Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Around the Word

  • Journalism professor Don Ranly offers up another constructive lesson in comma placement, enlightening us on the necessity of commas in non-essential phrases
  • Creative career coach Mark McGuinness provides some lyrical tips for developing a content masterpiece. Chief among them? Make like Bach and produce -- research shows that major composers don't pen a higher proportion of masterpieces, they simply create more
  • Galleycat offers a thoughtful post-mortem on yesterday's Amazon crash that had the publishing world in a tizzy. Maybe bookstores aren't so irrelevant after all?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ghost-Blogging: Inevitable or Indefensible?

One of the liveliest debates going on today in the communications world is over the use of ghost-blogging.  So when we came across this provocative, contrarian article by a communications executive named Mark Schaefer, we thought it was a perfect starting point for a discussion among our Gotham pros about the pros and cons of this controversial practice.

In Schaefer's view, there's nothing to argue against.  Yes, he concedes, in a perfect worlds CEOs would write for themselves.  But the reality is most CEOs don't have the time or tools to draft their own speeches or press releases -- nor does anyone really think they do.  Why should blogging be any different?

Many blogging experts strongly disagree.  Because blogging is so personal, they argue, it is a totally different medium with different standards and expectations; there is an assumption that when a CEO signs a blog item, he or she wrote it.  So to use ghosts to write these posts is deceiving the reader and undermining the very purpose of the blog in the first place, which is to build credibility and trust with your stakeholders.

Where do you come down?  Is ghost-blogging inevitable or indefensible?  We asked our writer friends to weigh in, and here's what they had to say...

I can't imagine that anyone could be so naive as to think a CEO of a large (or even a relatively small) corporation would keep a daily, or even monthly blog.  If someone sues a company, do its executives have to deal with the courts etc. or do they hire lawyers?
     -- Adam Engel, professional writer and teacher

Many non-professional writers don’t write very well.  And so what they write is often wooden and ungrammatical, unclear and frequently boring.  It sometimes doesn’t even express what they truly mean to say. What is unique about the art of writing is that many non-professionals think they can do it, since we all “learned to write” in school.  But there’s a difference between being able to form your letters and writing. Few people believe they can practice medicine without a degree or play the oboe without a considerable amount of tutoring and practice.  If pressed, I could probably build a deck on my summer house, but any number of professional carpenters I know could surely do a better, sounder and faster job.

So, yeah, an executive can write his own blog – as long as he or she is capable of doing it.  However, bad writing does not become meritorious just because you did it yourself.  And so, if you don’t have the time or skill to write what you need – a speech, a blog , even a love letter – you turn to a professional (like Cyrano de Bergerac in Rostand’s play) to help you say what you want and mean to say in a way that is clear, accurate and engaging.
     -- Peter Hayes, book writer and business consultant

I'd say blogging is a far more personal medium than, say, a speech or trade-magazine piece. The byline should be valid.
     -- Mark Sauer, Representative for San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye

Actually, blogging is something the exec can do with the ghostwriter.  The exec has to have some thoughts - it can't be completely fake or he/she'll be called on it.  But if the exec has some current thoughts on the business or related topics (and they should, because that's all they think about), the ghost can run with it, and it's a collaboration.  An effective ghost-collaborator can also be creative enough to present a list of topics and thought-starters.  It really doesn't take much input to produce a blog piece, just as with a speech.  Pros know how to do this.  And ethically, the exec can claim ownership.  The ghostwriter's advice is just as legitimate as the advice the executive gets from lawyers or finance people.
     -- Alan Perlman, executive speechwriter

I am entirely against blog ghostwriting. If one puts his or her opinions into writing it is hypocritical for that person to not put his or her name on it.
     -- Anonymous

Any writing for a CEO should be done with input from CEO, or by someone completely in sync with the CEO’s thinking. Blogging is no different.
     -- Cindy Spitz, Principal, CLS Communications Group

Friday, June 25, 2010

Around the Word

Some weighty words to ponder as we head into the sun-baked oblivion of the weekend...
  • The Eloquent Woman delves into the psychology of stress for public speakers, and recommends all speakers take a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment to identify their "inferior function" and suss out what's you versus what's you under stress
  • TopRank explores the curation necessary in today's marketing mix, and consults 10 of the industry's thought leaders on syndication, automation, and why packaging is nothing new
  • Nick Morgan dissects what he deems TED's best speech, given by Jill Bolte Taylor. From her adept weaving of the personal to her use of a startling prop (a human brain), Taylor didn't get a standing ovation for nothing

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Around the Word

With temperatures hitting the 90's, we dug up a few insights and tips on how to stay cool in your writing and speaking.
  • Looking at the General McChrystal flap from a wordsmith's perspective, the estimable David Murray explores the power of profiles to affect change, and Murray's own undeniable desire to keep his subjects happy
  • Men with Pens speaks to the wonder of writing fiction -- not as an end, but a means -- to creativity, muscle-building, and immortality
  • Fresh off the graduation season, The Eloquent Woman advises speakers to think about ways to include the graduating audience in their next commencement speech, offering a savvy video experiment as an example
  • Literary agent Rachelle Gardner offers some tough and wise love to aspiring memoirists on how to make yourself more publishable: read 20 great memoirs and 5 books on how to write 'em. Then get back to her
  • Public Words acknowledges the pressure on speakers to write books, and provides insider know-how on the best ways to reach publishers and agents

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

News Freelancers Can Use

For all our freelancing friends, we would encourage you to check out a profile of the Freelancers Union in the latest issue of Harvard magazine.  It's a nice introduction to the great work the Union and founder Sara Horowitz (a Harvard Kennedy School grad) do in serving and promoting the interests of the nation's growing independent workforce.

It also happens to prominently feature Gotham, with several quotes from President Dan Gerstein and Gotham friend Greg Lichtenberg (both Harvard College alums) about the challenges freelancers face in today's free agent economy and how the Freelancers Union can help writers and other independent workers navigate them.

Some of our New York writers know the Freelancers Union as a local institution, but it is fast becoming a national organization.  Membership has more than its share of privileges: the Union provides easy access to affordable health insurance, along with with a range of other valuable support services that often are difficult for freelance writers to find.

You can find out more about what the FU can do for you here:

Monday, June 21, 2010

Study Finds Little Planning Often Goes Into Placing Speakers

A new study posted on Vital Speeches showed that communications pros are not as strategic in placing executives in conference speaking gigs as you might expect.

Conducted in conjunction with PR giant Weber Shandwick, the study found that 44% of communication professionals have no set process for placing executives in conferences -- or for that matter, even identifying the best venues for their execs to speak. Instead, those doing the scheduling tend to favor peer networking, survey event websites, hire agencies to help, or blindly call conference organizers for scheduling information.

Some good news for speechwriters: With the economy picking up, executives are looking to increase their visibility and take on additional speaking gigs. The flip side: Weber Shandwick chief strategist Leslie Gaines-Ross expects Twitter and video content to become increasingly utilized by execs -- that is, once they discover their complementary potential.

Check out the full results of the survey here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Around the Word

Check out these enlightening words on writing for the ultimate beach read...
  • English teacher Joy Tanksley shares her tips for finding your narrative voice -- from a 3-minute warm-up to recording your ramblings, carving out your own sound starts with feeling comfortable
  • Journalistics' Jeremy Porter encourages brands and the people within them to develop real-time communications models. Rather than planning a meeting to discuss next month's agenda, why not do something now?
  • Nick Morgan takes a look at the effectiveness of Obama's oil spill speech, pining for the passion of candidate Obama to be re-invoked in President Obama. Morgan suggests Obama stand up to express action and limit his "remote control" hand gestures, which undermine the seriousness of the BP situation

Thursday, June 17, 2010

In-Office Writers: How Do You Tune Out the Noise?

A recent post on the Ragan site (unfortunately no longer available) delved into a noisome challenge that many writers face: between the hum of the xerox machine, the resounding ring of phones, and whispered chatter from the water cooler, how are you supposed to write? For the in-house communicators among us, tuning out those weapons of mass distraction can be a pain — and often a productivity drain.  We thought it would be interesting to ask our writer friends how they've dealt with this...

1) I would borrow offices of executives who were out for the day--with permission. 2) There's usually a conference room not in use (the more out of the way, the better). 3) Use whiteboard to let people know not to interrupt unless urgent. 4) Go to another floor and find space there. 5) Work-at-home writing days.
         -- Cindy Spitz, President, CLS Communications

I started writing professionally at the Urban League where not only were there a million distractions, but I didn't even have a computer assigned to me. I had to walk around with a pile of papers and beg for access to someone else's computer. Fortunately my concentration is so intense I can work in a war zone and not notice anything but what I am thinking and doing. When my success as a grant writer earned me a leadership position I received my own office and a new computer. It was sweet. Now I freelance with a workspace designed for my needs. I do occasionally find myself out in the field and revert to intense focus mode. I'm glad it is rare. It is much nicer working in peace.                          -- Jeff Lischin, grant writer and consultant

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Around the Word

For today's quick spin around the web of wisdom, we bring you meditations on curation and duration.
  • Business Insider's Steve Rosenbaum declares the end of content's reign as king — and proclaims curation the new bibliographic boss. With our natural inclination to share, the technology to do so, and the resulting content, well, everywhere, the new expert is the highly branded, ultra-visible leader, not the CNN talking head
  • Copyblogger's Mark Dykeman suggests content creators take a cue from legendary film reviewer Robert Ebert. Due to health complications from cancer, Ebert has lost his ability to speak -- but has not lost his voice. Writing with more passion and insight than ever, Ebert is a testament to the power of writing to lend purpose and perspective.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Around the Word

Some expert advice to get you over the Hump Day:
  • Maggie Lemere and ZoĆ« West, editors of Nowhere to Be Home: Narratives from Survivors of Burma’s Military Regime, explore the privilege of being able to share narratives through blogging, and how to give voice to those without
  • CollegeHumor founder Ricky Van Veen identifies and bursts ten myths of web content creation -- from assuming a patient readership to forgetting the relevance of traditional media, it's time to get real
  • For those of you feeling lost or lacking inspiration, literary agent Rachelle Gardner suggests getting to a bookstore immediately -- browsing books is likely to yield a publishing insight or two
  • The Eloquent Woman's Denise Graveline ponders whether "so" is the next "um" -- and if so, try sticking with these rules to avoid sounding like a Valley Girl

Friday, June 4, 2010

Today's Tips: Speak Passionately, Make Time

  • Nick Morgan explores what it means be a passionate speaker, deeming non-verbal expression, connection, and visible restraint the best ways to enrapture
  • With a book on the way and an endless roster of tasks, lawyer and author Susan DiMickele is constantly asked where she finds the time to write. Her answer? There is no good time -- if you want to write, you sacrifice.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Around the Word

Fear not, we're back today with three new words of wisdom:
  • Copyblogger's Nathan Hangen rallies the writing troops to not just sell, but lead. Quit apologizing for knowing what you know and dare to be an expert -- the tribe will follow
  • Men with Pens shares some tips for being a good blog host to your guest posters -- don't be afraid to specify word count, preferred subjects, or level of originality. When it comes to blogging guidelines, strict standards are more likely to up the quality of contributions, not stifle authorial creativity
  • The Eloquent Woman tackles speakers' fear of back-row challengers by suggesting the speaker proactively bring their audience into the speech. Research who will be attending and use examples and slides that specifically speak to them -- after all, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Knucklerap Corner: Where a Red Hand is the Mark of an Improved Mind

By Lauren Weiner

Our Kudzu Word of the Month: “traditional”

Have you noticed the way this word is driving out the use of “typical,” “usual,” “conventional,” “customary,” “established,” “long-standing,” “existing,” and other perfectly good adjectives?

Some examples:  
“The report lists traditional extremist groups, such as racist skinheads or lone terrorists.”
“Made from a special combination of 70 percent plant material and 30 percent traditional plastic.”

The first is from a daily newspaper. The second is from a label on a product bought by Knucklerap’s editor. She cannot recall what product it was, but rest assured it was not a Queen Anne chair.

#   #   #

Dangle Alley: Where Modifiers Roam Forlornly

Baltimore Sun, May 2, 2010. Walter Hamilton: “Despite being co-captain of his prep school tennis team, his parents attended only one match.”

The opening clause refers not to the parents, but to their son (Eliot Spitzer). Therefore the clause dangles. Here is a good fix: “He was co-captain of his prep school tennis team, yet his parents attended only one match.”

Intelligent Life, Spring 2009. Johann Hari: “Humiliated, reviled, and still carrying a deadly virus, Sullivan’s story could easily have ended here.”

What should follow those opening participial phrases is “Sullivan,” for it was he – not “Sullivan’s story” – who was humiliated, reviled, and still carrying a deadly virus., April 1, 2010. Claudia Rosett: “Conceived before Sept. 11, and scheduled to air in the initial fall lineup of 2001, 24’s premiere was briefly delayed.”

It wasn’t the show’s premier, but the show itself, that was conceived and scheduled.

Baltimore Sun, April 5, 2010. Lorraine Mirabella: “Even if trained in a particular trade through the military, many states require retraining or recertification according to that state’s standards.”

The opening modifier dangles; we are never told who is trained.

Chicago Tribune, April 13, 2010. Dennis Byrne: “While similarly distracted, they also zapped us with another exorbitant ‘stimulus’ package of ‘investments’ in roads, bridges, ‘clean energy’ and whatnot.”

We were the ones distracted, not “they” (meaning members of the Obama administration).

Weekly Standard, March 29, 2010. David Aikman: “Hitler had lied to Chamberlain that, after gobbling up the Sudetenland, his appetite for territorial acquisition in Europe would be satisfied.”

His appetite did not gobble up the Sudetenland; he did. Suggested correction: “Hitler had lied to Chamberlain that gobbling up the Sudetenland would sate his appetite for territorial acquisition.”

Commentary, February, 2010. Joseph Epstein: “As an adolescent, my own favorite deli was a modest place, with 10 or 11 tables on Western Avenue, near Devon, called Friedman’s.”

Mr. Epstein should have written: “When I was an adolescent, my own favorite deli was a modest place . . . ”, July 28, 2009. Greg Grant: “Never numbering more than 5,000, RAND describes the PRUs as an ‘intelligence driven police force – better trained, equipped, and paid than the South Vietnamese National Police, and with a highly specialized mission, to be sure, but a police force nonetheless.’ ”

RAND does not number more than 5,000; the PRUs do.

#   #   #

Baltimore Sun, March 26, 2010. Editorial: “The same goes for the three Republican House members who fanned the same protesters who cursed and spit at Democrats on Sunday by standing on the Capitol balcony with signs reading ‘Kill the bill.’ ”

You don’t fan protesters; you fan flames. (There is a slight suggestion here, as well, that spit is being fanned. Eeeew.)

New York Times, April 4, 2010. Alessandra Stanley: “The stature Ms. DeGeneres has on ‘Idol’ hasn’t bled over into her talk show.”

Can stature bleed? Mixed metaphor.

From the same Alessandra Stanley article: “The tempestuous Ms. O’Donnell allows anger, feuds and even family psychodramas to flow through her public appearances, particularly during her tenure on ‘The View.’ ”

Rosie O’Donnell is no longer on that television show, so there is a present-tense-past-tense discrepancy. To eliminate it, Ms. Stanley should finish the sentence by saying that this was particularly true when she was on “The View.”, May 4, 2010. John Dickerson: “Republicans hope to build on this mistrust by branding Democratic efforts at smart government into attempts to merely grow government.”

“Branding into” is not idiomatic English. Mr. Dickerson should either eliminate the “into” or substitute “turning” for “branding.”

Time magazine, May 3, 2010. Tim Padgett: “A former college quarterback, Charlie Crist often speaks with the motivational tenor of gridiron pep talks.”

One doesn’t really speak with a tenor. Switching prepositions (“in a tenor”) doesn’t seem to help, either. Looks like “tenor” is the wrong word.

Washington Post. August 14, 2009. Adam Bernstein: “Their quicksilver note-for-note matching of solos created howls of approval from the audience.”

While creating howls does not seem beyond the realm of possibility, it is more idiomatic to speak of eliciting them.

Vanity Fair, April 2008. Sheila Weller: “The achingly poignant song has an earned-sounding grasp of the finiteness of life; the relinquishment of the baby, in retrospect, seems a shadow theme.”

Can you earn a grasp? Maybe you can. But there’s also the question of whether a grasp can sound any particular way. We think not. Overwritten.

Knucklerap archive:

February 2010
August 2009
May 2009

Weiner, a Gotham team member, is a free-lance writer in Baltimore.