Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What role should online play for an offline pub?

I had an interesting discussion with a woman working on defining the mission for a magazine website. She asked not to be named in a post. What I found intriguing about her assignment was her conviction that the site and the pub needed to play truly complementary roles. The mag, long known for long edit stories and in-depth pieces, had never fared well online, and her theory was that fundamentally digital is not conducive to pleasant long form reading. I totally agree with that – I personally find articles that extend onto 7 or eight pages of a website very offputting.

But her dilemma, which has since almost haunted me, was how to ensure that the distinctiveness of the pub be preserved given that long edit was such a hallmark of their “brand.” Well, that’s not quite correct. Depth is part of the brand, and you can’t do depth shallowly. Arr arr.

The initial idea was to make as much of the info in an article visual rather than verbal, but that caused a variety of logistical challenges – it’s a lot of work to visually design information. Writers are also cheaper than designers, apparently, and, in her view,better than designers at investigative journalism.

She is still working on a solution, but I’ve been pondering this challenge for several days and have come up with the possibility of nonlinear presentation of large amounts of content dso people could browse the info in long pieces on their own terms. Not an original idea, and one that would require compartmentalized writing.

But what it really brought to the fore for me is that the standard digital disgust for the slowness of some offline publishers to really embrace online oversimplifies the challenges, to say nothing of the revenue loss in moving from selling pages to X number of thousand impressions of 728s. Inasmuch as I have been one of those people tut-tutting at magazines and newspapers, I apologize. Certainly some new media models seem to be highly effective at attracting and holding an audience, while also delivering on the promise of investigativeness and thorough coverage. I think HuffPost is a great example here.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to write.

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