Culture, Mishegas

New Web "Magazines"

Sh’ma unveiled its digital edition a few months ago. It’s still laid out just like its paper version, only it’s harder to read on a screen. There’s not even a place for comments or discussion.
The Jewish Review of Books premieres online… stamped “Volume 1, Issue 1.” Oh, I see, this is just the web version of a paper magazine? No place for comments here either… and wait for it – most of the content is behind a pay wall! (I understand this works for the Wall Street Journal, but really, Jewish Review of Books? Is this going to be a successful income-generator for you?)
I guess I’m disappointed in that part of the beauty of the web is that content doesn’t have to come out in “issues.” I’d rather see new content every time I visit than be overwhelmed with content all at once and then have to remember to check back in a month. (Although perhaps on-demand television will break me of this preference, but for now I still rely on my DVR to tell me when there’s new content available.) And we can use space in more interesting ways online! Why restrict yourself to page layouts like a magazine? (I think that Scott McCloud’s books on comics, and his Reinventing Comics in particular, should be must-reads for anyone designing online content, be it “magazines,” online courses, or what-have-you.)
PresenTense released its new issue on Google Wave. They are still stuck with the “issue” problem, but at least they make use of some embedded video and comments…just like on a blog, only uglier and harder to navigate. What are the benefits?
Of course, this is all to say nothing of the content, but I’ll leave that to the rest of you to talk about in the comments section. But you’ll have to do that here, since only one of the three web “magazines” even has a place for discussion.

13 thoughts on “New Web "Magazines"

  1. Ditto to the “issues” issue as said by dlevy.
    Kudos to PT for being creative — although I agree it’s likely a short-lived experiment, as not everyone has Google Wave and that limits the readership a ton. Of course, with Jewish publications, if you get 10 people, hey, you’re a hit. You might even be sustainable!

  2. So, I don’t get this obsession with comments. On a blog, comments make sense since usually (though not always) the blogger has written her post in about as much time as it takes to type it and tag it, and perhaps find a few good links and images. I expect from a journal article in Sh’ma (which I am associated with) or JRoB (which I just read for the first time and was impressed with) that the authors actually invested time in thinking, research, writing and revising their pieces. There is also an editor and an editing process. A magazine or journal article is not a conversation in the way that a blog conversation is. A blog post is “content.” One expects that an article written for a magazine or journal is “writing,” and therefore demands more than a capricious and snarky comments thread-and if that is what one wants, there is always the blogosphere.

  3. @Aryeh Cohen: Newspapers made the same argument for a time, that they were producing professional writing and didn’t online comments. But this is the way the web works, they realized. It’s a two-way street.
    No successful content on the web is unidirectional. It drives up interest and creates debate.
    And where is the line? Is a newspaper too professional for comments? Are journal articles too academic for comments? Is the bible too holy for comments (JPS Tagged Tanakh:
    And how is it academically useful or appropriate to stifle an avenue for debate?

  4. I think Aryeh has a point. In academic discourse, a response is issued by publishing a just as well thought out, well edited article in response, not an anonymous rant.
    That being said, DAMW also brings up a good point that the internet age is one of the iReporter and opinion piece as article. I think Ha’aretz did it well in the past where some articles had talk-back sections and some articles didn’t. i don’t know if it’s like that any more. But also, the number of comments that are actually worthwhile are few and far between.

  5. Some of the most important things said online occur in the comments, either a journalist/editor in dialogue with those who seek more information or by participants who know more than the reporter.
    I think news sites with well-done comments sections are pillars of journalism. News sites with crappily-enforced comment policies and threads a mile long are just doing it poorly. (JTA’s web site was attrocious for a long time, though it seems to be better.) No content is too aloof for reply.

  6. There are two different points here. I agree that, to soem extent, the internet age is, as Justin says, one of the iReporter and opinion piece as article. I disagree that this very fact gives any substantive value to the model. The comments on Ha’aretz are invariably the same and not worth reading, whereas the reporting is excellent. The NYT doesn’t have any comment and the content is wonderful. On the other hand, I have not been impressed with the Tagged Tanakh. This has nothing to do with it being “too holy” to comment on. It has to do with being thoughtful or not. The comments that are worthwhile on The Tagged Tanakh, as far as I could tell, were comments by scholars who were citing scholarship (their’s or others’) the drive-by comments don’t serve to enhance the Tanakh reading/studying experience.
    On the other hand, the fact that blogging, “content” of all types, degrades the art and craft of writing so that writers cannot make a living writing is a serious problem. As is the problem of the blogosphere’s parasitic relationship with the original reporting of MSM outlets, and other independent original reporting venues, which devalues their work, brings their business model into question, and is therefore bad for democracy. (This is not necessarily an original complaint, but it is no less true because of that.)

  7. Comments on the Tagged Tanakh that you don’t find “worthwhile” may read differently for people who aren’t, say, professors of Jewish studies. There’s something to be said for well-moderated comments, but restricting discussion to the elites is not an ethic I’d like to endorse.

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  9. On Wave and PT: If the Wave medium takes off, I think we may see a lot more “content” published this way. Granted, that’s a big IF, and I am skeptical, but if anyone can do it, Google can.
    You’re spot on about the drawbacks, and there are even some more you haven’t mentioned (PT’s managing editor wrote a nice piece on it). As to the benefits of publishing in Wave, lifehacker seems to see many. I tried it out and the real-time chat component is certainly one nice feature you can’t get with a comments section. Also, it may be nice for authors and editors to be able to continually improve a piece after initial publication, but this won’t really take off until Google implements reply-only.

  10. I agree that the lack of comments is disappointing. Having been spoiled by the (admittedly ridiculous) comment sections of Ynet, Haaretz, etc, the first thing I do when I’m done reading a news piece is go to the comments for a different perspective, which is why I was really excited that Tablet recently opened to comments.

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