Monday, January 02, 2006

Meeting recap: ASBPE-MAP 2005 Magazine Boot Camp

Four sessions covered reinventing print, making the web work, design principles, and better writing.
By Jody Shee, secretary, Kansas City Chapter, ASBPE

Fifty people attended the first Magazine Boot Camp on Oct. 19 presented jointly by the Kansas City chapter of the ASBPE and the Missouri Association of Publications. In four sessions, attendees learned about reinventing print; making the Web work for you; seven design principles; and better writing for business-to-business publications.

Reinventing print
When you consider the most effective ways to communicate in print, take principles from effective communication on the Internet, said Dr. Don Ranly professor emeritus with the Missouri School of Journalism in his keynote address.

“The Internet has changed how people read information,” he said. Magazines should change accordingly.

The characteristics of a good website are that they easy to navigate, interesting, concise, interactive and user friendly. Ask yourself if you have presented the information in such a way that saves the reader time. This translates into more blurbs, breakouts and boxes. “Is there something on each page that demands the reader stop and read it?” he asked.

Replace the word design with presentation. Your job is to get the reader’s attention, comprehension, retention and action.

Wherever you can, make a list. It could be dos and don’ts, advantages and disadvantages or numbered lists. If you write in chunks, you give readers control of what they read and don’t read.

Provide websites in the article to link readers to further information about the topic, and be sure to use the word you so that you talk to the reader, Ranly said.

Other points to help reinvent print:
  • Save the reader time.
  • Write for surfers, not readers.
  • Include blurbs with page numbers on the cover.
  • Think of the table of contents as a home page to draw the reader in further.
  • Go back to the inverted pyramid using a lead that summarizes the “what” and “so what.”
  • Cut your copy in half.
  • Give readers a chance to talk back by providing email addresses and phone numbers.

Making the Web work for you
If your company or magazine is not on the Internet, it’s time to get started. Begin with electronic newsletters and websites.

Before you get started, ask yourself what kind of information you have to offer, who the audience is, what they expect to learn from you and how and when they want that information, said James Arnold, electronic media editor for Vance Publishing’s Food 360 division.
In an electronic media panel, he highlighted the ways you can communicate your messages electronically. These include webinars, podcasting, message boards and blogs.

As an example, he has developed a website for one of Vance’s magazines, Dairy Herd Management. After considering the audience and their needs, he developed the headings on the home page of markets, recent news, calendar, research and technology, weather and a searchable archive.

His tips for writing online:

  • Know the needs of your audience.
  • Write very short, but provide details.
  • Keep the copy clean
  • Always provide links for further research.

If your company is asking you to put something on the Internet quickly, Arnold made these suggestions:

  • Feature a mini question and answer. Transcribe three or four good responses from an article interview and add this to the online version of the article.
  • Provide sound bites. Take an audio snippet of the interview and place it online.
  • Develop a writer’s commentary. Write a few paragraphs giving a little insight into what was learned or other interesting tidbits picked up while writing the story.
  • Include a resource guide. Map out the resources used and link to them.

Another way to get online is to start a blog, something Rick Bush did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Bush is editorial director for Primedia’s Transmission & Distribution World magazine, which covers the power industry.

After the hurricane, Bush talked to company officials, who talked to advertisers, about sponsoring a blog, which was a running commentary of Bush’s subsequent experiences and conversations in the hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast.

Lessons he learned from developing the blog:

  • Make sure you have the right equipment.
  • Set up your information in categories rather than one long continuous blog.
  • Make it easy for people to respond to your blog.
  • Strike while the iron is hot. Just do it. You don’t need expertise to get one going.

Seven design principles
Study the magazines on the racks at bookstores for cues on effective design, said Jennifer Moeller, assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism in the workshop session on design.

Following are her seven principles of design.

Unity. This is how you group items so there is structure and a center of interest. Use only a few type fonts, shapes and sizes. Carry a design theme through each article. Use margins and white space well.

Dominance. Consider dominance in three stages: primary emphasis, subdominant and subordinate. These could be in words, color or photos. Use this to draw readers in. Show readers the importance of a certain element.
Scale. Use surprising changes in size to emphasize a point. It may be a tight shot on a portion of an object.

Balance. Formal balance has equal symmetry. It is exact, careful and gives a formal feeling. Informal balance is asymmetric and can be more open and modern. It gives more flexibility to the design and allows for some items to have more visual weight than other items.

Rhythm. This has to do with repetition of elements. It gives movement and a sense of pattern and texture. You can place graphic elements at set intervals, flowing or progressive. The optical center of a page is two-fifths down and two-fifths over.

Shape. Play with shapes of graphics and words and using graphics inside words or to form words, and carry these shapes throughout the article.

Contrast. Stress differences to attract attention. Use contrast in headline sizes and placement as well as in colors.

Better business-to-business writing
Good business writing speaks with a voice of authority to readers and gives context to the subject and the article sources, said Sharon Bass, journalism professor at the University of Kansas in the workshop session on better writing.

In each article, give readers several points of access through appropriate subheads, and avoid empty leads. Since it is a business article, don’t feel compelled to warm the reader first. Also, avoid quotes that don’t really say anything. Paraphrase instead.

Beyond the writing, stay in touch with your readers regularly to understand their needs, what they need to hear and how effective you are.

As an editor, spend the necessary time to inform your writers of the goal of the article and what you expect form them. Tell them about the sources you ask them to contact. Make sure your writers have a clear understanding of the assignment. Don’t expect them to know what you want without telling them, Bass said.

Keep your eyes and ears open for writing inspiration. Read other magazines, talk to people in the industry and attend conventions and workshops.

Sponsors of the half-day seminar were:

  • Allen Press
  • Ascend Media
  • Banta
  • Branch-Smith
  • M-real USA
  • Primedia
  • Quebecor
  • The Ovid Bell Press
  • Vance Publishing
Photo: University of Missouri professor Don Ranly explains how to communicate effectively in print by using principles from the Internet.

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