Yes, the online format affects all of these aspects. As for length, the web is dangerous for me. When not constrained and with no editorial oversight, I definitely err toward the tl;dr category. I find it almost impossible to write anything less than 900 words in the review/analysis/profile category without a strict word count hovering over my head. I don’t know how to fix this neurotic, verbose tendency, other than writing more <100 word reviews or maybe an exercise in live tweeting. (Currently, I don’t have a Twitter account.)
It’s super easy to take shortcuts and post links online, which makes reporting much easier. When I was Editor of …might be good, an online art journal based in Austin, Texas that came out every two weeks, I was often tasked with writing a topical editor’s letter about developments in Texas — new appointments and things like that. I relied heavily on links to avoid having to do extensive interviews with people. This aspect of print journalism (“original quotes” from sources about things like new jobs or exhibitions that are going to go up six months from now) feels somewhat obsolete with the online format. Why not just post a link to a press release? Or do an interview closer to the time that the exhibition opens and post it right away?
I feel positive about being able to include many more images in pieces online, but I think they should still be used judiciously. I feel really sad when a piece that I worked so hard on becomes a footnote to a zillion-image slideshow. Even worse is when videos are uploaded that are produced by the commissioning institution (for example, a museum-produced video of a show). It completely takes away from the criticism and makes it feel like it’s a footnote to promotional material. I think there are ways to circumvent this — maybe by “footnoting” the promo video, VH1 Pop Up Video style? — but I sincerely doubt an external video production source would allow their footage to be used in that way.
A negative consequence of the long-on-images, long-on-links, short-on-text story is also that it takes away one of the greatest triumphs and challenges of art writing: the pain and pleasure of ekphrasis. The process of writing, for me, helps me to formulate my ideas. I often begin by describing something about the work and find that my mind has changed in the course of writing. The same CERTAINLY holds true of outside theoretical resources. If you can’t summarize the outside source in a way that makes sense in the body of the text, you might just want to skip it altogether. And if your description doesn’t hold up, the reader is going to click the link and go off on their own, abandoning your text. (The same thing is true with footnotes!)
Of course, images can help “ground” a piece that goes off on a tangent about another topic, but in that case, sometimes I don’t necessarily want the piece to be grounded in that way…
Absolutely. My best example has less to do with publishing than pedagogy. I’m teaching my first online course this semester (for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Low-Residency MFA), and we have bi-weekly, written discussions about the readings. These play out as a series of lengthy comments, written by the students and me, which attempt (with varying degrees of success) to simulate a classroom conversation.
In general, my writing leans quite heavily on citations, which mainly reflects my academic training. There’s something passive in how I’ve inculcated this training: I don’t just acknowledge sources, but all too often defer to them. With online teaching, however, the citation becomes the hyperlink, and deference becomes implicitly (or ideally) dialogical, as if a given link can start a conversation or enter into an existing one. This has had a real effect on how I write online, inspiring me to pull more links into the bodies of my text – to accept that a post may be looser in form, but all the richer for it.
Yes and No. Again, depends on the publication, though I would say it certainly doesn’t affect the breadth of research or references to sources, online or off. I would say what changes my approach is actually the working structure of the publication in question: Do they have a robust editorial system? Do they remunerate their writers for their labour or do they take advantage of blogging as a kind of casual labour (which it is not, if you take your craft seriously)? etc.
Yes, from the editorial point of view. We can afford to include more images and prefer to link to online sources. I don’t think that it changes the breadth of research or length of the piece, but I do think it impacts the pace and the structure—online, I think you have to start strong in order to keep a reader; whereas with print, there’s probably a little more trust that the time you invest in reading it will pay off. In that sense, the image selection and placement matters a little more, too. You can’t assume a committed reader in the same way you might if someone purchased an issue. Bottom line, though, is that you choose your reader. It might be fine if 95% of people abandon it after 2 paragraphs but the other 5% see it through and it has a real impact on them.
Yes, always. But the thing I love about online is that as a writer you can also become an editor, so you can experiment and propose different forms of writing, different lengths, and different visual to text strategies not enabled by print culture. Re: research – it’s an ambiguous point, I do the same research for everything I write, basically I only write about shit that I care deeply about.
Usually I won’t be asked to write anything in print unless it is a more substantial piece (in length, breadth of research, and references). That being said, I tend to focus a lot on research, interviews, and correctly sourcing bibliography for digital publications a bit more. Print usually has specific kinds of deadlines for me that usually don’t have the affordance of lingering or delving into something in unexpected ways. With online writing/research I can hold onto an idea for a long time before ever setting out to put thoughts to text. In this way, the research for online pieces tends to be more ongoing, where the research for print pieces tends to be very immediate. I guess it depends though, because sometimes for print I’ll be asked to write something more critical and the editorial staff will ask for some substantiation that I think might not be necessary with a digital publication. But that kind of thing varies from context to context (or publication to publication).
Not necessarily. I mean, the internet has allowed much easier research access, and has allowed me to put my hands on truly obscure primary sources that would have been nearly impossible to source in the past. But I’ve used those sources for both online and print.
One funny thing is that I guess it feels like the collective awareness cited above makes it more likely that I’ll challenge myself to push further than other people would on research, to try and make a meaningful contribution to a topic. But it’s possible that this is the wrong lesson to draw, that the real goal is just to make a tiny contribution.
I feel more liberated in terms of length when I’m writing online. I feel like the internet allows you to write as long as you want, as people are free to scroll or not. Whereas with print, there are so many other considerations and an article that is 10-pages long is somewhat of a turn-off. There is definitely a double standard there somehow! The breadth of research doesn’t change for me. As an online publisher, I feel like I’m very careful with images when I’m publishing online as you need to hit that sweet spot of writing and image balance and the article needs to make sense as a visual object.
References to online sources are much easier when you are publishing online and you can embed as many hyperlinks as you want, diversifying the reader’s experience. I like that a lot about online publishing. You can also direct people to films, video clips, sound recordings, it’s really good to create a multi-dimensional reading/publishing experience.
I tend to refer to more online sources when I write online, and I don’t cite much in print. My online pieces tend to be shorter simply because that seems to be the currency of the web, and I don’t have as much opportunity to write in print. Breadth of research—I am often getting paid more for print and thus can afford more time to research. Online work will always include more multimedia.
Publishing online doesn’t change how I approach an assignment, but where I publish online does. There’s a big difference between writing for an online magazine and a blog. I’ll follow the writerly conventions of a newspaper or magazine whether it’s online or not, and I’ll let myself go a little more if I’m writing for a blog or an email questionnaire like this. I tend to pay more attention to the formal/ideological conventions of a publication than how they choose to present what they do.