See update below re The Atlantic site’s “CMS bug.”
Context: if you’re arriving here late, the article below was a response to my pal, nostrich’s post about my own lamenting of the recent disappearance of full-content RSS feeds for The Atlantic Monthly’s online-only features. It’s not about how everything in the world has to be free to everybody all the time forever; it is, in my opinion, about trying to reconcile two incongruous trends: 1) big media properties pushing their writers to post frequently online, then, 2) cutting that great writing off at the knees by not providing its full content in free RSS feeds. ‘Nuff said. —mdm (the Kung Fu Grippe Guy)
Summary: There’s a thin line between irritating and necessary evil, and I don’t think the Atlantic has crossed it yet.
Never said it was evil. I am absolutely saying it’s patently dumb and potentially suicidal.
Go look at Fallows’ output. The man’s a machine. And a high quality one at that.
Thing is, every friend I have who’s a journalist says the same thing — they (understandably) hate that the quality of their work is suffering under a mandate to push out shit-tons of increasingly under-resourced, faster-deadlined, less chewy material, just so their publisher can drive empty page views and compete more effectively in the race to the bottom. Because, if you’re counting on raw tonnage of page views and cheap RoN ads to keep your business afloat, you’re in for a rocky next few years.
That said, if that is the plan, look what happens when you get someone like Fallows or Ebert, who comes along and says, “sure, let’s do this,” then makes a name for their periodical in a crowded marketplace by doing some of the best work of their lives online. Fast. Smart. There.
They lead the way toward a more modern but no less high-quality approach toward journalism that’s clearly one path to some kind of growth—some way to stay alive. No, it’s not gonna be the Hearst Years again any time soon, but it’s more viable than wrapping multi-paged wire stories with Red Bull giveaways and smack-the-monkey ads.
Because that thinking leads straight to horseshit like this:
No, I don’t really see how the Atlantic’s decision to pull full-content from their feeds has anything to do with a site redesign except inasmuch as it might have gotten pushed live at the same time for various IT reasons. This reeks of the same bush-league decision-making that hobbled Hulu, gets music fans sued, and keeps high-quality content locked in a tower like an aging virgin — too special to be manhandled by the riff-raff who are reluctant to pony up the lavish dowry that was the fashion fifty years earlier.
Look. Everybody’s free to do what they want with their thing, but I’m trying to make a deeper point than whether or not a free archives (of cost-free, legacy content) is valuable or not. Let alone — what? — that some non-negotiated trade-off for sparkling and successful online writing going dark makes 50-year-old essays a treasure trove?
I just think it’s piss-poor judgment to pull your content out of a thriving and highly brand-aware channel that’s frequented by a lot of very influential folks…for what? So, you can hold up all that inconvenience you’ve created to demonstrate to your bean counters that no one’s getting your “content” without being programmatically annoyed?
There’s two directions media companies can move right now. Open, faster, more agile, and more permissive is one. More closed, slower, more calcified, and more hard-assed is certainly another option.
I think the difference is easy to detect. Because it usually reflects the values of a company who think so little of both their audience and their staff that they’d burn cycles on deliberately making their material harder to get. Let alone willfully mangling that precious (and very costly) reader-writer relationship into something that’s way less convenient, wholesome, or satisfying for everyone involved. Essentially, carving into some large muscles for nickels.
Even in the fattest of times, that seems kind of dumb to me; but, when your industry is literally dying by the quarter, it’s more like a sad cry for help—which cry, unfortunately, falls silent the moment I drop your feed from my reader.
Because, after that, you’re just an island that sells stapled paper.
Above-referenced online machine, James Fallows says the missing content is the result of a CMS bug and is a known issue:
Thanks for many, many notes saying that RSS and Reader feeds are coming through with no text. Uncle! That’s a bug, not a redesign “feature,” and is being addressed. The new layout of blog pages, discussed here, was on purpose but in truth is also a bug that is being addressed. See you back here once that’s fixed. No fun writing blog haiku.
This is great news.
And, I’ll look forward to seeing similar CMS bugs fixed by Macworld, The New York Times, and all the other excellent sites that fell out of my reader when their full-content feeds disappeared.
Like Chairman Gruber alluded, yes, this takes zero away from my larger point: if you make your writers maintain a regularly-updated online presence, but amputate or kill that good work for RSS distribution, you are, in my opinion, making some weak, short-sighted decisions.
Short version: If you’re hobbling the emerging medium in order to artificially prop up the flat-lined medium, your company is running the wrong way with extreme efficiency. Period.