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

Personal Blog, Professional Success

In this post, Steven Roll, ASBPE immediate-past president explains why starting a personal blog can be a springboard to professional success.

Moments before B2B editorial consultant Paul Conley was about to deliver his keynote address at ASBPE’s 2008 national Editorial Excellence Conference in Kansas City, I asked him if he ever worried that his blog might scare away potential clients.

“I’m sure that’s probably happened,” he said. But he said what he mostly worried about was receiving a highly attractive job offer that came with the condition of ending his blog.

Paul’s passion for blogging was among several factors that pushed me a few months later to start a personal blog about Latin America travel. I had been wanting to start a blog for some time, but I fretted about things such as what my co-workers might think about it. What about all those stories on the news about people who got fired for writing things on their blogs?

Looking back on it, I’m glad I put those worries aside. Instead of thinking my personal blog was strange, many of the people I work with were curious about what I’d learned from it and wanted to know how to apply to work.

As a result, blogging turned out to be one of the most productive professional moves I’ve ever made. My personal blog and twitter feed became my personal laboratory where I discovered the power of social media. Understanding it enabled me to advocate for social media initiatives at work, such as starting a LinkedIn group for my publication and, later, a blog.

Of course, I’m not the only one to make this discovery. Michael Goldberg, a former managing editor for and now the managing web editor for the Monitor Group, started blogging about autism four years ago. His blog, Autism Bulletin, is an important resource for families dealing with autism issues.

Here is what Michael said when I asked him back in September if blogging has helped his career:

Yes absolutely the personal blog opened doors to me at work. And I had that in mind when I started Autism Bulletin an outlet for my research into autism and a way to share what I learned with other families. At work at the time, I didn’t have the kind of access to online tools which I wanted to learn, and I saw how easy it was to experiment outside of the office. There are a lot of rewards for experimenting in business, and online tools make it ridiculously easy to experiment on your own if the office won’t or can’t for whatever reason make the time and space to do it. I think the advance of tools since then — we’re talking about four years ago — make it even easier to experiment at both work and at home. But without a doubt, the lessons you learn at home, when you reflect on them, often apply to a more general context which has value in the office.

Make 2011 the year you launch your personal blog. Chances are it will pay professional dividends.

Are Tweets and Likes on the Record?

In this post, Steven Roll, ASBPE past president looks at the growing trend of articles that include quotes taken from virtual social media venues such as Twitter and Facebook. Left unchecked, the practice increases the likelihood of producing inaccurate or incomplete stories, Roll says.

A well-known industry expert left a comment on a publication’s LinkedIn group grousing about a recent regulatory development that is likely to negatively affect her clients. Is her comment fair game for use as a quote in an article on the subject?

Perhaps. But if it were my publication, I would follow up on the comment by e-mailing or calling her.  I would want her to understand that her comment was going to be published in my publication. Reaching out to her would ensure that her remark wouldn’t be taken out of context. Plus, she would most likely elaborate on what she said.

But I’m not sure if some magazines or newspapers are being as careful as I would be.

When ASBPE past-president Paul Heney was laid off this summer from his position as editorial director of Hotel & Motel Management magazine as a result of a reorganization at Questex, Folio: wrote a story about it, which concluded with this:

Paul Heney, the title’s former editorial director, couldn’t be reached for comment but said over Twitter: “I’ve entered the realm of the jobless. If I have any disappointment, it’s for the way fellow co-workers were let go. Time 4 summer vacation.”

A few months later when Paul mentioned the Folio story to me after ASBPE’s national board meeting, he said he doubted that Folio: made much of an effort to reach him. “They’ve never had a problem finding me before,” he said.

It’s too bad that Folio: didn’t reach Paul because asking him to elaborate on his tweet would have most likely improved the story. It would have been interesting to know how Questex went about terminating his co-workers.

Even some of the most high impact news stories  now contain references to “tweets” from sources. A story that appeared in the New York Times this weekend about Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged gunman who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford story quoted some tweets made by a former high school classmate of Loughner. The article said:

“As I knew him he was left wing, quite liberal. & oddly obsessed with the 2012 prophecy,” the former classmate, Caitie Parker, wrote in a series of Twitter feeds Saturday. “I haven’t seen him since ’07 though. He became very reclusive.”

“He was a political radical & met Giffords once before in ’07, asked her a question & he told me she was ‘stupid & unintelligent,’ ” she wrote.

The fact that the quote was pulled from Twitter makes me wonder if she would have further elaborated if she was communicating via a medium that wasn’t limited to 140 characters.

A story in Sunday’s Washington Post made use of Facebook. An article about the dissatisfaction among University of Maryland Alumni with the school’s new Athletic Director, Kevin Anderson, for firing the school’s football coach Ralph Friedgen, noted:

There are two “Fire Kevin Anderson” pages on Facebook. Cindy Skiles, a 1985 Maryland graduate who annually donates at least $11,000 to the athletic department, is one of 101 people who “likes” one of the pages. Skiles, who felt the last few weeks have been “uncoordinated, unprofessional,” had high hopes for the hire when Anderson fired Friedgen.

Including tweets and Facebook “likes” or comments in news stories begs a number of questions. For instance, in the Washington Post story, did the donor make the “uncoordinated, unprofessional” comment to the reporter, or was this something she said on Facebook? If this quote was from Facebook  what was the context? Was it response to another comment?

To be sure, the things people say on social media outlets shouldn’t be ignored. But some type of guidance is needed to ensure that virtual interactions are sufficient to produce an accurate and complete story.

What’s your take on this issue?

Use Social Media to Unlock Your Most Valuable Asset: Your Staff

Photo: Steven Roll By Steven Roll

“You know, we have really good frozen naan in the freezer section,” the cashier at Trader Joe’s told me as she rang up the two boxes of instant Indian meals I had purchased. “Hold on a second,” I said, “let me go grab some.”

A few evenings later when I ate the naan with my family, I was glad the cashier spoke up. The India-style bread served at most Indian restaurants made our pre-packaged meal seem more like a take-out.Photo: Frozen Tandoor Naan

One of my favorite things about shopping at Trader Joe’s is how genuinely enthusiastic most of the staff is about their store’s offerings.

I can’t recall a time when a cashier at one of the major supermarkets in my town ever recommended something — or seemed enthusiastic about anything other than ending his or her shift.

The employees at Apple stores have a similar orientation toward customer engagement. Unlike the staff at most big-box electronics stores, most seem like people you might talk to at a party. A conversation that begins with me talking about a problem I had with my iPhone might digress into talk of upcoming 5k races.

Of course, journalists at B2B publications aren’t able to speak face-to-face with their subscribers. But social media tools such as blogs, Twitter and LinkedIn provide them with more ways than ever to engage with their readers.

This is an important opportunity because most business journalists have engaging personalities. It’s a trait that’s necessary to perform a job that mostly involves convincing industry leaders to share insights that will most likely be read by their competitors.

Subscribers are accustomed to reading articles with quotes from reputable sources or references to laws or other authority. But chances are they’re also interested in participating in a less formal conversation about the insights a business journalist has about the industry he or she covers.

Blog posts are an effective means of bridging the gap between a feature article and a conversation over coffee. Regular updates on Twitter and Facebook create a water-cooler effect, which transforms a byline into an actual person with worthwhile ideas.

This makes it more dangerous than ever to do anything but fully embrace social media. To do otherwise is to risk turning your publication into an experience that is about as memorable as a trip to your average supermarket or electronics store.

Steve Roll is the immediate past president of ASBPE.

Even Sexier Than the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

By Photo: Steven RollSteve Roll

By now thousands have read about how the publisher of Millennium magazine doesn’t let his executive duties stand in the way of writing investigative reporting pieces that uncover corporate trickery for his readers.

His biggest complaint about the business press is the cozy relationship between journalists and the executives they cover.

But despite his well-known accomplishments, he isn’t a candidate for ASBPE’s Lifetime Achievement Award (too young) or Journalism That Matters honors.

Who is this amazing business journalist in our ranks? It’s Mikael Blomkvist, the main character in this summer’s blockbuster detective trilogy, which begins with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Fortunately for his readers, the misdeeds Blomkvist uncovers go well beyond corporate governance issues.

But like any serious journalist, Blomkvist is sometimes confronted with serious ethical issues. Following a well-publicized crisis that cast doubt on the integrity of his magazine, both advertising and circulation are declining.

Blomkvist must decide whether to accept financial assistance from the former CEO of a dysfunctional corporate dynasty.

Later on in the story, as he begins to piece together the lurid details of a ghastly series of crimes, he must grapple with other ethical conundrums, such as whether it’s okay to obtain information by hacking into someone’s computer.

When he breaks his big story, he must weigh the merits of publishing a book along with his feature article.

But these are just some of the things that Blomkvist faces in the first book. He must overcome an array of other knotty problems in the second and third novels.

At a time when many in the business-to-business press are faced with furloughs and layoffs, it’s refreshing to read about the exploits of Blomkvist. While both he and his exploits are pure fiction, he’s a reminder of just how talented and resourceful business journalists can be.

Steve Roll is the immediate past president of ASBPE.

Workday of the Near Future?

Photo: Steven RollBy Steven Roll

It seemed like only yesterday that we were adjusting the coverage of news pieces depending on whether it was for a daily, weekly, or monthly publication.

But as Meister Media Worldwide’s Jim Sulecki pointed out in an ASBPE webinar a few weeks ago — 10 Trends That Can Make (or Break) Our Editorial Careers — the time frame for adding perspective or context is now marked in hours.

As daunting as this sounds, the proliferation of social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn make reaching out to sources easier than ever. In fact, asking them to contribute in this manner has the added benefit of encouraging them to read the content and disseminate it.

This approach also helps to identify the issues and key sources for longer-term projects such as full-length magazine pieces.

Here is what Jim said the typical workday of a B2B journalist might look like in the near future:

8:00 a.m.: Check website metrics
8:15: Check e-mail
9:00: Come up with article lead
9:15: Tweet re: article lead formulated as question/trial balloon
9:30: First call on lead
10:15: Tweet summary
11:45: Short item for day’s e-news website
11:50: Short news item with link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blog
1:00 p.m.: Second look at website metrics
1:15: Second call on lead
2:15: Begin scripting 2-3 minute audio feed
4:00: Begin formulating full-length magazine feature.

Steven Roll is senior state tax law editor of the Weekly State Tax Report, Multistate Tax Report and the Multistate Tax Portfolio series published by Arlington, Va.-based BNA Tax & Accounting. He was president of ASBPE from August 2007 through July 2009. Previously, he served as chapter president for ASBPE’s Washington, D.C., chapter from 2003-2007. He coedited Journalism That Matters, a book of case studies about B2B journalists whose stories triggered important changes within government or industry. The Multistate Tax Report has won ASBPE awards for newsletter general excellence and original research. Roll has been named as a finalist in BNA’s Editorial Excellence Award competition several times. He lives in Kensington, Maryland.

Reporting Live From the Echo Chamber

Photo: Steven RollBy Steve Roll

We’ve all heard how no content should be wasted in the Multi-Platform Age.

  • Those pictures that didn’t make the cut for that magazine story? Use them for an online slideshow.
  • The sidebar you didn’t use in the feature article? Expand on it for a blog post.
  • The interview you recorded last week for that profile piece. Turn it into a podcast.

But the New York Times has recently taken this a step further by creating content about content that hasn’t even been created yet. They do this in the TimesCast videos each morning, in which the editors discuss the topics that will be covered.

This is an intriguing use of video technology to provide public access to what had previously been private discussions among editors.

The idea of releasing incomplete content is not new. Journalists have been using Twitter to float trial balloons for story ideas or find sources for a couple of years now.

But Clark Hoyt, the public editor for the New York Times, pointed out that his publication has fallen prey to some of the risks of always being on.

On the second day of TimesCast, Bill Keller — NYT’s executive editor — misspoke about a story involving Israel. Although the TimesCast videos are edited before they are released for public view, Keller’s slip up had somehow made it through.

Hoyt said:

It once did not matter if editors had all of their facts straight at the morning news meeting; there was plenty of time for reporting and editing. But with the world looking over their shoulders, things are different. Editors are dressing better, speaking in complete, sound-bite sentences, and mistakes are embarrassing.

In the same article, Hoyt noted that one of the paper’s reporters said something embarrassing on Twitter and a couple of its writers for one of its blogs fell victim to an April Fool’s Day hoax.

What’s most interesting is that the New York Times seems bent on pressing ahead with using these new technologies, despite some of the risks they present.

Which would you say is worse: missing one or more important stories, or being wrong and embarrassed sometimes?

Steve Roll is the Immediate Past President of ASBPE and chairman of the Webinar Committee. Follow him on Twitter at @b2beditor. His e-mail is b2beditor AT

Professional Development Made Easy: Webinars

ASBPE has an exciting slate of webinars scheduled for the first half of 2010.

TODAY: March 29 @ 12:30 to 1:30 EST: Why B2B Publications Are So Bad at Marketing (and how to fix it). Speaker: Joe Pulizzi of Junta42.

April 29 @ 12:30 to 1:30 EST: Ten Trends that Could Make (Or Break) Our Editorial Careers. Speaker: Jim Sulecki of Meister Media. (For a preview, see Sulecki’s blog post on this topic.)

May 20 @ 12:30 to 1:30 EST: Managing Online Communities.

June 17 @ 12:30 to 1:30 EST: Managing Your Career in the B2B Press: How to Transform Yourself Into an Indispensable Asset in Today’s Turbulent Economy. Speakers: Howard Rauch of Editorial Solutions, Inc. and John Bethune, writer, editor, and online entrepreneur.

Have any ideas for a future webinar? Would you like to help moderate one or assist with some of the behind-the-scene aspects? Contact Steve Roll at b2beditor AT
To learn our webinars, visit

It’s Never Too Early to Adopt a Social Media Policy

Photo: Steven RollBy Steve Roll
Past President

The sluggish economy and profound changes taking place in the publishing industry make this a particularly difficult time for those working in the business press. One of the few bright spots on the horizon — especially for those of us who cater to a niche audience — appears to be the rise of social media. Wikipedia defines “social media” as “media designed to be disseminated through social interaction, created using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques.”

Previously, a magazine or a television station would produce the content and then disseminate it to its users. Social media turns this model on its head by giving a publication’s users the power to be content producers. This is a critical transformation for the business press because very often our readers are one of the best sources for practical insights regarding the industries we cover. With more opportunities to interact with the professionals in the industries we cover, it seems likely that we can increase the readership of our publications and become even more relevant to our existing subscribers.

Recognizing this, most publications have begun to embrace social media platforms such as blogs and networking communities like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Willingness to Experiment. This willingness to experiment with social media places the business press well ahead of several other industries. About 50 percent of companies prohibit their employees from using social media at work, according to a survey conducted by Robert Half Technology.

While social media presents opportunities, it’s important to consider its challenges. Chief among them is the risk that someone representing a publication will make an unscripted, unedited remark, could insult or alienate the readers or advertisers its trying to attract.

Most publications recognize this risk, but the conversations I’ve had with other business press editors suggest that many publications are just beginning to formulate a social policy. This is consistent with other types of companies that are using social media. More than one in three businesses have not adopted a social media policy, according to a survey released in July (PDF) by advertising firm Russell Herder and law firm Ethos Business Law.

Part of the reason for the delay probably stems from social media’s early age. It’s difficult to formulate a policy about something you don’t entirely understand.

Start with the Basics. But it’s never too early to adopt a policy, says Chris Boudreaux the creator of the Social Media Governance website. “I guarantee that your employees are already using social media,” Boudreaux said. “If you are still learning as an organization, then start with a basic policy that helps employees make smart decisions, as best you can. Then, as you learn, and as you expand your use of social media in the organization, update your policies accordingly.”

Not adopting guidelines for social media use has its own risks. It could inhibit staff members from making good use of social media applications. For instance, why should a reporter stick her neck out by communicating with industry professional on Twitter if her employer doesn’t sanction such communications? With no policy at all, it’s only too easy for an employee to imagine being terminated for a negative outcome.

“Clarifying boundaries for your employees helps them to conduct positive an constructive interactions in social spaces,” Boudreaux said. “As leaders of teams or organizations, we owe it to our people to think about the boundaries that make sense for our organizations, and make then clear to our people. If we wait until employees find and break those boundaries ahead of us, then we have only ourselves to blame as leaders.”

Of course, a formal policy is no panacea. People have been saying inappropriate and regrettable things for as long as they’ve been having interactions, and that’s not likely to change.

Risks. This makes it even more important to adopt policies aimed at reducing the likelihood of this risk and knowing what to do about it when it arises.

What I’ve learned from helping to establish rules for social media conduct for my company is that it makes sense to have two sets of policies: one addressing the staffs’ “private” use of social media, and another for messages sent out on behalf of their publication.

Policies addressing employees’ activities on their personal blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter accounts could, among other things:

  • clarify that existing rules governing company use of electronic media such as e-mail (e.g., prohibitions against sending porn) apply to social media as well;
  • address whether editorial staff may post messages offering an opinion about the particular area they cover — this can impact your publication’s objectivity;
  • prohibit the disclosure of the company’s confidential information or violation of it’s intellectual property rights.

Guidelines. Other guidelines might state how the publication would like employees to disclose their employment in their private media (e.g., on their personal blog) and how employees should respond to press inquiries regarding their private use of social media, Boudreaux said.

The rules for social media interactions on behalf of a publication could establish things such as:

  • participating in social media on behalf of the company is not a right, but an opportunity that should be treated respectfully and seriously;
  • social media initiatives (i.e., blogs, LinkedIn groups, Facebook pages), are a collaborative endeavor that must be planned in advance with the appropriate editorial and marketing managers;
  • content posted on company blogs or LinkedIn groups must be reviewed and approved by a managing editor;
  • when using social media on behalf of the company use your own name and be clear about your job title etc.
  • recognize that you are interacting with a sophisticated audience that can quickly spot inaccurate information. Limit your efforts to subjects with which you are familiar; and
  • if you make a mistake, admit it and quickly correct it.

Another important thing to address is the expected response time to customers or prospects, Boudreaux added.

To be sure, having social media policies in place won’t prevent problems from arising from time to time. But they can help to ensure that everyone at your publication is reading from the same playbook. They are also likely to make employees think twice about sending out a bad tweet and encourage more staff to get into the social media game.

We’re Looking for a Few Good Judges

Photo: Steven RollBy Steven Roll

ASBPE is looking for a few good judges for the 2010 AZBEE Awards of Excellence.

At this point in the “looking for judges” blog post I usually point out all the good things you’re likely to learn from the judging experience. For instance, you’ll develop a sense for which entries’ mission statements and essays work and don’t work.

But after rounding up judges for the 2009 print and digital competitions I’ve come up with an even more compelling reason: your colleagues in the business press need you to share your editorial and design acumen more than ever.

As you probably are aware, the publishing industry has been particularly hard hit by the current economic crisis. Many of our B2B colleagues have either been laid off or forced to work the same job for less pay.

No matter how rewarding, finding the time to volunteer is hard enough when the economy is firing on all cylinders. But it’s almost impossible when there are more pressing concerns such as finding employment.

If you’re one of those lucky people out there that is still working in a senior editorial or design position, please consider judging. Judging is also open to successful freelancers.

Besides the warm feelings and practical experience, you’ll receive $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 ASBPE’s judging coordinator Katy Tomasulo at ktomasulo @