The Internet and Online Publishing
by Alan Dorow

Thanks to Al Gore and his brilliant creation, we finally have a truly interactive publishing medium. In print and television, you need a lot of resources to get out your message. With television in particular, you have to depend on the relentless pressure of Nielsen ratings and advertisers who rightfully demand a return on their large investments.

Journal E's front page

But on the wilds of the World Wide Web, almost anything is possible for anyone with a modest amount of investment. As long as you have the kind of content people want to see, you are assured an audience. As with the rest of the world of communications, access doesn’t guarantee any kind of meaningful content, but the entry to this world is easy and relatively cheap.

For me, the Internet is a wonderful opportunity. Growing up in Kansas helped me appreciate wide-open spaces and the freedoms we have in this red-white-and-blue draped country. The wide-open nature of online publishing is a natural extension of the kind of freedom of expression we enjoy under our Constitution.

I think photography and visual story telling are the most compelling way to communicate. The biggest problem with photography and filmmaking, though, is the cost involved with mass-producing the images and films we want the rest of the world to see. An image may be worth a thousand words, but it costs more to print a photograph than it does to print a selection of text. With the Internet, however, the costs of publishing photographs go down dramatically. As a result, you can present more photographs and present a fuller story than you can in a magazine or newspaper.

And even though broadband hasn’t reached its potential yet with most Internet users, video has a tremendous potential to transform the way people experience online storytelling. If an online publisher puts together videos in a concise and thoughtful way, the viewer can choose what he wants to see when he wants to see it and view the movies in an intimate environment of his choosing.

Tying all of these elements together are the interactive possibilities of viewer involvement though online forums and messaging. At Journal E, we try to connect the community of online viewers who visit our site for specific stories about topics that interest them. One story in particular illustrates this idea:

Without Sanctuary on Journal E

We published “Without Sanctuary” on Journal E over two years ago. A powerful story that features postcards that were made of lynchings in America, “Without Sanctuary” speaks strongly to many people who are horrified by these corrupt events in American history. We’ve reproduced the original postcards based on the collection by James Allen and John Littlefield, and have included a forum which invites viewers to leave their comments about the images. At first, I thought a few people might take the time to participate in a forum about the story. As it turned out, thousands of people have joined the forum and we had to divide up the comments into long weekly pages. People tell their friends about the story, and the site continues to grow with more and more reader comments.

I see this kind of story as part of the future of online publishing: a kind of publishing which exists and grows over time as more and more people become involved with the content of the stories. The content doesn’t exist merely as a show on Thursday night or an October magazine piece that gets thrown out with the recyclables – it lives and grows over time online with new links and word-of-mouth advertising.

We’re working in a medium that is barely ten years old. The Internet has already changed the nature of worldwide communication and will no doubt be a major factor in the way people, business and governments talk to each other in the future. It is way too early to predict how real money will be made with online publishing, but this is a powerful medium which can look great and give access to the many talented story tellers of our time.

And I’m having a great time trying to make it come together.

Alan Dorow is the Editor and Publisher of Journal E.

Video Interview with
Alan Dorow

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Intro, creating CD-Rom's and starting Journal E.
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On being moved by photo slideshows with audio;
gathering content for the website.
Using Flash for dynamic presentations.
"I have zero people working for me"
"If you've got the right content, people will come."
On how he developed the site's distinct look and feel.
"People will pay for the site that they want to see."
On how he gathers unique content.
The challenges of desgning multimedia content.
"I've always thought that video was one of the
biggest things that you could do with the Internet."
On getting paid for the work, and paying for content.

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