« October 2013 | Home | December 2013 »

Issue for November 2013

Native Instincts about Native Advertising

Posted on Friday, November 29, 2013 at 12:28 AM

For many editors, the idea of native advertising just doesn't seem right at a primal level.

By William Dunkerley

"Brands want advertising that looks and feels like actual editorial content..." reported AdWeek magazine in its August 8, 2013, edition. The article goes on to suggest that publications are uniquely positioned to facilitate the brand-advertisers' desires. "But how do they do that without selling out?" AdWeek questions.

What Is Native Advertising?

Native advertising is the latest buzz term for what's long been called an advertorial. Some argue that there are distinct differences between native ads and advertorials. There may be. But the fundamental connecting thread is that both types of ads are designed to look like editorial content.

For some years now, the buzz about native advertising has been on an upswing. It seems to have originated in connection with online advertising, but it has started to migrate to print as well. A number of major publications are now offering it, and some are even establishing departments for creating advertiser copy.

Our Survey

We did a quick survey of Editors Only readers to get a sense of how widespread these practices are and what opinions editors have about them. Our survey was only anecdotal, not statistical, but it was striking that well over three quarters of the editors reported that their publications do not carry native advertising. Even more striking is that of those that do carry, almost all expressed some form of negativity about the practice.

Steve Glazner, editor of Facilities Manager, said his publication's policy is "to allow native ads, begrudgingly." He says, "We definitely discourage our advertisers from going this route." Steve has actually taken things a step further. His publication has instituted a whitepaper series for which companies can provide articles. It is distributed not with his magazine, but along with a biweekly online newsletter.

Skip Ogden of iBluegrass magazine says the native ads he runs must contain subject matter of interest to his readers. He reserves the right to edit content. Skip adds, "I don't like running these ads, as it often devalues our overall content; so we're extremely picky."

At Food Processing & Wellness Foods magazine, editor-in-chief Dave Fusaro says he rarely runs content-heavy ads, which his editors have no role in writing or producing. Fusaro says he had not been familiar with the term "native advertising" but that he finds it "distasteful for some reason." (Note: A number of other editors had not heard of native advertising, either.)

Many editors whose publications do not carry native ads were very pointed about their views on the topic. Bradley Shreve of Tribal College Journal said, "We do not run advertiser content that looks like editorial, and my opinion of [the practice] is very low." "We don't like native advertising, and we don't like it when ads look like articles," said David Bolling from Sanoma magazine. C.G. Masi, a writer for numerous publications, reports that none of his clients have ever accepted ads that look like editorial. "It's a major no-no because our readers see through it instantly," he adds.

Dan Markham at Metal Center News opines, "I'm not in favor of further blurring the lines between advertising and editorial." Greg Barker, editor of Voice Council magazine, also sums up his view of native advertising: "It often is the antithesis of good content." Or, as Curtis Phillips, senior technical editor of Wine Business Monthly, puts it, "We still practice journalism, as outmoded a concept as that appears to have become."

Why Are Native Ads Becoming So Popular?

While our editorial instincts may lead us to abhor ads that look like editorial, there's another angle to all this. We need to question why advertisers are gravitating toward ads that masquerade as editorial content in the first place. I'm not aware of any research that supports the view that textual ads are more effective than display advertising. So why do advertisers want native advertising?

The clamoring for native started in the online segment of the publishing business. And advertising in online publications has been problematic all along. There's yet to be a format that is really successful. Banner ads have proven themselves to be ineffectual; pop-ups and auto-start videos are extremely annoying. Moreover, technologies exist or are being developed to thwart them. Perhaps the push for native advertising is just another blind attempt to find a formula that works for advertising online.

Another possibility is that advertisers may feel thwarted in their efforts to gain exposure for their points of view or to get their products covered editorially to a degree they consider sufficient. If that's the problem, we as editors need to recognize and deal with it.

Should we find ways to give greater legitimate editorial coverage to the views of advertisers? Do we need to feature more content that deals with products that are of significant interest to our readers? Food for thought: many readers actually consider ads to be part of the content that interests them in a magazine. Just last week, a publisher told me that click-throughs on some ads exceed those for much of the editorial content.

Dave Zola, executive news editor at WardsAuto World magazine, chimes in with his thoughts: "As an editor, I realize that advertisers are looking for new ways to reach their audiences. I think we have to be open to them. Our own audience also is looking for multiple sources of information, including some things that our advertisers can bring."

If we're giving short shrift to legitimate editorial coverage of advertisers and their products, we may be inviting two unintended consequences. The first is that our readers may be getting shortchanged on content that interests them. The second is that we may be unwittingly stimulating the advertiser demand for native advertising.

Please give that some thought.

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

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

Useful Set of Lessons in Print

Posted on Friday, November 29, 2013 at 12:28 AM

Three noteworthy books to add to your library.

By Peter P. Jacobi

I've been restocking the library, and there are books to tell you about.

How to Not Write Bad...

Ben Yagoda is out with another useful set of lessons in print. He's the journalism professor at the University of Delaware who earlier gave you When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It. The title (and substance) of his new book is How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them (Riverhead Books).

Focus on the Basics

Yagoda sums up his goal in a lively introduction, and "lively" is a descriptive word that fits the texture and tilt of all that follows through 175 pages; he seeks to stimulate. "Words are the building blocks of sentences," he proposes, "and sentences are the building blocks of any piece of writing; consequently, I focus on these basics. As far as I'm concerned, not-writing-badly consists of the ability, first, to craft sentences that are correct in terms of spelling, diction (that is, word choice), punctuation, and grammar, and that display clarity, precision, and grace. Once that's mastered, there are a few more areas that have to be addressed in crafting a whole paragraph: cadence, consistency of tone, word repetition, transitions between sentences, paragraph length. And that's all there is to it! (I know, that's plenty.)"

Good Writers Read

Moving along into the body of the book, he urges the would-be writer to read. "Almost without exception," Yagoda says, "good writers read widely and frequently." And then, yes, he advises: "The most effective short-term way to improve your writing is to read it aloud, sentence by sentence and word by word." Now, where have you heard that before? It's not a panacea, he adds, and it takes development of the ears, as do musicians. "But eventually, you'll start to really hear your sentences, and at some point, you'll be able to shut up and listen with your mind's ear."

Punctuation and Grammar

Punctuation and grammar dominate quite a few pages in How to Not Write Bad. So, too, Yagoda deals with brevity, word choice (including those to avoid, like "unique" and "literally" and "myself"), clich├ęs, euphemisms, and jargon. And he devotes a whole section to the construction of sentences. The approach is basic, to the point, and helpful.

The Sound on the Page...

And that reminds me of another Yagoda book, one of previous vintage, one that isn't so basic but is helpful in a different way. His 2004 The Sound on the Page, Great Writers Talk about Style and Voice in Writing (Harper) is a fascinating weave of Yagoda lessons enriched by recommendations and examples from a slew of the best contemporary writers.

His aim is to prove this thesis: "It is frequently the case that writers entertain, move and inspire us less by what they say than by how they say it. What they say is information and ideas and (in the case of fiction) story and characters. How they say it is style."

Plain Words

In The Sound on the Page, Yagoda has gathered thoughts of writers that suggest struggle in the process and predilections. Susan Orlean, one of the era's most respected magazine writers, says: "I have this philosophy -- I like plain words like tall and guy. I like rehabilitating words that have been so overused that they don't get used anymore."

Polite Persuasion

Novelist and essayist Elizabeth McCracken notes: "In my own voice, I come out as way too tentative. I keep saying things like 'I think' or 'it seems to me,' and I have to keep cutting them out.... The dilemma is to be strong enough to persuade people but still polite enough not to be assaultive."

Revisions and Drafts

Toure, a cultural critic, music writer, and co-host of a show on MSNBC, discussing revision explains: "I look at it like popcorn. In the first draft, you lay out the kernels. They're small and hard. That's the general direction you want to take. And then you put heat to it. Can this sentence be better? Can this word be better?.... It becomes an improvisational thing. That's when you put the style to it, the intellectual heat to it. That's when it becomes popcorn. Each part of the sentence explodes."

Beware of Your Voice

The journalist and novelist Anna Quindlen says: "If you have a discernible writing voice, you must beware of your own tics. I use of course too much, and the word seem to cover up my failure to commit, and sometimes my sentences are so baroque that they leave me breathless, which is why I read everything aloud when I'm done with it, so that I can tell intuitively where it diverges from my natural voice."


Both of these Yagoda books are worth your attention, as is one I mentioned above and wrote about a while back, When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It, The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse (Broadway Books). I'll simply quote his introductory paragraph to the chapter on pronouns, to give or remind you of the attitude in that, again, lively little book: "When people get upset over language, more often than not the crux of the problem is a pronoun. This makes sense. Pronouns are words used in place of a noun or noun phrase, and in that act of substitution, you can find a world of attitudes and belief."

I leave it to you to go from there. More for your library next month.

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.

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

The Fog Index

Posted on Friday, November 29, 2013 at 12:28 AM

Assessing the readability of a NewYorker.com excerpt.

This month, we assess the Fog Index of an excerpt from a November 23 NewYorker.com article ("Do People Notice Food Labels?" by Lauren Etter). Here's the sample:

"It's too early to know whether consumers' reactions to the new meat labels will resemble their reactions to other kinds of labels; there is, of course, a difference between touting that your coffee was grown by people who were fairly compensated and explaining that your American-seeming steak is really a Canadian citizen. But perhaps the meat industry should be less worried about how people will respond to origin labels. As much as we say we want more details about products, it seems that many of us care most of all about a kind of label that long preceded these newfangled ones: the price tag."

--Word count: 104 words
--Average sentence length: 35 words (52, 17, 35)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (10/104 words)
--Fog Index: (35+10)*.4 = 18 (no rounding)

Our Fog Index is quite high at 18. What might have inflated the score? At first glance, sentence length looks like the main culprit. The first sentence alone weighs in at 52 words, half the total word count. Let's see what we can do to cut down on the fog.

"Will consumers react to the new meat labels as they do to other kinds of labels? It's too early to know. There is, of course, a difference between touting that your coffee was grown by people who were paid fairly and explaining that your 'American' steak is really from Canada. But perhaps the meat industry should be less worried about how people will respond to source labels. As much as we say we want more details about products, many of us seem to care most about a different kind of label that has been around much longer than these newfangled ones: the price tag."

--Word count: 104 words
--Average sentence length: 21 words (16, 5, 29, 17, 37)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 5 percent (5/104 words)
--Fog Index: (21+5)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

We initially set out to break this down into smaller sentences. We achieved this by turning the hefty first sentence into a question, a short answer, and a longer third sentence. We also tightened syntax here and there to improve flow in our "newfangled" version. The result is a Fog score that has been reduced by 8 points.

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

Shaking Up the Editorial Chain of Command

Posted on Friday, November 29, 2013 at 12:27 AM

In the news: Staff shakeups at one magazine publisher raise questions about the state of magazine editing as a whole.

"What happens when magazine editors start reporting to the business side?" asks a recent MediaBistro.com headline. The first sentence responds, "It is this week's [November 1] biggest and most far-reaching NYC media world question."

The article goes on to discuss the recent staff shakeup at Time Inc. that has left editors reporting to the presidents of their magazine groups (rather than to an editor-in-chief). This mingling of the business and editorial sides raises important questions about the future of magazine editing, a profession already in flux thanks to multiplatform workflow and the mounting popularity of native advertising. Read more about the staff changes at Time here.

Also Notable

Life as a Magazine Editor

Recently, Montclair State University's The Montclarion ran a feature chronicling the life of InStyle deputy managing editor Lisa Arbetter. She sums up the job in just three words: "'challenging, exciting, and competitive.'" She goes on to discuss how today's magazine editing is truly a multimedia experience involving print and digital content, TV, and even books. But perhaps her best advice addresses the sometimes precarious relationship between editors and writers: "'It's a partnership, not a battle. Any good writer appreciates what an editor brings to his/her piece, and a good editor will show restraint with a writer's work.'" Read the entire piece here.

"Ambidextrous" Publishing?

Are reader attention spans really as short as the hype would have us believe? No, says Uzoamaka Maduka, cofounder and editor-in-chief of The American Reader. The literary magazine, which launched a year ago, offers up new fiction, poetry, and criticism. She refers to her magazine as "ambidextrous," engaging readers in both print and digital formats, and shuns the idea that readers aren't still looking for longer-form content. Read more here.

Digital Magazine Design Tips

Recently, London hosted its annual Digital Magazine Awards. Rob Boynes of Dennis Publishing shared five important design tips for digital magazines. Read them here.

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

« October 2013 | Top | December 2013 »