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Dylan Stableford

How to Write Like Gawker

Dylan Stableford Editorial - 02/15/2008-17:21 PM

If you’re like me, you follow the travails of Gawker Media with a relatively perverse interest, not unlike how the snarky blog network follows its own collection of preferred media targets. After all, it’s the closest thing the blogodome has to Conde Nast, something founder Nick Denton likes to point out from time to time in his media kit.

Following a mini-exodus of editors at its flagship earlier this year, there was quite a bit of talk about Gawker’s demise (Exhibit A: “Has Gawker Jumped the Snark” published in the New York Times last month, on the heels of Exhibit B: “Everybody Sucks,” published by New York magazine a few months before).

Of course, all the talk was premature. Gawker’s traffic—thanks in part to its admirably defiant posting of a Tom Cruise Scientology indoctrination video—set records in January. So enough of that for now.

What’s more interesting to me, though, is how scientific their particular brand of snark has become. Below, via New York magazine’s Daily Intel blog, is a memo—circulated this week to the company’s bloggers by Gawker Media’s Noah Robischon—with tips on how to match Gawker’s infamous tone:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Noah Robischon
Date: Feb 12, 2008 10:27 AM
Subject: Valleywag Voice Guide
To: [REDACTED]

Excellent post writing tips from Paul Boutin (and Owen) for your
Tuesday reading pleasure.
----
Paul Boutin's notes on the Valleywag voice
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THE RAGE OF THE CREATIVE UNDERCLASS
We need to put back the Gawkeresque angry-creative-underclass glint to our voice. Just one glint of nastiness per post. I loved Carlson's advice to Paultards on their irrelevance: "Don't just take my word for it. Go to the polls and find out for yourselves." Zing, and irrefutably true.

DENTON'S FORMULA: MIX A PLUS AND A MINUS
If someone screwed up in business, find something nice to say about them: "The charmingly incompetent CEO." If someone succeeded, find a way to slap them. "The wildly successful blowhard." Denton says this is a key to Gawker posts about people, and when he got lazy he slipped on it and readers noticed in a roundabout way that the site felt less brilliant.

PEOPLE, NOT COMPANIES OR PRODUCTS
Write about Steve Jobs or Jonathan Ives rather than "Apple" as an actor. Or find out who their VP of sales is if they've had a wildly successful quarter and credit him/her, a nice detail. I don't want to read that the Zune is a flop, I want to read that Wink Twinkerton, head of the Zune division, has done for portable music players what Bill Gates did for CEO sex appeal.

BE INSULTING, BUT BE SURPRISING
Calling Ron Paul a loon isn't edgy. Much better was "voting for Ron Paul sends a message. The message is you're crazy and hate the FDA." That's a nice setup and punch line, and a good non-cliche detail rather than an unspecific "loon."

DON'T LET YOUR ANGER GET TO YOU
If someone whose politics or opinions you disagree with says something you want to call out, don't do a straight-ahead criticism. Instead, take their argument further to a simple but ridiculous conclusion. When Hillary Clinton proposed a moratorium on home foreclosures and a freeze on loan rates, Jordan Golson asked, "Why not a moratorium on people paying their mortgages? That seems easier."

BEAT-DOWNS ARE BAD
You've wrung this out of them mostly, but I still see the young ones do the oldschool Ann Coulter / Molly Ivins thing of insulting someone three times in a paragraph when once would be better. Pick the one best dig and save the others for another time.

NO FISKING
If someone says several stupid things in one piece, just quote them and don't rebut each line separately. Do a 100-word version with only the dumbest parts. Readers will get it.

IF YOU WOULDN'T SAY IT IN A CONVERSATION, DON'T WRITE IT
Avoid journalist-speak like "He takes umbrage with our statement." You never say umbrage in real life.

AVOID JOURNALIST MATH, USE SPECIFICS
Some, many, few ... these are journalist numbers for when they want to imply a trend. Often they're used to overstate the number of people who do or don't do something. "Some feel that Obama ..." Cut that, and instead give me a specific quote from a linkable person that sums up the general mood you're talking about.

ONE JOKE PER POST
We've slipped on that. Too many jokes comes across as not having enough to report. Keep the post short and move onto the next one.

BAIL EARLY
Surprise readers by quitting on a review or report halfway through it, once you know you've hit the hight points already. Find some reason to explain your exit. Melissa Gira Grant started to summarize the SF Bay Guardian's annual sex guide, but when she got to a piece that was restaurant suggestions, she wrote, "I stopped reading here." It keeps posts short, and breaks the mold of the reviewer who takes 400 words to wind down.

SATIRE AND PARODY
Should be used to illustrate someone's foibles. E.g. President Steve Jobs issues the most expensive US budget ever, but it fits in a manila envelope.

JUST NEVER USE THESE WORDS
Douche, douchebag, douchery, asshat. Techcrunch uses them, need I say more. (To which I'll add: "teh," "intarwebs," "lulz.")

[DISCLOSURE: I cover tennis for Gawker’s sports blog, Deadspin.]

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Andy Cohn

Magazine Industry Traitors!

Andy Cohn emedia and Technology - 02/15/2008-16:59 PM

What ever happened to the idea that a good captain always goes down with his ship? Or in this case, his magazine? The doom and gloom surrounding the magazine/print business is scaring very talented publishing professionals away from the industry altogether. They are, in droves, flocking to anything that has the word “digital” attached to it—it’s truly starting to feel like 1999’s dot-com migration, at least some level, all over again.

What about standing and fighting? I wonder if that thought has occurred at all, or if these individuals have become so disenchanted with the print business that they have just thrown up their hands.

I’ve personally had many conversations with other publishers about this subject and there is a very clear line of distinction between those who grew up in the traditional world of publishing who have not been able to embrace change, innovate or see their brands as more than a circulation driven ad-page model, and those who actually see this supposed “dark period” as pure opportunity for experimentation, building beyond ad pages and circulation and concentrating on all of the exciting opportunities and platforms for magazine brands in areas outside of the busted newsstand sales, subscriptions and ad page business models.

In my 11 years of publishing, I find this to be the most exciting, vibrant and interesting time I’ve experienced and looking at this time period as an incredible breeding ground for experimentation and innovation. I only see good things ahead for magazines and, more importantly, publishing companies that are willing to face the fact that this ain’t your mother’s or father’s publishing industry. So either get on board, or walk that plank!

[PHOTO: Disney]

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Bob Sacks

As a Futurist, I Was Wrong

Bob Sacks emedia and Technology - 02/15/2008-16:34 PM

As some FOLIO: readers may know, I am a principal partner in mediaIDEAS, a consulting firm that investigates and provides original research reports with actionable advice and analysis for the publishing/media industry. I have asked for and received permission from mediaIDEAS to reveal a small portion of a recent research paper whose conclusion after a detailed analysis was that full color flexible e-paper display will be available to the market by 2011.

The report goes on to say that "publishing magazines and books incorporating high quality color artwork such as those involved in the fashion/design/art sectors, and looking to develop digital editions, need to carefully monitor developments in electrowetting display technology ... Planning for this event is critical to the future profitability, and even the existence, of such publishing companies."

The reason I asked for permission from my business partners to release this portion of our Call to Action is that I believe it is critical for our industry to fully comprehend the technologic reality on our door step. We are on the threshold of a new digital age. As publishers we can adapt and prosper or wither on the vine of antiquated protectionism and dysfunction.

In 2005 I debated Samir Husni at Primex hosted by IDEAlliance in an event entitled "Fork in the Road: Which Direction for the Publishing Industry?" After the debate I was asked an excellent question from the audience: How long until publishers have to start really paying attention and worrying about e-paper? My answer was that five years from that time epaper will be real, functional and a necessary item on any publishers business plan and watch list.

As a futurist with an impressive track record of prescient predictions under my belt for the last 35 years, I am sad to report to you that I was wrong. Yes, wrong. It didn't take five years but rather three years for e-paper to be available to the general public. And the technology is growing at an exponential rate. Look around you and read the writing on your Kindle, which is currently sold out and backlogged. E-paper is here and it is not going to go away. The report from mediaIdeas and my own research is correct. Publishers must be ... planning for this event as it is critical to the future profitability, and even the existence, of such publishing companies.

This is not and should not be a fearful transition. Everything stays the same except the actual reading platform. The paginated (metered), well designed, and edited magazine experience is the same. The same writers, editors, artists, and mostly the same publishing staff will be required to "manufacture" magazines of the future. I would also add that it is not an either/or scenario. There will no doubt be both a printed version of magazines and an e-paper version available to the general public. The question will come down to one of cost and reader preference.

I recently completed a review of the Amazon Kindle. As an experienced e-paper reader, the future is clear and the current arguments about the future of e-paper are as relevant as the old discussion of whether or not film-based printing will ever be replaced by CTP (Computer-to-Plate). I'm sure we all agree that was indeed a very juvenile argument. As much as this sounds like bravado, I was right then and I'm right now. I will go further to say that someday, perhaps less than 10 years from now, the e-reading experience will be more preferred by the majority of the reading public than the inefficient, costly, environmentally unfriendly, and extremely dated current magazine methodology. Are we there yet? NO! But you can bet your bottom dollar that we will get there. And if you don't believe and prepare for it, it will be your bottom dollar.

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Dylan Stableford

New York Decides to Throw Oscar Party After All

Dylan Stableford Sales and Marketing - 02/15/2008-15:08 PM

In the rarified air of magazine party throwers, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter is a sort of aristocratic Hugh Hefner. As such, Carter made headlines a few weeks ago for his decision to cancel his annual Oscar party out of respect for the Writers Guild strike. But now—with the writers back to work—it appears Carter pulled the plug too soon.

Enter New York magazine, which for the past two years has thrown a lesser known, decidedly low-key Oscar viewing party in New York. After weeks of internal wavering, editor Adam Moss and David Edelstein, the magazine’s chief film critic, have decided to make a go of it.

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Joanna Pettas

Will TV Up the Audience Measurement Ante for Magazines?

Joanna Pettas Audience Development - 02/15/2008-13:35 PM

Magazine publishers have been struggling with the need for more accurate audience metrics for years. John Griffin, newly appointed MPA chairman, is continuing his predecessor Jack Kliger's push for new metrics. He thinks magazines need to get closer to what television is able to do, though "we'll never be able to produce overnights," he said at a recent MPA event.

Kliger repeated these sentiments at DMA Circ Day this week:

"It is time for a business model that puts things in their proper order. A model that makes it possible for advertisers to buy based on who reads our magazines, not the number of copies we distribute. This model has worked well for the cable television business from the beginning."

But the television industry isn't so happy with their metrics either.

According to the AdAge article, CBS signed on with TiVo to use the company's second-by-second ratings while TNS Media Research and DirecTV unveiled the formation of a national audience panel whose behavior would be measured second-by-second.

Will the potentially widening gap between magazine and television audience management up the ante for publishers to start taking action?

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Dylan Stableford

Lick This Blog

Dylan Stableford Sales and Marketing - 02/14/2008-23:17 PM

People magazine is running an ad this month from Welch’s 100% grape juice which encourages readers to lick it. It tastes, I’m told, like Welch’s 100% grape juice.

It’s an historic acid test—the ad represents the final frontier of sensory marketing in magazines to be attempted by Madison Avenue.

We’ve seen ‘em try sight (remember the ad embedding LEDs a couple years back), sound (People once accepted an ad that played Elvis’ “Hound Dog” to annoying effect), touch and, of course, smell (see “Scent Strips Stink,” a post by FOLIO:’s resident perfume critic, John Brady).

How long before we see these in magazines ads? My guess—they’re already on their way.

What I’d really like to see, though, is a magazine’s editorial team embrace the available sensory technology. For example, what if you were, say, reading a 29-page Vanity Fair article on, say, the war in Iraq in which you could open a flap and actually smell Baghdad? Or how about lathering Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview in pine tar? Or ... what do you think?

[NOTE: Leave your best idea for an editorial sensory project in the comments section below.]

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Matt Kinsman

Sales, Corporate Management Most Bullish on Print

Matt Kinsman Sales and Marketing - 02/14/2008-14:45 PM

The March issue of FOLIO: magazine will feature a Magazine Industry Job Report that looks at the state of working in the publishing industry, everything from hiring trends to salaries, hot jobs to those that are becoming obsolete, to salary growth over the last three years and expectations for the future.

As part of the research for this report, we did a short poll of FOLIO: readers asking how they feel about the future of print magazines. We cross-tabbed the results to break up responses by job discipline. (See below.)

As expected, the majority of 885 respondents think the print product will become increasingly nichified.

The more interesting responses include the gap between those who think print is vibrantly growing, and those who think print will cease to exist. A healthy amount of "corporate management" executives (41%) say magazines are as useful as ever, followed by "salespeople" (most of whom are still seeing much bigger commissions on print than e-media). Contrast that to the e-media and finance folks, where only seven percent of e-media and 10 percent of finance say print is as valuable as ever, and 20 percent of each of those two disciplines say it will cease to exist.

NAME "Useful as ever." "Nichified." "Cease to exist."
CORP. MANAGEMENT 41% 58% 1%
SALES 32% 67% 1%
DESIGN 30% 66% 4%
EDITORIAL 39% 59% 3%
PRODUCTION 29% 62% 10%
CIRCULATION 27% 68% 5%
EVENTS 18% 82% 0%
FINANCE 10% 70% 20%
E-MEDIA 7% 73% 20%
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Dylan Stableford

Time Inc. Staffer Complains About SI Swimsuit Issue: ‘My Company Made Me Look at Porn’

Dylan Stableford Consumer - 02/13/2008-23:02 PM

Every year around this time, when Sports Illustrated unveils its annual swimsuit issue, columns criticizing the issue for its titillating content seem to wash up on shore. (Recall, if you will, the thongs, er, throngs of subscribers opting out of having their swimsuit issues delivered to their homes for fear of impressionable youngsters getting ahold of them.)

However, they’re usually not written by employees of SI’s parent company. And they’re certainly not published on one of the parent company’s blogs, like this one on Time.com:

The [swimsuit] issues are considered so valuable that they're not even distributed in the bins downstairs; they're doled out, copy by copy, to each employee, like glossy, perfect-bound bonuses. So when I came in this morning, what do I find under my door but a beautifully laid out publication of porn. Who decided I wanted to look at 100-some pages of barely dressed girls with abs made of slate and boobs that defy reason? SI boasts that women cherish the swimsuit issue because it offers us fashion ideas for the bathing season. Seriously? I'm going to don this bikini made of dental floss this summer after I've just popped out Baby #2?

Look. I'm no prude. And it's not the same thing as working in an office whose walls are plastered with pin-ups, like the women workers at Halliburton/KBR had to endure. Still, I'd rather be offered the option of picking up a copy, rather than have it stuffed under my door like some urgent memo. What I want when I step into my office is a cup of tea. Not NFL cheerleaders in thongs.

Some interesting things to note here:

1. According to a commenter, some issues were delivered “face down.”
2. The blogger, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, is a Time staff writer. She has her own Web site.
3. That wasn’t dental floss, Lisa. That was the chord to a pair of iPod earbuds.
4. Again, this was on Time Inc.-owned blog. Which I think is very refreshing—a corporate environment where having opinions, even those critical of your boss' products, are not only encouraged—they’re published.

Still, you have to wonder where the consistency was here.

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Bill Mickey

Penton Begins Search for New CFO

Bill Mickey B2B - 02/13/2008-15:38 PM

Earlier this week, Eric Lundberg, Penton's CFO of a year, announced that he was returning to ALM. On Tuesday, Penton head John French passed along this note:

-----Original Message-----
From: French, John
Sent: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 9:07 AM
To: DL-Penton Global; DL-Prism Global
Subject: Eric Lundberg's Departure
Importance: High

Hello Everyone,

Today, I am announcing that Eric Lundberg, Chief Financial Officer, has decided to leave the company. Eric will be returning to ALM as Chief Financial Officer and senior vice president.

Eric joined Penton a little more than a year ago and his contributions have been significant. He led the company through a very challenging integration effort and much of our present and future success is due primarily to his leadership. Bringing two large organizations together was a complex undertaking and very few people would have been able to accomplish this with such tremendous success.

On a personal note, I have enjoyed working with Eric throughout this past year and greatly appreciate his hard work and dedication. We are working together during a brief transition period. We have already begun the search for a new Chief Financial Officer and will inform you when we have completed that process.

Please join me in wishing Eric well in all his future endeavors.

John

 

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Jason Fell

How SI’s Swimsuit Issue Sells

Jason Fell Audience Development - 02/12/2008-17:48 PM

It’s that time of year again—for sports fans, the dark and gloomy vortex between the Super Bowl and March Madness. For Sports Illustrated, it’s Christmas: the swimsuit issue, the magazine’s annual predictably overhyped—and just as predictably, controversial—run through the media machinery.

In terms of advertising, marketing and newsstand sales, the swimsuit issue is the Super Bowl for Sports Illustrated. This year’s issue, with Marisa Miller on the cover, hit store shelves today, and—eschewing some level of corporate synergy—will get its official debut tonight on the David Letterman show. Why not, say, CNN’s American Morning? “It was logistical,” an SI spokesperson says, noting that SI’s ad party is taking place tonight in New York City, and that the guest list is over 1,000 strong.

Here’s a quick look at how SI’s Swimsuit Issue has fared on newsstands over the last five years:

YEAR DATE SINGLE COPY SALES 12-MONTH AVG. AD PAGES COVER MODEL
2007 Feb. 16 1,060,000 87,043* 109.95 Beyoncé
2006 Feb. 17 1,152,275 86,173 111.00 "All-Star" Cover
2005 Feb. 18 1,083,827 85,548 106.87 Carolyn Murphy
2004 Feb. 13 1,563,694 100,941 112.50 Veronica Varekova
2003 Feb. 25 1,216,495 100,626 113.00 Petra Nemcova


* First half average.

SOURCE: ABC

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Steve Bernstein

‘The Music Business Sucks—So Does the Magazine Business’

Steve Bernstein Consumer - 02/11/2008-17:25 PM

The music business sucks. At least that’s what everyone tells me. You hear the same thing about the magazine business. “That’s a tough business,” people say.

Is there such a thing as an “easy” business? Being a pro athlete might seem easy, but try throwing a 20-yard pass with a 300-pound lineman ready to separate you from your shoes. No thanks, I was never good with pain. If I get a paper cut I call in sick.

So if I detest pain, why am in the music magazine business? (My company, Zenbu Media, publishes Relix, Metal Edge, Metal Maniacs and Global Rhythm.) It would seem to be a double whammy. Fortunately, it’s not. Music is not going away and neither is the printed page. Picture yourself on the beach trying cuddling up to a great article or novel on your PC. It doesn’t feel the same. It’s kind of like a Stepford wife. Sure the PC is a fantastic way to connect, socialize, learn and listen but it lacks one thing. Tangibility. People flock to concerts and music festivals in record numbers to see the artists, feel the vibe and experience something real. Tangible. It is easier (and cheaper) to sit at home and watch the Rolling Stones on YouTube, but you miss the energy, the camaraderie and the feeling of true artistry.

Music has never been more accessible (legally or not). Myspace and other social networks have made it easier for garage bands to be heard. Hundreds of thousands of them. From all over the world. How do you choose what to listen to? How do you cut through the crap and find the gem? Ask the people who live for music. Those who are out every night and are never without pods in their ears.

Fortunately they write about it, too.

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Jandos Rothstein

Was Wig Wag as Influential as Spy?

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 02/11/2008-14:22 PM

Wig Wag's 1988 launch came within a month of Spy's, but the latter is better remembered. Spy is memorialized in books and on Web sites, it's editors have gone on to successful publishing careers, and you still hear its name mentioned in magazine and design circles. Wig Wag has (arguably been) nearly as influential, but it lives on (as far as I can tell) only as a brief Wikipedia entry and a few other scattered web references.

There are lots of reasons for this. Spy was the louder and brasher magazine—it cheerfully went about making enemies among New York's rich and powerful. Spy's editorial and design influences were more varied and harder to pin down than Wig Wag's (which was clearly directly influenced by the New Yorker where the editor and many of the staff had worked). And, Wig Wag's post-modern pages have not aged nearly so well as Spy's. The specific visual language Spy pioneered live on in dozens of magazines including New York, Vanity Fair and Radar. Wig Wag's impact is not seen in a few easily identified tropes such as Spy's disembodied floating heads.

But, Wig Wag was equally ahead of its time. It took the New Yorker's sophisticated news and and literary approach and used it to create a visual magazine in the contemporary sense-it used infographic conventions for literary storytelling, achieving an integration of imagery and text that was rare for its day, but has since become expected. Wig Wag's methods are now visible in most large newsstand magazines—Wired, New York (again) Maxim and lots more.

Editor Lex Kaplen and Art Director Paul Davis saw graphic possibilities for a literary magazine that are still unequaled by the graphically fumbling New Yorker—which has successfully updated its art direction and writing but now seems awkwardly stuck between its storied typographical tradition and current fashion—publishing a design that is neither classic nor engaging to a contemporary reader.

Check out images of the interior sections—including the T.O.C. and fiction layouts—here.

[Editor's note: For more intelligent design talk, buy Jandos' new book.]

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