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Psychotherapy on the Net

Boldly going where Freud never went.

Celebrity Trades

With the market in turmoil, the only safe bets may be at the box office.

There's Something About Harry

How a twenty-six-year-old college dropout became the king of "film geeks" -- and the bane of big Hollywood studios.

The Second Coming

Jesus and Elvis meet Dolly.

New Definition

A preview of the Oxford English Dictionary's electronic edition points the way to a new kind of reference work.

The Lolita Effect

What Vladimir Nabokov and Bill Clinton have in common.

Normandy: 1944

As Saving Private Ryan sweeps the country, learn about the reality behind the celluloid images.

Investigating the Renaissance

An interactive exhibit shows how digital imaging can reveal a painting's secrets.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
It's the Medium, Stupid
September 23, 1998

It didn't take long for the press to announce that the release of the Starr Report marks an official "defining moment" for the Internet. But if the Independent Counsel's 445-page bodice-buster, followed by the release on Monday of Clinton's videotaped grand-jury testimony, has proven anything, it is that the pundits of TV, radio, and print still don't quite get what makes the Web more than a mere "distribution channel."

Feed Many a veteran user of the Web can name his or her own "defining moments" -- private epiphanies when the power of the medium was suddenly revealed. For me, there are two that stand out. The first, in early 1995, was downloading from the fledgling Internet Poetry Archive a recording of Seamus Heaney reading one of his poems, and listening to his voice as I read along with the text on my screen. The second was the day in June, 1995, when I first logged onto a new Web journal called FEED. The Internet Poetry Archive showed me what the Web could mean for poetry; FEED showed me what the Web could mean for magazines.

Last week FEED relaunched itself, entering what looks to be the next stage of a fascinating evolution. As other Web publications have come and gone and come again (Word), or have thrived on ambition, attitude, and venture capital only to be scaled back (Hotwired), or have increasingly fed off of the big-media scandal-wagon in their effort to reach a larger audience (Salon, Slate), it's hard to think of another purely Web-based publication that has managed to stick to its original mission -- and prosper -- the way FEED has.

Speeding into the future That mission, at least as it appears to this longtime reader, has been to cover the worlds of technology and the media, and to a certain extent our broader culture, with timeliness, intelligence, and a fresh perspective. And yet it's more than that -- after all, a print journal could state the same purpose. If there is one thing FEED's editors and designers have always understood, it's that the medium matters. Just as important as FEED's "content" (perhaps more important) has been its constant emphasis on experimentation -- whether with interface design, community-building interactivity, or innovative uses of hypertext -- and its commitment to exploring how the technologies of the Web can enhance, maybe even reinvent, magazine journalism. FEED's articles may feel a bit rushed and uneven at times (then again, whose don't?), but in most cases their intellectual seriousness, not to mention their sense of humor, goes a long way toward compensating. And although the editors may too often favor a kind of myopic metajournalism, who can deny that FEED has consistently pushed the edges of what a Web publication can do and be?

For FEED, the medium really is the message. And so it should be at this juncture of media history. At a time when pundits are oohing and aahing over the Net's latest growth-spasm, here's a Webzine that reminds us what journalism in the new medium was supposed to promise -- and still does. Let's hope that FEED, and those with similar ambitions, can continue to point the way.

--Wen Stephenson

Discuss this Web Citation in the Technology & Digital Culture conference of Post & Riposte.

Wen Stephenson is the editorial director of Atlantic Unbound.

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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