Reporter's Notebook

Welcome to Notes
Show Description +
We’ve brought blogging back to TheAtlantic.com. Here are some thoughts from our editors on what this new section is all about.
Show 2 Newer Notes

Calling All Dissenters

Hi, I’m Chris, the reader editor. Your emails, comments, and other contributions—which I've been workshopping lately—are going to be central to Notes, so I should detail what we have in mind and how you can get involved.

First, a little on my background, since it informs so much of what this new section is about: I worked with Andrew Sullivan and Patrick Appel on a blog called The Dish for seven years, three of those at The Atlantic. About a third of our content came from reader emails, and eventually I was editing and posting about 90% of them, usually in the form of discussion threads that lasted for weeks, months, even years. The blog never had a comments section—which, as you know, can devolve into the worst kind of discourse, taken over by trolls. Instead, the Dish constantly published dissent—the toughest, smartest, most persuasive arguments from readers. (Fallows does this especially well, while Ta-Nehisi mastered the art of a moderated comments section—and one of his most engaged readers, Yoni Appelbaum, rose to become our Politics editor.)

By the time I returned to The Atlantic last April, social media had drowned out blogging and meaningful debate in many ways. I dove deep into our comments section, Disqus, for the first time. There’s a lot of great discussion down there—Atlantic readers are a really sharp bunch—but it’s often buried in hundreds or thousands of comments that few people want to dig through. Your best writing should be elevated for everyone to see. Your strongest critiques should be engaged by our writers. It’s my job to help.

The best way to help me: Use hello@theatlantic.com, not Disqus, to voice your dissent and tell your stories. I will buttress your words with fact-checking, research, and reporting as much as I can. I will edit your contributions only for the sake of clarity and concision. If you prefer to stay anonymous, let me know. To encourage this culture of email, Notes won’t have a comments section.

Over time, you’ll see all your favorite Atlantic writers appear in Notes. It’s meant to be a communal space for airing thoughts that, with your input, will become articles. Conversely, it’s a space for bits of reporting and analysis that are left on the cutting room floor of articles. Ever miss those old-school blog debates? You’ll find some here. Notes will also be a hub for breaking news and ongoing coverage, led by my colleague Krishnadev, as well as a sandbox for our 158-year-old archive. Notes will be more of a broadcast than a magazine.

And it’s yours to shape. The staff and I have brainstormed all kinds of features for Notes, but we want to start things simple and evolve the section gradually, experimenting here and there, absorbing your criticism and suggestions along the way. We’ve already absorbed a lot of your feedback over the recent redesign and will incorporate some of it into Notes.

That’s it for now. Feel free to email any questions to hello@theatlantic.com. Have any cool ideas for Notes? Email hello@. Think this section is totally lame? Email hello@. Something on TheAtlantic.com piss you off today? Email hello@. Already know me and want to say hello? Email bodenner@.

As Gould said, we’re hoping Notes will feel both familiar and welcome to those of you who remember a bloggier Atlantic. But the Web's gotten more capable since, so there's also some brand new pizzazz under the hood, such as the fact that Notes flows just as nicely on a smartphone as it does on a laptop.

This page is another example of what’s new: a compilation of Notes that all relate to one particular story, tied together by an overview at the top of the page. If you click on a link to Gould’s note, you'll find that you come to this same page, but newer Notes like this one are compressed. This will allow you to quickly catch up on the context whenever you encounter a thread of coverage, whether it's a developing news story or an ongoing conversation.

The way we developed this feature should give you a sense of how we hope to involve you and other friends of The Atlantic in the evolution of Notes.

Hey, look at this new thing ...

Some backstory:

A little more than five years ago, TheAtlantic.com underwent a major redesign that would give it the architecture it’s built on today.

Previously, the site was made up of a range of different things—digital versions of our print journalism, supplemental material we could present here without worrying about page-count limits, ad hoc pieces that wouldn’t survive monthly lead times, a few standing features. But one of the biggest draws was by then a collection of marquee blogs (Andrew Sullivan’s, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s, Jim Fallows’s, Jeff Goldberg’s, Megan McArdle’s, others’), informal streams of writing that drew dedicated readerships and inspired vigorous conversations, here at The Atlantic and around the web—or around the “blogosphere,” as you’d hear at the time; it was an age of weird neologisms.

The 2010 reboot preserved our blogs, but it also deemphasized them. The site was now organized around subject-matter-defined sections: Politics, Business, Culture, Technology, and so on, along later with Photo and Video sections. Our editors started to put a lot of creative energy into figuring out what our sections’ coverage should look like. We cross-posted individual blog entries to these sections, but we also started to fill them out with posts from new writers. These posts didn’t come from blog streams. They were just posts, written to be read on their own.

However people would end up reading our non-blog posts, it would have to be on account of discovery patterns very different from that of blogs. At first this was mostly through the steady presence of TheAtlantic.com’s curated homepage or the shifting currents of Google’s algorithms. Not long after—and given what you’re reading right now you probably know this—social media began to dominate the web. Then among them, Facebook. And here we are.

Along the way, our posts came more and more to resemble what we’d traditionally just call articles: They have headlines framed to draw you into the story (vs. to break up a rolling blog). They have lead sentences and paragraphs written to engage you in it (vs. abrupt pivots from blunt openers like, “Glenn has a great post up on his blog today ...”). They’re carefully edited. They’re carefully produced. In form, they’re magazine articles, just created in the cadences of new media.

A confession: Relatively early in this modest history, I declared, as emphatically as someone as rule-averse as I am could, that the word “blog” should be anathema on the site. Or, okay: If you were using “blog” as a noun, and referring specifically to a blog, and not using it as a synonym for “website,” that was cool. But I figured there was no good case for using it as a verb. “To write” was perfectly good, whether you were doing it on newsprint, or on illuminated manuscripts, or in pixels. “To blog,” it seemed to me, just delegitimated the act of writing on the Internet by describing it in something other than plain language—and, I figured, implicitly suppressed our ambitions for digital journalism.

But if that was a problem coded into the conflation of “blogging” with “writing on the web,” it was never a problem with the ambitions of blogging itself. Blogging is awesome. At its best, it’s an idiom that lets us articulate and sharpen our thoughts while being more tentative and less rigid about them. As Sullivan once put it, in our print magazine as it happens, blogging is “more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive.” It’s writing that closes the gap with speech and opens the connection with real conversation.

The idiom never ceased to be awesome. It just ended up out of phase with the ascendant dynamics of distribution and consumption on a bigger and bigger Internet. But this confluence of awesomeness and out-of-phase-ness may represent a special potential in blogging today. It’s precisely not “socially optimized”; it establishes and develops a direct relationship with a community.

It’s also, you could say, an idiom distinctively suited to the constitution of a magazine that for 158 years has looked for ways to undermine its reliance on the intellectual comforts of party or clique.

This is what we’ve been thinking, anyway. So we’re bringing blogging back to The Atlantic—or something like what we used to call blogging. It looks different this time. Matt Thompson will tell you about how we’ve been 2015ing the proposition from the outset, how we’ve involved our readers in the process, and how we’re thinking about developing this new section from here. Chris Bodenner will preview the mix of things we intend to have in play in the new section. More of us will weigh in on other aspects here and there.

I’ll just touch on one discontinuity with traditional blogging, meanwhile. What you see here obviously won’t be a single person’s blog, but neither will it be a group blog fit in as a kind of annex at the margins of our putatively real work. This will be an integral part of our real work as a whole. It will be a hub connecting a real-time magazine with itself and its readers, where we’ll process the world as it happens, test thoughts, preview stories, follow up on them, and hold debates, with each other and with you, about everything The Atlantic reaches. So welcome to the Notes section. We very literally look forward to seeing you here.

I’m the editor of TheAtlantic.com, by the way. Hello.