LK: I noticed in your post on TheAtlantic.com that the live video stream aspect of the production process turned out to be kind of boring. I guess the idea was that contributors would be able to watch you editing and designing the magazine in real time, and send in suggestions to you as you worked?
AM: Yeah, I had thought that we should stream the whole thing, that it would be a key element of the experience. But the thing is, streaming video isn’t actually participatory at all. We don’t have fifty monitors where we can watch everyone at home who’s watching us so we can interact with them. In theory, it’s so great, like this “live magazine,” but when you think about it, making a magazine is really just a communal private event: reading, writing, the word on the page. I actually think that the Twitter feed, the photos we posted, and the line drawings that Wendy MacNaughton did, capture the meaning of certain moments in the process a lot better than the live video stream; the video stream ends up seeming totally meaningless, the very opposite of an artistic endeavor. So I don’t think it adds much value.
LK: Here’s a random question, but I’m just curious—did you sleep at all that weekend?
AM: I slept on Friday night, but didn’t sleep at all Saturday. It’s really easy to stay up because there’s so much to do, the adrenaline is going. But definitely the hours between, say, five and seven late Saturday night were really miserable. Those are the worst hours. That’s also usually when the big hairy pieces are getting edited down, that’s when the heavy lifting is happening, like crunching 2,000 words into a 750 word piece. Then the morning cavalry started to arrive at seven, the copyediting team and everyone else, and then all of a sudden, we were like, “Hey, we’ve got a magazine here!”
LK: What did you learn through the process of putting together Issue Zero that helped Issue One, and likewise, what will you do differently for Issue Two?
AM: The first time, the areas where we had a lot of trouble, we brought in a lot more people [for the second time]. Like, you can’t ask one person to design sixty pages of a magazine in twenty-four hours [laughs]. Perhaps this would be self-evident to others, but we figured that out for ourselves.
As for next time, we’ve learned some lessons about how to ask people for things, like little fifty or one hundred word errata—shaping submissions on the front end by putting pieces into different categories worked really well. I think next time we’ll do that even more. As crazy as it sounds, we’ll put more limitations around what people can do. Even though the time is limited, before, it was like, “Whatever you want to send us, that’s cool.” And I think that’s actually harder.
LK: What else can news organizations or other publications learn from this crazy experiment?
AM: We’re so grateful, we’ve realized that people are willing to keep contributing and keep working on this thing even though, you know, it’s not going to pay their rent. There are a lot of reasons for that, but I hope the main one is that it’s really fun, and also that people have a sense that they have a hand in how this thing is going.
I think that’s maybe the final lesson for publishers—we don’t drive huge sales, but we drive incredible engagement, and I think the reason for that is that people really feel a part of the community that makes this, rather than just a magazine buyer. To me, that’s really important, and maybe something that publishers can incorporate pieces of—just by taking their readers as users, people who will both use and shape the things that the publishers put out.