Editor's Note

Telling Stories

What would Thoreau think of the digital revolution?

By James Ross Gardner November 1, 2015 Published in the November 2015 issue of Seattle Met

Stateside bestrest 4394 copy whnxvn

To a philosopher all news...is gossip,” explained Henry David Thoreau, “and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.”

I think he meant that as an insult.

It’s doubtful the digital revolution would improve Henry’s opinion. Still, spurred by the latest tablet editions of Seattle Met—we recently revamped our digital platform with an app and enhanced issues of the magazine downloadable in the iTunes store—I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be making magazines in 2015. 

I’ll admit I’m a holdout when it comes to print, still in love with the tactile nature of paper, with pages that can’t be deleted, with the ink’s habit of tattooing your fingers. But I enjoy reading magazines on an iPad too. And once you do, the possibilities really begin to bloom: articles cut short by limited page counts allowed to unfurl in infinite digital space, and video and audio and photos for days.

Regardless of the medium—via tablets or old-school dead-tree editions—among magazines’ greatest virtues is their ability to deliver powerful storytelling.

Editing this issue I was again reminded of that power. 

Take deputy editor Matthew Halverson’s mesmerizing tale of a brother and sister whose chartered fishing boat sunk in the Caribbean (“Thicker Than Water”). Or photojournalist David Ryder’s study of the Pateros Volunteer Fire Department (“The Crew”), with whom he was embedded this summer, the worst wildfire season in Washington state history—and the deadliest in more than a decade. Even our cover story, “The Best New Restaurants,” a subject you might not think of as a reservoir of gripping narrative, packs in sagas and drama and even a war—a sandwich war, mind you, but a conflict still worthy of a screenwriter’s attention.

Then there’s the big reveal. For the past three years, we’ve kept our Restaurant of the Year a secret, divulged before the magazine hits newsstands or subscribers’ mailboxes via an email sent the morning of our annual Secret Supper, where readers enjoy an exclusive meal at the year’s No. 1 best new restaurant. 

Oh sure, you can read the article right now—mystery solved. Or you can think of this issue as a strip tease. The cover is a clue. Senior editor Allecia Vermillion drops more hints in our Behind the Scenes section, and the photo above is yet another. 

That’s the power of magazines at work right there.

Is all this only gossip? I’ve pored over the stories in the issue you hold in your hands—be it on a tablet or on printed pages staining your fingers—an unknown number of times, and I can confidently say that the author of Walden, America’s ur-Luddite, was wrong. Anyone who edits and reads magazines in 2015, I suspect, would agree.

Though in fairness to Thoreau I sometimes do it while drinking tea.

Filed under
Show Comments

Related Content