The 2.0 of the Town: The Nation

Posted inDesign Inspiration

By: Emily Gordon | June 1, 2006

When was the print magazine founded?1865.

When did the website first launch? Who designed it originally, and who designed the current incarnation? Was the design done in-house or by an outside firm, or a combination of the two?The website was first launched in March of 1996 in very crude fashion with in-house design by a former staffer named David Perrotta. In 2000, the New York firm Brown+Ryan did a thorough redesign and has worked with us over the years to evolve the site.

Do you have a full-time web staff or editor? How did the print magazine staff, the web staff, and the outside designers work together on the current version?We have a full-time online editor (me). I coordinate the publication of magazine articles online; assign, edit, and produce about 10 web exclusive articles each week; oversee blogs and video; and participate in strategic editorial planning. We have a web intern, who produces some blogs, fact-checks web exclusives, and does other web-related tasks. We also have two part-time web producers, and we work with Scott Klein, VP for technology, who oversees all technology for the company and participates in strategic editorial and technology planning. In 2006 we launched VideoNation, regular original documentaries like Christian Parenti’s Taliban Rising and Max Blumenthal’s CPAC: The Unauthorized Documentary. Our full-time blogger and videographer, Sam Graham-Felsen, is now on hiatus—doing video for Barack Obama’s campaign—but we plan to redouble our video efforts.

The magazine staff collaborates with the site in that we re-post about half of each week’s issue of the print magazine, but otherwise the web staff is self-contained.

How much focus did you give the magazine’s impressive history and archives on the website? How much is now reflected in the site?We have a relevance-driven content management system, based on an extensive subject directory. Each magazine and web exclusive story is tagged and classified. On the web, each story also surfaces related content from the last five years. In addition, the entire Nation archive is online and available free to subscribers; non-subscribers can access the complete archive for a fee.

Does the website focus on reaching out to longtime (or older) readers, to new (or younger) ones, or both? How, specifically?The Nation magazine and its website have two completely different audiences: 185,000 ardent progressives subscribe to the print edition and support the magazine’s many political and social initiatives. Online, more than 800,000 unique users per month visit our website. They are younger, more politically diverse, and most of them reach our site via search, because we offer content on subjects they’re interested in, from the Iraq War to politics and culture.

Online, we embrace both constituencies with a robust offering of interesting content from the magazine (50 percent of magazine content is available only to subscribers), weblogs on a variety of subjects, video, polls, and interactive elements. is a news-driven site—and we aim to produce lively, intelligent commentary and analysis of news as it happens.

We also launched an embryonic micro-site within our site called StudentNation, which highlights all of the magazine’s student projects and initiatives, features links to five student articles each day, co-publishes material from two third-party content sites, and posts student photos.

What was your web designers’ key mandate?To effectively highlight different kinds of Nation content and the reasons that users might want to become paying Nation subscribers.

How much input did editorial and/or business management have into the site’s design and redesign?Our business, marketing, and editorial departments work together to craft a design.

Is your website creating subscription revenue? Community? Conversation? What were your original goals for the site’s readers, and what’s surprised you the most about users’ relationship to or use of it?Yes, the website is very successful at selling subscriptions. We don’t disclose how many. And we have opened up a significant new revenue stream from online advertising.

We create community in a variety of ways—mobilizing support for various political campaigns via Peter Rothberg’s blog, ActNow!; orchestrating mass-mailing campaigns to legislators and political leaders via our Take Action feature; E-mail Nation, a newsletter currently at 101,000 readers that serves The Nation’s growing number of supporters. We engage in conversation via our letters to the editor—real letters, from really smart people, published as we receive them—and, of course, comments on our blogs, which are very lively.

What surprises me is the intelligence of our readers—we can see this from their letters—the passion that they have around the issues of the day—particularly the ongoing nightmare that is Iraq. At one point—and I believe this is still the case—we learned that “Iraq War” was the top search keyword that drives traffic to our site. From the get-go, The Nation opposed going to war in Iraq. We were one of the few loud, strong editorial voices that challenged the Bush Administration’s intelligence and opposed the war on moral and strategic grounds. Whether they are progressive, conservative, or somewhere in between, our readers seem united in their concern that this ill-advised war come to an end.

Has your site been nominated for or won any awards?Up until now, we have not entered many competitions, but that’s changing. We hope to soon be an award-winning website.

That said, Stuart Klawans’ cinema commentary for the magazine won a 2007 National Magazine Award. We’d like to think that the website has played a role in connecting him to an ever-growing readership.

Are there special challenges faced by the website of a classic, storied magazine like yours? If so, what are they? What about unique advantages?Advantages first: The Nation is known for its editorial excellence and integrity—for the intellectual sophistication of its cultural commentary and authoritative voice on political and social issues. We leverage those strengths online.

Challenges: Keeping our streams clear. The magazine and the website are separate editorial products, with di
stinct audiences and some differences in content and tone. We work hard to retain the distinct identities of magazine and website, aware that they are both part of one Nation.