Let me offer you Todd McLellan’s Old Typewriter from his series Disassembly as a visual representation of what I’m given each morning as a managing editor of a team-content website. In its most elemental sense the whole process can be described as both the production of an information delivery product and information assembly itself (so continuing the analogy, I’m in charge of not only building the typewriter each morning, but what’s produced with the use of its keys). The site requires overview per post, per title and per photo, all which require numerous variable factors to be assessed and reassessed throughout the day specific to each individual blog post, while also considering the greater context of how it fits into a live streaming front page.
A normal day is one of organizing, recontextualizing and occasionally repairing (aka hammer the shit outta of it until it fits) a variety of parts I’m given from an assortment of suppliers (aka, my invaluable contributors), all day long, if not well into the night, 365 days a year. Sometimes the content I’m given is a beautifully machined cog, gleaming in refinement; other times I’m handed what seems to be crudely chipped stonework with the gleam of potential shining through the seams which I’m given responsibility to chisel out.
The variables involved in tweaking a post can sometimes feel just as much magic as science; even armed with analytics galore, the online Zeitgeist is all too capable of throwing out predictive planning out the door. But that’s what makes it all fun…everyday offers the opportunities for the thrills of victory to the agonies of defeat…sometimes in the manner of minutes. Managing a blog is taking all these disparate parts and realtime feedback and (re)working them all together to be something greater than the whole. Trying to get a hold of it all can sometimes feel like trying to get hold of all of Kim Kardashian’s behind in both hands: difficult and frustrating, but then again “fucking awesome”…you’re holding Kim Kardashian’s derriere.
I often look back at those years I worked as an art director in the world of publishing and think how much simpler it was to operate with doors closed, focused almost solely upon the demanding, but specific tasks required to put together an issue. The world of readers were kept outside the castle walls, these readers more of an amorphous concept rather than the living, breathing and shouting audience websites engage daily. They were left curious until the issue hit the stands or were delivered to their mailboxes and until then could be ignored. Like monks penning manuscripts, the content was created in semi-solitude (but instead of illuminated by the flickering candle, the glow of our monitors kept us awake), and I do admit I sometimes miss the focus afforded by print.
It was only weeks later when letters (yes, hand written letters), emails and message boards would report back whether we hit or miss with each completed issue. Compare this to the near instant comments feedback from online readers, alongside the stream of online analytics and myriad of statistical tools, and the accelerated and the sinuous trajectory of online publishing makes magazines seem what a horse buggy looks like next to a Porsche doing donuts on a highway. Online, specificity of task is a luxury, and I don’t mean that’s necessarily a good thing overall, considering not everyone can equally manage, take their own photos, write, social network and edit as is required for the modern online publisher.
Let me end by firing a shot across the bow of the old school: I believe managing a website versus managing a monthly publication ten times more difficult: feedback happens in realtime and requires an immediate level of attention which eliminates the time postponement afforded to content publishers when print was king. Time was on their side. Imagine writing, editing and reformatting content and answering reader letters while your issue is on the actual printing press and you get an idea of what blogging sometimes feels like. The wall between reader and publisher has been bulldozed away, with the reader now able to poke and prod you for more, better, and faster the whole while. Traditional publishing is Bart saying “Quit it!” over and over. Online, we’re practically paying readers to poke us via Likes, Tweets, comments and complaints. Is that better? Not necessarily, nor really my preference in many instances…but it’s the reality. The paradigm of “monthly” is fading away as quickly as you can say, “print is dead” or “DOH!”.