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Issue for December 2015

Writing with Presence, Part I

Posted on Wednesday, December 30, 2015 at 4:19 PM

Aiming for presence in your confidence, communication, and subject matter.

By Peter P. Jacobi

The dictionary says "presence" has two meanings: "fact or condition of being present" and "appearance or bearing." Both can fit into a discussion about writing, the power and significance thereof.

But consider also social psychologist Amy Cuddy, who works at Harvard and has written and recently published an already much-discussed book titled Presence, a state she says we can achieve by accessing our personal power, by applying the right body language, a posture of confidence, even when we don't feel confident. Such a level of control has an impact on testosterone and cortisol levels that, she argues, directly impact our chances for success.

"When we judge others, especially our leaders," Cuddy explains, "we look first at two characteristics: how lovable they are (their warmth, communion, or trustworthiness) and how fearsome they are (their strength, agency, or competence).... Researchers agree that they [lovability and fearsomeness] are the two primary dimensions of social judgment." And why are these traits so important? "Because they answer two critical questions: 'What are this person's intentions toward me?' and 'Is he or she capable of acting on those intentions?'"

Presence in Your Language and Confidence

Well, these ruminations on presence can work in our favor as writers and editors, too. Not so much with our personal selves; our body language has only the slimmest of connection as we seek success. But the language we push forward on others has considerable importance. What we do verbally requires presence, some sort of distinguishable bearing. Confidence is part of our presence. Warmth and fearsome strength are parts of our presence in copy we produce. Our own personality, as deciders of how we use the language and how we pass along the substance of our message, contributes.

Presence in Your Communication

Humdrum work on our part is out of the question if communication is a goal. We need to know up front what it is we want to accomplish. We need to seek the best possible, most interestingly possible information, to which we add our most attractive scene stealing and storytelling, our most convincing explanation and argumentation. We need to enrich all we do with language that does what it must do for presence: startle, soothe, impress, inspire, sway, inform, engage, or sell.

With endless choices available to our reader, our writing must acquire presence, that way to earn and keep the reader's attention.

Presence in Your Subject Matter

Subject matter can gain you presence, as did New York magazine recently: two pages with outsized letters stretching across them, titled "Some Reviews of Some Opening Lines of Some Recent Books." Here are several taken from the lot: "I was made in a small square dish" (from Katherine Carlyle by Rupert Thomson); "Tamara sat before a runny omelet on a plate, the vestiges of sleep still clinging to her" (from The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya); "Dogs start the day with a spoonful of Alpo or some other canned meat on top of a heap of patented vitaminized kibble" (from This Old Man: All in Pieces by Roger Angell), and "Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion" (from Capital: New York, Capital of the 20th Century by Kenneth Goldsmith).

There are four more beginnings, and all eight books are given dwarf reviews. The one for Katherine Carlyle reads: "The narrator is an IVF baby, and this is a good example of an attack sentence that immediately puts a novel's preoccupations on the table. The key words are 'made,' because it's not 'born' or 'conceived,' and 'square,' because squares are unnatural." The large type, the rundown of beginnings, and the reviewing service add up to a readable and creatively put together piece. Presence aimed for and achieved.

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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Things Are Looking Up for Editors

Posted on Wednesday, December 30, 2015 at 4:17 PM

Top editors reflect upon 2015 and look ahead to 2016.

By William Dunkerley

Past EO articles have reported a lot of doom and gloom among editors in the wake of the Great Recession. Now we're pleased to give forum to the effusive optimism of some editors. We invited a cross-section of readers to comment on how 2015 treated them, and on their plans for the new year. The feedback they provided should be an inspiration to any editor.

Surging Editorial Morale in 2015

A mere six years ago it was hard to find anyone expressing much satisfaction with how things were going. Optimism about the future was in short supply. In 2009 we ran a story lead that said:

"These days when editors speak of 'future tense' they're not talking about grammar. Publication editors are apprehensive over what's ahead. They're seeing their colleagues' jobs terminated. Their own jobs are on the line. Raises are cancelled and sometimes salaries are cut. Workloads are up. Morale is down."

Contrast that with this comment from Rick Pullen about 2015: "It'd be hard to top what we did editorially or advertising sales wise. The economy is coming back. Next year we're looking for more of the same, and are hoping to broaden our digital efforts with a new hire." Rick is editor-in-chief at Leader's Edge magazine.

Meredith May, editorial director and publisher at The Tasting Panel, scored 2015 a 5 on a scale of 1 to 5. For 2016 she wants to give high priority to streamlining the publication's related events business. "It's growing exponentially," she says.

At the PMMI Media Group, senior editor Anne Marie Mohan enthusiastically reported, "2015 was definitely a 5 for us. We had an unbelievably great year, in part because of our expanding digital offerings as well as the innovation of our staff.

"We were purchased in late 2014 by a non-profit association with deep pockets and a desire to let us continue to do what we do best. We still maintain a monthly print issue (that continues to grow), but our digital business has really taken off.

"I believe that publications that don't embrace digital will be left in the dust. This doesn't mean print is dead, but readers are looking for information in a number of ways today, and if you can't give them what they want you are doomed."

As for 2016, she says: "For print, we will continue to pursue timely trends and issues and strive to cover the newest technologies. For digital, we are always looking to push the envelope. Our goal is to connect the end users of packaging materials and services with the suppliers of these products."

Why Are Editors So Optimistic?

What's responsible for all this abundance of satisfaction and optimism? Are publications just riding an economic upturn?

Not so, says one editor who requested anonymity. He said, "2015 was very good for us, but not for our market. Six magazines constitute our main competition. They were monthlies. But in 2015 one went mainly digital (with a very thin quarterly print issue), and another went 7x (averaging just 40 pages). We picked up most of the slack, with our folios often exceeding 100 pages. Our digital was flat but still very profitable. Growth was in print."

So instead of a rising tide raising all ships, it seems that each publication's ability to adapt itself to emergent opportunities is key. For some this may mean capturing greater market share in print. For others the answer may be technically more specific. For instance, "Working on more data journalism projects" is a 2016 objective for Bob Brown at Network World.

Patti Harman, editor-in-chief of Claims magazine, commenting on 2015, said, "It was one of the best in several years from an advertising standpoint, and we regained some of the market share we'd lost to competitors. We also increased our visibility in our industry through a number of speaking engagements. Our 2016 goal is to capitalize on these gains and continue to expand our exposure in the insurance industry. While our focus is still on our print magazine, we are also focusing on our online channel and social media to expand our exposure and engage readers."

Adriano Piattelli, editor-in-chief at the Journal of Osseointegration, joined the chorus that found 2015 to be a good year. His top priority for 2016 is maintaining high editorial standards and keeping up-to-date scientifically. He also wants to enhance the peer review process "as a method for assessing scientific quality."

Editorial excellence is important to Dan Cohen, managing editor at the Association of Defense Communities, too. He remarked, "The one thing I can control is quality. I'd like to believe it has remained consistent." That helped make 2015 a good year for him.

Plastics News editor Don Loepp concluded:

"2015 was a 4 out of 5 in my opinion. A very good year. But I've been around long enough to remember the really booming years of 1999 and 2000, when we had a larger staff and produced lots of pages. Financially 2015 was a solid year, profitable, our editorial staff was stable, and we did good work.

"My top priority for 2016 is to do excellent editorial work. I want to make sure we're focused on good writing, good reporting, and making the best use of all the technology that's at our disposal to provide readers with a product that they continue to feel is must-have information."

A Bright Outlook for 2016

What impressed me most about all the foregoing is that everyone who responded to our invitation to comment had positive things to say. It used to be that giving editors a chance to describe how things were going was greeted as an opportunity to complain eagerly. There was a hop-on-the-bandwagon ring to it.

But not now. And that's good.

We're no longer facing what seemed like a losing battle. We know we can do better and succeed. But it may take abandoning what have now become outmoded concepts about our business. Today's challenges call for us all to be adaptive and opportunistic in the face of technological advances and corresponding changes in how readers prefer to access information.

Happy 2016!

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

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The Fog Index

Posted on Wednesday, December 30, 2015 at 4:12 PM

Assessing the readability of a Forbes.com excerpt.

This month, we're examining sample text from a December 28 Forbes.com article ("Should You Invest in Bitcoin? 10 Arguments Against as of December 2015" by Laura Shin). Here's the excerpt, with longer words italicized:

"The emergence of Bitcoin and other digital currencies is certain to move society into a digital asset future. But the question is whether the Bitcoin blockchain, out of all the virtual currencies and similar protocols, will conduct all or a significant portion of these transactions. After all, there currently almost 700 other digital currencies, and surely more to be created. Because it's so early, and for several of the reasons laid out above, in particular governance issues, there's a possibility that Bitcoin could go the way of MySpace or AOL and that another protocol overtakes it."

--Word count: 96 words
--Average sentence length: 24 words (18, 27, 15, 36)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 19 percent (18/96 words)
--Fog Index: (24+19)*.4 = 17 (17.2, no rounding)

We need to cut at least 6 points to fall within the ideal range. Particularly damaging here is the percentage of longer words. Let's try to cut through some of the Fog here:

"The rise of Bitcoin and other online currencies will move the world into a digital asset future. The question is whether the Bitcoin blockchain, out of all the digital payment systems, will conduct all or most of these transactions. After all, there are almost 700 other existing options. Surely more will be created. Because it's so early, and for several of the reasons discussed above, in particular governance issues, Bitcoin could go the way of MySpace or AOL and another option could overtake it."

--Word count: 84 words
--Average sentence length: 17 words (17, 22, 9, 5, 31)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 8 percent (7/84 words)
--Fog Index: (17+8)*.4 = 10 (10.0, no rounding)

Here we have cut the Fog by roughly 40 percent. Our biggest hurdle was the number of longer words (19 percent of the original sample). The words "digital," "protocol(s)," and "currencies" appeared several times each, so we tried to reduce these in particular. Our edits cut 12 words from the original word count, a reduction of 1/8th. This lightened the overall load and helped bring the Fog down to 10. We might even have taken it a step further and tried splitting up the last sentence (which lost 5 words in the trimming but still stands at 31 words). But, in the name of preserving rhythm and not overediting, we let the longer sentence stand.

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Print Magazines: Still Alive and Kicking?

Posted on Wednesday, December 30, 2015 at 4:09 PM

In the news: A recent Columbia Journalism Review piece proposes that print is the "new media."

Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding print (some of it warranted given circulation and newsstand statistics from the past few years), it is finding ways to survive in the digital age. In fact, Chava Gourarie of the Columbia Journalism Review suggests that print is in a comeback phase. Writes Gourarie, "It seems print and digital can co-exist after all. The new won't replace the old. The new will hammer the old, deform it, reform it, reconceive, reconfigure, but the old won't disappear."

Well-known magazine industry veteran Samir Husni, aka Mr. Magazine, agrees. He calculates that 204 print magazines launched this year, including several websites that have introduced print editions. Read more here.

Also Notable

Digital Replica Editions

Although digital magazine has shifted in focus toward apps in recent years, digital replica editions are still what Bill Rosenblatt of Forbes.com calls "the Little Engine That Could" of the digital publishing industry. In a December 21 article, he projects that by the end of the year, circulation of consumer digital editions will surpass 17 million. Read more of his analysis here.

FTC Guidelines for Native Ads

Publishers continue to tap into native advertising to boost revenue. The FTC recently clarified its guidelines for this hybrid editorial-advertorial content. In a recent Foliomag.com article, Greg Dool summarizes content delivery labeled "deceptive" by the FTC: 1) advertorial content not clearly marked as such, 2) "the solicitation of consumers in order to sell goods or services without clearly disclosing the purpose," and 3) paid endorsements without clear disclosure statements. Read more here.

Editorial Changes at Martha Stewart Magazines

Last week, Meredith Corp. announced that it will take over editorial and operations for Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings. The new ten-year licensing contract replaces the agreement previously reached in October 2014. Read more here.

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