That’s when the memories started rushing back.
If you’re not familiar, Longshot was first started by Gizmodo‘s Mat Honan, The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal and former Dwell senior editor Sarah Rich in early May, 2010 as 48 Hours. The premise was simple: create, edit, design and produce an entire magazine in just two days. All using donated space from the Mother Jones office, a lot of volunteers, gallons of coffee and the power of the Internet.
The results were nothing short of amazing and people definitely noticed. There was coverage of Issue Zero in the New York Times, PBS, The Village Voice, New York Observer and lots of other cool places. It even won a 2010 Knight-Batten award.
After legally having to change their name to Longshot, Issue One took place a short time later in July at the GOOD magazine offices. Then just under a year later, they brought the whole thing to New York City for Issue Two after successfully raising $17,000 on Kickstarter.
The same week the Mat, Sarah, Alexis and company were descending on the East Coast, I had just submitted my two weeks notice to my communications job and was planning to meet two friends for a three-day blitz of the Big Apple. My friend Ron was also in town that week training at Huffington Post‘s New York office, and got invited to a Longshot planning meeting. When he asked if I was interested in also helping out, I couldn’t help but say yes.
That weekend was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of. I met lots of amazing writers, editors, illustrators, designers, radio producers and developers from some of the best media organizations in the United States. Gawker Media founder Nick Denton even came by for a visit.
When I got there and people asked me who I was and what I did, I didn’t really know what to say. “I’m a friend of Ron’s,” was my first reply. Or “Uh, I know Chris Jones.” At the time, I didn’t really consider myself a writer or a journalist. I felt like a bit of a nobody who had somehow lucked their way into the media equivalent of the Wonka factory. I wasn’t the only person who felt like this.
Some of the other volunteers asked if I had taken the overnight bus from Toronto just for Longshot. “Sort of,” I replied. And it was kind of true. Initially, the trip was just sightseeing and showing Manhattan to my friend Jen for the first time. But while Jen and her friend Agnes were going out for late-night drinks, I was taking cabs to Elizabeth Street to deliver junk food supplies, help curate submissions and input content into the CMS. Working on the magazine had become the center of my attention, even if the only time I could help out was in the middle of the night while my friends were sleeping back at the hotel.
In some ways, being part of Longshot felt like the ultimate media summer camp. People were working incredibly hard pretty much every hour of the day, camping out in hammocks and sleeping in strange nooks all over the sprawling office. There was free beer, Klondike bars and an ongoing supply of junk food contributions and take-out. Everyone was passionately volunteering their time and energy. A lot of people had flown, taken trains or travelled long distances. And in the midst of all the coding, editing, designing and general compiling, people from all over were becoming friends. It was definitely something special.
I don’t know if another Longshot magazine will happen again. The logistics of pulling another issue together aren’t easy or cheap, and there’s no telling who would be interested in volunteering for another 48 hour round of madness. But it’s inspired a lot of people to keep trying new things in media and been a great example of what can be done using inexpensive tools that didn’t exist five or ten years ago.
In a world where “old media” jobs are in decline and no one expects to work at a newspaper until retirement anymore, it’s fun to see a group of people get together and produce something resembling, in the words of Mat, Sarah and Alexis, a “real, goddamn magazine.” Sure, a lot of the future rests online, but Longshot showed you can still make a print product, while innovating ways to show it online and get people to help pay for both.
Longshot Radio has already successfully spun off, completing a special project in partnership with Radiolab at the first 99% Conference in New York this past week. (Disclosure: I contributed to a story chain produced by the lovely Emma Jacobs.)
Whatever happens, I know Longshot has already made a difference in how people think about what can be done and what the future of magazines looks like. It’s inspired people to take risks, even with the possibility of everything going wrong. And it makes me glad I decided to come back to journalism, even though the future of the industry is unclear. I figure with friends, a lot of hard work and an adventurous spirit, I’ll figure things out. Just like Mat, Alexis and Sarah did.
- You can buy print editions of all three issues here.
- Special thanks to Longshot online editor Arikia Millikan and digital director Adam Hemphill for patiently teaching me everything.
- I acted like a total nervous fan when I encountered Joel Johnson at the Gawker reception desk, mostly because he’s written one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read.
- Night editor Molly Oswaks taught me you should always store your Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the freezer.
- Alexis details the magazine’s remarkable productivity and unexpected problems in The Atlantic. He also outlines the inexpensive toolkit used to produce Issue Two.
- Nagwall mastermind Heather Billings described the free and cheap tools used by the web team to get the site up. She also gives some very good advice.
- Ricky Montalvo produced a pocket documentary on Issue Zero.
- S.P. Sullivan made this great video about Longshot Radio‘s work for Issue Two.