopular directive pitted upper management against an editorial team.

This week, management at sports blog Deadspin ordered staff to "stick to sports." The directive did not go over well; on Tuesday, reports Kerry Flynn of CNN Business, "staffers filled Deadspin's homepage on Tuesday morning with non-sports stories that had been popular in the past, seemingly a nod to their argument that stories that are not strictly about sports have been favorites of Deadspin's regular readers."

The conflict didn't end there. Also on Tuesday, management fired interim editor-in-chief Barry Petchesky, reports Flynn. She shares a statement from Paul Maidment, editorial director of parent company G/O Media: "'We believe that Deadspin reporters and editors should go after every conceivable story, as long as it has something to do with sports. We are sorry that some on the Deadspin staff don't agree with that editorial direction and refuse to work within that incredibly broad mandate.'" Also on Tuesday, per the Guardian, reporter Diana Moskovitz announced her resignation from Deadspin.

Read more about the directive, and the ensuing fallout, here and here.

Also Notable

TikTok: Social Media Fad or Publisher Opportunity?

Social media app TikTok, which features short videos, has fast become popular among teens and twentysomethings. But could it be the next social media frontier for publishers as well? Steve Smith of Foliomag.com examines the platform and the possibilities it presents to publishers. "Unlike just about every other social network, there some aspects of the experience is being shaped by an editorial hand," he writes. "TikTok programmers surface popular song tracks and pose karaoke and dance challenges to users. Rather than random, the experience is also powered by AI that deftly reads and feeds clips that hook people into hours of scrolling." Influencers have already taken to the platform, but publishing partnerships are still in the hypothetical stage, Smith says. Read more here.

The AP Stylebook Guide to Impeachment

The AP has updated its Stylebook to include conventions for coverage of the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump. The guide includes important facts about the impeachment process and the current inquiry, as well as a list of key individuals, groups, and places associated with the inquiry. Read the guide here. [Note: Our cursory reading of the Guide found numerous errors and political biases. For instance it recommends an incorrect spelling of the Ukrainian president's surname and indeed spells the name inconsistently in the Guide itself. We advised AP of this and requested their response, but received none by deadline time.]

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