A Literary Journal in the Digital Age

This afternoon we have our first North Dakota Quarterly meeting of the year. NDQ is a small, proud, and once influential literary journal published at the University of North Dakota. For over a century, the Quarterly has appeared four times (or somewhat less) per year filled with poetry, fiction, and commentary. The last few years, however, have not been particularly kind to NDQ. It has lost subscribers, lost its longtime editor, and somehow missed out on the digital era. As a result, support from the University of North Dakota, which remains vital for its survival, has wavered, and a new editorial board of which I’m a part has a mandate to save the journal.

Cropped ndq image string vector Color

My contribution to the “Save NDQ” project focuses on helping the journal find its way in the digital world. In fact, I’m giving a little presentation on a few possible digital initiatives. As per my usual practice, I’m going to use my blog to get my thoughts together.

1. Digital Legacy. One of the first things that NDQ must address is its legacy. NDQ has over 400 issues and thousands of pages of content and almost none of this is available online (other than the first 20 or so issues digitized as part of the Google Books project) even now that our issues are born digital.

As part of bringing NDQ’s legacy to the digital era, we are going to start a series of thematic reprints of public domain content and make them available on both paper and in digital forms (in collaboration The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota!). In other words, we’re going to use digital media to organize and celebrate the legacy of NDQ in new ways.

For issues that remain under copyright, we’re in a unique bind. Because NDQ published for year without author contracts, and the most recent author contracts limited the republication of individual submissions to NDQ, we are going to have problems producing thematic reprints for volumes still under copyright. My gut feeling is that for articles published before 1950, we might be safe doing some thematic reprints, but for more recent content, we probably need to simply release digital copies of the entire volumes.

We will also contact Jstor to see if they are interested in distributing NDQ, but we might also look to other online depositories to ensure that digital NDQ circulates as widely as possible.

2. Beyond Paper. As readers of this blog know, I’m always willing to experiment with the newest in new media (well, not the newest, but once it becomes a bit tired, I’m all in!). I even joined Ello. Part of what we need to do with NDQ is to bolster its presence online through the new media. We will unveil a new website in the coming weeks, and, hopefully, this allows us to engage with timely matters in a more efficient way. 

We’re also in the exploration stages of a series of Podcasts, an Instagram account, and even some low-key (gasp) e-marketing (like a regular email newsletter or even a subscription drive?).

At times, NDQ feels like it exists in a sepia-toned bubble, but, in fact, the Quarterly serves as a filter. We get hundreds of submissions for each volume, and we publish only the most interesting and exciting each quarter. This filtering function is all the more important in the 21st century, where the abundance of new and traditional media choices for the educated reader is almost overwhelming. And we think that our editors, readers, and supporters could collaborate in filtering the the wild world of the web. So, I’d like to introduce a quarterly NDQ list of the best things to read both on the web and on paper. I know there is a good bit of competition in this field, but I also know that our contributors, readers, friends, and colleagues are a formidable filter. I think a quarterly email with our favorite reads could become a complement to the print version of the Quarterly. We also think that this is a great way to build bridges between the various quality publications both online and in print that our editors, contributors, and subscribers enjoy.

Podcasts offer another way to expand the audience for NDQ. Reading is great, but the amount of hours in a day never allow for as much time for thought-provoking engagement with quality media as anyone would like. I am always surprised by the number of folks I know who listen regularly to podcasts. If journals like NDQ, were the quality popular media of their day, then perhaps podcasts fill that gap now?

Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat (!?). I mean, seriously? Do these media have potential? Poems on Snapchat? Cover art on Instagram? I don’t even know what we could do with Vine, but these light-weight media options exist and are popular and have a tremendous reach. They’re ripe for experiment.

3. Transmedia. As much as I can imagine NDQ using new media to extend its reach, I can also imagine us engaging new media in different, critical ways. For example, I’d love to see NDQ offer a critical take on music. Fortunately, YouTube, Vimeo, and streaming services like Spotify make it easy to integrate music and text online.

My colleague Sharon Carson, also on the editorial board at NDQ, is committed to renewing the genre of book review, I wonder if complementing that should be an effort to revitalize the genre of music review?

Even the most rudimentary blog platform now allows for us to integrate video and and photography and take the genre of review from a cross media exercise to a transmedia encounter where art, music, video, and text share the same space and blur the line between viewer, listener, and reader. 

4. Paper. All this is not to marginalize the tradition of paper publication at NDQ. In fact, by exploring digital media while remaining committed to paper, we recognize the unique character of paper, printing, layout, fonts, and all the other craft elements of traditional publication that our growing addiction to web reading and digital publication has gradually eroded. By crossing media boundaries, we are compelled to consider more carefully what makes print unique and to celebrate it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s