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.
As it turned out, no one much cared that The Classical began life as a Tumblr. No one commented one way or the other; if anything, our preview was taken so literally, we probably could have gotten away with saving some of the material for later. We had always planned on taking the week of Thanksgiving off, but decided this week to make 11/20 the last day of the Tumblr Era. With disaster averted, all we could hope to do was make our point—this site would be worth reading, we hoped—and then table expectations until the real launch.
Models are built to be broken, and while our Tumblr may not have been intended as a finished product, nor judged as such, it certainly gave us a chance to figure out some obvious kinks in our well-laid plans, some of which stretched back months.
We had thought of two long-ish pieces per day as the bare minimum we could post and maintain any semblance of legitimacy. The truth is, much more than that would be the worst kind of imposition. The last thing a web site should do is demand large chunks of a reader’s time. That kind of monopoly is, at best, unaware of the role community and exchange plays on the Internet, and, at worst, horribly presumptuous. Our initial estimates of 3-4 long pieces a day have been dropped to 2-3, which also allows to slip in the occasional 3000-worder when warranted; the Tumblr wasn’t just a preview, it was a dry run that showed us how much we could realistically expect readers to pay attention to us. The last thing we want is for our brand to stoke resentment.
But even if we can keep The Classical user-friendly in some abstract way, how exactly does this awareness translate into day-to-day operations? Say we can keep people from recoiling at the mention of our name. How then do we get them to make the site into a regular destination? We’ve been discussing the need for the site to essentially have two simultaneous gears: One slow enough that the reader isn’t overwhelmed, and another to ensure he thinks to check back for updates. We want to stay on people’s daily radar without burdening them, and while social networks are the modish way to generate traffic, we’re most interested in creating a solid readership (and, yes, traffic) base.
That’s where the blog, as of yet-unnamed and largely under-developed, comes in. We’re thinking four short posts a day, the kind of thing that won’t sap anyone’s time, but instead serve as a friendly reminder to drop on by and see if a new longer piece has gone up—or if there have been any exciting flare-ups in the comments section, which we hope to make an integral part of The Classical. Also, short posts are far more conducive to comments than long ones.
Another variation on the two-speed model: even if a lot of our longer pieces seem to demand the Very Serious Reader Face, the blog will seek to be lighter and more humorous. Hopefully, it can keep readers from feeling bogged down by the site. We will be an antidote to ourselves.
We’re still trying to figure out how exactly to keep the content moving while upholding our self-imposed editorial standards. We want to make sure every piece goes through at least two editors, both editing for content, style, and when Editor #2 is nearly through with it, copy. However, this might not be enough, and we’re working to get a third line of defense, for proofing and such, installed. We’re also learning that some of us are a lot less available than we had thought we would be, and that when the daily operation gets strained, it’s the long-term planning that suffers most. Knowing what the hell we’re doing and why is our number one priority, followed by the ability to really dig into pieces and make them the strongest they can be.
Seeing how easily those priorities can get squeezed out, or simply rendered impractical, has been pretty demoralizing. But it has led us to think hard about the amount of content we can process each day, and what kind of lead time we need on pieces. We have also started to be more honest with ourselves about just how much time we have in a day. Better we find a rotation that works, and come to an understanding with our writers about what we can expect of each other, than devolve into a free-floating mess that tries to coast on the strength of those rare writers who turn in near-perfect copy.
Oh, and a message to everyone sending us pitches or expecting t-shirts and such: Thank you for bearing with us. You are far more patient with us than we are with ourselves.
I’ll be back in December, by which time we should have a real site—hopefully one that lives up to the goals set forth in this high-handed memo-to-self.Bethlehem Shoals is a founder of The Classical. Tags: Bethlehem Shoals, Launch Pad, news innovation, news startups, The Classical, Tumblr