Blogging at The Atlantic, Cont’d
Hey, look at this new thing ...
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.