CEP: Editorial - Plunging into a Time Warp

January
2013

When reporting on events, writers and editors always need to be mindful of when the reader will receive the publication. This is especially critical for a monthly magazine like CEP. An event that is considered breaking news when we experience it or write about it will no longer be news by the time you get the issue. The future as I’m writing this (at least a few weeks of it) will be the past when you read it. That’s why we sometimes don’t write about what’s really on our minds.


For instance, I wrote the December editorial in mid-November, around the time of our office Thanksgiving pot-luck lunch. You would have thought I was a bit strange if I had wished you a Happy Thanksgiving in an article you were reading in December.
That doesn’t mean we always play it safe. In my previous job at a different magazine, I learned the backstory behind the dramatic image — an artist’s rendering of the Space Shuttle Columbia in its landing mode — that graced the cover of the April 20, 1981, issue. The first Shuttle launch on April 12 was the news hook for Phil Kohn’s feature article, “The Space Shuttle: Homing in on the CPI,” in which he wrote about some of the chemical engineering achievements (e.g., materials, fuels) that created and launched the Shuttle, as well as some of the chemical engineering-related experiments that NASA planned to conduct on (then-future) Shuttle missions, such as the zero-gravity production of monodispersed polystyrene latex spheres. The landing was scheduled for April 14, but the issue was due at the printer before that. So, Phil wrote several alternative leads for the story to cover different scenarios — the Shuttle landed safely, its landing was delayed, etc. He and the rest of the editorial staff anxiously huddled around a radio following the mission’s progress, breathed a collective sigh of relief when the orbiter touched down at Edwards Air Force Base, and immediately called the printer to tell them which version to print.


In July, when we asked Kevin Swift and Martha Gilchrist Moore, economists at the American Chemistry Council, to write this issue’s economic outlook article (pp. 24–28), we did not anticipate that it would be held somewhat hostage by the U.S. Congress and President. When they wrote the article, all eyes were on Washington, waiting to find out whether we would be heading over the so-called fiscal cliff — i.e., whether a budget deal would be reached in time to prevent tax increases and spending cuts from automatically taking effect on January 1. This situation made editing the article challenging, although probably nowhere near as challenging as devising the forecasts.


Swift and Moore believe the U.S. chemical industry will fare a bit better than manufacturing as a whole, with moderate growth of 2.2% to 4.6% per year through 2017. They also foresee a continuing trade surplus, double-digit growth in capital spending through 2015 (with only a minor slowdown after that), and increases of around 4–5% in spending on research and development over the next few years.


I wonder whether writing about this healthy economic outlook for 2013 and beyond is premature. Will we have plunged over the fiscal cliff by the time you read this?


That question will be moot if (as some cultists believe will happen) the world ends on 12/21/12 — in which case you won’t even get a chance to read this.
 


 

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