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Issue for December 2021

The Year the Journalists Organized

Posted on Friday, December 31, 2021 at 7:09 PM

In the news: This year, over 1,500 journalists joined unions, a movement that continues to gain momentum.

This was a banner year for journalists organizing. Angela Fu of Poynter.org reports that this year, 1,542 journalists from 26 different companies joined the NewsGuild. It was the culmination of 35 different organizing efforts, she says.

The move toward unionizing has only accelerated in newsrooms in the last several years. But 2021 saw particularly high numbers. Fu reports, “The NewsGuild, the largest union representing journalists ... broke its annual organizing record. This year, 1,542 journalists from 26 workplaces joined the union. (The NewsGuild also organized an additional 16 non-media workplaces, giving it a total of 2,128 new members in 2021). It set its previous record in 2019 when 1,499 workers, both media and non-media, joined the union.” Read more here.

Also Notable

Publishing Struggles in 2021

Heading in 2021, many publishers envisioned a return to normalcy after a tough pandemic year. However, even with the widespread vaccine rollout, the emergence of the Delta and Omicron variants threw a wrench in those plans. Max Willens of Digiday.com notes in a recent piece that some publishers have since abandoned plans to return to work in person. In addition, publishers continue to grapple with the impending end of third-party cookies. “Publishers expect alternate identifiers will play a pivotal role in their businesses when third-party cookies are phased out of the industry’s plans,” he writes. “But thanks in part to Google’s extension of its deadline for deprecating those cookies to 2023, those identifiers are not yet part of most publishers’ ad sales deals.” Read more here.

What’s Ahead for Local Journalism

Local newspapers have long been on the decline, but that doesn’t mean local news is dead. Sarah Fischer writes in a recent Axios.com piece, “New, independent digital outlets and nonprofits have begun to fill some of the gap left by fading local newspapers.” But traditional revenue will likely present ongoing challenges: “New digital sites and legacy local newspapers alike are finding it difficult to attract sustainable, commercial investment, making philanthropic support and reader donations more important,” Fischer says. Read more here.

Hong Kong Editors Face Charges

Amid ongoing media crackdowns in Hong Kong, “two former senior editors of Hong Kong’s Stand News were charged with conspiring to publish seditious materials ... after a police raid on the pro-democracy media organization that prompted its closure,” report Clare Jim and Sara Cheng of Reuters. The arrests come as part of China’s recently imposed national security law, and others were arrested along with the two aforementioned editors. “About 200 officers raided the online publication’s office, froze its assets and arrested seven current and former senior editors and former board members on Wednesday,” Jim and Cheng report. Read more about the raid here.

AP Style Reminders: Holiday Edition

Recently, the Poynter Institute shared holiday-related AP style tips. The guide includes rules for capitalizing or lowercasing holiday references depending on usage and reminders for when to include or omit apostrophes. The guide also covers holiday food and music. Read more here.

Report on Paywalls Available

Thinking about putting some or all of your content behind a paywall? What’s New in Publishing (WNIPM) recently published a report on the various options available, including hard and soft paywalls, “timewalls,” and others. The report is available for download here.

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Workin' Home Sweet Home

Posted on Friday, December 31, 2021 at 7:08 PM

For many publishers, Omicron has obliterated plans to return to a pre-pandemic normal. It is also forcing a reimagining of the role of middle management and the workday as we once knew it.

By William Dunkerley

"Workin' 9 to 5" is a phrase from the 1980 hit song “9 to 5” sung by Dolly Parton. Now more than 40 years later the tune might well be "Workin' Home Sweet Home," i.e, performing our editorial duties from home. But in either case, we're talking about a contentious issue.

These days the issue is not the way we work, but where we work: in the office or at home.

The Evolving Concept of Work

The Omicron variant has thrust that issue back into the forefront. Many publishers had been setting dates for resuming mandatory time at the office -- not necessarily full-time, but at least part-time. Now, however, a cresting Omicron wave may give some editorial managers pause.

Some back-to-the-office plans are now in doubt.

That pause is also a good time to revisit the controversial question of whether work at home should become a regular work arrangement.

Anne Helen Peterson, coauthor of Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home, says that "9 to 5 is a relic" of a bygone era. She adds, "There's nothing that says that work has to happen from 9 to 5."

The Evolving Role of Management

Perhaps she's overlooking top managers who might think otherwise. That's another contentious issue in itself. Some managers have doubts about the productivity of home workers. They also may feel a loss of control. What's the answer?

Forbes published an article titled "The Real Reasons Why Companies Don't Want You to Work Remotely." Here's our interpretation of the points it makes:

--When a manager sees you working, she intuits that you are being productive. The fact that you may be busy texting friends escapes her. She is comfortable seeing the illusion of work.

--Managing in person meets some managers' need for a sense of power. Deep down they may realize they are no longer really needed to exercise power in that way. They object to work from home because they are running scared.

--With staff working from home, a manager faces the dilemma of unused real estate, empty offices. He will either have to risk continuing to operate with overhead lacking a good justification or be burdened by the process of downsizing.

--Managing a remote staff requires a skill that many managers lack. For them, an in-office staff is familiar and easily managed. Even a hybrid approach presents a new complication.

(Amazon sells a book that looks at the question from a different angle. It's titled I'm Not Technically Working from Home Anymore, I'm Living at Work. But when you look inside, there are only blank pages with room for notes!)

Some managers just don't wish to adapt to work at home. Bloomberg has news for them. Its December 12 article contends, "The Five-Day Office Week Isn’t Coming Back. WFH Is Here to Stay."

The Pitfalls of In-Person Work

That's something the authors of Out of Office would likely endorse. They point out that office work is full of distractions that actually reduce productivity. In response many workers have been taking work home in order to get it done. Their book cites this example:

Before the pandemic, a friend used to reserve between 9:00 and 10:00 PM -- after she'd put her kids to bed, while her husband watched television beside her -- for what she called "actually getting my work done." Technically, she worked pretty standard hours, arriving at the office at 9:00 AM and leaving around 5:00 PM to pick up her oldest from day care. But those hours were almost chock-full of meetings, some more essential than others. The only time she could do careful work, concentrated work, was at home during those extra two hours every night.

Putting staffers in that kind of position could be a recipe for burnout. That might be one reason that so many people are actively looking for work-at-home jobs to rid themselves of the office grind.

The 2021 “War on Talent”

A recent Adweek article put a name to that result, calling it "talent attrition." Based on interviews, it reported in its December 21 issue that "a flagging sense of morale and a competitive labor market has led to a widespread exodus and reshuffling of talent. The great resignation rocked industries across every sphere and media proved no exception."

The article went on to say, "This brain drain forced publishers to shelve initiatives they had planned for the year and deflated the momentum they were building on the business side. Managers struggled to keep reporters motivated to chase stories, while sales teams floundered in the absence of their usual camaraderie."

"There was a real war on talent this year," BDG [Bustle Digital Group] president and CRO Jason Wagenheim told Adweek. "We had to focus on initiatives like career advancement and company culture to ensure we remained one of the best places to work in digital media."

Before the spread of Omicron, there was much speculation regarding further rebounds in ad spending. Forbes reported on a projected increase of 13 percent for 2022. That would generally have been good for editorial operations.

More advertising usually leads to greater a need for content and often translates into more generous editorial budgets. That's not something we can count on, though. Like so much in this Covid era, assumptions made today may suddenly become inappropriate tomorrow due to emergent circumstances. Flexible and adaptive planning is the approach we strongly commend for editorial managers.

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

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Content Readers Just Can't Resist

Posted on Friday, December 31, 2021 at 7:07 PM

By elevating the mundane and making the old feel new again, writers can capture more readers' attention.

By Peter P. Jacobi

"What's new?" goes the opening gambit so common when acquaintance chances upon acquaintance.

"Oh, not a whole lot," is the likely rejoinder. "How about with you?"

"About the same."

Such an information-less and surprise-less dialogue may be acceptable in a routine street or hallway or grocery store encounter quickly replaced by other events, obligatory or otherwise, that the two people move on to.

But when a reader meets a writer on the page of a publication, the writer better have something more cogent, something more pungent, something more urgent, something more eloquent to say.

Either thematically.

Or rhetorically.

Or both.

Subject Matter That Sells Itself

Sometimes, the subject itself holds import. The past appearance of a comet once had everyone buzzing. So objects in the sky were on everyone's collective mind. Timothy Ferris fed into those thought waves with an "Is this the end?" piece that appeared in the New Yorker:

If the world where to end with what astronomers call "death from above," the first clue might come with the discovery -- late tonight, let's say -- of a distant fuzzball swimming against a field of stars. The observer might be an amateur astronomer, one among the hundreds who patrol the skies with telescopes and giant binoculars, hoping to be the first to see the new comet, which will thereafter bear its discoverer's name. Having spotted the fuzzball and found nothing corresponding to it on the star charts, the observer waits to see if it moves. In this case, that might take a few nights. The comet is big, and therefore bright; it has been spotted farther out than one might expect, and that makes its motion harder to detect. Also, it's headed our way.

Ferris will tell us that the chance of a major comet striking the earth is slim but that scientists are busy plotting ways to head one off, should the unlikely threaten.

The information in the Ferris story holds possible earthshaking importance and considerable fascination. Ferris didn't have to do much selling. The facts sold themselves.

More often these days, however, our publications feed us with topics of lesser natural persuasion. Let's just say these topics are neither fresh nor astonishing. And yet, the writer finds a fresh approach or a new set of details to permeate his story with a vigor that gives the "What's new" / "Not a whole lot" exchange a different outcome. The answer becomes, "Well, really, not a whole lot, but I've been taken by..."

Our job, in preparing an article for publication, is to make the most of that article's subject. Not to make too much of it, mind you, but to make the most of it. And thereby, suddenly, something potentially humdrum becomes actually engrossing. Thank goodness, it happens all the time.

Elevating the Mundane

Edward Tenner once wrote about the "chair" for the Wilson Quarterly, about "How the Chair Conquered the World." In that piece he writes about everyday objects we never much think about, except as something to use almost automatically, unless we happen to be seeking or buying one for a particular purpose. Who cares about chairs as a matter for reading? Tenner makes one care:

Pull up a chair. And take a good look at it. It forms our bodies. It shapes our thinking. It's one of the first technologies an American or European child encounters. No sooner has a child been weaned than it learns to eat in an elevated model. And even before, it is (by law) strapped into a special molded minichair for automobile transportation, and indeed is sometimes carried by hand in the same little seat. At school, that chair is one of the most common objects in the classroom and among the first words a child learns to read and write.

A couple of paragraphs later, Tenner tells us:

Chairs go a long way toward filling a vacuum. They act as our proxies, claim space for us. The New Jersey transit rail line between Princeton Junction and New York passes a large, new, nondescript condominium near the station in downtown Linden; almost half of the apartments have plastic chairs on their balconies, yet I have never seen a soul sitting in them at any hour I passed by. The chairs seemingly are not for human use but rather for filling otherwise empty niches in the building's exterior.

I may never think of a chair the same way. A chair becomes "the" chair or just "chair," an object of status with a touch of the sacred. Everyman's everything.

Making Old New Again

Peter Mayle, whose wordsmithery in A Year in Provence came close to the magic of that region and the pungency of living there, once analyzed other life-forms closer to home for GQ ("The Good Life: A Work in Progress"). "If we are to believe the imagery of advertising," he writes,

the good life comes as a succession of golden moments chaired by young, attractive people with superb dentistry and no weight problems. We have all seen them countless times romping through commercials and across the pages of magazines and catalogs. Indeed, they seem to spend most of their lives romping -- in the snow, on the beach, in the woods, in the small but funky apartments -- or en route to a romp. More often than not, the setting for fun and imminent romance in a new car, which cleans as brightly as the faultless teeth of its passengers. These privileged free spirits are untroubled by thoughts of age or the IRS; immune to hair loss, halitosis and acid indigestion; happy with each other, happy with themselves, happy with life.

Mayle discusses another group that is "traditionally supposed to enjoy every blessing that life can offer," the "terminally rich." Ah, but what about the rest of us? "What about the man burdened with a bank loan," he asks, "a credit-card overload, a gently rusting car, a couple of unwanted inches around the waist and a demanding job? Is there hope for him?"

Not that same old stuff about the beautiful people and false images and the deceptive voice of the advertising? Not that predictable fodder for Ethics 101 or Sociology 202 or Journalism 303? Oh, Sominex.

Well, no. This is Peter Mayle, mind you. Old subject becomes new again. "I believe and hope," Mayle writes and then goes on to prove, optimist and enthusiast that he is. He sells me.

A Way With Words

Florence King is no optimist, but in "The Misanthrope's Corner,” in a past issue of the National Review, she made the most of a subject that had exasperated her, "nice people":

Today, if I close my eyes and concentrate, I can hear the words as they must have sounded to me as I lay in my crib: nispeepul. I think of it as a primal sound. Most children raised in crowded apartments hear their parents making love, but I probably heard late-night discussions about nispeepul. I certainly heard plenty in the daytime. "The new tenants in two B are nice people.... I just saw that couple down the hall and they aren't nice people." I remember our door opened on the crack as my grandmother, a human radar gun, peered out at our neighbor's visitors to assess the cut of their jib. "Their friends aren't nice people," she ruled. A month later they proved her right by having a free-for-all, so we moved. Before we vacated, she and my mother, normally the most indifferent of housekeepers, spent the final days scrubbing the old place “so the landlord will know that nice people lived here."

I doubt readers would pause long for my words on nice people. But Florence King has the knack. Once her words take hold of you -- which comes almost simultaneously with their first appearance on the page -- they're not likely to let you go, no matter what she's babbling about.

Any subject can be made interesting if the writer has the facts, the style, and the off-center frame of mind.

If we, as writers and editors, were inclined to await the portentous subjects, we'd get few issues out. We must, of course, also depend on the less vital and the less vibrant but make them verbal-information-metaphorical products the reader cannot resist.

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 Friday, December 31, 2021 at 7:06 PM

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

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