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Letter of Recommendation: A Tool that Makes Transcribing Less Like Tooth-pulling

August 18, 2016

Dog Ear Consultants

 

Transcribing is the worst part of reporting.

Yes, sometimes the process is helpful. You can remember details from the conversation that you’d neglected to add during your interview. It can re-center your writing. It forces you to confront your awkward pre-interview patter.

But mostly, it’s mundane labor. And no one becomes a writer to do mundane labor. You can send your stuff out to be transcribed, but it’s usually expensive ($100+) and potentially time-consuming.

Enter Trint.

Trint lets you upload your audio file and uses speech-recognition to transcribe it. At $.25/minute, an hour-long interview is $15.

The transcription is not perfect. There are strange new words introduced that can only be formed by an algorithm-driven program. But they make correcting the transcript really easy. Here’s a little promo video they have:

Disclaimer: Trint’s not paying us. We don’t have some cushy board seat or a piece of the IPO. We just think it might be a budget-friendly and efficient way to get through the boring work of transcribing your interviews.

That way, you can get to the fun stuff: Figuring out who you are going to interview next.

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Keeping Score

May 24, 2016

Dog Ear Consultants

Even if you’re not a “sports school,” most of us are covering our athletic departments and programs. Some schools have full sections devoted to school sports, others sprinkle sports content in the front of the book—big wins, sports nostalgia, etc.

Sports stories don’t have to be—shouldn’t be—a rehash of the season. Way (way, way) back in the day—pre-Internet—that kind of coverage made sense. But these days, your athletic departments are streaming games real-time. They’re tweeting highlights, and posting scores and wrap-up stories online. Let them own that.

Our job as magazine editors is to highlight our sports programs in ways that will keep the reader engaged—even one who never set foot near a basketball court or football field. A few ideas to get you thinking:

Kenyon’s Alumni Bulletin does a wonderful full-page athlete profile in an unconventional way—though we haven’t seen it in recent issues. It was a great shot of an athlete with all of his or her gear, and it included annotated notes about the student and the sport. No full 300-word profile. No season wrap-up. All personality.

The College of New Jersey’s TCNJ does something similar in their “How I Got Here” feature.

 

TCNJ_HOWIGOTHERE

 

They also play with nostalgia a bit, telling the stories of epic moments in the college’s sports history, always coupled with a great old photo.

TCNJ.Sports

 

And don’t forget to look outside the world of alumni magazines and adapt content from commercial magazines to suit your publication. Imagine a section like this one, found in Self, but tailored to be workout tips from your star athletes. Service journalism at its best.

 

Self

And remember, if you have to cover a season or game recap—like, say, a championship—cover it a different way. Interview the folks who had to clean up the confetti. Collect stories of where people were watching across the globe. Get a physics or math professor to talk you through the science or probabilities of that final shot.

In short: Drop the highlights. Treat this section with the same kind of creativity you bring to the rest of your magazine’s pages. And don’t forget to have fun. It’s all a game anyway.

See You in San Antonio!

March 21, 2016

Dog Ear Consultants

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, USA - SEP 28: Section of the famous Riverwalk on September 28, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. A bustling place with many restaurants and bars.

So we’re kind of excited about the Editor’s Forum, which kicks off today in San Antonio. Our own Mo Harmon has served as the co-chair along with Steven Saum of Santa Clara Magazine, and Dan Morrell, another Dog Ear partner, will offer a session on niche publications with Sheila Haar Siegel, former editor of SCRIPT, the alumni magazine of the St. Louis College of Pharmacy. (Dan is the former editor of the WIT Magazine, from Wentworth Institute of Technology, and  the current editor of HBS Alumni Bulletin, the alumni magazine of Harvard Business School.)

Plus—and let’s be frank here—it’s Texas in March. The northeast folks (DEC partners live in Ohio, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania) are clamoring for a little sunshine, margaritas, and TexMex.

Given all of that, let’s remember that the CASE Editor’s Forum is only a two-and-a-half-day event. So how do you make the most of it?  Here are the three mistakes to avoid during this short jaunt south.

 

1) Don’t Sit In Your Room and Watch Law and Order Reruns Hunched Over Room Service

We’ll just come out and say Mo is totally guilty of this. It’s a bit of a running joke around here. But don’t be Mo. You might want to take the opportunity to enjoy your respite from desk life with a night of mid-life bacchanalia: unhealthy food, mini-bar wine, and poorly drawn crime dramas. (Mo: “Hey. That’s not fair. I do order salad.”) Don’t do it. There are several opportunities to meet other introverted writer types for drinks and long, angry discussions about Class Notes. It will be much more cathartic than watching Chris Noth paint by the numbers. Promise.

2) Don’t Keep to Your Crew

We often travel in packs. We get it. But there are dine-around opportunities (at some pretty tasty places, we should mention) that allow you to co-mingle with people outside your staff comfort zone. Our rule of thumb: One dine-around dinner, one night to hang with the crew. See what connections you can make, but still have the chance to enjoy time away from the office with staffers and fellow editor pals.


3) Don’t Go Without an Agenda

There really is a lot to do. And there really isn’t much time to do it. Map out your days. If you’re traveling with staff or know folks from other schools in attendance make sure you opt for different sessions so you can trade notes later.

And if you have specific questions that you need answered (“Is anyone else having issues with free interns asking for extra water?”), seek out answers. Considering a redesign? Book a dine-around with someone who just finished one. Need advice launching a website? Find that magazine that does it well and ask them how they got there.

Oh, and take a session to dip out and soak up that sun. We won’t tell your bosses.

Inside Booth Magazine’s Redesign

November 20, 2015

Dog Ear Consultants

Booth Fall 2015 cover Above: Fall 2014 cover; below: Fall 2015 cover

Chicago Booth Magazine (University of Chicago Booth School of Business) just wrapped up a year-long redesign project, re-launching in October with its Fall 2015 issue. We talked to editor Judith Crown* about the whys and whats of remaking the magazine.

What was the impetus for the redesign?

The Booth magazine team agreed the magazine could be more distinctive and better reflect the personality of the school: brainiac, irreverent, and showcasing an appetite for conversation, discourse, and debate. The publication could serve as a home for the exchange of ideas and diverse perspectives.

The team previously had conducted two focus groups, interviewing a range of alumni across different graduation years, programs, and professions. Readers liked the Booth wonkiness of the publication but requested a publication that was easier to scan, more fun, and offered ideas that could be applied at work

There was a real editorial restructuring here, too. Can you talk about your thinking behind the organization of the new design?

The editors wanted the magazine to demonstrate the range of faculty, alumni, and student successes and endeavors, interests and opinions. To anchor this, the magazine created regular columns and departments that introduce a multitude of voices. The community is invited to participate, not just as subjects but as contributors.

Chicago Booth Magazine became a platform that opens a forum for faculty, alumni, and students to share their special expertise, whether (in the case of the first issue) it’s the methodology for deciding where to locate a food truck, finding the best place for a business lunch in Singapore, or explaining why it’s important to stay on top of email. Faculty, alumni, and students are the authorities, imparting not just the story of their career success, but opinions, recommendations, and takeaways that can be of value to the broader community—with an unmistakably Booth point of view.

 

“Faculty, alumni, and students are the authorities, imparting not just the story of their career success, but opinions, recommendations, and takeaways that can be of value to the broader community.”

 

In a brief note in the magazine, you mention one of the goals here was to prompt engagement. How did you approach that idea?

The editors want alumni to feel that this is a magazine for their community and that anyone can participate and share their views. The opinions, recommendations, and achievements are presented from one insider to another. Taking the idea of engagement a step farther – some of the departments are actual dialogues. For example “Corner Booth” is a conversation between two alumni of different generations. The fall issue features two graduates talking about the prospects for Medellin, Colombia. The “In the Classroom,” feature had a professor take readers inside his marketing strategy course and two students commented on how they applied the marketing principles in their jobs.

The redesigned class notes department is structured to promote more engagement. With stories and photos of alumni in a range of activities – from yacht races to life cycle celebrations – the editors expect more alumni will share stories beyond the usual job promotions and speaking engagements.

Booth Spring 2013 Alumni feature

Booth Fall 2015 Food trucks

Above: Feature spread from Fall 2014; below: feature spread from Fall 2015.

You redesigned the website as well. How much did the magazine’s digital presence play into your thinking?

The team wanted the digital magazine to make the most of the medium by offering additional and online exclusive content—primarily videos and interactive graphics. The magazine had complementary videos in the past but they weren’t well displayed. Also, it was important that the content can be easily shared across a number of platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and Linked In. Finally, it was a priority to design the site to be welcoming, easy to browse and navigate, and showcase text and images to their best advantage.


What has the reaction been like from your readers?

The initial response was enthusiastic and the magazine received letters commenting on particular stories, which didn’t happen in the past.

Fall 2015 feature

*Crown led the redesign of Chicago Booth Magazine. She is now principal of Verbatim Partners Inc., which provides editorial and design services to colleges and universities. She can be reached at judith.crown@verbatimpartners.com

Reinvention: An Editor’s Hardest Job

Feature

Every magazine editor has a different task they deem the most difficult. Wrangling a messy narrative into shape. Budgeting. De-purpling a lede. Finding a photographer in Antarctica who will work for emojis.

None of these are the hardest things, though. The hardest thing to do in magazines is to come up with new ideas.

Not new story ideas. Not new headline treatments.

New organizing theories. New ways to open a section. New sections. New ways of thinking about what a magazine is and could be.

The magazine as a form has existed for hundreds of years and has been wildly successful. And some magazines have kept that same form for hundreds of years and been wildly successful. Why do we need to reinvent the wheel?

Because there’s value in creating unique products. And not only because, as creative professionals, we’re all special little snowflakes and we need to be seen as such, but because being unique has value to our readership. Your schools have a distinct ethos to them. Your alumni are makers, problem-solvers, healers, or aesthetes. You need to make a magazine with content and structure that speak to those things that make your institution what it is.

But, again, that’s the hardest part. The big ideas aren’t easy. But if you are sitting there thinking, “Great, but there are no new ideas left in magazine publishing—we’re all simply refining the past,” then we’d say, “You can’t smoke those clove cigarettes indoors, bub,” and then we’d have you take a look at this:

Issue_8_Spread_5 Issue_8_Spread_4

That’s right: A fashion magazine wholly reliant on illustration.

There are ideas, some smaller than this, that can make your magazine more distinctive. And we’d argue that they are worth the risk.

Serial, GIFs, Warby Parker, and the New Case for Print

January 7, 2015

Dog Ear Consultants

OK, so the last time we met, we told you that if you weren’t online, you were missing the party. And we stand by that.

But.

There’s an interesting case for print that we’ve been seeing lately (online, naturally) that suggests magazines will be saved by their non-digital nature. Let’s build that argument.

But before we get to print’s comeback, it’s important to remember the natural progression and time it takes for media forms to find their post–”digital revolution” niche. Take podcasts: This American Life offshoot Serial has become so universally popular that it has spawned the kind of show recap market usually reserved for the primetime heavies like Lost and The Walking Dead. There’s even a Serial review podcast.

All this for a podcast? A form that lost so much of its sheen that the New York Times cleaned out their network three years ago? But Serial isn’t an outlier. A record 39 million people listened to podcasts in September according to Edison Research (via nymag). And as this Fast Company article notes, three new public broadcasting podcast networks have launched in the past year. (The Fast Company and NY Mag pieces offer a bunch of explanations for the podcast’s second coming: Smartphones are becoming ever more ubiquitous. Cars are increasingly connected. Publishers are figuring out how to monetize them. And podcasts are just better now.)

GIFs rose from a much deeper pile of ashes. Previously an embarrassing icon of an early web where dancing babies (and Jesus) were accepted accessories, they’ve become an increasingly useful video dissemination and short-term celebrity–making tool.

But print’s second act is more surprising than either of these. Consider how many web-first publications—Politico, CNET, Huffington Post, Pitchfork—are now venturing into print. And this return to the physical is not just a media phenomenon. Countless e-commerce properties have made the move to physical locations in recent years. Online eyewear seller Warby Parker is making big retail moves. Amazon, the granddaddy of the form, just opened a pop-up spot in NYC. Even Etsy has gone brick-and-mortar.

Why? In both cases, the answer is simple: Because there is a market for it.

As part of his “case for analog,” NewCity editor and co-publisher Brian Hieggelke makes the point that print vs. digital is not a zero sum game.

I imagine a future where print and digital continue to exist in parallel lives, where many of us consume media in both realms. Where the media brand rather than the media product becomes the central concern of visionary leaders. Where the best of print recognizes that its survival depends on an innate sense for the character of print, the print experience.

The irony of this argument, of course, is that it contends that the print magazine will be saved because it offers an alternative to digital media—the very thing that everyone thought would destroy it.

Happy Wednesday.

Read This: Smiling Through the Apocalypse

October 14, 2014

Dog Ear Consultants

image via

New York magazine’s Vulture blog had a quick review of a new documentary about legendary Esquire editor Harold Hayes, who held the top post there from 1963 to 1973. There are a number of interesting tidbits in here about life as it was, including this bit (~:45) about Hayes’s lack of tolerance for widows.

The movie gets a tepid review on form, but the subject of print triumphalism alone is enough for the writer to throw some requisite shade at new media in the magazine world. (On a blog, no less!)

Listen, we love print and we love being nostalgic for the era when print magazines were cultural beacons. But you can’t just put an old copy of New York Magazine under your pillow and wish that era to return. You have to run magazines in a way that reflects the realities of today’s media. One simple thing: You have to be online. Absolutely have to. Unless your magazine has some strange survivalist aesthetic that would be ruined by a web presence, you are missing out on a potentially absurd number of eyeballs that social media can bring your stories.

Sure, not everyone can be Bostonia. But this is important enough to spend your time on. If you don’t believe us, take it from Esquire, now proud purveyor of a site that attracts 4 million unique visitors a month with a digital strategy that calls for 40 new posts a day.

To quote Harold Hayes: “Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.”

 

Bring Out Yer Dead

August 12, 2014

Dog Ear Consultants

aflac(Image via)
 

We know you hope readers dig into the magazine and turn right to your well-researched feature on the mastermind behind Benin’s nascent start-up scene. Or your impeccably crafted front-of-book section with its slick little graphics and smart-kid tone. Or even that awesome final-page photo that everyone on staff just loves loves loves.

But it’s no secret that many readers turn first to Class Notes to see what their classmates are up to. And frankly, to the obits, to see who might have died by checking out the items you’ve copied and pasted from emails and plopped on the page.

Listen, we’re not here to debate human nature. People like seeing who died. Perhaps we simply need another reminder that we’re not dead—that for whatever reason, we are still given the opportunity to draw breath so we do important things like ridding our DVRs of unwatched episodes of “The Good Wife.”

But back to your obits. So many of these “memorial sections” read like tombstones. Just sad listings of people and class years. No to be overdramatic, but these people lived, too. They ran corner stores and drove trains and fought bulls and built cities and held parties that people never wanted to leave. You should celebrate these things.

For a look at how this can be done well, check out the Remembrance Project from WBUR (Boston’s NPR station). A quick excerpt from the story of Herbert Brown:

He plugged his songs in New York and searched out audiences for his poetry — once trying to reach Maya Angelou on the phone. His hopes were so buoyant he might have floated away, an untethered force of nature, if his wife hadn’t held onto the string of his life for 65 years.

Gorgeous.

So take at least one or two of these people and shine a light on them. Tell their story. People are already headed there after class notes—give them something to dig into. Otherwise, they’re just gonna spend the night trying to catch up on “The Good Wife.”

Ah, Class Notes. How We Love to Hate You.

June 27, 2014

Dog Ear Consultants

AtBuffalo_ClassNotes_Page_7-1Class Notes. Very few of us are producing magazines without them, and while they’re well read among alumni magazine readers, it can be tough to make these pages really sing and encourage readers to read beyond their class-year blurb. It strikes us as odd that this section is likely the spot where readers turn first, and yet many of us (we’re guilty, too) neglect it in the redesign process and in the day-to-day production of our magazines. But the University at Buffalo chose a different route, embracing Class Notes fully in their rethink.

A little background: Dog Ear had the pleasure of working with UB as they began to rethink their publication last year. We offered a critique, some section ideas, and a best practices presentation to the editorial and design teams, as well as some administrators. The magazine staff took it from there. And boy, did they ever.

The redesign, at the hands of resident art director, Rebecca Farnham, brought the magazine a much more modern look, with plenty of service journalism and relevant pieces that cover timely topics beyond campus, but our favorite section of the book might very well be Class Notes.

In all of the magazines we read, we have yet to see a Class Notes section that rivals the one in UB’s newly named At Buffalo. (It also produces an alumni news section that is relevant, fun, and useful—how many of us can truly say the same?) Check it out for yourself for some inspiration. Here’s a PDF.

And kudos to Farnham, editor Ann Whitcher-Gentzke, and the rest of the At Buffalo team.

What Kind of Editor Are You?

May 29, 2014

Dog Ear Consultants

Slate  editors Dan Kois and Laura Helmuth duke it out over what kind of editing style—his or hers—is most effective in delivering the best content while keeping the peace with the writer. And both seem to agree that the “this is great” email—a little stroking of the writer’s ego—can go a long way.

After reading the piece, we land pretty solidly in the Kois camp. But we’re curious to see where you stand. Fess up in the comments section.