Who's Checking the Facts?
DFW Chapter President and National Blog Chairwoman
When I was a cub reporter at a small Northeast Texas five-day-a-week hometown newspaper, I aspired to be more. I tried to do the stories that the townspeople wanted to read about, but seldom received. I did research and numerous interviews regarding the occult activity in the county (for which I received a nice little APME award). I did stories on the high school band member who made all-state. (No awards for that one.) But, one thing I never did, was take someone's word for the God's honest truth. I have always been a skeptic.
When someone tells me that achieved a particular award or recognition, I tend to weigh that information in regard to the trust I have for the source versus picking up the phone or doing a quick Internet search to try and verify the fact.
But, reporters and editors can get complacent. I mean, when you're doing a fluffy feel-good piece on someone, why would he lie about a seemingly mediocre achievement? Why check it out? Because it can be precisely a big old lie. That's why. Orlando Magazine had to issue a mea culpa and throw itself under the bus regarding just such an example.
What should have been a simple color feature on a local artist turned into one of the biggest embarrassments I have witnessed from a publication. Wow. Apparently, this guy fabricated a litany of life events that actually belonged to his high school buddy. What is truly sad is that the guy was worthy of a story for his own life.
Discovering this story comes on the heels of reading about a multitude of news publications prematurely announcing the death of an elected official. Oops. Looks like the reporters relied on "anonymous" sources for the erroneous information. So, how do you balance getting the scoop with knowing that your information is correct? In this electronic age when we're all trying to get the edge on the competition by posting on the publication's website, how do you weigh unconfirmed information versus confirmed information?
We have a reporter who failed to verify a source's easily attainable information and embarrassed the publication while calling into question the plausibility of every story that is ran there. But, who of us would actually call around to check out harmless background facts? We all should, as this story demonstrates. Additionally, we have another credibility issue with numerous news organizations relying on unconfirmed reports.
Little wonder there is such a disregard for our industry. So, how do we counter those issues and demonstrate that we are accurate more than we are wrong when the errors are so glaringly apparent? My only answer is that we have to strive to be correct all of the time. We have to maintain our standards of finding trustworthy and reliable sources while weighing the consequences of our conduct. And, we have to thoroughly check our sources on even the most mundane of facts. There is no excuse for lazy reporting or editing.
Sneak Peek at a Critique
Past ASBPE National President
When I served as ASBPE’s national president back in the early part of the decade, some the most common calls I’d receive would be right after the annual awards competition. Editors and designers would ask if we could share the judges’ comments on their nonwinning entries. I always felt bad telling them no. The truth was that it was hard enough to have the judges forward us commentary on the winning entries. Adding 2,000+ losing entries to their proverbial plates would have caused most or all of our judges to tell us to pound sand.
In my experience with the Tabbie awards since 2004, I’ve found that the same question still comes up. And it’s a valid one. If a magazine isn’t producing award-winning material, how does the staff — especially on smaller publications — figure out the best way to turn things around?
This led to the idea for TABPI’s Magazine Critique Service, which began in 2006. ASBPE has partnered in the MCS for the past two years. The MCS allows editors to get feedback from some of the most respected editors working in b2b journalism today, and benefit from their colleague-to-colleague analysis of what's working and what can be improved.
The MCS provides objective, outside analyses that can show the decision makers in an organization how to take content to the next level. Magazines participating in the MCS will have three reviewers give detailed feedback on specific editorial and design aspects of the publication. TABPI and ASBPE will provide a report to the editor, who can thoroughly review the results with the editorial and design staff.
The service is a good investment for magazines desiring a revamp or a refresh after years in the industry. Magazines get to ride on the experts' learning and minimize costly trial and error situations. More dynamic editorial and design can equate to more credibility with readers and advertisers, who will recognize the publication as the voice for the industry it covers.
All submissions for the MCS must be received on or about Oct. 1. The average processing time will be eight to 10 weeks from the time materials are received. Complete details on the program, along with a submission form and two sample critiques, are available on the TABPI website, at www.tabpi.org/mcs as well as at the ASBPE website.
Paul J. Heney is editorial director for Questex Media's Hotel Group, which includes Hotel & Motel Management, Hotel Design, and Luxury Hotelier. A member of the ASBPE Cleveland Chapter board, Heney served as national president of ASPBE from 1999-2003. He is also president of TABPI, an international b2b think tank that promotes b2b journalism and professionalism.
How Social Should Social Media Be?
Social media. It's what sets apart the old, late-90's dot.com era from what has affectionately become known as Web 2.0.
It is because of social media that we have Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, MySpace, etc. Social media, by definition, allows its users to be social without leaving the house or the office. You upload an image and a personal or professional resume and watch the people come to you. It's sort of genius if you think about it.
ASBPE, like many other media industry groups, has hopped on the social media bandwagon. We have a LinkedIn Group, a Facebook page, a Twitter profile, even this blog is a foray into Web 2.0. In each group, we have a network of up to 100 people.
Social media is, however, what you make of it. Its active participants can find best practices, answers and even jobs. You read that right: jobs.
I know several friends who have received freelance work or job offers because they used LinkedIn to its full advantage. They might be in the minority, but their outcome begs the question: How social should social media be?
Would you -- or should you -- accept a "friend request" from a freelancer who may actually turn out to be a great writer? Would you -- or should you -- use LinkedIn's database to find a freelance writer?
You can and you should. Why don't you do it yet?
The Gridiron Meets Bluelines: Lessons from the Favre Media Circus
Denver ASBPE Board Member
I heard something intriguing recently on The Herd with Colin Cowherd, an ESPN syndicated radio show. The Brett Favre saga, the sports story of the year, finally came to an unpredictable end late recently. This news was so interesting that it hurdled news-genre lines to become mainstream and, in even in some markets, headline news. The former face of the Green Bay Packers, the living legend, was scrutinized as closely as the former queen of pop during the embarrassing weeks of last year’s Britney Watch fiasco that caught all our voyeuristic attention.
So when Favre inked a deal in the wee hours with the New York Jets, the August 7 edition of the Washington Post had already been printed. Likewise, its Jersey Shore competitors and its reporters slept soundly after hard days of bringing the most relevant stories to its readers. And yet, no mention of the Favre deal.
Take that in for a moment. The most accredited news sources covering specifically the region of this national news story had no mention of the deal.
For the sports industry, the Favre story creates its own legend as an ironic tell-tale of the lack of loyalty within an industry that exists on fans’ loyalties to their teams. For the media industry, it demonstrates the urgent need of our audiences for information. It crystallizes the waning relevancy print media has in the context of its Internet and television counterparts. So where does that leave print media?
Obviously, technical journalism and business-to-business media operate under a subset of conditions that shelter them from certain growing pains and changes that mainstream media face. But I argue that the foundation of all print media and the forefather of all branches of journalism is newsprint. And I think we as an industry would be remiss not to take heed of this big lesson.
So the newspapers can, and did, update their online counterparts. But isn’t this in essence confirming the inherent flaw of print editions? Are we sending this same message to our respective audiences?
In response to the demand of online presence for evolutionary purposes, there’s one trend of replicating printed editions and making them available online. Sure, technologies such as Texterity enhance the print version in its virtual state with search tools and click-through ads. But the information is the same. If the essential component of electronic media is up-to-the-minute information, if that’s what our online audience expects from online news sources, we aren’t meeting these criteria.
The other alternative is creating unique and original content for online editions. The internal struggle here, at least for my magazine group, is the issue of internal competition: If a topic or news item is relevant to our readers, we present it to them in print; if it’s trivial, we skip it. So where does this “extra” content come from. And if we’re giving our online readers extras, what message does that send to our print readers? Think again about the Washington Post reader whose paper omitted this story, which he then finds online. What incentive does he have to pick up that paper tomorrow, when he can get all of its contents, and more, online?
Then there’s the issue of creating extra original and unique content in and of itself. Where will the resources to support the needed staff come from before the profits, assuming some, are reaped? Most likely, at least for private (those not backed by associations) publications, the words will come from our overworked computers. For those who are healthy enough to hire new staff to cover emedia — both sales and editorial — this strengthens the argument of internal competition.
I sense we are on the tip of the answer to all of these revolutionary questions, which is a scary place to teeter. But if the Favre situation has another lesson in it, it’s that you have to be flexible in order to survive in a changing atmosphere. Though Favre’s medium changes from Lambeau Field to the Meadowlands Sports Complex, he still has the same job to do. Under a new set of circumstances, new playbook, coach and uniform, he will take his skills and put them to good use. Will you do the same?
Emily André is managing editor for Printwear and Promowear magazines, imprinted-apparel industry trade publications headquartered in Broomfield, Colo. She has been active in an editorial capacity for various business-to-business publications for six years and serves on the board of the Denver chapter of ASBPE, of which she has been a member since 2004. André additionally freelances out of her home office in Denver. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting into the Custom Game
I get approached at least once a week by freelancer writers trying to get involved in custom publishing. For those of you not familiar with custom publishing, it's the business of corporations creating and distributing their own content, much like media companies. Sometimes called content marketing or branded content, custom publishing is challenging for writers to break into because it's becoming a "reseller" or "distributor" based business.
Joe will share tips on how writers and editors can start their own media ventures at our webinar, A B2B Journalist's Guide to Creating the Next New-Media Resource. former PC World editor-in-chief (and ASBPE guest blogger) Harry McCracken will also be a presenter.
If you are searching for custom business, there are two different organizations to target. One would be the corporation doing the custom publishing, the other would be the custom publisher, which produces the turnkey content project on behalf of the client.
ContentWise (formerly Publications Management) recently found that over 80% of companies produce custom content projects (mostly custom magazines and newsletters) internally. That comprises a $30+ billion dollar industry alone. If you were smart, you'd think to target companies in your expert industries for editorial projects. Titles to contact would be the marketing director, marketing communications manager, PR manager or sometimes even the human resources manager (for employee projects).
The problem with focusing on companies includes three things. First, you are limited in the amount of projects you can get from one single company. Second, the trend is toward nonmedia companies outsourcing to custom publishers. And finally, most marketing types don't have a good understanding of the publishing process, so getting them to understand that you are needed is hit or miss.
Because of these challenges, more and more freelancers are targeting custom publishers. The upside to getting "in" with custom publishers is that once you develop a long-term relationship, the opportunity for more projects increases significantly. While I was at Penton Custom Media, we used to rely on about six to 10 freelancers for the majority of our projects.
The problem is getting to the "in" part. Custom publishers like using journalists they are familiar with, and usually only go outside when there is a topic they don't have in their editorial database. Custom publishers literally get tens of calls and packages each week from writers looking for work. Those packages usually end up in the "pile of good intentions" and nothing happens.
That said, the potential will continue to be with custom publishers, since more and more corporations are outsourcing their content, and because of the fact that content marketing is becoming increasingly important to the overall integrated marketing program for businesses in general.
Here are some tips for getting an opportunity with a custom publisher:
1. Specific expertise is key. If you are a generalist, you'll have a tough time with a custom publisher. Figure out what your "key content expertise" areas are and then find custom publishers that align with that expertise. Once you figure out the companies that match your strengths, the pitch will be that much better.
2. How's your website? You can send the best welcome package in the world, but today's editorial directors for custom publishers check out the web first. If they're at all interested, they Google you or view your website. How's your web presence? If it needs some work, get moving. [Editor's note: See Joe's previous post, "You Are What the Web Says You Are: Writers and Social Media," for some ideas for beefing up your web presence.]
3. Can we meet? Busy custom editors have trouble making the time to review anything you've sent, or even take your call. If there is a way you can swing it that you'll be in town, future business is more likely. I would say we ended up doing business with almost every editor that paid us a visit.
4. Do your research. Before you give the editor a call, make sure you know the publications they work on. Maybe there is a new section you can recommend for their client's magazine or website that they haven't thought of. Sure, some editors might be taken aback, but the ones who aren't will love you and hire you.
For more, check out this post from the Junta42 blog by guest contributor Tom Peric on the relationship between editors and freelance writers.
Joe Pulizzi is a writer, speaker and evangelist for content marketing and recently named American Business Media's "Custom Media Innovator of the Year." He is coauthor of the book Get Content. Get Customers. and founder of Junta42 Match, a marketplace for matching custom publishers and writers with corporations looking to launch content-based projects.
B2B Writer Blogshare
DFW Chapter President, National Blog Chairwoman
I'm on a distribution list for the national Society of Professional Journalists and I love it. Monday through Friday, I get an email with a plethora of information regarding media from ethics to deaths of notable professionals and everything in between. It is invaluable for industry information.
Something that popped in the inbox this week included a link to an American Journalism Review article regarding the Blog Binge of many political writers and reporters. It is a great list of the blogs that these people read daily. As an anomoly in my industry - I tend to vote on the conservative side of issues - I'm always surprised to see the left-leaning blogs and publications getting so much coverage. I was pleased to see that in addition to The Huffington Post, there were also visits to Real Clear Politics, too, on many of these writer's lists.
But, more than that, it made me wonder what blogs are must reads for B2B industry folks. I have just a few that I'll share, but I would really welcome other recommendations to broaden the scope.
Among my favorites (blogs and informational sites):
Paul Conley (he has great links on his page, too)
The Write News
Regret the Error
Business Communications Resources
If I Can Help a Reporter Out
Society of Professional Journalists' Freelancer Blog
Any other recommendations?
Facing the Reality of the New Reality
President, Washington, DC Chapter
During the 2008 ASBPE National Editorial Conference, I had the pleasure of serving on the panel “Editorial Multitasking in the Digital Age” with two others from the B2B industry. As part of the panel, I presented some tips for how to maximize your time as a print editor now tasked to do both print and Web.
I think for most of us, it’s not that we don’t want to work on the Web—I, for one, am really excited about the possibilities and opportunities it holds for me and for my audience. What I think most of us are having a problem with is having to do all of this on top of the full-time print publication duties we already have. We accept that it must be done (hence the title “Facing the Reality of the New Reality”), but we search for ways in which to effectively accomplish it all.
For magazines whose audiences are still fairly low-tech (i.e., not ready to get their news entirely by cell phone or Twitter), some of this efficiency can come from making better use of your time and content and better dividing content between the print and the Web, as appropriate.
Here are a few of the suggestions I provided during my presentation, several of which I also wrote about in an earlier blog entry.
Maximize Time and Content
1. Know What Readers Want
- Conduct user surveys and study viewership statistics to determine what they’re reading, what they’re skipping, what they don’t know exists, and what they want.
- When planning print articles months in advance, determine how the information and research can best be divided into print and Web. What information will work best in a print article vs. a Web feature? (For example, a verbatim Q&A sidebar in print may be better suited for a quick video or podcast on the Web.) Knowing in advance will make it easier to gather and organize the information.
- Edit interesting, unused parts of interviews into Web videos or podcasts (or a series of). Tease this content in the print article.
- Seek out extra diagrams, charts, forms, illustrations, or other potential downloads from sources. Tease this content in the print article.
- Even if pages are being cut, have writers provide the same amount of content. Turn excess into Web-exclusive stories and sidebars.
- Turn unused images into online slide shows.
Multifamily Executive Design Awards: Only the “Grand” winners were featured in the print publication. Online expansion allowed for “Merit” winners to be featured with text and photos. All winners were expanded online to include many more photos than could fit in print.
Custom Home Design Awards: An online slide show offered many more pictures from each winner than print would allow. The online coverage also provided lists of products in each home.
- Run unused charts and graphs from exclusive research online.
- Make sure “extra” content is valuable. If you lead your readers to the Web for mere fluff, they won’t come back.
- Coordinate ahead of time who is covering what. Choose a lead person to collect and edit everything so that styles, etc. match and to ensure there is no overlap or contradiction.
- Share content across multiple magazines and Web sites within your company covering same show.
- Compile content into special edition of your e-newsletter.
- Use content in print later, focusing on analysis that couldn’t be done in the breaking news format.
- Plan ahead (see previous) to determine what aspects of a story can be covered immediately and what can wait for print.
- Works well with trade show coverage.
- Turn online articles into news briefs in print.
- Conduct online user surveys; offer expanded results, with charts, in print.
This Multifamily Executive article is an excellent example of deciding what works best for online and what works best for print. The article originated online as a breaking news package. The staff then repurposed portions of the article, with updated information and broader analysis, in print.
6. Make Use of Cheap and Free Labor
- Many interns and entry-level editors are freshly trained in daily journalism and are eager to contribute and get clips. Web writing is a great, low-risk way to get them involved and help them get acclimated to your industry more quickly.
- Recruit guest commentary columns or blog entries from those you profile in print.
- Recruit industry experts who are eager to offer their expertise or analysis. (Make sure content is valuable to the reader and is not self-serving or biased.)
1. Use Web Drivers in Print
- “What’s Online” box in TOC or elsewhere. Be specific; don’t have the same text every month or no one will look in the box.
- In print articles, provide links to existing, but still related and relevant, content.
- Use teasers (again, be specific) within or at the end of print articles for extra, related content on the Web.
- Link to recent articles, blog items, and user surveys on the Web site.
- Offer special editions for the release of the print issue and for trade show coverage.
- Pay attention to viewership statistics. Tweak subject lines, layout, and content to suit readership.
- Use metadata to fill out “related articles” fields that appear on the side or the bottom of Web articles.
- Use “most read” or “most emailed” lists to point readers to other interesting content.
- Use clear, newsy headlines. Change catchy headlines from print articles into news-style heads for the Web version.
Journalism's Dinosaurs Need to Get on Board or Go Home
ASBPE Chicago Chapter Board Member
I have just about had it with the journalism dinosaurs that refuse to learn to use the Internet. If I had a nickel for every request I've received to do a Google search I would be as rich as Sergey Brin or Larry Page. Those requests don't even count the numerous times I've had to post something for someone who refused to learn the article uploading software that a five year old could master.
This is the 21st century. If you call yourself a journalist and can't figure out how to do an internal search of your own magazine's website, you need to pack it in and retire or find a new profession. Stop using the "I just don't get the Internet" as an excuse to act like your time is more valuable than mine.
Move over dinosaurs. It's time to let the Internet generation through.