We need you to help improve the Azbees

Have you entered the Azbees http://www.asbpe.org/azbee-awards? We’re in the process of judging the 2012 entries and we’re already planning for the 2013 contest and we’d like to get your feedback.

Do you have suggestions for new categories? Outdated categories that should be removed? Criteria that we should be considering? We added two new categories this year to recognize the growth in smart phone apps and webcasts. And, what hinders your ability to enter the contest? Are the publishers standing the way? The time crunch in getting entries done? The SRDS aspect? What else? We would like your feedback. You’re in the trenches; you want recognition … how best can we do this? Please email me your input at tonieauer@gmail.com, so the National Competition Committee can review and create suggestions for the ASBPE Board.

— Tonie Auer, ASBPE National Competition Committee Czar

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged

I’m full of clichés today. I suppose since I can’t use them in my quality work writing, I will use them to torment readers today. But, wait, there’s more! You can take that judgmental nature with which you read and apply it to good use. Instead of just shaking your head and thinking “this poor woman needs a good editor,” you can help us out by judging the Azbees. If you’re not familiar with them, you can get the 411 here. http://www.asbpe.org/azbee-awards

We have more than 1,300 entries that require a critical eye from a quality editor for judging. The commitment to judging can be from two hours on a small category to around a dozen or more hours. We’ll give you the criteria and make it as easy as possible and you’ll have several weeks to get it done. The payoff? You’ve helped colleagues, just like yourself, be judged fairly by a B2B journalism professional. Think you’re up the task? Then, email me your contact information at tonieauer@gmail.com and I’ll follow up with you.

— Tonie Auer, ASBPE National Competition Committee Czar

ASBPE Extending 2012 Azbee Competition Deadline to February 3

ASBPE is extending the deadline for the Azbees award competition until midnight Friday, Feb. 3.  Don’t miss your opportunity to submit your entries into our premier B2B contest.

Please note that there will be no more extensions beyond this date, so get your entries in today!  You can enter and pay for your submissions online.  Simply visit https://www.b-online.com/secure/asbpe/competition to enter the online system.

Good luck with the competition and thank you for supporting ASBPE!

What I Learned From Judging the Azbee Awards

Danica Tormohlen, President of ASBPE’s Kansas City Chapter, shares her secret recipe for winning an Azbee.  

When I began judging this year’s Azbee awards, I had just turned a brilliantly written 2,700-word article that my publisher said was too long. Like just about every other writer I know, I was quick to justify the long prose I had submitted.

But after reading some slightly more brilliantly written articles from a variety of different industries that I knew nothing about, I was reminded to look at my own work and magazine with the same objective, scrutinizing eye of a judge.

This is one reason I have volunteered to judge the Azbee awards competition, as well as other writing competitions, for the last several years. Of course, I feel it’s the least I can do to give back to the industry that has served me so well. But the real reason that I spend hours and often days reviewing submissions is that I always learn something that inspires me to be a better writer. Here are a few tips and reminders I picked up this year:

  • Write for digital natives. Today’s readers simply aren’t going to spend much time reading a business feature. Use subheads, bullets, sidebars, photos and captions to complement the story and break it up into easy-to-read chunks. Page after page of copy will be glossed over.
  • Write like you are writing for your favorite business publication. Who are the B2B magazine industry leaders you look up to? Emulate them when you are working on an article. Would this piece be published in their magazine? Why or why not?
  • Ask yourself what’s in it for the reader. While you might have a great story to tell, if the business reader is unclear how to apply what they learned to their jobs, you are not doing your job as a trade magazine writer and editor.
  • Play devil’s advocate. Did you interview outside experts? Did you talk to a variety of sources? Is your coverage fair and balanced? Even when you are writing a case study about a business success story, discuss the downsides and challenges your sources faced or the reader won’t get a full picture. And it helps to build an even stronger story.
  • Look for story ideas in the most unlikely places. I got story ideas from just about every entry I judged, despite the fact they focused on industries that have absolutely nothing to do with my own.
  • Ask yourself if you would enter the article you’re writing or editing in a competition. If not, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. What’s missing that would make this an award-winning entry?
  • And last but not least: Just do it.After judging this year’s entries, I went back the story I turned in and looked at it through the eyes of a judge.The truth is: It was way too long. I cut some copy and put it into a sidebar with bullet points, and I tightened the rest of the story, focusing on a clearer explanation about why it was valuable for our readers. So when the invitation to judge comes out again next year, I won’t hesitate to respond. I’m sure my boss and our readers will be happy I did.

Trade Show Executive contributing editor Danica Tormohlen, who served as editor-in-chief and publisher of EXPO magazine, has covered the trade show industry since 1994. She has won numerous awards for outstanding editorial and design, including the Folio: Award for Editorial Excellence and Best Web Site Redesign from min’s b2b. Tormohlen is active in the trade show and publishing industries, serving on various committees for the International Association for Exhibitions and Events (IAEE). She was recently elected president for the Kansas City Chapter of the American Society of Business Press Editors. She can be reached at (816) 803-8103 or danicat@tradeshowexecutive.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanicaTormohlen.

You Be the Judge

Photo: Steven RollBy Steven Roll
ASBPE Past President

ASBPE is looking for a few good judges for the 2011 AZBEE Awards of Excellence. What’s in it for you? Judging will give you the insights you need to get an inside track to winning an editorial or design award. As a judge, you’ll quickly learn which entries’ mission statements and essays work and don’t work. You’ll also further develop your sense for identifying the intangible qualities that separate a good article from a great one.

During my time as a features article judge, I’ve noticed how some publications have an uncanny ability to pick topics that I find interesting despite my almost complete lack of previous knowledge about the industry they are covering. This has helped me come up with interesting ideas for articles and identify stories that are likely to appeal to judges who might not know my industry.

Besides allowing you to gauge trends and hot topics, judging is good way to learn about new reporting techniques or design ideas. This will help you to improve your publication and boost your career.

Serving as a judge in the last five competitions has given me an invaluable education and has heightened by respect for the trade and association press. Every year, it reinforces my belief that despite the obstacles most specialty publications face, they consistently produce high-quality design and editorial content.

At the awards banquet, it feels good to know that I played a key role in picking the winner of one or more of the categories.

If all of that isn’t enough, there’s more. ASBPE is one of the few organizations that pays its judges. Each judge receives $75 in “ASBPE bucks,” which may be applied toward membership dues, fees for chapter events or the national conference, or ASBPE books.

Of course, not everyone can be a judge. ASBPE is looking for people who have a proven track record of success in the B2B publishing industry. Find out if you have what it takes by e-mailing me at b2beditor AT gmail.com.

Compelling Stories Await Alert, Aggressive Trade Publications

In this post, Tom Zind — the 2010 recipient of the Stephen Barr Award — explains why B2B publications are perfectly capable of producing stories that can trigger meaningful change.

There’s no rule, written or unwritten, that only publications lucky enough to get to compete for the Pulitzer Prize get to do great journalism.

Trade publications, too, are fully capable of producing the same kind of impactful investigative reporting as their cousins in the consumer press.

I’ve been reminded of that fact this year, having had the good fortune to win the ASBPE’s 2010 Stephen Barr Award, as well as a Gold Azbee, for a story that appeared in EC&M magazine in 2009.

Missteps and Oversights. In the story, which explored the linkage of military and military-contractor missteps and oversights to the tragic electrocution deaths of several U.S. soldiers in Iraq, we attempted to frame the problem, cite the possible causes, allocate responsibility and highlight multi-pronged efforts to correct the situation and reduce the hazard.

Though we’ll never know just how much impact the story had on subsequent strong corrective actions initiated by the Pentagon or military contractors, we take heart in knowing that we did our journalistic duty. We saw a problem, one both our national leaders and our readers deserved and needed to understand, and did our best to fairly and accurately lay it out. EC&M editors accurately spotted a compelling and important story, allowed a reporter the time and resources to investigate and put the story through the careful editing and fact-checking paces before letting it see the light of day.

More Attuned to Safety Going Forward. The result, we think, is an industry that’s now more knowledgeable about the nature of electrical safety hazards in military environments and more aware of the dedication of some its members, as well as a military and civilian contractor community more attuned to safety going forward.

Granted, stories like this that blend life and death, rumors of official negligence and a compelling human-interest angle, don’t come across the typical trade publication editor’s desk very often. But they don’t have to. Trade publication editors and writers who stay clued in to events taking place outside their industries, think creatively about how national stories can be spun with an angle “local” to their readers’ interests and allow their imaginations free rein to at least consider what stories they’d pursue in “a perfect world” not beset by industry political concerns, might be surprised at what gems they uncover.

Always an Audience for Compelling Journalism. Moreover, they’re likely to find an audience whose interest in compelling journalism that may even ruffle a few feathers in the process is unrivaled. Trade publication subscribers are acutely interested in issues that affect their industries and professions. Many increasingly understand that in an age of blogging and social media, secrets are harder to keep and openness is a preferential strategy. That can translate to more willing and cooperative sources than might be imagined, and an engaged readership eager to be told the truth, even in a more unvarnished form.

In short, all of the elements needed for solid journalism – stories begging to be told, sources with intimate knowledge and readers clamoring for facts – are in place for trade publishers. The only missing piece? Just more editors and writers willing and able to turn the key.

By Tom Zind

Zind, who lives in Lee’s Summit, Mo., is a 1979 graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism, and has worked as a freelancer for the last 13 years.

‘Boots on the Ground’ Proves to be Winning Approach for Homeland Security Magazine

It was very gratifying for Homeland Security Today to win ASBPE’s national gold award for best feature series but I have to admit — it was frustration with the existing Azbee rules that drove me to do it.

When we launched our magazine in 2004 I was determined that we weren’t going to put out what I called “another @$&*# trade pub,” as I put it. After the attacks of 9/11, all of us who formed the company and launched the magazine took homeland security too seriously to give it anything less than our best effort. I knew we could produce a high-quality magazine that could stand against any competitor in the trade or consumer media.

From the very beginning as well, I realized that to cover U.S. homeland security, we also had to cover Canada and Mexico because the security of all three countries is intimately intertwined.

Going Beyond ‘Virtual’ Reporting. I’ve always believed in “boots on the ground” reporting. Sure, someone can work the phones or use e-mail, but to get real reporting from a place you have to be there.

Accordingly, over the years we’ve built a network of correspondents around the world. In this case, finding a capable Canadian correspondent was relatively easy, but finding someone who could write consistently good material in English from Mexico City proved much more difficult. Ultimately, I did find Jana Schroeder, a veteran American journalist living and working near Mexico City, and we began working together.

We actually did several series over the years. In 2006 all three countries had elections, so we did an issue with reporting from all three capitals on their likely impact on security in each country.

In 2007, when Al Qaeda began threatening oil installations, we did a three-article package in our September issue called “Petrojihad — The Next Front?” covering petroleum security in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Feature Series Category. I wanted to submit that group of articles for the 2008 Azbee feature series category, but I was told the articles had to be in successive issues. Next time, I resolved, we’d string it out over three issues.

* * *

Things began unraveling in Mexico in 2006 when President Felipe Calderon decided to break the back of the narco-cartels in that country. To everyone’s surprise, the cartels began fighting back — hard.

At Homeland Security Today we issue a homeland security report card every September, looking back at the events of the previous year, and when I looked at the events between Sept. 11, 2007, and Sept. 11, 2008, I was shocked by what I saw going on in Mexico.

Today many people have heard about the brutality and savagery of the narco-cartels. There were Mexican killings and gang shootings in 2008, but what was really surprising was the number of assassinations of high-level government officials.

In May, Edgar Milan Gomez, the acting chief of Mexico’s federal police, was gunned down. In June, Igor Labastida, the top official in charge of combating contraband, was murdered as he ate lunch. Then, in November, the interior minister and the top national security adviser and prosecutor were killed when their plane crashed near Mexico City.

These weren’t just random gang killings, they were targeted, strategic assassinations. If this happened in the United States, you would have to imagine that in the space of seven months the heads of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the attorney general and the national security adviser were all killed.

An Important Story. Something serious was going on. Someone was trying to break the Mexican government, and anything that affected Mexico this directly was going to affect U.S. homeland security.

I also had the opportunity to sit next to Border Patrol Agent Sal Zamora at a dinner honoring outstanding public servants, and we discussed the seriousness of the border situation and the cartels.

Then, several things came together. Anthony Kimery, our senior reporter, who lives in Oklahoma City (in part a reason for his interest in homeland security) said he wanted to go to the border because of the carnage he was hearing about there. I had the same idea and we were able to send him to meet up with Zamora and the two toured the area together.

I also had lunch with Brian Jenkins, a renowned, veteran counterterrorism analyst, when he was in Washington to discuss his new book, Will Terrorists Go Nuclear? There are a lot of people who claim to be counterterrorism experts, but Brian is the real deal, he’s truly been on the front lines, he’s looked those people in the face and he’s had access to the secrets that the rest of us can only imagine.

His full time job is as adviser to the head of the RAND Corporation. As we talked, I expressed my concern about what was going on in Mexico and he said that his next project was analyzing the situation down there, which he agreed was very grave. I asked him if he would write an article on it for us and he agreed.

Team Reporting. Kimery’s reporting would supply eyewitness “boots-on-the-ground” reporting, in an introductory story called “Savage Struggle on the Border.” Jenkins would supply the analysis of where Mexico was going in a story called “Could Mexico Fail?” but we needed reporting and analysis on how Mexico had gotten to this point, and I turned to Jana in Mexico City. She agreed to do the story that filled in the gap. She had excellent access to Mexican officials and academics and her story was called “The War for Mexico’s Future.” We now had the three parts of a series that would give the serious reader a complete picture of the situation.

There was something more — we had the story to ourselves and it was a critical story that needed to be told and fell squarely within our mandate. In the United States, most media was taken up with the 2008 presidential election and Mexican developments weren’t even on the radar.

Frankly, by and large the American media treat Mexico as a slummy back yard and don’t take developments there seriously. It was even worse in 2008. Here was a war — and that’s what it was, a war — going on next door that could have a profound effect on the United States homeland and there was barely a word about it in the general media. It was crucial, it was dangerous and there was no one else doing it.

The series appeared in the January, February and March 2009 issues of the magazine under the collective title, “Savage Struggle on the Border.” We were very gratified by the reaction. At one congressional hearing, Anthony Placido, head of intelligence for the Drug Enforcement Administration, held up the magazine with Brian’s cover story, “Could Mexico Fail?” in order to emphasize the seriousness of the situation.

* * *

We’ve since continued our coverage of the border and the narco war in Mexico and Kimery has made another trip down there. At this point I would say that what’s going on in Mexico is more dangerous than the threat of terrorism from the Middle East.

What made this series compelling was the fact that we had an important story that hadn’t seen the light of day anywhere else, and by breaking it into three parts, we were able to examine it from three different angles. Anyone reading the whole thing will get a much fuller understanding of the overall situation and be able to put breaking news events into context. (You can see it in a special section on our website.

Keys to Series Success. If there are any secrets to a good series, I would say they are: Make sure each installment advances the reader’s understanding of the situation you’re covering. Have a great story. And examine it as completely and thoroughly as you can.

There’s another element to this that I find gratifying: In a tough economic environment, when publications are hanging on by their fingernails, it’s sometimes hard to remember that good writing and good reporting are the foundations for not just journalistic success, but commercial success as well.

The kind of people who read print publications today enjoy reading, they look to it for information and they’re willing to invest time in a well-written article. They appreciate it. As editors we have to make sure their expectations aren’t disappointed.

That raises one last point: In the struggle to survive we’re all trying to appeal to advertisers. That’s necessary for our survival and it’s the system in which we publish. However, as editors we always have to remember that the focus of our efforts is the reader, and we have to serve that reader with the best crafted and researched content we can possibly produce. Good content will result in good revenues. Nothing less will do.

By David Silverberg

David Silverberg, the 2009 recipient of ASBPE’s Journalism that Matters Award, is the editor of HS Today.