Writing editing

Writing & editing

As a former book publisher, I was involved in content as well as editing for style, clarity and length. A small publishing company usually cannot compete for the most polished and complete manuscripts. I was recognized by most of the authors I worked with for the extensive support I provided.

In recent years I have worked in communications for smaller organizations that benefited from a diverse skill set and the ability to be hands on. My writing and editing for employers has included:

  • Press releases
  • Web writing
  • Reports
  • Signage and slogans
  • Backgrounders
  • Newsletter articles
  • Blogs
  • Posters and signage
  • Advertising
  • Speaking notes
  • Notes to executives and boards
  • Business plans
  • Editing of publications

My editor, Sean Fordyce, has taken a consistent interest in the study almost since its inception and has offered constructive suggestions of a substantive as well as an editorial nature which I am certain have improved the line of argument developed here.

Author: Retreat from Governance and Professor at York University

Everyone knows that writers depend heavily on their publishers but I never expected the amount of support that I had from Sean Fordyce of Voyageur Publishing… Sean never lost his patience or his creative energy even when I was exhausted, and if the manuscript passes the test of public scrutiny, he deserves a large share of the credit.

Dennis Bueckert
Author Kim Campbell: Above the Shoulders, Journalist at Canadian Press

Sean Fordyce has been an exceptionally co-operative editor and publisher, and has provided many useful insights into matters of substance as well as style.

Dr. Bryan Schwartz LL.B, LL.M., J.S.D.
Author: Opting In and professor University of Manitoba

Writing Samples

Some blog posts:

The Birth of a News Story

When an organization’s story gets pick-up, it may seem like some kind of happy accident but a lot more goes into it than luck.

Long before the story

The communicators behind the story engaged in social media, connected and followed journalists, put in place a system to distribute news releases, and had a strong vision of what would interest the journalists and their audiences.


The story was identified as a news story because it was news, it may have been unique, it affected a lot of people either as interesting or life-changing, people could relate to it and it had credibility. It was a good and “tellable” story.

Dissemination plan:

A combination of a press release, a social media plan, direct follow-up to key journalists, was set up


The timing was decided based on an event or release of breaking news – something that made this the day.

Draft release

A draft release was prepared and honed to be engaging. It was designed to be short, with a strong title and introductory sentence that laid out what the issue is and what is the “news” angle.

Social media plan

A list of key social media influencers was prepared, some brief messages prepared, journalists were read online to see who had the greatest interest in the subject. Pictures were prepared for social media posts. A plan was made to reinforce the story in social media.


If there was an event journalist could attend, an advisory was sent out letting them know where and when the event would be held and why they should attend. It held back enough to make them need to come while saying enough to make them want to.

Prior engagement with journalists

Select journalists were approached individually letting them know the release was coming. Some were offered embargoed copies of the release if they needed to do background.

The big day

The release went out. The event was held. The social media efforts went, more or less, as planned and connected to what others were talking about. The journalists, if they did not have an embargoed copy of the release, received it on time. The follow-ups began.

The story made the news. Social media efforts linked to the articles. Facebook and Twitter posts of the pictures and comments influenced the discussion that had a life of its own.

The communications team worked continuously on reinforcement of the story.

The happy accident happened.

Traditional Media vs Social Media

Communicators frequently seek to measure the value of social versus traditional media in an attempt to determine which will deliver the greatest benefit. In 2012 a study by business school professors at Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon examined the relative impact of each. What they found was less of a competition and more of a mutually supportive dynamic.

They discovered that a “unit” of traditional media accounted for 894 sales from new customers and 403 from existing ones. A blog or mention online drove barely ten percent of that. Since social media mentions were more frequent, the authors found that “when this was taken into account, earned media in social channels had a substantially larger impact on sales than traditional earned media did.”

The same study found that social media and traditional media work in a feedback loop. Social media increases and amplifies the reach of traditional media. Traditional media feeds the credibility of social media users while it increases, guides, and focuses their conversations. Still, social media is a valuable tool but seldom drives opinion on its own.

Credibility of the source has become the greatest question in social media. You want the credible sources to be talking about you and you want to participate to influence that discussion. To be credible, social media users frequently source their claims in traditional media.

Journalists are some of the most active social media users. While social media amplifies traditional media stories as users seek to prove gravitas for their interactions, they also remind journalists what people are wanting to talk about.

Journalists are in the business of being information leaders. Yesterday’s social media comment, for them, is already old news unless they are provided something new. Embargoed releases giving them an advance on a story gives them something to work with. A Release can package what a hard-working journalist needs to get a background and follow up on the story.

The cost of social media versus media work and the distribution of press releases appears to be more one-sided than it is. Social media requires significant and ongoing effort to be successful. It is an important media strategy to follow journalists, watch what questions they are asking as it may indicate the stories they are interested in, and to get to know them online. Comparing the apparently free access to social media to press releases would appear to be no contest if you do not calculate the significant time involved. Both are investments and each supports the other. The combination of a great release, social media engagement with key journalists, together with participation in your online community is most effective. A press release can be likened to a seed that requires the water of social media.

Is He a Good Prime Minister?

We are stuck on this question of what makes a good politician and if this premier or that prime minister is any good. We choose to call a friend or ask a stranger like on a quiz show.

We ask who is best for the economy, or healthcare, or as PM. We read polls. We listen to others.

As if it is an objective thing.

We have a class- and income-divided society. Politicians all pretend to be speaking to the middle class as if everyone were in it except the mythical 1%. This conversation is designed to suggest that we are all in a similar situation, we have similar interests, aspirations, values and priorities and, therefore, we can have a similar opinion about which party or leader is best.

All of that is wrong.

Ask yourself: Good for what? Good for whom?

More importantly, is this person’s perspective and ideas good for me?

When you put it this way, the individual has a responsibility to learn more since nobody else can answer this question.

Political leaders are pre-tested by party membership to be good for the values, priorities and desires of their membership.

The inconvenient truth is that a PM does not need to be a bad PM to hurt us. A mediocre PM in terms of skills but who shares our priorities is better than the more skilled one who does not.

Next time someone asserts that a politician is good or bad, ask them who are they good for, and why. And don’t copy someone else’s homework.

Canada Day Essay on Canadian Independence (In response to an article published in the Ottawa Citizen)

10 myths about Confederation published by the Ottawa Citizen on June 30th perpetuates myths rather than clearing them up. The article states that the Dominion of Canada was not an independent country and that Canada gained its independence by degrees following the First World War.

First, Dominion of Canada remains the official name of the country and in fact is the name registered to the Maple Leaf Tartan registered by the government in 2008. The term Dominion was used commonly up to the 1960s but fell out of favour perhaps because of its connotations. Its meaning does not come from a colonial tradition, rather it is a religious reference (Psalm 72.8).

The roots of Canada’s independence lie not in the First World War unless you consider only military independence. While Canada’s independence did indeed come by degrees, the First World War was but one of the steps and not even an early one.

Independence was not benevolently granted by the British so much as fought for by Canadians. By that, I mean the fighting was against British colonial rule rather than in support of it during the First World War. This history is whitewashed when independence is marked as dating only from the First World War. Also minimized, is the critical role of French Canada. Quebec was not a supporter of the First World War but it was a leader in the fight for Canada’s independence.

Which event marks the start of Canada’s road to independence? It would be the taking up of arms against colonial rule with the demand for responsible government. In 1837-1838 rebellions in both Upper and Lower Canada asserted the desire for responsible government (that the direction of the country should be decided by the election of local representatives who act on behalf of the people).

A formal independence of Lower Canada was declared at the outset of the Lower Canada rebellion. That declaration stated: “That from this day forward, the PEOPLE OF LOWER CANADA are absolved from all allegiance to Great Britain, and that the political connection between that Power and Lower Canada, is now disbanded.”

While the rebellions failed from a military point of vie, they got the attention of the British government which only a couple generations earlier had lost the United States and was sensitive to risk of a complete loss of the continent. These rebellions occurred within living memory of the 1812 war during which the United States had attempted to seize Canada.

Following the rebellions, Lord Durham prepared his report recommending that British Appointed governors should submit to the will of the elected representatives of the people: the introduction of responsible government. This of course meant that significant decisions would no longer come from London or her representatives but rather from legislators elected by Canadians.

It is difficult not to see this as the first step toward Canadian independence. If we recognize that, then we have to admit that the embarking on the road to Canadian independence was a result of an armed insurrection contrary to all popular views of Canadian history and that reformers and French Canadians were the catalysts and not a later generation of Canadian generals serving the British Empire during the First world War.

The place where responsible government was first established in Canada was nowhere else than Nova Scotia through the work of Joseph Howe. However, it is the efforts of the rebels of 1837-8 that we owe our first step to independence: William Lyon Mackenzie who was not a Tory like Macdonald but a reformer and journalist, and Louis Joseph Papineau, a French Canadian patriot who had served in the war of 1812.

It is noteworthy that Papineau brought reforms that included granting Jews full political rights almost three decades before any other part of the British Empire. Papineau’s 92 Resolutions together form the first significant assertion of a desire for independence in Canadian history. Canadian independence grew and was asserted over time from the introduction of Responsible Government until the 1980s with the patriation of the Canadian Constitution. The First World War was but a significant step along a much longer road.

Do we overlook the roles of Papineau and the people of Quebec in the development of Canadian independence because he and they were French Canadians? Do we forget about the rebellions because we want to think of independence as an amicable gift bestowed by a grateful Britain in exchange for Canadian blood spilt wastefully, as most blood was during the First World War? Why would we not acknowledge that our independence began not as an act in a foreign war but a struggle for democracy, equality and fairness – all what we like to think of as core Canadian values. The myths are pervasive. The reality of Canada’s independence is more interesting and in keeping with universal Canadian values than the “King and Country” vision of some present and past political leaders.

Wishing away the competition is not a replacement for genuine activism and electoral reform

We frequently hear calls for parties to unite in order to win power. Supporters of smaller parties, frustrated by the disproportionate results of first-past-the-post (FPTP), sometimes engage in a fantasy that their party, with another party removed, could achieve power. This can be considered a case of “be careful what you wish for.”

What these wishful thinkers do not consider is that political parties are largely defined by those they compete with. Parties need these other parties in order to remain what they are.

When a party disappears or shrinks dramatically, other parties absorb the support and membership. That is, of course, what might be hoped for. However, as the surviving party welcomes former members of another party, it is transformed by the new membership. We have seen this in provinces where the landscape has polarized. Where the NDP has eclipsed the Liberals, it has often become a provincial Liberal Party in all but name.

In British Columbia, the conservative Social Credit Party was swallowed by the Liberal Party which then became equivalent to a conservative party; while the NDP, which absorbed Liberal supporters, became more like a provincial Liberal Party.

While the Green Party, so far, has not managed to absorb others anywhere in Canada, there is some potential for this to happen in Prince Edward Island. It is difficult to imagine Peter Bevan Baker compromising on core Green principles, but new members who decide a future leadership contest may not have the same priorities as the activists who define the PEI Green Party today.

The transformation tends to favour the centre due to a numerical advantage.

The Liberal Party has been affected by the presence or absence of other parties. The most notable rightward drift of the Liberal Party occurred when the NDP lost party status following the election of 1993 and the Reform Party of Preston Manning became the Liberal’s only immediate threat. The Paul Martin budget of 1995 would have been at home with a Conservative government. This drift was corrected (under the same Liberal leader) once the NDP was restored and considered an electoral threat.

Likewise, the historic election of Elizabeth May forced all federal parties to recognize political consequences for failing on the environment. Both the Liberals and the NDP have become more vocal on sustainability to counter the threat of supporters moving to the Greens. Without this threat, it would be reasonable to expect these parties to be less vocal on environmental policy.

The existence of Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party, could serve to moderate the Conservative party as the Conservatives lose some of their more right-wing voices and seek to differentiate themselves. Otherwise, they could be brought to the right as they compete for Bernier’s followers. There certainly will be an effect, even if it is not clear yet what that is.

However, the re-ordering or consolidation of available political options is unlikely to change the political direction of a population substantively or over a longer term.

What is required, then, is a cultural shift with respect to the direction of policy among the population. Parties will follow or fail. The people are best served by having a variety of choices and ongoing parliamentary cooperation where policies and positions can be evaluated. Parties who wish to change the public direction must speak to substantive issues and generate a vibrant public conversation around them rather than concentrate on partisan sniping. they must connect to broader movements in the population to endure more rapid changes in the political alignment.

Even in a fantasy world where you could remove political options and realign parties, there is no substitute for a proportionate representation of the public will and interest in Parliament as well as activism outside politics.

Sacrifice is needed to combat climate change

The need for sacrifice is difficult to face and very difficult for politicians to sell to the public. But no longer can we expect to be able to have what has been unsustainable. It will only extend the illusion until time runs out.

Consumption and inequality are threats to the human species, and the leaders of the wealthiest countries will have to ask their people to do with less if the planet is to survive. Survival will involve some sacrifice. It is not helpful to pretend that this is not so.

North Americans frequently refer to “the 1%” of our population here, suggesting that this small group of people has a very disproportionate control of resources in our economy; however, if we are looking at a global scale, most of us are firmly located in that 1%. One study sets an income of $32,400 US as the floor of the global 1% of income earners. This is roughly the bottom of what people here might call the middle class.1 When we talk about the 1%, most North Americans may need a mirror.

People often think action to mitigate climate change involves government and business decisions that either will not affect them or will bring changes that are neutral with respect to lifestyle. A significant obstacle to climate change progress is the idea that the planet can see reductions in carbon emissions to safe limits without addressing the disproportionate wealth, consumption and footprint of affluent people (including the average North American). Those who have more, consume more, and waste more. They have to reduce more. Our leaders have not prepared us to accept this.

There are many things we like about a growth economy – particularly the ability to offer hope to those in need without asking anything from those who have. Since the planet we live on can no longer sustain such growth, we are forced to confront inequality without being able to simply call for more. In other words, somebody has to give up something for someone in need to have more.

A global limit to growth amid extreme inequity connects social justice, the resolution of severe inequality and environmental sustainability.

Those who are interested may want to read Life, Money and Illusion a book I edited for Mike Nickerson. It can be accessed here. Nickerson argues that even if we must sacrifice some of the material excesses of today, our lives would not go unfulfilled.

The subtitle is fittingly: “Living on Earth as if we want to stay.” The book has a positive outlook but recognizes that we cannot live as we have in the past and that we will need to give up some things to gain or retain others. The book looks at the connections between money, wealth, materialism and the environment.

  1. http://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/050615/are-you-top-one-percent-world.asp