Anatomy of an Article

Turning Point

My editorial odometer recently turned over 24 years. In 1992, I joined Gardner Business Media as an associate editor. I took this to mean, as a nascent scribe, that I got to associate with real editors and hopefully in doing so, learn some things. I think that has come to pass, yet my education continues with every OEM visit, trade show, press conference and shop visit I make. It’s a “what’s over the next hill” kind of curiosity that still burns in me.  

One of the things I like about my parent company is its belief that showing up is 80 percent of the job. Never, in my experience and regardless of the economic situation, have I been asked to not make a trip. Sure, we try to be efficient, as you do in your business, but never have I been forbidden to travel. In the long run, it’s a policy that has served us well, in good times and not so good times.

That company policy has especially been helpful with tracking down stories for PM’s feature articles. We follow our editorial calendar that we created for the upcoming year that calls out topics of interest and relevance for the precision machined parts industry. As we annually review these topics, some new items are added, and others are deleted.

I have darkened the doorstep of many of your businesses in pursuit of an opportunity to share how you are applying technology of various stripes to compete in a tough business. Through the years, I have seen a change in attitude among many shops that have reached the realization that competitors may include local, regional and sometimes national shops. But I’ve learned the real competitive threat lies outside our domestic shores.

When pursuing a story, there’s a routine I typically follow. I first secure a lead, which can come from a variety of sources such as an OEM, another shop, press release, our trade association—PMPA—or someone I met at a meeting or conference (another reason to show up at events). Once identified as a candidate for an article, I call the shop contact and do a preliminary interview over the phone to verify the shop is applying the technology as advertised and, most importantly, if they are willing to share that information with me and our readers.

Receiving permission from a shop can be tricky. Once, a screw machine shop was easily defined by its technology, the parts it made and types of machines employed to make the parts. That’s less true today. These shops evolved as their businesses have become more complex in parallel with the technology needed to profitably produce quality parts for their customers. We try to reflect these changes as we compose our editorial calendar and include topics that cover this evolution in applied technologies.

While it happens infrequently, some shops turn me down. Often, it’s because their customers demand confidentiality, both about who they are and what the shop is making for them. PM understands and respects that.

Shop visits have taken me to 45 of the 50 states, including towns, villages and cities coast to coast. Shop visits also have taken me overseas. 

When I show up at a shop, I meet with the shop owner, the technical person and/or shop manager in an office or conference room and have a discussion. This is where I get the nub of the topic—the part I especially enjoy. Some younger writers fear this step of the process because they worry that they won’t get the needed information. That’s never been a problem for me. I take the approach that machine shop managers don’t have much of a social outlet for talking about what they do because it is so specialized. At a party or even at the dinner table, discussing in detail precision machined parts manufacturing is generally not a good conversation starter.

Before I visit a shop, I’ve done my homework. Once I’m there, I find that the interviewee anxiously wants to discuss the business details with an outside person who is interested and understands the business.

After the interview, I take a tour of the shop, take my photography and see what we talked about in the office or conference room. When I get home, I write the article and submit the draft to the shop for approval. For 24 years, this method has worked for me, the featured shop, and you, our readers.  

Stand by. I, or one of my colleagues, may be giving you a call. There are plenty more articles to come.