Tips for placing comments in the magazine

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Tips for placing comments in the magazine

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One of the big parts of my job is coordinating the opinion pieces that appear each month in National Defense.

These usually fall under three headings: “Viewpoint”, “Commentary” and sometimes “Industry Perspective”.

The generic term is “contributed pieces” because authors are not paid for articles.

This month’s column is a little self-serving, as I spend a lot of time answering phone calls and emails from potential contributors, or their PR reps, looking to place comments in the magazine.

And I do my best to explain to them what I need and what I don’t need. I direct them to the “Contribute an Article” section on nationaldefensemagazine.org under “Contact Us” which has a pretty good overview of what we need, but that advice is often ignored.

Recently I had a potential contributor with an interesting topic. I gave them a standard word count – 1500 to 1800 – and added “please read writer’s guidelines”. The article was sent to me 10 minutes later at 1,200 words with about 10 different rules broken. That number of words leaves me in no man’s land. Too long for one page and too short for two pages.

It is very competitive to place a comment in National Defence. So what are we looking for in terms of topics and contributors?

First, we look for topics that interest a wide range of our readers. Not all comments are of interest to everyone, but we often receive articles that are too deep in the weeds. A recent example was a bid for a geospatial intelligence program.

Interesting for some, but not for enough of our readers, I thought.

Core topics of interest to more readers would include: acquisition reform, cybersecurity maturity model certification, guidance for small businesses, emerging markets, and contract insights.

In terms of contributors, we look for ‘recognized experts’, which has a broad definition, but does not normally include university student dissertations.

These experts are active and retired military personnel, academics, think tanks, association leaders, lawyers, consultants, and industry executives.

Industry leaders get the most rejections because many of them are just looking for free ads.

Sometimes the pitch – usually from a PR firm – is overt.

“Military innovation leader ACME Corp. would like to send you an article written by our President and CEO, Retired Army General Robert Revolvingdoor, about innovative ways the military can use the new modulator the company’s innovative and inexpensive Illudium Q-36 explosive spacecraft.”

No thanks. Buy ad. Send it as a press release and maybe one of our reporters will write it up as a brief. But that’s not a comment.

We understand that Presidents, CEOs and other leaders want to be known as “thought leaders”, and often their views are presented as “vendor neutral”. That’s fine as long as the topic is interesting and compelling to a large number of readers.

Yet these writers often can’t resist slipping in a paragraph or two of ad copy about how the company “leads the way to blah, blah, blah.” I just edit it because I can.

As the writer’s guidelines state: “It is magazine policy that once a manuscript is in the editing process, no outside reading is permitted.”

In other words, the article will be transformed into our style.

those who read National Defense You will regularly notice our “clean copy” philosophy.

We don’t like bold or italics. We abhor parentheses and prefer an em dash. We avoid “overcapitalizing”. We are not an academic journal, so no footnotes. And we despise acronyms, even though we use them – sparingly – never more than one per paragraph.

And please: no hyperlinks instead of citations. If something needs to be quoted, do it in the text. Print magazines do not have hyperlinks. Uh. The article will also appear online, but we will not publish a second version with hyperlinks.

And listen to the lawyers – we don’t do bulleted lists and numbered lists. Sometimes we receive articles that are little more than a series of bullet points and look more like an outline than a commentary. The legal community likes this style of writing. But it’s not written. This is the list.

Now don’t get me wrong. We get a lot of interesting and insightful comments from lawyers. They are a wealth of insider knowledge, especially in the areas of procurement, contracts and new regulations. But the legalese they use to write is the worst.

For example, someone explains this construct: “The Department of Defense (“DoD”) recently updated the Cybersecurity Maturity Model (“CMMC”) certification standards…”

Why the hell do lawyers need quotes and parentheses?

However, these style issues are not dealbreakers. As reviewers, we’ll turn bullet points into paragraphs, ruthlessly weed out acronyms, and turn legalese into understandable English.

Next, make sure the item has all the necessary approvals if it’s from the military, government, or bureaucratic organization before you send it. Don’t email a draft with a caveat “it just needs to be approved by my commander”.

Finally, there are no time limits. The sooner I get a comment, the sooner I can find a place for it in the magazine. But once accepted, understand that it may not see the light of day for several months.

That being said, pitches for provocative, well-reasoned and interesting commentary are always welcome.


Topics: Department of Defense

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