Longshot Magazine, famously founded in the summer of 2010 by journalists Alexis Madrigal, Sara Rich, and Mathew Honan, is an experiment in creating a magazine in 48 hours.
How it works
On Friday afternoon, they announce a ‘theme’. Then for 24 hours, they accept submissions from hundreds of writers, artists, photographers, designers and creative types from around the world. For the second 24 hours, they curate, edit, design and produce a magazine. On Sunday night, they ship a magazine using HP’s MagCloud service. Presto!
By any standard the experiment has been a wild success. They’ve won a Knight-Batten award and received media coverage in the New York Times, New Yorker, The Atlantic, Forbes, and a slew of other national media outlets.
We recently got a chance to ask Mat, Alexis, and Sarah a few questions about the project and the state of media in general.
SBMTBL: Where did you come up with the idea? Who said, Let’s start a magazine? Who said, Let’s make it in 48 hours?
MH: It started in a bar. We happened to bump into each other at a beer bar in the Lower Haight called Toronado. All of us had recently seen the same print on demand magazine. Derek Powazek had used Creative Commons-licensed images of an Australian duststorm, and put out a magazine abut a week later. And it looked beautiful! We wondered if we could do something similar, but with reported stories and more of a traditional magazine treatment, rather than being primarily photo-based. But we all had day jobs, and no time to make that happen. So we said what if we do it over a weekend? What if we made it in just 48 hours? Is that too crazy, or just crazy enough? It turned out to be the latter.
SBMTBL: Other than the time constraint, what’s unique about Longshot compared to traditional journalism?
SR: I think one of the most unique things about Longshot is that its value and innovative features continue to be revealed to us by our community, as opposed to us having set out to distinguish it in certain ways. Certainly it is unique in that the direction of the publishing process (at least at the beginning) runs from web to print, rather than vice versa. It starts with social media and ends with paper. Though of course now it also ends with digital editions, radio, etc. It’s also unique as a pretty cure catalyst for widespread creativity. While we only publish a small fraction of the submissions, we regularly hear feedback from participants that despite not making the final cut, they enjoyed the experience of remote collaboration and the excuse Longshot gave them to do a focused, creative endeavor on a Friday or Saturday. Longshot is also unique as a media product in the speed with which we can experiment and innovate. We’re extremely nimble and low-risk (at least compared to the financial risk a large corporate publishing house feels they must take on in order to experiment). This means we can do things like build a “nagwall” and apply it to our content, or set up a live audio recording booth in a Soho bookstore and create a full set of podcasts connected to the magazine theme…each issue brings a new set of self-driven collaborators who want to use the Longshot platform to try something of their own, and we’re hugely in favor of that. We also use new art directors each time so the look and feel are always new and changing. I could go on…
SBMTBL: With many publications, you’ll have to wait up to 6 months or more to get a response. Plus, if your piece is selected, holy cow, Longshot is out immediately. Is it gratifying to a writer to get a response within 24 hrs, even if 90 percent are rejected?
SR: I believe it is gratifying, yes. At the end of the 48-hr period, we post the Table of Contents on our website and tweet it, and a lot of people (myself
included) have remarked that it feels like when the high school musical case gets tacked on the bulletin board after auditions. There’s something to that reveal that’s pretty exciting and I think generally, participants come away feeling positive about the experience—even a little exhilarated—whether or not they were accepted.
SBMTBL: Is your subscriber base as big as your submission-base?
SR: We don’t have subscriptions so I can’t make a direct comparison. But we have about 10,000 people on our email list who express interest in participating, we have gotten between 700-1500 submissions depending on the issue, and we sold a few thousand copies of the first issue before having to cease sales. The new issue numbers are still coming in.
SMBTBL: Did you read submissions blind? Why or why not?
MH: This time around we did, although we hadn’t previously. One of the chief criticisms we’d received (and took to heart) was that people who were working on site, or who were pals with people on site, we disproportionately likely to have their stories appear in the magazine. That’s a valid complaint, I think. It’s very understandable, it’s hard for a reader to give a thumbs down to a piece written by the person sitting next to them. And of course most people have biases towards their friends, even if they don’t mean to. So this time around we set readers up in Submishmash with permissions that didn’t allow them to see who the writer was. I think it was a better way to do things. Certainly it was more fair.
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