Like a lot of folks, I was curious/excited when word of 48 HR Magazine first got out. Now that I have a copy of “Issue Zero” in my hands, though, I’m mostly disappointed.
The central appeal of 48 HR is the melding of new and old - using the Web to quickly assemble and distribute an old-fashioned paper magazine. The immediacy of the internet, combined with the great “thingness,” to use co-editor Matt Honan’s word, of a magazine. Sounds good, right? Plus they have a Stewart Brand-inspired business model! And they pay their writers (not much, but God love them anyway)!
In practice, however, the “New x Old” model doesn’t work. The internet can distribute information as fast as it can be gathered (a fact evidenced by the 1,500+ submissions the editors received shortly after the open call went out). The traditional print production cycle, however, gives you time - time to edit, time to design, time to change things. 48 HR cancels out the respective benefits of each platform. You lose the immediacy of the internet because of print’s lag time, while also surrendering the time to fully edit and design the thing because of the frenetic production schedule. (Plus, it’s not like rapid publishing is some novel idea. Remember newspapers?)
The pressures of the production schedule are manifest in the magazine itself, which, as a thing, ain’t so hot. Articles and infographics come at you fast and furious, one after the next. There is no invisible guiding hand here, no design cue pointing to the articles and sections of potential interest. 48 HR lacks the impressive heft of an old Rolling Stone, the editorial authority of the New Yorker or even the exuberance of Good. As an object, 48 HR simply feels like what it is - a hastily assembled collection of words and images.
David Carr calls 48 HR a “remarkable artifact, a testament to the proposition that even the most wired cohort of journalists in the country retains a fetish for the printed product." To which I say, respectfully: so what? Of course people still fetishize printed objects. Go to any boutique book shop or comic book store and this fact is made plain. But if you’re going to celebrate the printed product, why not explode the possibilities of the medium, like the McSweeney’s folks did a few months back with the gorgeous Panorama?
If anything, 48 HR seems more like an artifact of the collective purgatory in which many writers and publishers still find themselves - nostalgic and uncertain, straddling old and new, grasping at ways to make money, still without the faintest real idea of what comes next. It is an artifact of confusion and perhaps hope, a testament to the amazing power of the internet as a collaborative tool, and proof that we still haven’t figured how to harness all that power.