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Issue for December 2012

Dissecting The Daily's Demise

Posted on Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 6:15 PM

What went wrong with News Corp.'s daily iPad newspaper?

By Meredith L. Dias

Nearly two years ago, media mogul Rupert Murdoch declared his iPad-only newspaper, The Daily, to be the "new journalism." In our February 2011 issue, we discussed what how this tablet newspaper might change the editorial game, but not without a certain measure of caution. In his February 2011 piece, Editors Only editor William Dunkerley suggested the following: "There's some reason to believe that the architects of The Daily may have been more bedazzled by the new technologies than respondent to actual reader needs and interests."

He may have been right. Earlier this month, Murdoch announced that The Daily would cease publication after less than two years. The move comes as part of a larger restructuring of News Corp's various properties. Only a handful of staffers will transfer to other Murdoch publications.

What Went Wrong?

When The Daily first hit the digital presses, magazine publishers everywhere wondered if this tablet-only publication would define the industry's future. It seemed promising, but perhaps we were all a little blinded by the newspaper's multimedia bells and whistles (e.g., 360-degree photos and HD videos). They were dazzling features, no doubt, but they were no substitute for compelling journalism.

In a statement, Murdoch indicated that the newspaper had never established a large enough audience. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why not, but pundits have stated that The Daily simply didn't stand up to its iPad competitors. Abbey Klaasen of AdAge.com offered her commentary in a December 10 article:

"In the equation of content quality multiplied by user experience, it just didn't make the grade. Technology comes and goes, but the bar for media companies is to provide valuable content that people want and can't necessarily get everywhere -- and delivering it to them in a package they want to receive. The Daily wasn't a winning-enough proposition when it came to content, and it wasn't differentiated enough when it came to its design and user experience."

Other analysts are blaming the very business model that powered The Daily. Because the newspaper's content was behind a paywall, it was difficult to generate the kind of viral frenzy that websites with free content can.

Audience Issues

Earlier this month, Michael Moynihan of The Daily Beast published an article gleaned from discussions with six of the displaced The Daily staffers. One former editor mentioned that most of its readers were "'based in the middle of America.'" Another former employee admitted that the paper "'wasn't a must-read.'" Even Murdoch himself mentioned in his statement that The Daily "could not find a large enough audience quickly enough to convince [them] the business model was sustainable in the long-term."

So perhaps The Daily should have invested more in market analysis and high-quality journalism and less in its digital extras. Perhaps, as Klaasen suggests in her aforementioned article, the magazine failed to connect with readers because the overall package didn't resonate with a large enough audience.

What Staffers Are Saying

The anonymous sources behind Moynihan's article cite the publication's "amorphous editorial identity" among its failures. They also note that most magazines are given several years to become profitable; however, the recent News of the World phone hacking scandal in the UK changed the budgetary game for News Corp. Still, the closure came as a surprise to them.

It would seem, then, that there was already some confusion behind the scenes regarding The Daily's form and function. Then, external forces conspired to slash the newspaper's budget to unsustainable levels. It was the perfect storm for a publication already struggling to find its footing in a highly competitive news app market.

Takeaway Points

The Daily is a thing of the past, but it may not have been all in vain. Murdoch has indicated that he will apply some of what he's learned from his iPad endeavors to other publications. What can we take away from The Daily's demise?

For one, we should use digital extras sparingly. Things like HD video and panoramic photography can quickly sap tight budgets, and that money might be better spent on readership surveys and high-quality journalism. A glitzy digital news app can only be useful if it's attracting scores of readers and is available in a format that can easily go "viral."

We also should do careful analysis before throwing all of our resources into a single platform. True, iPads and tablets have taken off considerably in the last few years. But readers are still accessing editorial content in print and on PCs, Macs, netbooks, e-readers, tablets, and smartphones. With such a wide array of platforms, we can ensure that our content reaches the widest possible audience by making it available in a variety of formats.

Meredith L. Dias is senior editor of Editors Only.

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Making the Most of Language

Posted on Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 6:14 PM

Two books to put you on the right path to communicating information and ideas.

By Peter P. Jacobi

It is often a matter of going too far or not far enough, this as we worry our way through a manuscript.

We ponder. Are we making the most of the language in support of our writing project? Are we not? Are we making too much of the subject in the way we're expressing ourselves? Are we making too little? Are our verbal choices pointing in the right direction or getting in the way? Are we being honest in our expression?

A pair of recently published books addresses the above issues in unusually circumscribed ways, each book dealing with a particular path toward communicating information and ideas.

From Arthur Plotnik...

...we get Better Than Great, A Plentitudinous Comendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives (Viva Editions). I've yet to come across a Plotnik book that fails to offer sagacious advice for us as writers and editors, this one now included.

Worn-Out Words and Phrases

While reading it, I was reminded of the fact or fable that had the one-time movie magnate Sam Goldwyn -- after viewing a new film about to go out with the Goldwyn label -- ask a colleague what he thought of it.

"Great!" the man exuded. "Just terrific! It'll make history."

To which Goldwyn responded: "So you liked it?"

So many years later, Plotnik argues: "Our words and phrases of acclaim are worn out, all but impotent. Even so, we find ourselves defaulting to such habitual choices as good, great, and terrific, or substituting the weary synonyms that tumble out of a thesaurus -- superb, marvelous, outstanding, and the like.... Terms expected to describe miracles, epiphanies, and colossal wonderments are exhausted on assignments like these:

"Try our amazing onion rings."

"That my beer? Awesome."

"It's a fantastic mattress. I had a fabulous sleep."

In the 225-or-so pages that follow, Plotnik offers other options and solutions in 15 chapters, such as "GREAT: A Tough Word to Beat," "BEAUTIFUL: Untying the Beauty-Bound Tongue," "LARGE: It's All Relative," and "COOL: When Words Collide." There are also appendices that include "100 Selected Acclamatory Terms from Recent Criticism and Advertising" and "Quick Habit-Breakers: A Starter Set."

In a chapter devoted to "forceful," Plotnik suggests we associate the word with "powerful forces.... Why," he asks, "hitch your wagon to feeble praise when you can harness the power of muscle, nature, even the atom?" He mentions sinewy bridges, incinerating wit, a fissionable fastball. And as he does throughout the book, Plotnik provides enlightening samples from literature. He quotes Milton, for instance, after adding "adamantine" to his long and inviting list of alternatives for "forceful." The word is defined as "unyielding" and "diamond hard." Then comes Milton, from Paradise Lost: "Him the Almighty Power / hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky / with hideous ruin and combustion down / to bottomless perdition: there to dwell / in adamantine chains and penal fire..."

He turns to J. M. Coetzee's Foe in his chapter, "Challenging Belief or Expression." "When the scene turns paranormal," Plotnik writes, "our normal response tends to be unbelievable or incredible." Don't be so easily satisfied, he preaches. Be like Coetzee when he lays before us this passage: "...I have nothing to say. It is a question we can only stare at in silence, like a bird before a snake, hoping it will not swallow us."

There is much, however, to swallow in Better Than Great, and to digest, all to make us better.

From Ralph Keyes...

...there comes Euphemania, Our Love Affair with Euphemisms (Little Brown). They are "a form of synonym," Keyes explains, that "have heavier freight to carry." They "reflect their time and place." They often result "from an excess of politeness and prudery." They can also "demonstrate creativity and high good humor. Shakespeare was not polite and was hardly prudish, but his plays brim with euphemistic wordplay."

Creative Euphemisms

We are urged to use them as Shakespeare does, creatively, rather than as evasions. "The terms we use and those we avoid reflect deeper concerns, which change over time," writes Keyes. "Several centuries ago, when religion reigned, we converted 'damn' to darn and 'hell' to heck. Then prudery kicked in, and the gonads became family jewels and the vagina, down there. Today, it's death, disability, and discrimination that provide fodder for euphemisms, as we grope for inoffensive terms to designate loved ones who have died, those with physical or intellectual limitations, and members of minority groups."

Euphemisms, Keyes argues, "have gone from being a tool of the church to a form of gentility to an instrument of commercial, political, and postmodern doublespeak." He explores their different functions. In a chapter devoted to "Mincing Words," he points to the use of foreign words (the Spanish cojones versus the English balls) and professional jargon (seismic activity for earthquake and unscheduled energetic disassembly for nuclear meltdown).

A chapter covering "Under the Weather and In the Ground" begins: "One of my least favorite euphemisms is 'This may pinch a little,' murmured by a doctor or dentist who is about to do something that's going to really, really hurt. Alternatively, 'You may experience some discomfort.' Or 'A little pressure.' Obviously, medical personnel don't want to announce boldly, 'This will hurt' or 'A little pain,' so they resort to pinch, pressure, and discomfort as euphemisms.

"When it comes to death," Keyes later adds, "the euphemistic fog becomes nearly impenetrable" (from "no longer with us," "laid down their burden," and "pushing up daisies" to "passed away" and just "passed"). Food, money and commerce, war, and other realities and concerns are given their due in this well considered book.

Keyes warns, "Too much euphemizing fosters an evasive frame of mind, one that tiptoes around issues rather than confronting them." Overreliance "has consequences. When put to work on behalf of specific agendas, euphemistic discourse doesn't just hinder communication; it clouds thought." The author praises candor.

I do, too.

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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The Fog Index

Posted on Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 6:14 PM

Assessing the readability of a Techcrunch.com excerpt.

This month, we examine an excerpt from a Techcrunch.com article ("Native Video Ads: Silicon Valley's Shiny New Thing or Industry Savior?" by Charles Gabriel). Let's take a look:

"The bottom line is that user trust is essential for generating the engagement that the native ad model is founded upon. A sure-fire way to lose this is by allowing blatant advertorials or shoddy content into the mix. In order for native advertising to be viable, brands have to focus on maintaining a high standard for their content. In addition to high production value and utility for the user, videos shouldn't be overloaded with logos or other branding. And if the video is a product review or other how-to content, experts should be just that -- experts -- and not thinly veiled pitchmen."

--Word count: 101
--Average sentence length: 20 words (21, 17, 20, 20, 23)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 9 percent (9/101 words)
--Fog Index: (20+9) x .4 = 11 (no rounding)

This month's sample already has an ideal Fog score (under 12). (Note: We did not include "overloaded" in our percentage of longer words, as it is a compound word.) Let's see what changes we can make, however, for improved readability:

"The bottom line: User trust is crucial for generating the engagement that the native ad model is founded upon. A sure-fire way to lose this is by allowing blatant advertorials or shoddy content into the mix. For native ads to work, brands must maintain a high content standard. In addition to high production value and user utility, videos shouldn't be overloaded with logos or other branding. And if the video is a product review or how-to, experts should be just that -- experts, not thinly veiled pitchmen."

--Word count: 87
--Average sentence length: 17 words (19, 17, 12, 18, 20)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 7 percent (6/86 words)
--Fog Index: (17+7) x .4 = 9 (no rounding)

We made light tweaks to the above sample. In doing so, we cut a few longer words and trimmed word count by roughly 13 percent. This brought the sample's Fog Index down from 11 to 9.

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Editorial Content for Wal-Mart

Posted on Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 6:13 PM

In the news: Magazine publisher Condé Nast has teamed up with Wal-Mart to create an in-store beauty magazine.

Retail giant Wal-Mart has started publishing a 12-page glossy magazine called BeautyScoop. The magazine is available online, in stores, and via direct consumer mailings. The glossy is more than just a store catalogue; it also contains editorial content. Features include fashion advice and how-to's.

Reportedly, Condé Nast produces the entire magazine; however, Condé Nast is not credited anywhere in the issue. Editors from Allure, Glamour, and Lucky (all Condé Nast brands) contribute beauty and fashion advice. Read more about this custom publishing venture here.

The Daily's Last Edition

Earlier this month, The Daily, News Corp's iPad newspaper, went online for the last time. Rupert Murdoch has shuttered the digital publication, citing insufficient audience and an unsustainable long-term business model. Some staff members will transfer to the New York Post. Read more about the digital newspaper's closure here.

New Yorker to Turn Over Interviews

Last week, a judge ordered the New Yorker to submit recordings of interviews with Graham Spanier, former president of Penn State. Spanier is currently facing obstruction of justice and perjury charges, among others. The tapes may contain evidence regarding his role in the Sandusky coverup. The New Yorker countered the court order with a claim that Spanier was a confidential source, but the claim was dismissed. Read more here.

Magazine App Summit

Earlier this month, magazine publishers convened at MediaBistro's App Summit. Various digital publishers offered up tips for creating better apps. Perhaps the most compelling piece of advice: Digital publishers shouldn't worry too much about editorial calendars. Instead, says Paul Canetti of MAZ. Because digital is inexpensive, production schedules are much more flexible. Read more advice from the summit here.

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