What will it take for TIME magazine, the landmark newsmagazine, to survive for another one hundred years and beyond? Well, no one can say that TIME is not synonymous with quality journalism because it certainly is. It has a long history that led it to that level. One of the factors, no doubt, was its vigorous, even legendary, competition with Newsweek magazine. But it’s a whole new game today. One thing is clear and that is that nothing is clear. TIME is in the midst of a revamp. Of all the Seattle Interactive Conference sessions this year, the session on TIME and its future provides the biggest glimpse into a brave new world we are all interacting with.
TIME.com‘s Photo and Interactive Senior Editor, Jonathan Woods, led a discussion about this brave new world. Instead of being overwhelmed by the shock of the new, TIME appears to be standing tall about its legacy and looking forward with confidence. Woods came across as a man very much in charge, even if he is entering uncharted waters. To help steer the mighty vessel, TIME is working with Big Human, known for its work with startups; and Blink, a web and mobile solution for finding and managing freelance media professionals worldwide. Media professionals upload their location data on the Blink mobile app to a website that media companies use to search for talent to work on their stories. Managing Director Steve Spurgat was there to speak for Big Human. He used to be CEO of the now defunct VYou, a social media platform once used by Oprah’s Book Club.
Founder/CEO Matt Craig was there to speak for Blink. Blink is online with many active users on the site. People who are interested in joining the beta site can sign up here. The Blink app is available on iTunes and Google Play. Craig worked on Page One of the Wall Street Journal for five years before founding Blink.
Big Human’s Steve Spurgat set the tone for the discussion by bringing up The New York Time’s “Snow Fall,” a feature story about avalanches that employs innovative use of photos and interactive. The title of the story became its nickname when referring to its storytelling features. Spurgat’s reference to Snow Fall was a way of hinting at what TIME might do differently. “A show of hands for those who have seen Snow Fall,” said Spurgat. A majority of hands went up. “Alright, now how many of you remember anything you saw?” said Spurgat with a decided sneer to test the attendees. There was some nervous laughter from the audience, probably unsure of how to respond. Instantly, just to balance things out, Blink’s Matt Craig offered: “But Snow Fall did scratch a certain itch.” So, where do you go from there?
Of course Snow Fall seems to be an easy target because of the controversy related to naysayers, particularly Medium.com’s attempt to undercut it. You can read a good recap on all the fuss here. Essentially, someone at a startup can deny that Snow Fall is much of a big deal since they believe they can offer something similar. And so a process of kicking the original around ensues. Someone at another relatively new site pokes at it and someone else comments on it and so on. Hey, give yourself some time and go read the original Snow Fall here. What you’re looking at is an excellent in-depth feature, something TIME really can’t quarrel with over quality. You are free to read, and skim over, whatever you want, just like you would any special feature that has ever been created.
It’s not like TIME doesn’t have some very cool features of its own. There is “Timelapse,” in partnership with Google, Landsat, and Carnegie Mellon University, that presents a 30-year look at global climate change through satellite images. View it here. Woods also cited a feature with an infographic by Jeffrey Kluger and Chris Wilson mapping out the best places to live in the U.S. according to your mood. Read it here. Woods was asked a number of questions that kept coming back to whether or not there was a formula to follow to maximize readership and to this, over and over again, Woods was clear that there was no formula. “I want the right amount for a story,” was Woods’s steadfast response. To this, Spurgat could only agree with, “A story is as long as it needs to be.”
Getting back to basics on compelling content, Woods pointed with pride to the newly launched Red Border Films at Time.com. This new documentary series debuted on August 15, 2013 with “One Dream,” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. View it here. The first profile is of Bobby Henline, an injured Iraqi war veteran who is now a stand-up comedian, directed by Peter Van Agtmael. It will debut on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2013.
Here are a couple of other interesting observations, considering that Big Human and Blink have TIME’s ear. Blink’s Craig referenced Vice.com as a leader in original web content. The VICE audience expects great video, photography and stories. At this point in the conversation the discussion had turned to long form vs. short form media and the issues surrounding user generated content. Craig believes UGC is useful in some instances but great brands will always need to produce high quality original content. VICE is a great example of a media outlet that does it well. Craig stated that he gets his news from a wide variety of sources with the most alternative source being Vice.com. And Big Human’s Spurgat wasn’t too keen on Medium.com’s tracking of how long it takes a reader to complete reading a post. “It’s documented that people don’t always read things to the very end,” said Spurgat. “News is very fragmented today,” he added. We do, however, come back to the fact that web content is free of the restrictions of print. Web content is free to be as long as it needs to be.
Snow Fall is both derided and admired in the same breathe but it is not the problem. As much as we want instant gratification, we appreciate a feature that provides thoughtful analysis and greater detail. Have we seen the last of Snow Fall? No, instead we’ll find our way out of a free fall. Journalists will continue to pursue a good story. Stories will continue to be told, short ones and long ones. And one thing is certain: we will continue to see more competitive, and excellent, journalism ahead, no matter what the medium.