Our Blog Year

Are side projects a distraction? Fresh challenges can serve the core product.


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As of today (late January 2011), Modern Machine Shop has posted 270 times to its daily blog, which is now nearly one year old. The blog was the most significant editorial expansion of the magazine brand last year, and perhaps it is the most significant since the magazine launched a website. With the blog, MMS’s editorial staff faces not just a monthly content cycle, but now a daily one as well.

But invention comes from necessity. And the blog, to say the least, creates a lot of necessity. In watching the ways the editors have responded to our need to produce a relevant and interesting post every day, I have noticed something different in how I regard other staff members. What I’ve noticed doesn’t speak well of me, but I’ll confess it to you anyway. I have found that my blog co-contributors sometimes momentarily unsettle me.

Specifically, they come up with inventive or insightful things to post to the blog that I wish I had thought of myself.

I don’t want to indulge envy, even the friendly sort. However, I do think that something like this sort of reaction is a natural outflow of a creative environment. Part of striving to be innovative or imaginative, and sometimes succeeding, is being aware when another succeeds at the same striving. MMS's print magazine, though it does draw upon creativity, does not incite the same variety of creative tension—for two reasons.

One is that we’ve been doing the magazine long enough to know how to do it well within the parameters that constrain us. We even know how to systematically go about improving it with each passing year.

But also, the blog’s feedback loop closes so much faster. By the time a reader receives the magazine and gives it attention, all of us originating content for it are at least two issues farther along. On the blog, by contrast, I can write something, post it and get a reaction in a single day.

All of what I am describing here is a picture of media people engaging with media—insider stuff. The connection to manufacturing might not be apparent. And yet, I think the connection is real.

We are both making a product, you and I. What’s more, we’re both keeping our footing while the landscape around us shifts. Out of the magazine staff’s experience with our first year of blogging, the object lesson I want to suggest is this: Fresh challenges can be beneficial for their own sake. The core product can benefit when its creators are stretched in new ways.

The magazine that readers receive by mail every month remains the most compelling and commercially vital element of MMS’s franchise. Despite what you might have heard, the medium of print has yet to face a challenger that can replace its reach and appeal across a mass audience united by a special interest. When we contemplated starting a blog, we worried that our feeding it might distract us too much from this publication.

But now, after a year of doing the blog, we can see that the opposite has happened. The new medium has drawn out and opened up previously unengaged aspects of the talent and imagination of the staff. By doing this, the blog makes the magazine better.