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Issue for November 2012

Hurricane Sandy and the Publishing Industry

Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 8:58 PM

How Hurricane Sandy forced editors to get creative with their content delivery.

By Meredith L. Dias

About a month ago, Hurricane Sandy tore through the northeast and, according to the New York Times, left behind at least $50 billion in economic losses. All segments of the publishing industry -- magazines, newspapers, and books -- faced power outages, office closures, property damage and flooding, and server problems. Newspapers were forced to delay production of their Tuesday print editions, and other publications came to a standstill thanks to compromised content management systems. It was a harsh blow to an industry already in flux.

But Hurricane Sandy forced editors to get creative with their content delivery. During the hurricane and in the days and weeks that followed, magazines and newspapers took their content to alternate cyber-venues, and in some cases the results were game-changing. This month, we're examining some of the measures that publishers took in response to the powerful storm.

"Razing" the Paywall

Perhaps one of the most significant moves came in the days leading up to the hurricane. News sites such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Newsday temporarily removed their paywalls to allow readers unfettered access to their hurricane coverage. In other words, for a short time, these publications and others forfeited profit in order to serve crucial content to a wider audience -- a move lauded widely by pundits and subscribers alike. In most cases, the websites allowed free access to their metered content until after the storm had ended.

Could this mark the beginning of a new trend? Cnet.com notes in its coverage that this is not the first time that the New York Times has lowered its paywall to allow unrestricted access to content. In the past, it has also shut off the meter in response to such breaking news as Hurricane Irene and the death of Osama bin Laden. It would appear, then, that the Times and other newspapers see more value in reaching a global audience than in paywall-generated profits from vital news stories.

The Role of Tumblr

While some online publications temporarily "razed" their paywalls, others took to social blogging site Tumblr to publish content while they waited for their offices to reopen and their servers to be restored. Last week, an article on Adweek.com discussed Tumblr's role in the magazine industry during Hurricane Sandy. The site not only provided a temporary refuge to these various magazines, but also presented a compelling case for long-term content delivery.

Many magazines already have some sort of Tumblr presence, but the site is enjoying renewed interest from publishers thanks to the success of Gawker Media during and after the storm. The media company, whose hosted sites include Gizmodo, Deadspin, and Gawker itself, was able to accomplish two ends thanks to Tumblr: (1) It was able to post engaging content that was so popular with readers that they begged for more, and (2) It was able to sell advertising on the site to State Farm, the insurance company.

Gawker's Tumblr success has led many in the industry to consider Tumblr as a long-term publishing platform. It is currently free to use and, as evidenced by the State Farm ad buy, represents a possible online revenue stream.

Facebook and Twitter

Many publications took a more "traditional" social media approach and took their content to Facebook and Twitter. The social networking sites provided a platform for up-to-the-minute updates accessible in particular to tablet and smartphone users with access to 3G and 4G networks during the widespread power outages. Readers were able to interact onto only with the magazine content itself, but with one another in response to various news posts.

Facebook and Twitter were important not only to readers with limited connectivity, but also to publishers whose offices were damaged and/or without power. The sites provided a platform for quick, easy updates in the absence of content management systems, design software, and company server access.

The Social Media Lesson

Social networking sites are hardly new territory for magazine publishers, but Hurricane Sandy may just have driven home how vital they are to a publication's online presence. A smartly designed website with lively, engaging content and images is, no doubt, key. But in an emergency, these sites provide a reliable mode of content delivery. As the New York Times and others demonstrated when they took down their paywalls, it is important for publications to reach a wide audience when covering a major news story or natural disaster. Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr may be free to use, but they were invaluable to editors and readers alike as they recovered from this devastating storm.

Meredith Dias is senior editor of Editors Only.

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The Power of Description

Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 8:57 PM

Two books that will strengthen your skills.

By Peter Jacobi

Bernadette Esposito, in an essay for The North American Review, describes a crisis in flight:

"As we ascended over the Mediterranean on a routine flight to Paris," she writes, "the engine over which I was seated exploded. It was a systematic and orderly blow. It did not build as in a Berlioz cantata or culminate from a collection of small, meaningless gestures -- a whistle, a hiss, a persistent rattle -- in a cacophony of tearing metal, snapping cables, and shattering glass. It was a noise so full and palpable, so concise and final, that whatever followed I hoped would follow swiftly."

Dan Strickland, in a story for Defenders, published by Defenders of Wildlife, describes a scene in Alaska's Bristol Bay:

"The sockeye salmon breaking the surface in flashes of silver look like giant popping kernels of corn," he writes. "It's July, and the fish are leaping upstream in the millions to spawn.... With the run at its peak, anyone wading in hip boots here can feel the fish hitting and careening off both legs."

Natalie Angier, in a feature for the New York Times, describes the pungency of an animal:

"What's black and white, with a skunkish look to its cover, and from bark wrests such bite it makes lions fall over?," she writes in imperfect rhyme and meter, then adding prose: "Meet the African crested rat, or Lophiomys imhausi, a creature so large, flamboyantly furred, and thickly helmeted it hardly seems a member of the international rat consortium. Yet it is indeed a rat, a deadly dirty rat, its super-specialized pelt permeated with potent toxins harvested from trees."

Peggy Noonan, in a profile for Newsweek, describes its subject, producer Harvey Weinstein:

"He's invariably described," she writes, "as coarse, threatening, given to outbursts, terrifying, and a thug. Boorish and angry are usually in there, too. At the recent Golden Globes, Madonna called him 'the Punisher' and Meryl Streep referred to him as 'God.' The French actors from his critically acclaimed and award-winning film The Artist called him 'Le Boss.' This makes him laugh."

Let's remind ourselves of the importance of description. The above samples are not really of a must-remember sort. They don't wow you. But they're effective. They don't suggest the too-too much or tried-too-hard. They get the job done, providing details designed to insinuate a given subject into the mind and/or heart of the reader, be that subject a wounded airplane, an awesome but potentially troubled vista, an animal to avoid, or a controversial figure in the world of entertainment.

Say What You See

Mark Doty, who divides his time between writing poetry and nonfiction, tells us in his recently published book, The Art of Description, World into Word (Graywolf Press): "It sounds like a simple thing, to say what you see. But try to find words for the shades of a mottled sassafras leaf, or the reflectivity of a bay on an August morning, or the very beginnings of desire stirring in the gaze of someone looking right into your eyes, and it immediately becomes clear that all we see is slippery, nuanced, elusive."

Descriptive writing is difficult. We need to accomplish it without sounding phony, without calling attention to ourselves, without getting in the way of the subject. Doty's compact book bulges with advice and supportive examples. He explains that good descriptions involve "the mind playing over the world of matter, finding there a glass various and lustrous enough to reflect back the complexities of the self that's doing the looking."

And along the way, he offers a warning, not new but important to remember: "Wanting to make the world on the page seem real to the reader, our first impulse is sometimes to reach for adjectives and adverbs, those QUALIFIERS intended to lend a host of sensory qualities to the sentence or the line. But be careful: it's often the case that writers turn to those additives -- like spices in the kitchen -- when the main ingredients themselves seem bland. If the nouns and verbs themselves aren't interesting enough, no amount of adjectival or adverbial flavoring is going to really do the trick."

Rewards of Description

Rebecca McClanahan, in her instructive book, Word Painting, A Guide to Writing More Descriptively (Writer's Digest Books), calls the descriptive process "an exercise in observation."

She pays attention to the rewards of description, what we gain by using it. Among a dozen rewards, she lists that it creates "the illusion of reality, inviting the reader to move in, unpack his bags, and settle in for a spell;" its "sensory detail penetrates layers of consciousness, engaging you reader emotionally as well as intellectually;" those details "can establish your characters and settings quickly and efficiently;" they "can act as gear shifts, changing the pace of your story -- speeding it up or slowing it down, thus increasing the story's tension;" they "can serve as a transitional device, a way of linking scenes or changing time and place;" and they "can provide the palette for gradations in mood and tone."

Be aware that Mark Doty gives great emphasis in his examples to poetry and Rebecca McClanahan in hers to fiction. But these two books offer multiple values, nevertheless. They'll remind you of description's power and assist you in bettering your descriptive skills.

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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Book Review

Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 8:57 PM

Videojournalism: Multimedia Storytelling, by Kenneth Kobre

If your responsibilities now extend to the production of multimedia content, this book should interest you. You've probably seen magazines produced by people who don't come from a publishing background. Style is loose, writing is sloppy, and design is undisciplined. At least, that's how they look to our critical eyes. They're rough around the edges. Amateurish. Well, we've got news for you: That's what we've been hearing about some ventures into video production that have been undertaken by us publishing professionals. A lot of editors are now producing video content for digital replica editions and other online offerings that doesn't measure up to normal standards. But even if you have become a video pro, you'll still find useful tips in this book.

Videojournalism: Multimedia Storytelling is written by Kenneth Kobre, who directs the video and photojournalism program at San Francisco State University. In the preface he says, "Good videojournalism demands a broad set of technical skills and a real appreciation of how to tell a story. But with practice and knowledge borrowed from these traditions, the skill of videojournalism storytelling can be learned. As a matter of fact, that is expressly what this book is all about."

The chapter titles describe the scope of the book:

1. Telling Stories
2. Finding and Evaluating a Story
3. Successful Story Topics
4. Producing a Story
5. Camera Basics
6. Camera Exposure and Handling
7. Light and Color
8. Recording Sound
9. Combining Audio and Stills
10. Shooting a Sequence
11. Conducting an Interview
12. Writing a Script
13. Editing the Story
14. Ethics
15. The Law
16. Marketing a Story

In the spirit of multimediaism, the book is accompanied by an extensive assortment of online video clips that supplement the text. These are accessible via QR codes printed in the book.

Videojournalism: Multimedia Storytelling is well illustrated in an 8.5 x 11 format. It is published by Focal Press, an imprint of Elsevier (272 pages, paperback). It is available for $38.00 on the Editors Only "Books" page under the "Books on Multimedia" heading.

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Tumblr for Editorial Content?

Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 8:57 PM

In the news: How a creative means of content deliverywas born of necessity.

As we mentioned elsewhere in this issue, Hurricane Sandy forced many publications in the northeast to take its content to other platforms while they waited for lights to go back on and servers to go back up.

Sites such as Gawker.com took to Tumblr, which offers publishers not only a platform for editorial content, but also an opportunity for ad sales. Gawker was able to sell advertising to State Farm in conjunction with its Tumblr content. The endeavor was quite successful and may prove to be equally fruitful for Tumblr if editors find it to be a worthwhile mode of content delivery. Read more here.

2012 Eddie and Ozzie Awards

This month, the annual Eddie and Ozzie Awards were held in New York City. Folio.com describes this event as "the largest of its kind for magazine publishers," encompassing both print and digital publications across various segments (including consumer, b-to-b, and others).

For the Eddie award winners, click here.

For the Ozzie award winners, click here.

Hurricane Sandy and Magazine Content

Last month, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in the northeast. It forced editors to get creative with content delivery. The widespread power outages and flooding brought many industries to a standstill, and magazine publishers were no exception. In the face of power outages and property damage, some publications found alternate modes of content delivery. During the storm and in the days and weeks that followed, many publishers sought refuge on various social networking websites.

Gawker.com makes for a particularly interesting case study. The website published content on Tumblr, a social media site, and even sold advertising there. This has led some industry insiders to give Tumblr a second look as a potential content management system. Other publications, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, took down their paywalls in response to the storm. Still others took their content to other social networking sites such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Thus, the storm has led editors to reconsider the role of social media in their dissemination of content.

Read more about how the storm affected editorial content here.

AP Stylebook in Spanish

For the first time, the Associated Press is offering a Spanish language edition of its style guide. Already, the book is making waves with its inclusion of the term "illegal immigrant," which some journalists find to be demeaning and polarizing. The AP is releasing the book in hopes that it will be widely adopted by publishers of Spanish-language material. Read more about the new stylebook and the controversy here.

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