ixd lit

Fur flyin over The Atlantic's redesign

There's a lot of ani­mat­ed chat­ter among some of my favorite jour­nal­ists over the redesign of their publication's site. Last week, the Atlantic Month­ly rolled out what appears to the casu­al read­er as a slight update of the IA, along with some major changes to the way that blogs are inte­grat­ed. Read­er reac­tion was any­thing but casu­al; anger and sus­pi­cion seemed to be the most com­mon read­er emo­tions, shared, at least in part, by the writ­ers. The Wash­ing­ton Post's Ezra Klein nails the goal of the redesign, "Seems like a bet to re-cen­ter the Web site around the Atlantic as an insti­tu­tion rather than leav­ing it as a web host­ing ser­vice for a cou­ple of blog­gers." Which seems smart, actually.

The Atlantic online redesignThis clus­ter­cuss is the redesign. (I can't find a pic­ture of the "before," but it wasn't real­ly too dif­fer­ent, to the casu­al observer).

The real prob­lem: The redesign isn't rad­i­cal enough.It sim­ply shift­ed con­tent around — a sure-fire bet to piss off reg­u­lar read­ers. The redesign doesn't address big­ger prob­lems around find­abil­i­ty, read­abil­i­ty, nav­i­ga­bil­i­ty, what­ev­er you want to call a lin­ger­ing sense of not being able to get around eas­i­ly. It also breaks from a com­mon blog con­ven­tion: home­pages that includes lengthy con­tent for each post (UPDATE: they've changed this). The biggest change is that they've moved away from indi­vid­ual blogs as lin­ear, ever-expand­ing solo nar­ra­tives, which I think is inter­est­ing. What they're mov­ing toward is less clear.According to spir­it­ed com­men­tary by the Atlantic writ­ers, the redesign was dri­ven by the arcane cal­cu­lus of adver­tis­ing. I won't pre­tend to know how online ad place­ment works in a place like The Atlantic, but what I do know is that some­one told them to spread their fresh con­tent around, and it's kin­da half-spread.I am a big Atlantic read­er. I sub­scribe to the print edi­tion, and I reg­u­lar­ly read three of its blog­gers — Ta-Nehisi Coates, James Fal­lows and Andrew Sul­li­van. I sub­scribe to their feeds, so I don't go to unless I want to com­ment on Coates' blog, or read com­ments, which means I'll head there a cou­ple of times a week, but when I get there I'll be deeply immersed in a thread.To me, the true oppor­tu­ni­ty was to lever­age the sprawl­ing, smart con­ver­sa­tions that these writ­ers con­tin­u­al­ly cre­ate — to cre­ate a sort of salon among the read­ers and writ­ers. To Klein's point above, you'd think a vir­tu­al salon would be exact­ly the kind of thing that would "re-cen­ter" the brand. Break­ing out of the con­ven­tion­al blog mod­el is a rea­son­able first step. Blogs are long threads, and main­tain­ing indi­vid­ual threads need­less­ly inhibits wider-scale con­ver­sa­tion. So they've tak­en that half-step away from threads (which are a help­ful orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple for read­ers), but the salon is nowhere in sight. And this is a problem.

lit outdoors

No amount of modification can substitute the man-made piano for the real thing

Thomas McGuane takes a shot at describ­ing what it's like to land a tar­pon:

The clos­est thing to a tar­pon in the mate­r­i­al world is the Stein­way piano. The tar­pon, of course, is a game fish that runs to extreme sizes, while the Stein­way piano is mere­ly an enor­mous musi­cal instru­ment, large­ly wood­en and manip­u­lat­ed by a series of keys. How­ev­er, the tar­pon when hooked and run­ning reminds the angler of a piano slid­ing down a pre­cip­i­tous incline and while jump­ing makes cav­i­ties and explo­sions in the water not unlike a series of pianos falling from a great height. If the read­er, then, can spec­u­late in terms of pianos that herd and pur­sue mul­let and are them­selves shaped like exag­ger­at­ed her­rings, he will be a very long way toward see­ing what kind of thing a tar­pon is. Those who appre­ci­ate nature as we find her may rest in the knowl­edge that no amount of mod­i­fi­ca­tion can sub­sti­tute the man-made piano for the real thing — the tar­pon. Where was I?

I came across this in The Best Amer­i­can Sports Writ­ing of the Cen­tu­ry, an absolute­ly killer col­lec­tion edit­ed by David Hal­ber­stam, but you can check it out in the SI Vault: "The Longest Silence," by Thomas McGuane.

ideas web

Humanizing the reporting of the news

Amidst the many changes around and with­in jour­nal­ism, the jour­nal­ist — as an actor in cre­at­ing the news — is becom­ing more rec­og­niz­able, iden­ti­fi­able, and indi­vid­ual. For instance, I'm "friend­s†with New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof. (Okay, it's on Face­book, but still). Kristof him­self is a media decath­lete: In addi­tion to being a NY Times colum­nist, he has a blog on, updates his Face­book sta­tus dai­ly, posts tid­bits of news to Twit­ter — and all of this relates and refers to his "offi­cial†jour­nal­ist work as a jour­nal­ist for the Times. He also engages with his read­ers in com­ments, car­ry­ing on con­ver­sa­tions about his posts. These dif­fer­ent "touch points†— a term that I hate, but which seems appro­pri­ate here — allow him to test assump­tions, get quick feed­back, and share infor­ma­tion that may not fit into the frame­work of an offi­cial col­umn. They also gives read­ers ways to get more engaged with top­ics they care about, pro­vid­ing a vari­ety of avenues for par­tic­i­pa­tion. Final­ly, they give read­ers more insight into the reporters them­selves — their inter­ests, their infor­mal voic­es, their sens­es of humor.

Is insight good? Is "participation†good?

I don't know. This human­iza­tion of news sources isn't total­ly new, either. There have always been celebri­ty jour­nal­ists like Kristof, and their greater expo­sure ensures the accru­al of an iden­ti­ty more exten­sive than a mere by-line. The dif­fer­ence is that this also hap­pen­ing at much more gran­u­lar lev­els. My friend Leslie is a reporter for the Modesto Bee. She uses Twit­ter to post meta-news (@BeeReporter), and cre­at­ed a Face­book page (Reporter­Al­brecht) to fos­ter a com­mu­ni­ty around her beat. At the Lawrence (Kansas) Jour­nal-World, the sports reporters record pod­casts, com­ment on arti­cles, and main­tain blogs. I per­son­al­ly love the new avenues of par­tic­i­pa­tion, but I won­der what the effect of all this will be. News has become more of con­ver­sa­tion. Reporters are extend­ing their iden­ti­ty into the pub­lic sphere, becom­ing dis­tinct as indi­vid­u­als. Does this increase the val­ue, author­i­ty, cred­i­bil­i­ty, reach, or depth of the sub­se­quent journalism?