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Issue for October 2021

The PIO Filter

Posted on Sunday, October 31, 2021 at 10:42 PM

In the news: The information gathering process for journalists has become more difficult than ever, with gatekeepers (i.e., PIOs) filtering what information makes it out of their buildings.

Access to information has always been a challenge for journalists, and in a recent Editor & Publisher piece, Alisa Cromer examines how public information officers (PIOs) in particular have complicated things for reporters. The problem, Cromer says, is multifaceted: “District journalists are no longer allowed into federal buildings without an escort and appointment.... If the public information officer (PIO) is not interested in a story or the reporter, they ignore their inquiries or ‘slow-roll it” so that the reporter misses the deadline. It’s now common practice for PIOs to join calls and monitor live interviews.’

And that’s not all. The stakes are high for officials who speak out of turn. Many gag orders, “implied or by memo,” have been imposed by various companies and agencies “so federal government employees cannot talk directly to the press without imperiling their career.” Which means that officials who want to keep their jobs and avoid potential legal trouble need to play ball by the PIOs’ rules.

How did we end up here? According to Cromer, “Censorship by PIO is so insidious in part because the media have quietly gone along. No reporters have faced arrest for pushing back. Stories get published.” In other words, without meaningful resistance from stymied editors and reporters, information sharing isn’t bound to loosen up any time soon. Read more here.

Also Notable

Working from “Roam”

What does it mean to work from “roam”? Some editors in the UK are pushing the concept to its limits, capitalizing on smartphone accessibility to do their work from home, the tube, and even the gym. Nicola Smith of Digiday.com examines how UK editors in particular are embracing the global remote work revolution. “Research [2,262 respondents who worked remotely in October 2021] released today from British media and telecom group Virgin Media O2 has revealed that of the top 15 alternative working locations, 27 percent of British people are logging on from friends’ and family’s houses, and one in ten have worked from the pub,” Smith reports, adding, “Other locations featured include gardens, train journeys, the school run, the supermarket and even while exercising at home.” Read more here.

Disability Language: A Style Guide

In September, the National Center on Disability and Journalism updated its guidelines to focus on the “source-writer relationship,” reports John Loeppky of Poynter.org, who says, “The guide now acknowledges that identity-first language (‘disabled person,’ for example) is preferred by many in the disability community.” It’s the first time the center’s guidelines have been updated since 2018. Center director Kristen Gilger tells Loepkky that the style update comes to fill a void in the AP Stylebook’s guidance on disability-related language. Read more here.

Top Reasons for Subscription Cancelations

This week, the Nieman Lab staff examined the top reasons readers ditch their subscriptions. Polling 500 readers, they found that apart from local news outlets, more subscribers canceled New York Times subscriptions than for any other newspaper. Money is the number one reason, Nieman Lab says -- some readers canceled at the end of promotional periods, while others had to cut their budget due to Covid-related constraints. But ideological/political reasons weren’t far behind, with some Times readers upset about an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton calling for military suppression of the Black Lives Matter movement, and other readers upset that the Times subsequently apologized for publishing it. Other downticket reasons included insufficient time to read and customer service issues. Read the full summary and excerpted survey responses here.

Streamlining Editorial Workflow

This week in Poynter.org’s The Lead newsletter, Taylor Blatchford examines the pillars of effective editorial processing. The tips are geared toward first-time editors and reporters but are useful even to seasoned editors. Blatford first differentiates between macro and micro editing and then offers a step-by-step guide to editing an article. Read more here.

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A Mega Meta Menace?

Posted on Sunday, October 31, 2021 at 10:42 PM

Here we go again: More threats to editors from social media and political interests.

By William Dunkerley

When you hear the term "censorship board," what pops into your mind? The old Soviet Union? Contemporary nations with dictators? The connotations all seem to be negative. They reflect constraints upon prerogatives we mostly take for granted.

Yet the topic of regulating Facebook is upon us. Facebook has been a problem for editors of curated content publications for some time now. Along with Google, it has captured a lion's share of digital advertising revenue. That leaves less for our publications, and that tends to constrain our editorial budgets.

The Burgeoning Content Regulation Problem

Now Facebook, with its new corporate name Meta, is bringing a new problem our way. It's content regulation. There are widespread beliefs that Facebook plays a negative role in the lives of many. While Facebook is certainly a visible culprit, the concerns also extend to other social media platforms.

Those in politics are aware of the platforms' enormous capacity to influence people, voters in particular. Various factions are seeking advantage by constraining opposition through regulation. If that is accomplished through government regulation, it is clearly censorship, no matter how desirable the end might seem to advocates.

The other thrust to "regulate" Facebook et al. comes from the education and mental health community. Many from both communities believe that Facebook and other social media platforms are responsible for an alarming increase in the number of teen suicides. Bullying and access to children by criminals are cited as untoward influences.

Blaming social media exclusively for all that might be somewhat of a technophobic reaction, however. History shows us that, in an earlier era, TV was earnestly blamed for corrupting the youth.

Alternatives to Regulating Content

Nonetheless, unlike the political issue, the teen issue is something that can be solved without regulating content. If that age group is indeed negatively impacted by certain types of social media platforms, their use can be regulated just as is alcohol and tobacco use. It might be challenging to rally compliance and to enforce, but it wouldn't result in our venturing toward a society of censorship.

There are some very big problems with censorship. First of all, it puts some person or persons or their algorithms in charge of what is permissible. That power can be used not for societal good but for the benefit of those in charge.

Second is the problem of mission creep. Once censorship gets started in one area, the control mechanisms can easily be extended to include areas that include your publication's content, whatever it might be.

And finally, all the political talk and bluster over content "regulation" could reach a dead end with the Supreme Court. It is questionable whether the high court would sustain a clear affront to First Amendment rights.

Practical Solutions Within Reach

Meanwhile, as the threats of regulation blare on, time is being wasted for finding practical solutions to whatever real problems are actually involved. Some politicians might realize short-term wins for trumpeting alarms and calling for censorship of content. But tolerating that will only delay the realization of workable solutions.

Actually, there is a practical step that can be taken right away that would be far less disruptive than age restrictions for teens and less dangerous than political censorship. It is to repeal Section 230 of the FCC regulations. We discussed the perils of that law last January in "Section 230 May Bury Us."

This law in effect immunizes social media platforms from legal actions related to their online content. It was never intended to serve that purpose when enacted, but that is its practical effect now. Repealing Section 230 would allow parents to sue a platform if its content caused injury. Likewise it would allow for adjudicating political damages from malicious online mischief.

While disallowing the platforms' Secton 230 protection is a simple and practical step, it is likely to be fiercely opposed by the tech giants involved. Likewise this would be an obstacle for imposing age restrictions or any other measures that might negatively impact their business agendas.

The platforms have enormous financial resources to deploy in resistance. That massive power is itself another problem. A West Virginia publisher brought suit against Facebook and Google for monopolizing digital ad revenue. Earlier, Forbes reported that "the Federal Trade Commission and 46 states sued Facebook" for certain heavy-handed business practices.

But in late June, Business Insider reported, "Facebook hit a $1 trillion valuation for the first time on Monday after an antitrust court victory. A US judge dismissed two lawsuits lodged against Facebook by the FTC and state attorneys general."

Editors Only's normal function is to focus on practical tips and advice concerning matters directly related to the everyday jobs of editors. It is with some reluctance that we depart from that to deal with threats to the profession overall.

This is really something that our professional associations should be doing. But they don't seem to be in the forefront of protecting us all. In the distant past I've seen that some were active in dealing with postal and tax issues related to the publishing business.

But in today's technology-driven environment, the associations do not seem up to the job at hand. If you have any ideas on how to remedy this deficit, please let us know!

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

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Responsibilities (and Opportunities) of a Writer

Posted on Sunday, October 31, 2021 at 10:41 PM

Amid Covid strains, it's good to reflect: Twenty thought-provoking faces donned by writers.

By Peter P. Jacobi

The writer has responsibilities that also are opportunities.

Consider all a writer is or can be: any one or all of twenty faces, guises, realities -- and all for the readers who pause in their own busy existence to spend moments with us and our words.

Twenty roles a writer potentially fulfills: the writer's is a multifaceted task.

One

As writer, you are friend.

You feel for ... you adore ... you are loyal to ... you share ... you love another human being completely, in this case someone you don't even know and are likely never to meet.

And yet, across distance and time, you and he or she merge as soul mates. You cannot do without your friend, the reader, and your friend, the reader, cannot do without you.

It is a matter of bonding. The words are your bond.

Two

As writer, you are confider. You speak of things that others might not.

There is no secret between us, you tell your reader. Trust me to bring you close to me, you tell your reader. What I know, what I've experienced, what I feel I pass along to you, and you tell your reader.

Three

As writer, you are teacher.

And it is here you touch a timeless future. As the author wrote in The Education of Henry Adams: "A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops."

And that is your power -- to show the way, to instruct, to change the outlook and enhance the knowledge and deepen the wisdom of your reader, your student.

Four

As writer, you are explainer. What you put on paper causes heads to nod -- not from sleep but from understanding.

The information you offer is new, or the content with which you offer it is new, or the perspective from which you offer it is new.

But something becomes clearer, sharper.

Five

As writer, you are adviser. You counsel.
You guide.
You warm.
You redirect.
You alert.

Six

As writer, you are preacher. You're a pathfinder to enhanced spirituality, a door-opener to values, a voice that stills the tumult and lights the dark path.

Seven

As writer, you are comforter.
Reducing the reader’s tension.
Chasing a cloud away.

Packing up reader troubles in an old kit bag, so to "smile -- smile -- smile." Or at least causing the reader to understand real troubles, greater troubles, alongside which his own pale.

You soothe.

Eight

As writer, you are observer. You serve as eyes. And ears.

You bring the reader close. You give through words that sense of participation the reader could not have had experientially in person. Through the words, you say to your reader: "You are there!"

Nine

As writer you are photographer.

You bring to a paper the is or was of things and places and people.

You recreate and -- though words on paper frustratingly are not the same as things or places or people -- you strive for fidelity, for truth in packaging.

You make a ball a word that turns once more into a ball, a house into words that reshape themselves into a house.

Ten

As writer you are painter.

You not only make a ball a word that turns once more into a ball, but a ball that becomes a metaphor or semaphore that conjures a new reality, and a larger one.

As would a poet.

The subject turns personal. It's handled as no one else would or could handle it.

Eleven

As writer, you are sensualist.

You evoke images undiluted or unforgiving or unforgettable.

You provoke a reaction, maybe undiluted, maybe unforgiving, maybe unforgettable.

Twelve

As writer, you are costumer.
You wrap up an idea.
You close an event.
You encapsulate a place.
You entrap a conviction.
Raiment, makeup, decor, you deal in.

Thirteen

As writer you are entertainer.

You perform.
You entice.
You cajole.
You seduce.

Fourteen

As writer, you are adventure.

You explore the unknown and improbable.

You take chances. You enter realms dangerous and fields undiscovered.

Fifteen

As writer, you are imaginer.

You cause the mind to engage in flights of fancy.

The make-believe takes form in your mind and in your words, to infect the reader. Nothing is too far-fetched. Nothing is impossible.

The imagination roams, first in you and then in your reader.

Sixteen

As writer, you are dream catcher.

The bad ones, as from Stephen King.

The good ones, as from you.
You catch stars.
And memories.
And matters just beyond a wakened state or even beyond sleep.

The ungraspable is ensnared. The unimaginable is tamed.

Seventeen

As writer, you are healer.

You pass a fight. You make better. You can rest.

And feed. And strengthen. And soften. And renew.

Eighteen

As writer, you are enricher.

You add to the wealth of a reader's mind and heart.

You provide treasure for the emotion. You provide succor for the knowledge within the reader. You provide support for belief.

Nineteen

As writer, you are inspirer.

You lift up.
And refresh.

Twenty

As writer, finally, you are conscience.

You cause the reader to say, "I know I can be better." And "I know things can be better." And "because a writer has caused me to gain new insight, maybe I can help make myself and things better."

Such responsibility.
Such opportunity.

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 Sunday, October 31, 2021 at 10:41 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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