September 18, 2018

Seven Days Versus Seven Minutes

I lead a schizophrenic professional life. When I work on the weekly paper, I’m a different person than when I work on our website. With the paper, I can think of stories months in advance; with the website, if a news story breaks, I want to post it immediately. The paper changes every seven days; the website can be updated every seven minutes (or seconds).

If we print on Tuesday and America goes to war on Wednesday, we’re out of luck. You won’t see the story in the paper when it comes out on Thursday. Of course, you’ll see it that same day on our website.

That is the schizophrenia of running two media instruments from different centuries. The user experience for each is completely different, and, let’s face it, paper is becoming almost quaint. How could it not? When you’re scrolling and scanning and linking and tagging all day on a digital screen, your reading habits can’t help but change. I feel it myself, and I’m a lover of paper.

Digital is dynamic; paper is static. Is there room for both?

I certainly hope so, because I have a deep attachment to paper. I feel it especially on Saturday afternoons when I chill on my deck with a book. As I flip the pages, nothing interrupts me. There are no links to lure me away, other than the links that are created in my mind. The book forces me to slow down and absorb what the author is trying to convey. The very act of slowing down is part of the pleasure.

And yet, I confess that I also find the digital experience exhilarating. The ability to jump from one story to another, depending on the news, my whims or my moods, is oddly nourishing. Maybe I have a misplaced confidence that all this digital hopping won’t obliterate my attention span and turn me into a shallow soul who can never open a book.

Why am I telling you all this? Because we’ve been redesigning the Journal website over the past year, and I’ve had to navigate between these two impulses — the static versus the dynamic. 

Our dilemma: If people expect fresh, daily content when they get on a news site, how do we find a natural place for our weekly content?

It took a few months of trial and error, but I think we’ve come up with a nice balance between the two. When you get on our new home page, you’ll see prominent “Features” from the paper right next to “Hot Issues” from our Daily Roundtable. A new section called Best of the Web covers 12 areas of general interest — from health, money and culture to tech and Hollywood — with each area curated daily. Next to it is a current events section called “Latest Stories.”

For those interested in the weekly paper, we have a section called “Inside the Print” where you can find every story from that week’s paper. We’ve also added a new section called JJ Classics, where we feature prominent stories from our archives, as well as sections for a daily video, podcasts and contributing bloggers.

In short, thanks to the wonders of digital, we’re aiming to create a site that gives you, as our ad says, “everything you love, all in one place.”

Our dilemma: If people expect fresh, daily content when they get on a news site, how do we find a natural place for our weekly content?

It’s not uncommon these days to see publications abandon print and go exclusively online. For any publisher, this is highly tempting. The advantages of digital are enormous and obvious. But as difficult and expensive as it is to print a weekly paper, the Journal is still committed to doing both. Why? Because, among other things, so many of you still love paper.

The digital format may be dynamic and efficient, but it’s no substitute for a paper’s ability to make us slow down and feel our community, one page, one story, at a time.

We’re blessed to have our weekly print content to add depth to our daily website, just as we are blessed by the quiet reflection required to craft the paper. The wonders of digital need not come at the expense of the wonders of print.

We are nourished by the busy days of the week just as much as we are nourished by the spiritual slowing down on Shabbat. We need both.

Maybe that’s the deeper message. Whether we’re in digital-weekday mode or Shabbat-print mode, let’s not lose our attention to humanity. Let’s not lose our tradition of introspection. 

We will need this introspection as we prepare for the holiest day of the Jewish year. If you need help slowing down, we invite you to savor some of the stories in this Yom Kippur issue, including our cover story on reclaiming dignity by Rabbi Zoë Klein Miles, and suggested meditations to enhance the prayer service by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson. 

Maybe that’s the deeper message. Whether we’re in digital-weekday mode or Shabbat-print mode, let’s not lose our attention to humanity. Let’s not lose our tradition of introspection.

And if you don’t have a copy of the paper, you can always savor the stories on our new website — even if you only have seven minutes.