How Important Is Content Planning?



Dwight Eisenhower, who of course was a master of logistics as well as a general and U.S. president, was famous for having said:

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

In its own modest way the same could be said of content planning. Rare indeed would be the edition that comes together precisely the way it was planned. Stories and relatively priorities change. Cover concepts evolve through brainstorming and refinements. Ads come in (or don’t).

So is planning a waste of time? Absolutely not. Planning affords choices and flexibility – important factors both quantitatively (“do I have enough stuff?”) and qualitatively (“do I have enough GOOD stuff?”). In my own issue planning, this is how I’ve sort of liked to see the pipeline at any given time (and when I say “pipeline,” I mean content that is “in” or is “committed to and on its way”):

Three-month content planning

For instance, for the immediate next print issue I always want to have 125% of what I think I need because a story may fall through, an 8- or 16-page form may be unexpectedly added, etc. And I’m always trying to modulate that mix of timeless (often outside-authored) and timely (usually inside-written) – dialing up the relative ratio on the newsy stuff as each issue deadline approaches and as market conditions and audience needs dictate, knowing our staff editors can turn these timelier stories around on a dime and to our specifications without a whole lot of time-consuming to-and-fro at the 11th hour.

But no matter what your system is for planning – be it mighty or modest – know this: Any planning is better than none.


“Quote Unquote”: How Precise Must Our Quotes Be?

Erika.OSU Alumni magazine

Erika on the cover of the January-February 2013 issue of the Ohio State Alumni Magazine.

I’m a proud papa to report that my daughter is pictured on the cover of the current issue of the Ohio State University Alumni Magazine. As the cover blurb describes: “Erika Sulecki benefited from the Success Series [a campus-acclimatization program for new students]; now she helps freshmen find their own footing on the path to the future.”

After the novelty and hoopla of this honor had receded, Erika, who’s a senior at OSU, got around to reading the passage of the story where she’s quoted. Then she texted me:

“Hahaha so [I] just read my quote. Is it frequent for writers to paraphrase what you say and then quote it? I feel like one of them was something I wouldn’t say directly although it[‘]s what I meant”

Ah. That odd feeling of close-but-not-quite-exact-verisimilitude that anyone who has ever been interviewed for print feels. It’s sort of like seeing yourself on video or TV for the first time. Is this what I really look like? Is that what I actually said?

Having been quoted once or twice myself through the years, I responded:

“Yes, isn’t that an odd experience? Writers frequently paraphrase what they remember you saying. Me, I’ve always tried to get the quote as verbatim as possible”

And it’s true. Maybe it’s my persnickety past as an English major studying literature, where dialogue and the way a character says something advance the plot and theme every bit as much if not more than the narrative itself.

Erika replied:

“Haha yeah it was phrased in a way I wouldn’t say it. I mean it’s not bad [‘]cause he got [t]he gist but it was funny”

Yes, the gist — isn’t this really what we journalists are seeking to convey? But note the peculiarities and uniqueness of Erika’s texting which are so unique to Millennials. I’ve quoted her verbatim so that you might get the full “gist” of what she’s communicating.

And isn’t this what we should be doing with the spoken as well as the written word? I.e., quoting verbatim, or awfully close to it? (Taking care not to embarrass, of course.) Cadence, diction, syntax — all are emblematic and representative of the subjects we’re interviewing. Shouldn’t we seek the last full measure of accuracy in representing the thoughts, words and very sound of the people we’re capturing in our content?

The hurly-burly of an interview sometimes precludes such leisure, of course. Sometimes we simply can’t physically pause in the moment to write down precisely what the subject is saying. And God knows that going back and transcribing an interview is a pain.

But in this era of fast-encroaching electronic media, of microphones and “voice memos” right on our iPhones, of nearly omnipresent video cameras on our smartphones, of YouTube for the masses — shouldn’t we at least try? The reward is a print story that can paint in words the completeness of a person as accurately as a still photo or video would.