The story of The Morning News is, basically, the story of the Internet. They started out as an email newsletter Andrew Womack and Rosecrans Baldwin sent out to coworkers, evolved into a blog that compiled pertinent and interesting links, and then became a full-on Internet publication, publishing—literally—anything with enough quality. They still have the daily link roundup, though. It’s published twice a day, every weekday (once on Fridays).
While the hot words in online publishing are specific things like verticals and niches, The Morning News has moved in the opposite direction, publishing some of the widest-ranging quality writing anywhere on the Web.
Come to think of it, maybe that is their niche: having no niche. They appeal to readers who are looking for great writing, but are open to reading about anything from gambling to geoengineering.
While the content is far-reaching, they do have some popular recurring features. Each year they host the Tournament of Books, a NCAA-basketball-style knockout tournament pitting the year’s best literary works against one another.
Andrew Womack, one of the founding editors of The Morning News, was kind enough to put aside some time to answer a few of our questions. We talk blogging and wine fountains.
Why start an online mag?
I actually have no idea. Starting any kind of magazine was actually not our intention going into The Morning News. When we began, Rosecrans and I were working at a Web design firm near Union Square, and The Morning News was a list of links emailed around to our coworkers every morning. A few months later, when the dot-com economy tanked and our clients lost their venture capital, we suddenly found ourselves with fewer coworkers and more free time at the office. People we’d worked with still wanted their links, so we opened a Blogger account and started posting there. And then we began posting more throughout the day. So then, we were a blog.
But then we wanted to begin publishing longer content, some columns, photo essays, and more kinds of pieces that would break our blog format. So we let it break and re-launched as an online magazine, a format we felt would be able to deliver pieces of more breadth to our readers. The goal of every redesign since that point has been to offer a format that supports the kind of content we want to bring our readers.
It seems like there’s a site out there for everything. What makes The Morning News unique?
In comparison to specialized sites, we’re certainly not that. We don’t target any vertical. I don’t think that’s ever been something that makes us unique, as much as it’s something that doesn’t make us overly, vertically, advertisingly unique.
Is there a specific story you’re most proud of? Or maybe one that best represents what The Morning News is all about?
I wouldn’t say so—I really am proud of everything we publish, and I’m not even contractually bound to say so. As for something wholly representative, since we want to present our readers with breadth, there isn’t a single story that I feel represents us entirely, but here are three pieces from 2010 to start with: “Planet Zoo“ by Anthony Doerr, “The High Is Always the Pain and the Pain Is Always the High” by Jay Kang, and “Just Like Heaven” by Paul Ford (who also nearly destroyed himself compiling this, which should give new readers an idea of what I mean by breadth.)
And should your readers need help selecting a nice wine, we can help with that too.
What’s been the biggest challenge in running the site?
The usual stuff. Whether to stock the drinking fountains with cava or prosecco, etc. Every week it’s something new.
What goals do you have for The Morning News going forward?
We have a lot of plans for 2011. We’ve started planning for the new Tournament of Books as well, which always promises good times. The goals are always the same, though: to provide new, more thorough, and expanded opinions, humor, and thought of all manner to our readers.
What do you see for the future of online publications and blogging as a whole?
The future of online publishing is currently on hold, interminably delayed by iPad apps. In fact, this should be a very exciting time for anyone who’s not pouring their resources into making an iPad clone of their publication—the playing field is leveling out. The Gourmet Live team got it right, but their goal wasn’t to create a version of a magazine to sell through the iPad—it was to create a new kind of user experience via a known, beloved brand. On that level, and so many others, they’ve been eminently successful. For anyone who wants to push the envelope of online publishing experiences, there’s your first big breakthrough, and it’s a lead worth following.
For the browser-based publications—The Morning News included—the immediate future will be in reassessing publishing processes and site architecture. With tablet options quickly expanding, publications will need to make sure they’re still delivering in the best possible way for their audience. Readerships are gained and lost over accessibility. Just ask a newspaper.
Honestly, how do you view our blog?
On a laptop.