What if magazines were were published using radical transparency?

Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson asks, “What would radical transparency mean for Wired?” (In the spirit of things, let me guess transparently that “radical transparency” will be the title of his next book). Chris doesn’t promise that Wired will do all or even most of them, but he has some suggestions for what a transparent magazine organization (the edit-side) would be. I don’t usually say this, but this is a must-read for those of you in the magazine industry. Several parts of it, you’ll dismiss outright — especially if you think of magazines only as the finished product this is displayed on the newstand. However, what if the process is content or, what if process is king? What if Reddit (now owned by CondeNast) is used before a story is published to help determine its value and relevance to readers, rather than afterwards for commentary and reaction?

Chris is not suggesting that writing and editing be turned over to a crowd (as I’ve noted before regarding a Wired.com attempt at that, it’s not a pretty thing) — but story context, framing, fact gathering and feedback can be fueled by the community. In the end, the physical magazine’s value and quality will be measured by additional factors related to aesthetics and writing and editing — all factors that do not threaten the creative and journalistic talent of those people who currently do those things. However, they will need to learn how to collaborate with their readers — how to dance with them — how to not relegate them to a ‘panel.”

People who read this blog — and Chris’s — will likely love this stuff. They will understand intuitively that none of this is a threat to the value proposition of magazines, rather these are ways to enhance the value of “trusted brands.” But I can make a fairly informed prediction that most traditional magazine people will dismiss Chris’s open approach as unwise (why would we let competitors know what we’re working on? Our job as editors is to tell our readers what is important, not for them to tell us, blah, blah.) But Chris (and others, like BusinessWeek’s Steve Baker and Heather Green and Dan Gilmore ) have unique perspectives on the “open approach” because they’ve actually been through the development of cover stories and books in an open environment in which readers participated. I believe their experience reveals that the sub-group of individuals who will participate in the development of a story or book will not ruin it, but will serve as evangelists for it — they helped create it.

As for wikifying everything. It should come as no surprise that I believe every blog and magazine and book should be accompanied by a wiki: a growing repository of links and descriptions and resources related to the topic.

Chris’ suggestions may sound radical, but I think in five years, they will seem rather ordinary. For a current example of a print magazine that is published in a radically transparent way, check out my favorite example: JPG Magazine. However, they even have editors and designers running things. This is not a threat, people. It’s an opportunity.

Update: Scott Karp: “Chris sounds like he’s hot on the trail of real innovation, rather than pablum ideology.”

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