Apple Refreshes its Website, App Store Around Copy

For Apple, Inc., the annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) is an opportunity to refresh its message to consumers and industry observers. At this year’s conference, which ran from June 5-9 in San Jose, CA, saw some pretty dramatic changes to Apple’s websites, emphasizing compelling copy as an integral design element.

For example, on the WWDC home page itself, copy literally takes center stage. Surrounded by graphic representations of people viewed from overhead, the center of the page features the following compelling mission statement:

Technology alone is not enough.
Technology must intersect with the liberal arts
and the humanities, to create new ideas and
experiences that push society forward. This
summer we bring together thousands of brilliant
minds representing many diverse perspectives,
passions, and talents to help us change the world.

The company’s main website has been revamped to feature copy. Take for example the page on business applications for iPad. Each section leads with a clean declarative sentence in large type, followed by two to three sentences that go into the particulars. In the past, Apple was content to let the visuals do all the talking. Now, the visuals and the copy support each other, reinforcing the message of the product’s value. From a design standpoint, Apple’s approach harkens back to the classic powerful prose-driven design of Ogilvy & Mather and Tom McElligott.

At WWDC, Apple revealed a redesign of its iOS app store that also places a new emphasis on content. As Six Colors’ Jason Snell writes, “No, this isn’t independent journalism—it’s curation and marketing. But it’s a sign that Apple sees the value in telling the stories of the apps it’s seen fit to highlight.”

As a style bellwether, Apple may be at the forefront of a renaissance of compelling copy-driven storytelling in marketing. Time will tell if nonprofits embrace the power of storytelling for persuading donors to support their mission.

Gains in Giving to Higher Education Offset by Decline in Individual Gifts in 2016, Survey Finds

© Alliance – Fotolia
Charitable gifts to America’s colleges and universities remained largely stagnant in 2016, in part due to the effects of a weak stock market on individual giving, according to the latest Voluntary Support of Education survey released earlier this week by the Council on Aid to Education (CAE). Although gifts from individual donors, corporations, foundations, and others reached $41 billion — $10 billion more than in 2012 — a rise in the inflation rate eliminated most of that gain.

Gifts from individual donors and alumni declined in 2016. Gifts from alumni dropped 8.5 percent, while gifts from non-alumni individuals dipped 6 percent. This decline was enough to nearly offset significant increases in giving by corporations ($6.6 billion, up 13.3 percent from 2015) and foundations ($12.5 billion, up 6 percent).

The effect of stock market performance on giving to education is so pronounced because gifts from individual donors and alumni are by far the largest source of charitable donations — representing 42.5 percent (nearly $19 billion) in 2016. These percentages vary from year to year, but the proportions have remained relatively constant since the 2008 recession.

Sue Cunningham, president and CEO of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), which sponsors the annual Voluntary Support of Education survey, hailed the increase in giving by foundations and corporations as “a sign of the growing understanding between these entities and campuses across the country regarding how they can work together to advance similar goals.” Cunningham also counseled that while individual giving declined in 2016, it is still up nearly 7 percent over just two years earlier.

“Similarly, some closely held companies and donor-advised funds are used by individuals to fund their personal philanthropic intentions,” Cunningham explained, noting that had those gifts been tallied in the individual-giving category, individual giving in 2016 would have increased by 10.9 percent.

Over 600 colleges and universities participated in the 2016 Voluntary Support of Education survey , the authoritative source for data and trends on private giving to colleges and universities in the United States. CAE made the official survey results available for purchase on February 7.

Steve Jobs on Creating a Culture of Excellence

In fundraising, a lot has been written about the importance of creating a culture of philanthropy in your organization. Along with that, it seems to me, nonprofits also need to create a culture of excellence that motivates and inspires people to set higher standards for themselves and their organization.

Here’s how Apple co-founder, chair, and CEO Steve Jobs described it:

“If [employees] are working in an environment where excellence is expected, then they will do excellent work without anything but self-motivation. I’m talking about an environment in which excellence is noticed and respected and is in the culture. If you have that, you don’t have to tell people to do excellent work. They understand it from their surroundings.”

Working Writers Profiles Paul Lagasse

When Tom Chandler of The Writer Underground offered to profile me for his new series, “Working Writers,” at first I was honored and thrilled — and then I got nervous.

When was the last time I actually stopped to think about things like my workflow, my tools, my preferences? Or even the reasons why I chose them in the first place? I am a creature not so much of habit, but of efficiency; when something doesn’t work, I find something that does, and then I use it until it doesn’t, at which time I find something else that does. How do you make that process sound even remotely interesting?

In a sense, I am a fanatic about the tools I use. But in another sense, I’m not really. I don’t have to have the best, or the newest, or the most powerful. Instead, I look for the most reliable, the most dependable, the most well-designed. And then I work the hell out of it.

I’m a nut about efficient design. My tools are all like Charles Emerson Winchester III: they do one thing, they do it very well, and then they move on. I’m one of those people who takes it personally when a tool stops working.

And because of that, I don’t have a lot of new things to share. Everything I have to say about Rollabind, for example, I’ve already written on this blog. I still use the system every day and I rely on it as much as ever, but how many times can I say, “Yep, still usin’ it!” and still be interesting?

So I really thank Tom for the opportunity to sit and look at my systems and my processes, to see if the original logics still hold. Check out the interview here: “Working Writers: Paul Lagasse.”

Oh, and one thing has changed since the interview — I recently stopped using Path Finder. The search for alternatives was a very instructive lesson in workflow management. I will write about that here soon.

If I have anything interesting to say about it, that is.

Value-Added Writing

I’ll be hosting a panel session on “What Editors Look For in Freelancers” at the 2011 Maryland Writers’ Conference on April 2. One of my panelists will be Tam Harbert, an award-winning journalist who covers technology, business, and government beats. My introduction to Tam was her post on the ASBPE blog, “Freelance Work Worth Paying For,” in which she argues — and demonstrates convincingly — that writing is more than simply stringing words together. When editors hire writers, they are also paying for the ability to provide them with what they want (even when they’re not sure what that is); subject-matter expertise; the ability to present the story in an appropriate and compelling way; critical thinking skills that have been honed from experience; persistence and doggedness in order to get to the real story; and the ability to deliver everything on time.

In an age when “content farms” are busy driving down the rates that many writers can charge for their work — to say nothing of what they’re doing to the quality of information available to people who need it — it’s good for writers to remind ourselves that we offer our clients more than just good grammar. Professional writers bring a broad suite of skills to bear on solving their clients’ word problems. We answer the essential questions:

  • What questions do your readers have?
  • Where are the most accurate and reliable answers going to be found?
  • What’s the best way to present those answers to your readers?

By the time I finished reading the post, I knew I needed Tam on my panel, and I’m pleased that she accepted the invitation. Once you read her piece, I think you’ll understand why too. And if you’re planning to attend this year’s Maryland Writers’ Conference, I hope you’ll consider attending my session and hearing it right from the source.

GAO Audits Find Good, Bad News at NARA

As has been widely reported, last month the Government Accountability Office released the long-awaited reports on two audits of the National Archives and Records Administration’s oversight and management and information security. The results are a mixed bag, but indicate that NARA is continuing to learn from its past mistakes.

Here are some of the highlights:

Continue reading “GAO Audits Find Good, Bad News at NARA”

Associated Press Decides to Bury the Lede

All good things, they say, must come to an end. According to this article from the Columbia Journalism Review, the Associated Press has decided to phase out venerable wire-service-era editorial terms like “lede,” “hed,” “sted,” and “graf” in its stories.

Well, I guess these terms have certainly had their day. But I’m surprised, in a way, that they haven’t caught on with the latest generation of web-based writers. After all, they have a couple things going for them:

  • They’re retro. They were born in the time of steampunk. When you hear them, you think manual typewriters and telegraphs. And as print newspapers increasingly acquire retro-chic cachet akin to vinyl LPs, perhaps some of that warm glow will shine on the terms of the trade as well.
  • They’re short. In an era when, once again, space constraints limit how much can be communicated effectively in one burst (think Twitter and text messages), abbreviated terms can pack much information into a small, efficient space. Think about it: “30” is perfect for a numeric keypad, and it uses five whole fewer characters than “kthxbai.”

We may have to wait a while, but I think these classics will make a comeback. After all, text messaging gave numeric keypad letters a whole new life long after people had stopped using them to remember telephone exchanges. They have stuck around this long — not because of nostalgia, but because their usefulness outlived the contingencies that created them. Whether we “RT” or “TK,” we’ll always have a need for editorial shorthand.

-30-

Is Your Headline Sending the Wrong Message?

When your message has to capture and hold your reader’s attention, two of the most important tools at your disposal are the strong lede and the attention-grabbing headline.

But to work, they have to tell the same story.

Consider the following powerful lede in a press release from the Yale School of Medicine:

“Eliminating cancer stem cells (CSCs) within a tumor could hold the key to successful treatments for ovarian cancer, which has been notoriously difficult to detect and treat.”

The headline for this release on the Yale University Office of Public Affairs website reads: “Disarming Specialized Stem Cells Might Combat Deadly Ovarian Cancer.”

But over on Futurity, a science press-release aggregator, the same story leads with this headline: “Stem cells linked to deadly ovarian cancer.”

Whoops.

Futurity editors, you can probably expect to be getting a call from the Yale OPA pretty soon . . .

A Writer Looks at Copyediting

Katharine O’Moore-Klopf of KOK Edit posted a link to the following article on the EFA discussion list, and I thought it would make a valuable addition to the list of articles on copyediting that I posted recently.

Scott Berkun, “How copyediting looks and feels:”

“Copyeditors have a tough job. They have to sort out what the author was trying to do, and then help them do it. But if a writer botches a sentence or a paragraph (or chapter), it’s hard for copyeditors to figure out the intent. And of course writing is more than grammar and tense, it’s also less tangible factors like honesty, relevance, humor and value, which the copyeditor might sense is lacking but can’t fix on their own.”

(This copyeditor can’t resist pointing out that the last line above should read: “. . . on his or her own.”)

The article is a useful overview of how authors interact with copyeditors for the benefit of the final product. The comments that follow the article are both thoughtful and helpful as well. And I love his definition of copyediting: “where someone gets ‘all up in your sentences.'”

Some more words of wisdom:

“Good copyeditors are underpaid. They have the most intimate involvement in the creative process, even though it’s late in the game. In many cases they make mediocre writers look good. And of course a bad copyeditor can make an interesting or entertaining writer seem boring and dull.”

Writers and managers: do you value your copyeditors?

just how useful are copy editors?

Three articles approach the question from unique yet complementary angles:

John McIntyre, “Evaluating Copy Editors,” from You Don’t Say:

“If you happen to oversee copy editors, one of our nation’s fast-dwindling resources, you might be interested in some suggestions on how to evaluate their performance. If you are a civilian, unclear what copy editors do, apart from filing for unemployment insurance, this post will suggest to you what is being sacrificed at the publications you read. “

John White, “3 Ways to Make Your Subject Matter Experts Think,” from How to Hire a Copy Editor:

“Why would you run the risk of antagonizing a customer or engineer who is doing you a favor by allowing you to pick his brain for a white paper or case study?

This writer is smart enough not to try to impress the interviewee with her knowledge of the business or technology. She doesn’t need to know more in those fields to make the interviewee think.

It’s all in the three questions she poses them to explain it.”

Ruth Samuelson, “A Missing Sense of ‘Place’ on Acker,” from the Washington (DC) CityPaper:

“Behind every article, there a few—sometimes many—fact-checking dramas you’ll never catch wind of in the final draft.

You think your story’s done. Then, you spend two hours selecting one word. Seriously.

Case in point: . . . “