For The Community (Long)


I thought I should address a few of the major concerns that I've seen recur in commentary on the redesign, and specifically, this blog/channel.

1.) The RSS feed. It's broken at the moment. This is a major, major overhaul, and it's produced a few bugs. I'm not on the tech side, but I know the people well, and I know how hard they work. Perhaps we should have seen some of these bugs, I can't really call that. But we're working on it, and we'll have it fixed soon. I apologize for that, and hope you won't abandon us.

2.) Display on mobile devices. Basically the same thing. Again, our fault. We're going to get it fixed.

3.) The absorption of the blog into a channel. I think this is a major one. We spent some time talking about this internally on Friday, and I think it would useful to tackle this in parts.

A.) The basic problem is as follows: My blog, as it was, was a great home for a specific community. The bulk of the writing here fit beneath a similar rubric as some of the writing going on site-wide (Alyssa's stuff, for instance.) We wanted a way to incorporate much of that writing with the cultural writing happening here. Hence the culture-channel. There are, evidently, technical constraints to having a post "live" in two places. The thought was that a useful compromise would be to still have all the posts written by me collated in one place, while having the posts "live" in the various channels that they best related to.

B.) That said, I think this critique, offered by reader Ethan Lutske, is basically true:

I think the biggest problem is that this simply doesn't feel like a blog, with the 1 line summaries. It feels like looking at an archive, and that's not what blogs are all about. This isn't just a superficial problem; I'm much less likely to actually read things if I need to click on them, especially when my brain is wired to see the format of the page and think "this is a summarized archive and most of it isn't important".

This is a problem. And after some conversation on Friday, expect the appearance, and feel of that "Ta-Nehisi" page to change in the next couple weeks or so. It won't completely be the old blog, but we are going to do everything we can to get as much of the old blog back as we can. Moreover, we will specifically address the formatting issue that a lot of you raised in terms of seeing only one sentence. That will change. Overall, something better, if not perfect, is on the horizon.


C.) I think I should directly address a related complaint that's popped up quite a bit, but that I've been hesitant to tackle. Here's a really direct, and typically well-argued, critique from Cynic:

The Atlantic clearly recognized that Andrews' Daily Dish has a branded identity of its own that was well worth preserving. Click on his name, and you wind up on his page. It's constructed with the same design language, but bears his own clear imprint. And his posts display the same way they always have, requiring jumps only when they extend beyond a few paragraphs.

TNC's blog, on the other hand, has essentially been spiked. Or, more accurately, rolled into the amorphous category of 'culture.' I'm not even sure what 'culture' means, other than that it's an incredibly poor way to pigeonhole TNC's creative output. This blog has covered politics, policy, culture, art, and entertainment with verve and passion, and a huge element of what keeps me coming back to it is that eclecticism. It's the musings of a creative and fascinating individual, not the aggregated output of a group of staffers assigned to similar beats.

I like what TNC does enough that I'll probably give this a shot. But I'm disgusted with The Atlantic for taking away his blog, and leaving him with nothing more than what you get when - for example - you click the name of a journalist on a newspaper's website. It's just a list of his recent offerings, with single-sentence links. That's not a blog. It's an archive search function. It's online journalism with tagging.

If The Atlantic is too dumb to realize what an immensely valuable asset they have in TNC, then that's their problem. But it seems singularly self-defeating to me to take a distinctive individual voice who has built in remarkably short time a passionately devoted following, and subsume his work within a broader category. If they want to cross-post his entries within the 'culture' section of the webpage, great. But they should also cross-post selected entries within 'politics' or 'food' or other appropriate categories. And it should preserve a single page, in classic blog-like format, for the thousands and thousands of readers for whom TNC is the attractive brand that confers legitimacy upon The Atlantic, and not the other way 'round.

First to the issue of the differential handling of my blog and Andrew's. Let me not mince words--it's about traffic. I don't think I'm at liberty to give out specific numbers, but suffice to say that Andrew is a monster. I don't know this, but I would not be shocked if he, alone, will get more hits than the entire culture channel.

I know that, in my best months, the Daily Dish was basically getting ten times the traffic that we were here. But more than that, a large portion of that traffic indirectly, or directly, came from the Dish. I'd be very interested, for instance, in what portion of my readership came here because I was either sitting next to Andrew, or because of a link from Andrew. The point I'm driving at is that right now, Andrew generates the kind of traffic that makes him a channel, in and of himself. I don't. And frankly given my preoccupation with print, given my nine-year old son, I doubt that I ever will.

I think there are significant and serious arguments to the contrary. But I'd ask you to recognize what we're trying to do, and the turbulent times we find ourselves doing it in. The kind of media I love, the kind of media that people like me, Andrew, Megan, James and Jeff were reared in, the kind of media that The Atlantic has long championed is under assault. I love the magazine--the print magazine--like a second child. I'm personally connected to its roots as a quasi-abolitionist rag, to its willingness to publish Martin Luther King Jr's "Letter From A Birmingham Jail." I read it as a college kid, dreamed of writing for it as struggling freelancer, and would do anything within reasonable means to see it soldier on.

If I'm truly honest, I have to say that there were better ways to strike the balance between the channel, and this blog's identity. But it behooves me to make that point in the context of shared responsibility. I need you guys to understand that I saw this redesign on at least two occasions, and liked what I saw. I knew full well what was coming, and not only didn't protest the change, but endorsed it. This is not a statement that's been extracted from me by corporate overlords. This is me telling you, what I would surely tell you if we were sitting around, sipping on our third IPA.

I need you guys to get that nothing was "done" to me. Obviously, I'm not Bob Cohn or James Bennet. But I tend to think that had I raised a shit-storm and righteously protested, this would have went down a lot different. Maybe I'm naive, but it's what I think. I need you guys to get that to the extent that the Atlantic is "too dumb" to realize the asset that is/was this blog, that I failed to realize the exact same thing. Whatever mistakes we've made were made by the "we" and not the "they."

For my part, you have to understand that, to a large extent, whatever beautiful things have happened here, over the past two years, were, essentially, a fortunate mistake. What you've gotten is me hopping online and rather carelessly deciding to be myself, to talk to you, as much as possible, in the same way I talk to the people I know. And then basically curating the comments, banning people, deleting, and coaxing until there was a comments section that I, personally, loved reading.

It wasn't market-tested. When I first got here, we didn't even really have a web editor, and none of us expected this to grow into what became. We didn't discuss whether it would be a good idea to have a post about Barry Sanders, next to a post about the Real Housewives of Atlanta, next to a series about the Civil War. We didn't discuss commenting policy. We just kinda liked each other (me and my editors here) and decided to try something.

In short, none of this was intentional. It was all intuitive. And it's fucked up, but it's only as I'm writing this that I'm actually getting that that really is the point, and a big part of the draw. I kind of knew that, but it's only in the absence of a coherent thing that I'm really seeing that. That's my shortcoming. I should have seen it, didn't, and for that, I apologize.

This space is here for you to continue to offer feedback, so please, keep talking, and as I can, I'll keep responding. When I say "You're a customer," I mean it. I expect that you'll hold us to a standard. And I expect, rather I know, that we're going to do what we can to meet it. I need you guys to get that, and to stick with us while we try take the best of this redesign (and there's a lot of best) and marry to the best of the old design.

As always, thanks for reading.

UPDATE: Guys it's also worth checking out Fallows' thoughts on the redesign, if you haven't already. I think he likes it overall, but has a critique which echoes much of what's been said here. Stay tuned. 

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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