Publishing Words: Platforms and Publications Round-Up

This will be old news to many, but in the light of The New Republic’s meltdown, I have been nosing around new digital approaches to what is (loosely speaking) journalism, or maybe publishing, or at least, typing.  Herewith, a brief list.

Cir.ca

Cir.ca is a news service (currently only for mobile, but coming to the browser). Nicely presented stories, gives you a simple way to follow any particular beat you are interested in, as well as sharing of course. Not sure if this will become part of my regular news diet, but in the emerging world of “journalism apps” seems like one that solves a problem.

Medium

Medium is platform rather than a publication as nearly as I can tell, and certainly handsome. It seems to be open to any kind of long form material, by professionals or duffers. Like Cir.ca, has a very striking design (although some will not be a fan of the wide horizontal one-page scroll approach–something that is all over current web design). Medium comes from the people who created Twitter, and presumably they aimed for the same kind of pick up. Upstart Biz Journal’s Alex Dalenberg was asking good questions a year ago about it–how their business model will work? and just what kind of tool it is? He also mentions something that a writer friend also pointed out, the license appears to let Medium sell your content, presumably in search of “sustainability”. (Like “platform” and “content,” another drab word.)

As far as I know, those questions are still out, and he also links to some weirdly fascinating info about Medium’s business structure, called Holacracy. It boasts “no managers” and seems to be a distributed  system. (Classic Google goose chase, I just learned about Holacracy researching Medium, and now I discover that it’s already contested: fad versus brilliant management approach? Zappo’s is finding out.)

Ghost

Finally, there is Ghost, which is a blogging platform from some of the same people who worked on WordPress. It’s intuitively appealing and also beautifully designed–pared down for clean presentation and ease of posting. WordPress, of course, has a lot to offer, but its development as a powerful publishing platform means that for me, at least, its sort of blown past plain old blogging. I’m tempted to move everything to Ghost, but, of course, it’s a little like moving house if you have hundreds of posts to fool with, and since part of my living is made with WordPress, is nice to stay close to the platform, even if I use 1% of its power. Ghost, like WordPress.com, has a more writer-friendly license than Medium (although, like anything online, they reserve the right to change it any time.) But you own your stuff, and their only right is to post snippets for promotional purposes.

I don't think they used Twitter!
I don’t think they used Ghost, Medium, WordPress or even  Twitter!

Lives of the Books, Books of Our Lives

Design Observer has an graceful piece by Nancy Levinson on the transition, if that’s the right term, from book as physical thing to book as a digital object. She opens quoting Walter Benjamin waxing rhapsodic about his library.

I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am. The books are not yet on the shelves, not yet touched by the mild boredom of order. … I must ask you to join me in the disorder of crates that have been wrenched open, the air saturated with the dust of wood, the floor covered with torn paper, to join me among piles of volumes that are seeing daylight again after two years of darkness, so that you may be ready to share with me a bit of the mood — it is certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation — which these books arouse in a genuine collector.
— Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library (PDF)

(For me, the passage evokes that “used bookstore smell,” and a familiar feeling, for somebody who has lugged books around all his life.)

Levinson goes on to hit most of the familiar notes in this topic, taking off from the lens of an exhibit about architects‘ favorite books, which is also a book itself. Most of her survey is familiar: affordances of digital v. print, paradigms, with Gutenberg, as technological enabler of Republic of Letters release 1, posing questions about what Republic of Letters v. 2 will be?

She did link to a lively, if a tad obvious piece in Slate that makes the uncontroversial (to me at least) point that in some aspects, journalism has never been better. More choice, more context, depth, multiplicity of perspectives, etc. I’ve heard that line a lot, it it’s true; although it leaves unanswered the question about investigative journalism and other labor intensive types–is that increasing or is it becoming a different beast, with individual hackers as latter day Woodward and Bernstein? It is opinion journalism’s golden age, for sure. (This message brought to you by WordPress!)

But looping back to Levinson, she asks the always useful question: what if the thing we are stewing so much about isn’t a big deal after all?

Her closing:

So here’s a thought experiment: What if we just agreed that the limited and unpredictable commercial potential of ambitious work is not actually a problem?

To wit: perhaps it’s okay if book production, or news production for that matter, goes away in some present forms to be replaced by something new, that living through Gutenberg 2.0 means that’s just what happens?

Walter Benjamin at a Paris Library
Walter Benjamin at a Paris Library