Two face masks with different facial expressions.

Traditional Journalism VS New Web Writing

On Medium’s “Thoughts in journalism” channel, Hamish McKenzie contributed “Two sides to every story“, an exploration of his idea of presenting longer-form journalism on a two-sided HTML “card.” One side would offer the uninterrupted story; the other would provide context, background, related links as well as opportunities to monetize the content.

In McKenzie’s piece, the architecture isn’t fully developed; his post is a consideration more than a business plan. Commenters offered some existing companies as analogs: X-Ray, Circa, Citia (though this addition came from Citia itself), even RapGenius.

A writer, McKenzie tends to favor a safe, uninterrupted home for longer-form journalism, but he’s equally mindful of the power and flexibility of the web:

What we’d be left with is a publishing technology that respects the primacy of the narrative while fully taking advantage of the distributive advantages and rich media potential of the web. It would be a reading experience designed for today, not one forced to fit the economic parameters of yesterday’s media business.

The first part of McKenzie’s post rightly tackles the elephant in the room: our continued use of the “bundle”—magazines, newspapers and even home pages as the prime examples—as a defining metaphor. He argues that the unit of aggregation is the story, which becomes the gateway to the other side of the card.

The unbundling of traditionally bundled media is something I explored at length in “Disaggregating supply“, a talk I gave at last year’s Publishers Forum in Berlin. Digital technologies change the dynamic for cost-effective distribution of content, making it possible to meet demand for smaller units of content. 

Putting aside questions about the supporting architecture, McKenzie’s idea—effectively, “book as API”—holds a lot of promise. It assumes an openness that efforts like could capitalize on, extending annotation and growing audiences through both organic and more traditional, “push” means.

There’s no business model here, beyond “make some money with stuff on the other side of the HTML card.” I think that’s okay. If the concept really does provide a “more pleasurable” way to read and comprehend long-form journalism, the market will either be there, or it won’t. In the meantime, it’s an idea worth exploring in more detail.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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