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Issue for December 2020

Covid’s Media and Journalism Casualties

Posted on Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at 9:35 PM

In the news: Remembering media and journalism workers who have died of Covid-19.

Last spring, Kristen Hare of Poynter.org began tracking people in the media and journalism industry who have died of the coronavirus. This week, she reflects upon the early days of her project: “I had this idea back in the spring to collect the names of the few journalists who died from the coronavirus and have them inscribed on a brick in Poynter’s courtyard.... After 10 months collecting the obits of journalists who’ve died because of the coronavirus, I’m certain that the courtyard couldn’t begin to hold all their names.”

The media industry has lost some greats during the pandemic -- more than 500 journalists in 57 countries, according to the nonprofit Press Emblem Campaign. “It shows how devastating the coronavirus has been everywhere: newspaper owners, cameramen, broadcast pioneers, writers, retirees, young parents,” says Hare. “Many of them -- I don’t have a number -- got sick while informing their communities about the pandemic.”

Read more here, and see Hare’s collection of media obituaries here.

Also Notable

Remote Reporting: A Look Ahead

In a recent Editor & Publisher interview, Rice University Thresher co-editor-in-chief Ivanka Perez and Duluth News Tribune executive editor Rick Lubbers discuss the future of reporting in a remote work world. “The switch to remote work may be accelerating the transition from print to online-only journalism,” says Perez. “In a normal year, Thresher staffers would spend every Monday evening in our office.... As we embrace the conveniences of a more flexible, remote workroom, we must also find a way to re-incorporate a team mindset into the way our staffers operate.”

It’s a challenge to collaborate in today’s work-from-home reality, Lubbers tells Editor & Publisher: “Editors can no longer drop by a reporter’s desk for a quick chat about how a story is shaping up.... Any type of newsroom collaboration requires more heavy lifting to get it off the ground.” He acknowledges that even when the pandemic ends and people begin to return to their offices, some workers will choose to continue working remotely, creating a hybrid workforce of in-person and remote staffers.

Read more here.

Magazines That Cut Issues This Year

Kathryn Hopkins of WWD.com recently rounded up the magazines that cut the number of print issues in 2020. Summing up the state of things, she reports: “In an analysis of 45 U.S.-based titles, WWD found that 26, or 58 percent, had a lower print frequency this year compared to 2019; two have ceased print operations for good and another is on hiatus with print under review. Only two publications increased frequency.” Hearst in particular cut print frequency for several prominent titles including Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Town & Country, she says. (Not all of these changes are permanent.) However, of the major publishers, Hearst also cut the fewest staffers during the pandemic. Read the full piece here.

News Brands Exploring Subscription Bundle Partnerships

Publishers are finding new partners to create subscription bundles with wider appeal. Kayleigh Barber of Digiday.com says that these publishers “are turning to financial and educational institutions and non-publisher brands ... to bring in subscribers that publications have identified as crossover target audiences beyond their traditional reach.” Business Insider has partnered up with American Express and Wall Street Journal has partnered with Standard Chartered bank, to cite a few of Barber’s examples. Business Insider, she reports, “started offering American Express credit card holders free six- or 12-month trials to the digital publication.” Read more here.

The Disappearing Glossy Masthead

The masthead has long been a staple part of a glossy magazine issue, but that may be changing. Kathryn Hopkins of WWD.com examines this shift in a recent piece. In many cases, the masthead winds up on the cutting room floor in favor of editorial content or advertiser placements. What’s more, with many magazines existing on multiple platforms, the masthead has inflated well beyond the confines of a single page. Some magazines include their mastheads online, but Hopkins notes that this makes it difficult to link specific editors and staffers to specific issues. But Syracuse University media professor Aileen Gallagher tells Hopkins that the masthead simply may not carry the weight it once did. She says, “‘The association of the editor with the brand is not as strong. Can people name a magazine editor now besides Anna Wintour?’” Read more here.

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Bye Bye, 2020

Posted on Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at 9:33 PM

Bidding farewell to a year of unique editorial challenges.

By William Dunkerley

Few editors will have cherished memories of 2020. It's been a year that has challenged us all professionally and personally. Some publications have fared well. Others were hard hit. Still others failed.

It's been the kind of year that Arnold Schwarzenegger might bid adieu with a "hasta la vista, baby!"

Here at Editors Only we've seen a surprising number of our readers going into retirement. Others were terminated. Among those that stayed, many had to wait out a furlough. Management had to regroup at lightning speed. The decentralized work-at-home approach made an imposing debut.

Meanwhile, as we've faced these issues at the micro level, the macro information space in which we live has been pulled and squeezed by commanding pressures.

Navigating the Infodemic

In late February the word "infodemic" entered the vernacular. The term had been coined in 2003 by David Rothkopf, whose Wikipedia bio describes him as a "political scientist, journalist, CEO."

Back then Rothkopf said an infodemic affects "consumers of information ranging from officials to private citizens who have varying abilities to see the whole information picture, varying degrees of sophistication about what to do with the information they have, little opportunity to authenticate data before acting on it, and little if any training in understanding or controlling the rapidly changing information picture."

Several weeks ago BuzzFeed News proclaimed: "In 2020 Disinformation Broke the US."

According to Google Trends, the word “infodemic” generated but a blip of interest in 2003. By mid-March 2020 it was back with a vengeance. The Wall Street Journal ran the headline "Infodemic: When Unreliable Information Spreads Far and Wide."

Of course, the main buzz was about the coronavirus pandemic and the polarized political coverage thereof that began to dominate the news. Most EO readers aren't in the business of covering that pandemic. But the erosion of public trust in various media forms isn't going to do us any good in the long run. Not only that, but it could spur on the development of rulemaking that might inadvertently infringe upon our editorial missions.

Reexamining Section 230

Another macro pressure surrounds Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. We are clearly feeling the impact of this in the present. Last year eMarketer claimed that Amazon, Google, and Facebook were recipients of over two thirds of all digital ad dollars. That's pretty stiff competition for your publication. The chances that said competition is affecting or will affect your editorial budget are not remote.

But what does that have to do with "communications decency" and Section 230?

That's the law that enables internet giants like Facebook to go after money that otherwise could be available for your editorial budget.

That competitive advantage is related to our editorial responsibilities. As an editor you have to assure that what you publish isn't going to cause illegal damage to anyone. If it does, your publication could be sued. Section 230 puts Facebook and others beyond reach of that liability. That means they are free to play fast and loose with the truth. If an advertiser, commercial or political, in its own self-interest, wants to put one over on audiences, publishers with guaranteed immunity are the place to go. They're the place to make lots of digital ad buys.

They get away with it because these giant publishers are not considered publishers under the law. That's the trick. They're put in the same bucket as the telephone company. But the telephone company is just a conveyor of information, not a curator, not an editor. Another analogy that's been used is that Facebook et al. are like a newsstand or bookstore -- i.e., just a pass-through.

But the digital giants are being misclassified. They're not telephone companies or newsstands. They are indeed publishers. They curate and edit information. And they are competing with the rest of us unfairly under the protection of Section 230.

Unfortunately, this is another issue affecting us that is subject to the pressures of partisan politics. In the case of Facebook, Twitter, and others, one political side likes the way they edit. The other side doesn't. That means getting a fair arbitration of the issue will be difficult.

Imagining a New Post-Pandemic Normal

A third macro pressure is the instinctive wish for a return to normal. It's a natural reaction to all the discomfort that everyone has experienced in 2020. I know that many editors have their hopes set on an early return to normal. But that may not be the best strategy for plowing into 2021.

Some say there never will be a return to normal. The 2020 experience has made an indelible impression. It has changed us. Some editors long to reconstitute their editorial offices. Others have recognized efficiencies and other benefits that have materialized from the forced work-at-home experience.

Readership behaviors have evolved as well. Some of that has been for the good. At-home sources of information have played a more important role in 2020. Wouldn't it be great to be able to perpetuate that commitment to our publications?

Return to normal? An EHS Today headline claims, "Most Americans Expect Life to Never Return to Normal." It cites a recent Harris Poll that found that "76 percent of US adults indicated that the pandemic caused them to change their priorities. Once life returns to 'normal,' 73 percent of respondents say they will keep those same arrangements."

According to EHS Today, "the pandemic has caused 43 percent of currently-employed workers to reevaluate their current career paths. More than half, 51 percent, are seeking remote employment."

That's a lot to factor into how you handle things as 2021 unfolds.

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How to End a Story, Part I

Posted on Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at 9:32 PM

Tips on how to put a strong ending on your article.

By Peter P. Jacobi

A beginning is what we use to tempt the reader into a story. An ending is what the reader will remember if, of course, we found a way to get him there and if we've shaped an ending worth remembering.

The memory of an article is what we strive for, so that a strong, suitable ending becomes a key factor in the development and construction of an article. It is an article's moment not to be wasted.

To end, to complete, to finish, to wind up: stories, articles require endings as much as they required beginnings.

-- A final twist.
-- A quote.
-- A summary.
-- A quip.
-- The last symbolic anecdote.
-- A return to the beginning.
-- Something that tells the reader it's over.

But more than that -- something that the reader will remember, go away with. And something that leaves a flavor of the article. Something that makes a lasting impression.

A good ending requires work, not so much perhaps as a beginning, but it does require work. It requires planning, so that what precedes leads naturally in its direction.

The reader should be left satisfied, feel he's read something finished, something with a point clearly made, something with a unity that has moved the reader from start to finish almost in a circular manner.

It should give the reader something to think about or something to do.

Good Quotes/Memorable Endings

The quote can end. Lincoln Barnett's classic piece for Life magazine, dating to 1952, "The Earth Is Born," deals not only with creation but destruction, not only with how it all began but how, very likely, it will come to a finish. Here's Barnett's final paragraph, leading into a potent memorable quote:

When the fatal day arrives, the sun will hurl forth the outer layers of its incandescent atmosphere, disclosing the fearful white flyers of its core. The first flare of light and heat will bathe the earth in deadly radiation just eight minutes after the initial explosion. Two days later the atmospheric gases blown from the sun's surface and tumbling outward in all directions at a speed of 2,000,000 mph will envelop our doomed planet in veils of fire, melting the rocks and enkindling the very air. The end is best pictured in Revelation in another of the striking parallels between Biblical and modern scientific prophecy; "And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun.... and men were scorched with great heat ... and the cities of the nations fell ... and every island fled away, and the mountains were not found...."

The right quote can do wonders for any part of an article and certainly for the end.

Future Endings

Some articles do not end, even though they do. The writer must stop, but the subject, we know, goes on. David Blum suggests that in his New Yorker profile of the cellist Yo-Yo Ma. We picked his article up at a concert given by Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax:

As Ma and Ax play, this melody embraces them in its gentle folds of purity and devotion. They are eavesdropping on the soul of the composer. Time and space lose their particularity. A spirit, set free from the past, tends us with its power of consolation.

After the concert, Ma and Ax host a dinner party for a few close friends at the Hôtel Baur au Lac. The food, deliciously but outrageously expensive, is accompanied by endless jokes, mostly Jewish, some Chinese -- all outrageously bad. The dinner ends at one in the morning. In the darkened lobby, Ma embraces everyone in farewell. He must be up at seven to catch a plane to Paris, where Jill, Nicholas, and Emily are awaiting him. There, later in the week, the Beethoven performances will be repeated -- not repeated, but renewed.

Space prevents Blum from going on. As does a deadline. We can imagine Ma, however, traveling to Paris. The subject is not finished. In this case a life goes on.

A Twist of Finality

Finality can mark an ending, too. The New York Times' Andrew H. Malcolm, long ago a student of mine at Northwestern University, wrote years ago of "The Ultimate Decision." It concerns a painful decision to remove his mother from a respirator and of her consequent death. He had begun his piece for the Times magazine, "This is the story of my mother's last fighting days and the deal I made to let her die in peace, I hope." Malcolm moves us, through his tears and hours, to these last paragraphs:

At one point in a bedside conversation I saw the nurse's eyes dart over my shoulder to the monitor. "It won't be long," she said. I whirled. The pulse was 44. I had been afraid it wouldn't happen. Now I was afraid it would. Wait. Stop. Don't go! Oh, God, I thought, give her peace. And me, too, maybe. Please. Someday.

Minutes later, the doctor appeared. He checked Mom. The pulse was 40. "She's ready, Andrew."

They left the two of us alone, then. And at some point, Mom left, too. The pulse went from 38 to 24 to 0. There were irregular heartbeats for a while. I didn't know when exactly she died.

The death certificate said Beatrice Bowles Malcolm, the white, widowed daughter of Harry and Jenny Bowles and the mother of Andrew Malcolm, died at the age of 75 that day at 1710 hours.

It gave the cause of death as respiratory failure.

Description can hold a reader to the end.

Now, as this article ends, it ends with a final twist. Part II will continue my narrative and examples for ending a story.

A classic article from a past issue in tribute to the late Peter J. Jacobi, longtime EO writer and author of The Magazine Article: How to Think It, Plan It, Write It.

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Free Assistance

Posted on Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at 9:32 PM

During this time of crisis, we stand ready to answer any specific questions our readers may have, time permitting. You can contact us at: crisis-help@editorsonly.com.

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