CJR’s new “Launch Pad” feature invites new media publishers to blog about their experiences on the news frontier. Craig Gurian’s previous posts on preparing to launch his new site can be found here.
Last week I was fretting about a seemingly endless list of items to be completed before what we describe as Launch I. Today, now less than a week from going live, I am enjoying the oddly liberating feeling of having learned with absolute certainty that the nature of this project is such that I am perpetually going to be in the position of wanting to get more checked off in a given period of time than is possible.
So we’ll work through the kinks that we can in the next few days, and then, with a little luck, Remapping Debate will indeed be live next Tuesday, October 12th, at noon Eastern Time. Regardless of where things wind up, I’ll be back here on Thursday, October 14th, to report.
What I expect will be true is that, having shared the first of our work, we will be engaged not only in the direct work of preparing pieces for various October and November editions, but also with tackling four other difficult and ongoing challenges:
• Working to achieve an audience. We’ve scoffed at the idea that the winner is he or she who publishes the most stories, and we’re just as skeptical of the notion that every day is a race for more and more eyeballs. It is easy for us to say that, of course, and not only because we are not dependent on running advertisements. Our expectation is that Remapping Debate is much more in the wholesale business than the retail business. The people who are at the core of those whom we hope to reach (journalists and editors, policy advocates, policy makers, and citizens seeking to be informed) are not likely to be a mass audience.
Nevertheless, we do want to reach a not insubstantial portion of those whom we (immodestly) believe could use Remapping Debate, and that is not going to happen merely by virtue of people who have already gone to the site and signed up for updates via Constant Contact. And the fact that we’ll even be on Facebook and Twitter (please do follow us, but don’t expect any tweets until next week) will not send the readership of Remapping Debate skyrocketing. So the search for appropriate lists through which we can reach out—lists that are thorough, accurate, easy to deploy, and easy for recipients of updates to choose whether to continue to receive—is a task not yet completed. One thing we have learned: lists for purchase are very, very expensive from the point-of-view of a not-for-profit.
• Resisting some (new) truisms of the news business. If there is one thing we have heard over and over again—and from some very talented journalists, too—is that we need to “personalize” our stories if they are to have any hope of having impact. Sorry, we can’t accept that straightjacket.
There was a time when “serious” news operations were resolute in never personalizing a story, and that approach unnecessarily impoverished the breadth and variety of how stories—including public policy stories—got told. But now, a greater problem is the insistence on shaping every story through the lens of how personal experience or personal impact theoretically illuminates a story. The technique—not unlike the manner in which politicians trot out “real people” guests at speeches as props for their anecdotes—has become a habit that stands in the way of assessing what is broadly important in a policy story. We’re not trying for the “dry and boring” award, but we do think that there is a wide range of public policy stories that are disserved by insisting on a personal angle.