Thursday, October 30, 2008
Those of you reading this blog on Masthead are surely aware that the magazine and its website are closing. The loss of the website is a big one for the industry and the Canadian magazine community; please let me know if you have any ideas on attempting to fill the void.
But rest assured that this blog will live on in its original home, magazinesonline.wordpress.com. Bookmark it, subscribe to the RSS feeds or sign up for email updates, whatever works for you. I’ll still be writing.
Thanks to Marco Ursi at Masthead for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with Masthead readers and for promoting my blog to the community. I’ll still be sharing posts with them until they no longer have the resources to update them.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Thanks to Mark Bertils of index//mb for passing on a link to this (long and detailed) analysis of the creation of monocle.com by Dan Hill, former director of web and broadcast at Monocle. Set aside some time and read through it – it’s really interesting and there’s a lot to learn.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
My vision of this blog is to cover the entire magazine industry (although primarily in Canada) – that means trade, custom and consumer, on all topic areas. But my expertise is in consumer magazines, primarily for women (and, even more narrowly, primarily health-oriented), which means I miss out on a lot that’s going on outside of that sphere.
So please, if you know of a site you think I should visit, or an issue I’ve neglected to discuss, or even a great newsletter subject line that should be added to my list, let me know either by email (kat dot tancock at gmail dot com) or through the comments. I can’t find everything by myself, but with your help I can cover everything in this blog.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Threadless. iStockphoto. Wikipedia. Kiva. Google. What do these sites have in common? They all tap into the power of the masses, in a process journalist Jeff Howe termed crowdsourcing and originally wrote about in a 2006 article for Wired.
Howe has now come out with a book about the phenomenon, Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business. I just finished it and in my opinion, it’s essential reading for anyone who hopes to develop online communities or make use of user-generated content – two strategies that are top priorities these days for many magazines and their websites. On the one hand, it’s inspirational – Howe describes the path to success of the sites (or communities) mentioned above as well as others you may not have heard of, such as InnoCentive, an organization that provides crowdsourced R&D to companies such as Procter & Gamble. But the book is also a cautionary tale of how community-building can go wrong, especially when the primary motivation is profit. (Which isn’t to say making money can’t be a successful secondary goal.)
Howe also passes on a lot of useful information, such as the experience of Linda Parker, the online communities editor at the Cincinnati Enquirer. When discussing soliciting reader submissions, Howe writes:
“It used to read, ‘Be a Citizen Journalist,’” Parker says. “And no one ever clicked on it. Then we said, ‘Tell Us Your Story,’ and still nothing. For some reason, ‘Get Published’ were the magic words.”
I love this proof of the value of experimentation and how the smallest things can make a huge difference.
In short, you should buy the book and read it. Then please, let me know what you think.
Friday, October 24, 2008
I’ve always found it odd that in an industry where copy jobs are so often considered junior or entry-level – implying that you have to go through them to get to senior jobs – it’s more common than it should be for senior editors to have forgotten how to spell. Whether it’s laziness or haziness I’m not sure, but I’m beyond appreciative for the hard-working copy editors and fact checkers who make the magazines we read so readable.
This is one area where the web lags behind. We’re understaffed, and it’s a luxury for content to go past two pairs of eyes before it goes live. We can fix errors quickly, certainly (I love the “report typo” link on cbc.ca), but web copy rarely gets massaged to the degree that print copy does.
It’s a shame, but it’s a reality of our current industry. And this is why it’s so essential that web editors be copy editors, too. It reflects poorly on the magazine for the website to have badly edited content up. Ideally, it would all go through a copy editor. Realistically, the web editor has to perform both jobs.
I took copy editing at Ryerson from Bernadette Kuncevicius (it’s a wonderful class and she’s a wonderful teacher, you should take it too) and the most important lesson she taught us was that a copy editor’s job isn’t to know every rule by heart: it’s to question everything and look it up. At the very least, make sure your web editor has a copy of the dictionary and style guide so they can do so. Even better, if they need it, send them to a refresher course – your website will be all the better for it.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I subscribe to a lot of magazine site newsletters, and I keep a file of the ones whose subject lines I found extremely clickable, the ones I would have opened even if it weren’t my job. Here are some of my favourites – use them as inspiration for your own newsletter and article titles.
• The sexiest hair right now – try it! (Glamour)
• Six-minute salmon, organize your kitchen, 7 performance foods (Health)
• The 125 best foods for women (Women’s Health)
• The city’s 10 best dressed (Toronto Life)
• 5 simple outdoor decorating projects (Martha Stewart Living)
• I burned HOW many calories? (Runner’s World)
• Drop 10 lbs. by snacking (Women’s Health)
• Our best freeze-ahead recipes (Everyday Food)
• Best foods for runners (Runner’s World)
• Cut your breast cancer risk: A decade-by-decade guide and more (Health)
Would you open these?
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
With all the WYSIWYG editors and tools out there, you’d think basic HTML was a lost art – after all, the applications can do all the coding for you, right? But in fact, you may be surprised to know that I use HTML daily in my work, and for things that I’m unable to accomplish just by using the tools at hand. Even basic knowledge of HTML will help web editors be more efficient and more knowledgeable about what they’re doing.
Once upon a time, in the dark ages of the web, creating websites was a democratic process available to all – it took very little time and knowledge to learn the basics of HTML (hypertext markup language, if you didn’t know before, and it’s a markup tool as opposed to actual code), and you could throw up a site quickly and easily, even if it was very basic-looking. (Really, they all were.) You still can, of course, but the web has been taken over by fancy code and even fancier graphics, and designing such sites is beyond the skill set of most of us. But the basic text and link formatting is still in HTML, and whether you’re using an editor such as Dreamweaver or a content management system, you can access that portion of the site’s code to edit the formatting at its most basic.
Here are just a few of the things I use HTML for in my day-to-day work:
• Add external links (to avoid the cumbersome tool offered by my CMS)
• Fix CSS formatting issues – layering things like bolding and colours over links in a CMS can often end up in funny issues that can be easily fixed in the code
• Strip extra code that’s been added by cutting and pasting from Word
These may sound complex, but with some basic HTML skills and training they’re not a problem at all. Learn the basics in the learning style of your choice: pick up a book, take a course (maybe your company will send you to one), or browse some online tutorials. You can try out your skills using a text editor on your computer without even accessing the web.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
There’s an informative post up at Search Engine Journal on the essential criteria of effective page titles (as a reminder, these are the titles that show up on the top bar of your browser window, in your bookmarks and in the results listings in search engines). It’s worth a read, and here are a few key points:
• Don’t make it too long. It will get truncated wherever it shows up, so keep it as short as possible: readers in the comments suggest 60-65 characters.
• Make it unique. Google wants to know that every page is different, and the easiest way to show that is for every page on your site to have a different title. Also note that the unique part should go first as the end gets truncated not only in search results, but in tabbed browser windows.
• Make it catchy. You want people to click through from search results.
• Include keywords, and make sure they match the keywords in the body text.
Most CMSs these days will create titles based on your heds – if so, pay extra attention to your heds and in all cases, definitely consider rewriting the print hed when repurposing as they rarely work for web.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Writing for the web can be tricky. In some ways it’s no different from any other kind of writing – talent and skill will shine through no matter what the format. But there are a lot of things to think about when writing (and editing) for the web – such as SEO, scannability and linking – that don’t exist in other media.
The Renegade Writer Blog has rounded up some links to help you “write for the 21st century”, as they call it, with more being added in the comments. It’s a good selection of resources to help you get started.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
According to a story in Mediaweek, Meredith is working on its own social network, Mixingbowl.com, to launch in November. As you might imagine, it’s focused on food, including recipe sharing and meal and event planning.
The interesting thing here is that they’re not hosting the new community under one of their existing brands—they’re creating a new site entirely focused on user-generated content. Here’s how they describe it:
“With the branded sites—all the different needs people come to us for, creating a very pure environment that looks and feels like it’s built for the consumer—that kind of authenticity of intent is necessary,” said Dan Hickey, Meredith’s vp, digital content. Mixingbowl, by contrast, is “really about the world of peer-to-peer recipes. It’s a social network around meals and meal planning.”
Meredith isn’t the first to create a new online brand separate from its existing print brands—a lot of magazine sites have gone back and forth between a branded site that fits with the print model and a (usually) portal site that incorporates branded content: think iVillage or MochaSofa. What’s interesting here is the Web 2.0 nature of this project as opposed to the editorial-driven ones of the past. I think it can work—there’s certainly room for social networks driven by food—but the question is whether the quality of content can lure people away from sites like epicurious.com and allrecipes.com (both of which already have some social features).