Vanden Heuvel on New Nation Site: ‘We Will Never Be in the Business of Assigning Stories to Get Clicks’

“Maybe you’re even reading [this column] on your smartphone or Kindle,” speculated Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel in a blog post introducing the redesigned, which went live last night. “It’s now far more likely you found us on Twitter than in a bookstore, and you might be following my blog from anywhere in the world.”

So just how fully are vanden Heuvel and her tradition-minded, left-leaning magazine embracing the disorientingly disintermediated world of Web 3.0? We sat down with the longtime editor in her Irving Place office to discuss The Nation‘s new life online.

What were the shortcomings of the last site?

We wanted to redesign because media is changing, media is changing quickly. There were all these new tools that we weren’t able to access.

How much were you thinking about turning a profit with the new design?

Unlike, say, The New Republic, we’ve decided that we will have some of our content behind the pay wall, but we believe in the democratizing ethos of the Internet. We want our ideas and our reporting in the debate.

David Carr and I were in a debate together once, and the two of us were on one side. It was “Good Riddance to the Mainstream Media?,” and we were opposed to that. Michael Wolff was on the other side. David Carr brilliantly, at the end of the debate, held up this, like, papier mache from Michael Wolff’s site [Newser]. And Carr cut out all the stories on Michael Wolff’s site that had come from print. It was like a flapping skeleton in the wind with all these holes.

What does that mean for The Nation?

The Internet is still living off of media that invests in journalism, that does the editing, that does the rigorous reporting. That’s still the bread and butter of a magazine like The Nation. That’s different from a blog that arises.

Are there other redesigns that you think were especially successful?

Redesigns are very tricky. I think you often hear from those who are most agitated by them.

I think The Atlantic redesign (and I didn’t follow it as carefully as some) had an issue because they seemed to have alienated some of the bloggers that they spent a lot of time wooing, attracting, funding, and that to me seemed tricky.

I think the site looks good. It looked good before, so you always wonder.

How did you get former Editor & Publisher editor Greg Mitchell to blog for you?

I’ve known Greg for years. In the years running up to the war in Iraq, he really made Editor & Publisher a go-to place to understand what we know now about how the media fell down in doing what it should have done around that war.

I’m confident that his work for the site is going to be engaging based on his Twitter life, which is about as intense as mine.

The Nation just won a Shorty. Do you have a Twitter strategy?

Yeah, we won a Shorty. I mean, I didn’t know what this thing was. I do Twitter a lot, but it’s kind of wild  — The Nation winning a Shorty for political reporting.

I’m probably the first Nation editor who’s a Twitter addict.

Do you think we are reaching a point where we understand how to use the Internet well enough and there won’t be so much redesigning?

I think there is too quick a view that the internet is all scrim and scram and this and that. There is a lot of aggregation still going on, and it’s still in its infancy.

The next five years are going to be a period of sorting out. The New York Times is going to launch its long-awaited pay wall, and the Journal is already partly there. Some of the titans of media are talking, ‘we really need to get back some of what we’re investing.’ I don’t know where it all heads. You could have an internet where it’s all Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian all the time

Would The Nation be a part of that internet?

At the end of the week we know what has lead the site — we have most-read, most-emailed. We will never be in the business of assigning stories to get clicks. To do editing by metrics is tricky.

On Friday, Apple sold its one-millionth iPad. Is that encouraging for you?

We don’t sit around here going ‘to app or not to app?’ We are app! We have an app already, it’s [one of the top 300 paid apps internationally], I mean it’s all relative.

We want to use these platforms. I was on the train yesterday and there was a guy sitting behind me on his iPad editing, and his wife was angry because she wanted to use it. Look at the world we’re in.

Vanden Heuvel on New Nation Site: ‘We Will Never Be in the Business of Assigning Stories to Get Clicks’