Page last updated at 12:39 GMT, Friday, 14 May 2010 13:39 UK

48hr Magazine tests speed limits

By Jamillah Knowles
Online reporter

48 hr magazine cover
The magazine cover ready to run

Newspaper and print publications world-wide have been feeling the effects of the digital age as consumers ditch paper and head online for their reading.

But amongst the staff cutbacks and closures a new appetite for experimentation has emerged.

One of the most ambitious is the newly created 48hr Magazine, which, as the name suggests, is put together in 48 hours.

It was the brain child of three editors and writers.

"We wanted to do something fun where we could collaborate over a weekend. Something to remind us of our first principles for writing," says one of the founders Alexis Madrigal.

The theme of the first edition was "Hustle" and received 1500 submissions across various forms of media.

Journalists from well known titles such as Mother Jones, Wired, Gizmodo, Rolling Stone and the New Yorker threw their ideas into the pot.

Up tempo

The pace of the project, although considered to be crazy by some, was a selling point for others.

"The time limit put a crimp in most of the big plans I first came up with," says Derek Chatwood, a videogame designer at Warner Bros who contributed an illustration for the magazine.

"The process felt a bit like gambling, trying to make the best thing possible and hoping it gets in. I think that was a big part of the fun."

Alexis Madrigal of Wired
Alexis Madrigal of Wired

Evan Ratliff, a freelance feature writer who normally works with titles such as the New Yorker and Wired, said he found the process "liberating".

"Usually I am working for weeks or months on a piece and then it goes through a several-week process of heavy editing, fact-checking and design," he said.

The process of putting together the magazine the use of light-weight online tools to manage finances, layout and publishing.

Ideas were pushed and spread using Twitter, blogging and a newsletter. Even the editorial choices were made using a system where editors could vote pieces up or down to work out which would make the print.

The magazine was then produced using MagCloud, a self publishing service from HP Labs.

For Rob Dubbin, a writer for comedian Stephen Colbert and a contributor to the magazine, embracing the online world is the future for print.

"I think there's a high correlation between print publications who are struggling and print publications who suffer from a specific kind of risk aversion.

"A print publication that sees digital publishing as the enemy rather than a collaborator is already lost."

"I think it's an unfortunate tendency in our industry that every new publishing project must be viewed as a "saviour" or "killer" model for publishing or journalism," said Evan Ratliff.

"If there is anything to be learned with 48hr Mag, it's that in the time it takes for someone to write their next "will-X-save-magazines" piece, some smart people will have instead produced a publishing experiment, start-to-finish. So, less talk and more experiments."

Return to roots

Alexis Madrigal says that the new media methods did not take away from the traditional talent expected of magazine contributions.

"Combining the speed writing skills that people use on the web with the demanding editing needs of a magazine works well. But I think the editing role was much harder, to make 60 pages from 1500 submissions in about 25 hours of true editing time."

Though the pace was frenetic, 48hr Magazine not only lived up to its title but also adhered to the original theme.

"I'm just glad that experimentation and the desire for wild and crazy creativity still has a place in print," said Mr Chatwood.

Alexis Madrigal agrees. "Toward the end we realised it was still all about reminding us why we started writing in the first place; to make beautiful things and to have fun and learn more about the world.

You can hear more about the project in this week's Pods and Blogs podcast.

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