Learning from the Sherrod Fiasco
Anyone who has been paying attention to the news last week should be aware of the Shirley Sherrod mess that hit Washington. She was the U.S. Department of Agriculture employee who was fired for being racist, or so it appeared in an edited video. Beyond the politics of the situation, is a good example and lesson about journalism ethics.
Charlie Madigan, journalism professor at Roosevelt University and former editor at the Chicago Tribune wrote an editorial in Thursday’s paper. It’s a good read, and brings up a great problem in the world of media: sensationalism. The public has an increased desire for drama, and the media has turned to providing that fix at the cost of ethics.
The B2B world of publishing is not as directly affected by this demand as is the consumer media. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore these moments that bring up the importance of our journalism ethics.
You may not be pressured to push out stories about Lindsay Lohan every 1o minutes, or articles on what the White House is or isn’t doing right. But that doesn’t mean you don't have boundaries and lines to watch.
The Shirley Sherrod fiasco presents a great opportunity to take a closer look at the ethics used with your publication. Do you blur lines of advertising and editorial? Could you be better about staying more focused on editorial and less on advertising? Are you providing content to your readers that they may not want, but need?
Don’t be fooled; this mess doesn’t simply affect the consumer media.
Maureen Alley is editor for Woodland Management magazine, and freelance writer/editor for other business-to-business publications. She was previously managing editor for Website Magazine and Residential Design & Build magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com or visit www.maureenalley.com.
It struck me, at the Midwest/South Azbee Awards banquet July 22, that we, as journalists, don’t give ourselves a lot of pats on the back.
We tend to be a cynical lot, even in the B2B space, with a deep-down suspicion of people in general. Maybe that’s why we choose this field.
But most of the time, what we miss with that is a feeling of euphoria when something positive happens. That was not the case at the Azbee dinner this year.
We needed to celebrate accomplishment, and the people who received awards were enthusiastic and happy and proud as they came up to get their plaques. Even the companies that win time and time again brought their entire staffs with them, to cheer and applaud for each team member who won.
This is a battered industry, for sure, but we have many talented, creative and innovative editors out there working on amazing publications and websites. We are not a group that is particularly good at self-promotion, but maybe it’s time we learned that skill. The only way to improve our industry is to learn from what others are doing successfully.
So let’s start sharing those stories of success.
Nikki Golden is the president of ASBPE’s Chicago chapter and communications manager of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, where she oversees the magazine The Remodelers’ Journal.
Does Outsourced E-News Give You An Advantage vs. Staff-Written Articles?
In competitive analysis focusing on e-news delivery, what’s the likelihood that outsourced articles usually will win out when the opposition’s content is staff-written? The answer is “not always” … but often enough, especially when it comes to basic editing practice.
For the purposes of this discussion, “outsourced” e-news pertains to those sites where, say, aggragated blurbs link directly to articles published in dailies. Other times, the source material may be provided by wire services. And then (argh!!!) there are cases where articles actually are press announcements reproduced in their entirety.
Right now, in a follow-up study that will involve 50 sites when finished, I’ve evaluated 31 sites. (Note: Findings of an initial 50-site Editorial Solutions e-news study were reviewed in the November/December 2009 issue of ASBPE’S Editor’s Notes publication — 556K PDF; available to ASBPE members only.)
Prior to launching the Phase II project, I handled a few competitive analysis projects where my client’s staff-written e-news came up short vs. the opposition’s outsourced content. My current study has evaluated several sites where outsourced articles confirm five strengths I found especially troublesome in the past:
(1) Enterprise level is considerably higher. Local reporters often obtain direct quotes from well-placed end-user sources that enhance article credibility.
(2) Visitors don’t get bogged down in foggy writing. Parades of incredibly long sentences are rare. On-target Fog Index Levels are the rule rather than the exception.
(3) Average scores are 15 to 30 points higher than those achieved by staff-written e-news packages, in most cases where articles are evaluated using my eight-factor scoring system.
(4) Executed correctly, provided e-news consistently addresses content of highest impact. Packages are not weighed down with rewrites of standard PR announcements.
(5) Staff does not have to spend time gathering material. That time probably is unavailable in the first place. This has to be a key consideration for the surprising number of sites – where the magazine has a monthly frequency – that are churning out daily and sometimes twice daily e-newsletter alerts.
Of course, there are many cases where staff-written B2B news packages can meet or exceed the standard set by sites featuring outsourced content. However, when that is true, most of the time it is because one or more dedicated on-line editors are part of the e-news team. It’s also true that sometimes, even given the advantage of a dedicated on-line crew, the resulting news stream is less than the best.
Now … how about those situations where all magazines serving a given industry rely totally on outsourced e-news? If you manage one of the sites in such a group, how do you prove – in the competitive analysis arena – that your package is the best? I’ve just begun considering possible factors to use in upcoming projects. The preliminary list includes number of items run per issue, exclusives (really hard to prove, it seems), scoops, quality of sources quoted, diversified formats and geographic scope. Another conceivable strength is the inclusion of exclusive information or editorial comment in the aggragated blurbs.
Despite the apparent advantages outsourced news may provide, we need to have more e-news sections dominated by high-enterprise, self-generated articles. However, of the 31 e-news packages reviewed to date in my Phase II study, only nine are star performers (average score = 60 or higher out of a possible 100 points). Of the 358 articles posted:
- 185 — 51.7% — did not reflect enterprise reporting.
- 136 —37.7% — were burdened by high Fog Index (grade levels exceeding 13.0).
- 110 — 30.7% — fielded average sentence lengths exceeding 25 words; too many parades of 30- and 40-word sentences were observed.
Brazen Careerist: Q&A with Ryan Paugh
What is Brazen Careerist?
Fast Company calls us “Twitter meets Facebook meets LinkedIn meets Gen Y” and that’s my favorite quote EVER about Brazen. We’re a place for young professionals come to start building their online network, find jobs and maintain a healthy, long-term personal brand. Our focus on Generation Y means that we're also a great place for more experienced professionals to be as well. Gen Xers and Boomers join Brazen Careerist to learn about the next generation of talent entering the work force, network with the cream of the crop and make new hires. We offer Social Recruiting solutions to our clientele, which includes companies such as Randstad, the second-largest staffing company in the world.
How is it different than Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn?
Most social networks let you manage your network, but not necessarily build one. Twitter and other microblogging platforms show you who you should be networking with, but it's hard to build genuine relationships in 140 characters or less. Facebook is great, but for most professionals it's purely personal (and I think that's how it should be), so the conversations that you're having there aren't what recruiters and hiring managers want to see. Then there's LinkedIn, which highly favors professionals who have already built a strong network. That's why the average age of LinkedIn members in around 40.
When you’re a young professional, you don’t have a lot of experience to share and your network is small because you haven't met that many people yet. Brazen was built to emphasize your ideas, which is something that all talented people have regardless of age. Because Brazen is such a highly engaged network, if you’re willing to share your ideas, you’re going to make great connections within the first couple days of signing up.
Why should someone sign up?
The people that are landing jobs in today’s market are NOT the most educated. They’re the most connected, the most networked and the most visible. And according to The Wall Street Journal, nearly 90 percent of jobs are filled through referrals.
We help transform people into power networkers so you’re more equipped to meet the right people and excel in your career.
Who is your intended audience?
We market Brazen Careerist as a “Social Network for Next-Generation Professionals” and most of our community members are part of Generation Y, but we have thousands of members in the 35-plus age range. In our minds being a “Next-Generation Professional” is not about how old you are, but about how you want to work. It’s about working smarter through sharing ideas and opportunities with your peers.
What resources are available on Brazen that B2B editors can take advantage of?
When we launched Brazen Careerist three-plus years ago, we were a community of 50 top Gen-Y career bloggers. Up-and-coming business bloggers join our community every day. So to start, Brazen is a great place to network with your peers and discuss trending topics in the B2B world. On top of that, we’re a great place for emerging B2B editors to get their work featured in front of a community of their peers.
Explain the blogs that are listed on Brazen. How do you pick them? What topics do they typically cover?
We feature career-related topics that cover what’s going on in a variety of fields, including startups to nonprofits to Fortune 500 companies. Our goal is to provide new writers with a soapbox that lets them share their content in a way that’s rarely feasible as a newbie blogger/writer. We have a Content Manager who picks the posts daily. It’s not an exact science, and we see thousands of new posts each day, so I oftentimes encourage new members to reach out to me when they have a new piece of content that they feel really passionate about sharing.
What is the size of your community? Is it growing?
We don’t give out exact numbers when it comes to our community size, but one thing that I can tell you is that we are certainly growing. Since we launched what we considered to be the “new-and-improved” Brazen Careerist last August we have grown by well over 600 percent.
Any new announcements you want to share?
We recently launched self-serve job postings. I truly believe that our Gen-Y members are some of the most talented all-stars in my generation. So if you're looking to hire some new blood maybe you want to post a job opening on Brazen.
Call for Entries: 2010 Digital Azbee Awards
Enter the 2010 Digital Azbee Awards today.
Labels: Azbee Awards
Even Sexier Than the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
By now thousands have read about how the publisher of Millennium magazine doesn’t let his executive duties stand in the way of writing investigative reporting pieces that uncover corporate trickery for his readers.
His biggest complaint about the business press is the cozy relationship between journalists and the executives they cover.
But despite his well-known accomplishments, he isn’t a candidate for ASBPE’s Lifetime Achievement Award (too young) or Journalism That Matters honors.
Who is this amazing business journalist in our ranks? It’s Mikael Blomkvist, the main character in this summer’s blockbuster detective trilogy, which begins with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Fortunately for his readers, the misdeeds Blomkvist uncovers go well beyond corporate governance issues.
But like any serious journalist, Blomkvist is sometimes confronted with serious ethical issues. Following a well-publicized crisis that cast doubt on the integrity of his magazine, both advertising and circulation are declining.
Blomkvist must decide whether to accept financial assistance from the former CEO of a dysfunctional corporate dynasty.
Later on in the story, as he begins to piece together the lurid details of a ghastly series of crimes, he must grapple with other ethical conundrums, such as whether it’s okay to obtain information by hacking into someone’s computer.
When he breaks his big story, he must weigh the merits of publishing a book along with his feature article.
But these are just some of the things that Blomkvist faces in the first book. He must overcome an array of other knotty problems in the second and third novels.
At a time when many in the business-to-business press are faced with furloughs and layoffs, it’s refreshing to read about the exploits of Blomkvist. While both he and his exploits are pure fiction, he’s a reminder of just how talented and resourceful business journalists can be.
Steve Roll is the immediate past president of ASBPE.
Yahoo Style Guide: Web Stands on its Own
Recently Yahoo launched its Style Guide for the Web. Up until now, we've relied on our print style guides and adapted them to our Web presence. Oftentimes, the print writing style doesn't apply to the Web, however, so many writers still try to squeeze the Web into the print box. But no more!
So what's the Yahoo Style Guide have to offer? I've compiled a Cliff Notes version of what you'll find from Yahoo. If you have other feedback about the Style Guide, add them to the comments section.
- The editors who created the Style Guide are proficient with the Web. Note: Chris Barr, one of the creators and editors, has a long career with CNET and the Internet.
- Tips on how to attract and keep readers. In the print world, we consider heads, callouts and graphics to attract readers. The Web is different — you’re limited to one screen.
- Tips on consistency in copy. Like with other style guides you may be familiar with, the Yahoo guide gives direction on how things should be written: numbers, capitalization, names, websites, etc.
- A dictionary of sorts provides you with the definitions of terms such as 3G.
- Additional resources that provide help with coding and SEO. This sets the style guide apart from any other.
Fourth of July
Ethics Nemesis Report: Outside Interference and Supplier Puff Pieces
If you think you have it bad when it comes to editorial ethics intrusions, you are not alone. Here are two examples submitted to ASBPE’s ethics committee. The first deals with an association publication where the noneditorial liaison overstepped bounds and attempted to dictate policy on every aspect of content. The second instance addresses a typical situation where a B2B publisher insisted on the regular inclusion of “Meet Your Supplier” columns.
(1) Meddling with competitor’s copy. Sticky ethical situations are not always spawned by editor/advertiser clashes. There are cases where the editor-in-chief of the magazine must contend with an ethical adversary who is neither editor nor publisher/sales manager. The nemesis can be chair of an association’s editorial committee or the corporate point guard for a contracted magazine.
I remember one case where one of my clients landed a contract to publish a magazine for a major hi-tech manufacturer. We fought bitterly with the editorial liaison over just about everything. Our publisher backed his editorial team to the hilt. Result: We turned out some great issues, but eventually lost the contract because we were not “cooperative.” Sound familiar?
Anyway, my source for the current case described how a new editorial liaison began efforts to overrule the staff on basic editing technique and almost everything else. The low point occurred when the liaison insisted that copy be changed in an article focusing on a company that happened to be competitive with his employer.
The besieged editor fought the good fight – even referring to ASBPE guidelines in the process – to no avail.
The only lesson we may learn is that ethical guidelines should be in place that anticipate every situation. Even then, sometimes it seems that the best written guidelines get ignored, especially when times are tough. Often, says ethics committee member John Bethune, the problem “is not a gap in the guidelines, but the lack of interest in them by the person in control. The bigger question may be how to expand concern for ethics beyond editors.”
(2) Coping with “Supplier Spotlight” columns. Speaking of “when times are tough” brings us to the focus of our second case. Unfortunately, it’s a common practice at many B2B magazines, because of publisher insistence, that a regular Supplier Spotlight column appear. Typically a one-page event, the article becomes an exercise in puffery. In essence, it is of no value to either readers or advertisers.
In the case in point, my source advised that the publisher wanted the Spotlight report to be in the news section. The article layout, including a special heading, was designed to imply the information was sponsored. (Note: In this case, the heading simply should have carried the “advertisement” label, but sales types usually prefer euphemisms.) The wrinkle in this approach is that editors were required to write the copy.
Unfortunately, because the article is clearly an advertising ploy, assigned editors don’t exert effort to make a decent story out of the assignment. But in my experience, if I tried hard, the meet-the-sponsor stuff turned out several cuts above the usual “puff” piece. It all depends on whether or not the editor has built a past relationship of his or her own with the supplier in question.
Establishing that relationship, perhaps, is a worthy discussion for a future blog. Meanwhile, I welcome your comments pertaining to the above two situations or any other ethics dilemmas. Write in confidence to firstname.lastname@example.org or call me: (201) 569-7714.