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Issue for November 2019

The Editor Gender Gap

Posted on Friday, November 29, 2019 at 10:35 PM

Women make up 51 percent of the voices in the US, yet they continue to be the minority in the media industry.

By Denise Gable

In spite of progress made in past years, men still dominate US media. Not only do they outnumber women in reporting and producing the news, they also outearn them significantly.

According to a 2019 Folio: survey headline, "Male Editors (Still) Significantly Out-Earn Females." Total compensation for male magazine editors-in-chief averages $108,000, while their female counterparts receive $90,000.

Level of education also affects salary level. Chief editors with advanced degrees, for example, average $106,000 compared to $91,000 for those with undergraduate degrees. But even at the largest English-language newspapers, only 27 percent of the editors have advanced degrees, according to Columbia Journalism Review. Data USA points out, however, that in the working population those with advanced degrees represent almost twice the percentage of relevant degrees awarded by the universities. In other words, advanced degrees are shown to be advantageous.

Interestingly, the Poynter Institute reported in 2017 that "women dominate journalism schools, but newsrooms are still a different story." Poynter adds, "Each year, women comprise more than two-thirds of graduates with degrees in journalism or mass communications, and yet the media industry is just one-third women, a number that only decreases for women of color, reports show."

Data USA backs up that disparity. It reports that at the five top journalism schools, 67.9 percent of graduates are female.

Poynter offers this anecdote: "[Journalist] Margaret Sullivan remembered standing in front of a class of Northwestern University journalism students. She noticed the difference there from the newsroom meetings she had led in previous years. Her class of 20 had just three or four men. But in her decades-long career as a journalist and editor, she had become accustomed to news meetings with a dozen men and, at best, one other woman."

Some attribute this disparity to the impact of job demands upon traditional household responsibilities. The International Journalists' Network newsletter comments, "Journalism requires long hours and often large assignments that can pull a journalist away from their family often enough to upset a balanced home life. Women are being asked to choose between their careers and their children or starting a family. Editors and fellow journalists who ask them to choose, or shun them for not 'choosing' journalism, are failing mothers in the newsroom."

There is an interesting statistic concerning online editing. An ASNE survey shows that the number of women employed at online-only publications is disproportionately high, whereas the Folio: survey indicates that top editors of digital-only publications earn far more than counterparts at publications that are either print-only or both. There's no clue as to how that divides out on a gender basis.

Another gender differentiation can be seen in article bylines. A Slate headline asserts, "The Lack of Female Bylines in Magazines Is Old News." The solution? "If you really want more women writers, get more women editors," the deck says. The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg agrees with this thought process: "The more women there are in leadership, the easier it is for women to be in leadership."

The Slate article's author, Katha Pollitt, asserts that "editors matter." She explains by example: "At the Atlantic, where just 26 percent of 2010 articles were by women, of the top seven editors, only the managing editor is a woman. (Women are often managing editors, a position with lots of work and not much power.) Of the 12 editors listed at the top of the New Republic's masthead, only two are women. One of these women is the executive editor, the other is a senior editor." Pollitt adds, "It's naive to think that the fact that most top editors are men isn't part of the story."

At VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, Amy King sums things up: "We know women write. We know women read." She says it is important to ask why those facts aren't reflected in gender equity.

Denise Gable is managing editor of Editors Only.

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Beware the AP Stylebook

Posted on Friday, November 29, 2019 at 10:34 PM

Is the AP an infallible arbiter of style? Missteps in a special style guide demand closer scrutiny of guideline updates.

By William Dunkerley

Some whoppers in a recent AP Stylebook supplement suggest a need for caution. Many editors look to the Stylebook as a bible when it comes to style matters. Now there's reason to exercise caution in relying upon the publication as an absolute authority.

This came to our attention with the recent release of the Impeachment Inquiry Topical Guide. Its purpose? "To help with coverage of the impeachment inquiry, The Associated Press has prepared a guide with key background, explanation and style points," said AP. But the publication is seriously flawed on both counts: "key background" and "style points."

While many of us are not covering the impeachment issue, AP's editorial failures with this guide should put us on alert for other questionable advice elsewhere.

Issue 1: Transliteration Issues versus Language Differences

The most straightforward goof is in the spelling of Zelensky, the surname of the new Ukrainian president. AP claims that "he told the AP that Zelinskiy was his preferred spelling." Because that is out of step with most other romanizations of the Cyrillic spelling, I asked them to substantiate that claim. They did not respond.

In Zelensky's name, when written in Ukrainian, two different letters follow the letter "k." They form a diphthong that is usually rendered in English as a single letter "y." Tchaikovsky is an example. And the letter in "Zelensky" that follows the "l" is romanized as "e," never "i."

Usage practices can be readily checked with a Google search. I found that "Zelensky" netted 15.1 million hits. "Zelinskiy" yielded only 64,700 results. That speaks for itself.

The guide also announces a style change from Kiev to Kyiv. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with that. But AP's rationale is mistaken. It claims that change is "in line with the government's preferred transliteration to English." But it is not a transliteration issue. The name of Ukraine's capital city is Kiev in the Russian language. In Ukrainian it's Kyiv. It's a language difference, not one of transliteration. It's like we say Moscow, they say Moskva. Transliteration does not come into play.

(There does not seem to be consistency in cross-language translation of geographical names. AP's not necessarily to blame for that. For instance, the change from Peking to Beijing was readily accepted. But the city Germans call Munchen is commonly rendered in English as Munich. Perhaps international politics plays a role in this. But editors should prioritize communication with readers when making these decisions. For instance, the residents of Barrow, Alaska, voted in 2016 to change the town's name to Utqiagvik. The location first came to national attention with the advent of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline in the 1960s. Utqiagvik may work for audiences in Alaska, but outside the state it would cause confusion, at least for now.)

Issue 2: The AP Gets Political

Beyond the rendering of names, the AP guide delves into the political arena. And that's where things went really wrong. Under the guise of providing the editorial community with useful background, it has snuck in one-sided versions of controversial issues that are far from settled.

One example appears in the background on the unusual role of Rudolph Giuliani in the Ukraine affair. AP makes reference to "the discredited theory that Ukraine and not Russia tried to intervene in the 2016 election." Saying that this has been categorically discredited is boldly false.

The facts are that the issue is currently under criminal investigation by a US attorney. Surely AP is aware of that, and indeed it reported on October 24, 2019, "DOJ review of Russia probe now a criminal inquiry." An honest report on the cited theory would have said that the matter is sharply contested and currently the subject of a criminal investigation.

Another example is the question of whether President Trump has violated his oath of office. His opponents have strongly asserted that this is the case. AP advised editors that "House committees are trying to determine if President Donald Trump violated his oath of office by asking a foreign country to investigate a political opponent."

But that allegation is far from self-evident. By not warning readers of that fact, AP has misled journalists again.

How is it not self-evident? Here's the presidential oath of office:

"I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

The premise of AP's argument is that asking a foreign country to investigate a political opponent violates the oath of office. But the oath of office is doesn't mention such activity either way. It is an open issue as to whether Trump committed a transgression here. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. That's a subject being considered by highly visible Congressional inquiries in which some parties are seeking to impute meanings to the oath, perhaps justifiably so. But for now the allegation is unsettled and the supposed violation is not explicitly mentioned in the oath.

AP's transgressions continue in the Guide's section on "Key Places." It states that Russia "annexed Ukraine's Crimea region" as if that were a settled matter. However, it is clearly in dispute. Most Crimeans rebut the annexation claim, believing that they voted to be reunited with Russia.

It is true that the United Nations passed a non-binding resolution that claims the Crimean referendum on independence from Kyiv was invalid. "Non-binding" is a critical term here. What's more, that resolution would seem to conflict with the very UN charter that cites "the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples."

This is plainly a contested political battle in which AP is playing the role of combatant.

AP could learn a lot from the National Geographic Society. While claims still abound that Crimea remains subject to Ukrainian sovereignty, the society has drawn its maps to show Crimea as an integral part of Russia. The organization's director of editorial and research for National Geographic Maps put it simply: "We map the world as it is, not as people would like it to be."

There are other signs of bias in AP's guide that seem to indicate a persistent application of bias. It makes frequent use of loaded terms.

For instance, it says that "Russia tried to intervene in the election" of 2016. By any common definition of the word "intervene," AP's usage is inappropriate. There was no force or threat of force, there was no demonstrable hindrance or modification, there was no demonstrable interference in an outcome. At worst, what Russia has been alleged to have done is what is commonly called propaganda. Given all the distortions in AP's guide, it seems likely that its use of "intervene" is a deliberate provocation of fear.

At this point it is necessary to reflect upon what AP is up to. What kind of role is it playing in bringing vital political news to American voters? A quote from Walter Cronkite can help put this into perspective:

"We all have our likes and our dislikes. But ... when we're doing news -- when we're doing the front-page news, not the back page, not the op-ed pages, but when we're doing the daily news, covering politics -- it is our duty to be sure that we do not permit our prejudices to show. That is simply basic journalism."

I can't think of a rational argument that would support the notion that AP is practicing even basic journalism. It has exploited the presumptive trust enjoyed by its Stylebook -- a bible in the journalism field -- to covertly propagate one-sided "background" to its unsuspecting readers.

If one accepts Cronkite's concept of journalism, it might be unwise to give unmitigated trust to AP's Stylebook. It's wrong on the political issues. It's even wrong on the simple matter of how to spell the Ukrainian president's name.

The AP Stylebook might more honestly be termed a political document that manifests an insidious propensity to propagate false and misleading information.

What a sad and troubling conclusion that is.

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

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The Fog Index

Posted on Friday, November 29, 2019 at 10:33 PM

Assessing the readability of an ArsTechnica.com excerpt.

This month’s Fog Index sample text comes from a November 28 article on ArsTechnica.com (“That Time Benjamin Franklin Tried [and Failed] to Electrocute a Turkey” by Jennifer Ouellette). Here’s the text, with longer words italicized for reference:

“That didn't keep Franklin from continuing his electrical investigations. He performed his famous kite-and-key experiment in June 1752, on the outskirts of Philadelphia. He constructed his kite frame out of two strips of cedar nailed together in the shape of an ‘X,’ and stretched a large silk handkerchief across the frame. He attached the key to a long silk string dangling from the kite, attaching the other end to a Leyden jar with a thin metal wire. Then he took the kite into a field during a thunderstorm, standing under a small shed to keep dry. When he saw loose filaments of twine "stand erect," indicating electrification, he pressed his knuckle to the key and received a small shock, thereby proving that lightning was indeed static electricity. He went on to invent the lightning rod, among other ingenious devices.”

--Word count: 139 words
--Average sentence length: 20 words (9, 14, 28, 26, 19, 31, 12)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 8 percent (11/139 words)
--Fog Index (20+8) * .4 = 11 (11.2, no rounding)

This Thanksgiving Day article served up the perfect Fog Index sample. The author delivers the scientific nitty-gritty without drowning the reader in dense jargon. Varied sentence length helps keep the Fog score low as well. A writer can get away with the occasional 25- or 30-word sentence if she balances it out with 10- and 15- word sentences. With a Fog score of 11, this excerpt doesn’t need any “defogging” from our end. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed!

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Hearst Magazines Unionizes

Posted on Friday, November 29, 2019 at 10:32 PM

In the news: Staffers at Hearst Magazines have formed a union.

Earlier this month, Hearst employees unionized. The union, with the Writers Guild of America East, includes staffers at 24 Hearst magazines, reports Maxwell Tani of the Daily Beast. Other print and digital publishers have unionized in recent years, says Tani, including Buzzfeed News, Vox Media, and select Condé Nast divisions.

The new Hearst union is one of the largest in the publishing industry. It comes after a year of organizing and negotiations, with a sweeping majority of employees backing the move. Characterizing organizers’ objectives, Tani writes, “While recent upheaval in media has spurred a wave of unionization efforts ... their effort was geared more toward achieving goals shared by editorial employees across the company. In a memo released [November 11], the organizing committee singled out diversity, transparency, compensation, and editorial standards as several key issues the union hopes to take up with management.”

Read more here.

Also Notable

Branded Shows to Attract Subscribers

Some publishers are hoping that putting original shows behind their paywalls will entice would-be subscribers to pay up. According to Tim Peterson of Digiday.com, Architectural Digest, Barstool Sports, and the New York Times are experimenting with the concept. Under the current model, subscription revenue covers the cost of producing the show, a risky proposition, says Peterson. What’s more, he writes, “it can be challenging for publishers to justify producing a program for a limited audience, especially given ongoing interest from Netflix and other streaming platforms in licensing that type of content.” Read more here.

Magazines Reconsider Packaging Materials

Last week, Condé Nast pledged to the UN’s Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, reports Kaley Roshitsh of Women’s Wear Daily. As print magazines look for ways to increase sustainability, they’re taking a hard look at packaging materials, “with options ranging from recycled plastics made from post-consumer recycled waste, biodegradable bio-based content, paper or naked mailing,” says Roshitsh. Read more here.

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