A DIY Version of a Large-Scale Project

Launch Pad: The Classical

CJR’s Launch Pad feature invites new media publishers to blog about their experiences on the news frontier. Past Launch Pad columns from Bethlehem Shoals and others can be found here.

The Classical launched right when everyone was leaving their desks last Friday, two months and five days after completing our Kickstarter fundraising. Thanks to the contributors whose support forced us to follow through on this crazy idea. Thanks to our sponsor foursquare, whose support is a constant kick in the ass—this is something real now—and gives us the kind of credibility that really comes in handy during a launch.

Warm fuzzies aside, here’s the lowdown: What we rolled out on Friday, and what you’re seeing now, isn’t a finished product. We’re not quite there yet, but we’ve put out something we’re willing to stand behind. This isn’t another Tumblr era; we won’t be asking for a mulligan, or doing a considerable redesign, anytime soon. That goes for the website, the writing on it, and the way we do business behind the scenes. It would be stupid to get an opportunity like this and then stumble along like we never asked for the responsibility.

If we had wanted to throw up some bare-bones template and jump off that cliff, The Classical could have launched back in November. Except we promised you we would try and put together an honest-to-God, professional operation. That’s the paradox of The Classical. We’re a DIY version of a large-scale project.

A day or two before the launch, we had something of an editorial revelation—or meltdown—when we realized that no matter how hard we tried, there was simply no way to schedule shifts, and guarantee enough “on-duty” editors to give pieces the attention we feel they deserve, and require. There’s a calendar for pending pieces, and we know each other’s schedules, but the fact remains, none of us can guarantee our availability at the drop of a hat. Even if we can, we might not be able to get in touch with the author and agree on where the piece needs to be. With so many moving parts, any master plan would be disembodied, and possibly outside of our control. If you’re thinking SkyNet right now, take a bow and hug your children tight.

We aren’t chasing news, we’re hawking quality. We won’t post until we’re ready, and if there’s a hitch in the system, we will embrace the chaos. All that matters is that, in the end, you get the best stuff we can deliver with the operation we’ve put together—and in many ways, are still developing.

Our launch on Friday was, first and foremost, about content. We had great stories, time-sensitive ones, ready to go out the door. Were we supposed to kill them because the website wasn’t quite where we want it to be? Not if, as we’ve claimed from the beginning, The Classical is about showcasing writers and treating them with respect. We believe in writer-editor collaborations, and taking a piece through as many rounds of editing as it requires for everyone to feel like it’s good and ready. What we have is more than good enough to get this writing out there without anyone feeling like we’ve let them down. The site is, and should be, an extension of the way we view writing.

Content is king, but on the web, you simply can’t conceive of it apart from presentation and reader experience. What a lot of writers, and readers, don’t get is just how freaking complicated a real website is. There is no neutral presentation. A website either enhances or impedes the words on it. Taking advantage of these capabilities is hard work, and way beyond what most of us trained writers know. Resistance will make you into a laughingstock. You might as well go rushing back to print at that point. We wouldn’t have launched Friday if the site wasn’t in working order, but it would be an insult to the writing that’s gone up—and all the writing that will follow—if we didn’t acknowledge that this is only the beginning.

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Bethlehem Shoals is a founder of The Classical. Tags: , , , , ,