Anyone who has read this blog over the years know that I love hybrids and hybridity. It probably speaks to my fundamental lack of discipline or, perhaps my abiding insecurities, or, at best, my eclecticism but I’ve always been drawn to shambolic, hybrid beasts that shade in and out of clear focus.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve taken the helm at North Dakota Quarterly and struggled a bit to find my footing as the editor of a journal that is equal parts a public humanities magazine and literary journal. As one of our editors pointed out, the world of magazines divides in some ways into two types: (1) newspapers where a strong editor and editorial board (and writers) produce or solicit content for readers according to their tastes and priorities and (2) literary journals where the readers submit material to the editors who, in turn, winnow and shape the content on the basis of their reader’s (and their own) interest and tastes.
As someone who prefers the hybrid to the dogmatic, I can see the value in both of these approaches. On the one hand, I believe that academics should have a voice in the public sphere (not just speaking to specialists) and that we should cultivate platforms for this voice. On the other hand, there is a tremendous appeal to the idea of an organic, generative, reciprocal space where readers and writers, write and read for each other. At their best, both models offer a space for collaboration and conversation, but at their worst, the former offers a vision of bleary monoculture dominated by a limited group of privileged, droning voices, and the latter, the tragedy of the commons where the symbiosis between audience and contributors falls out of balance.
Moreover, varying interests and approaches on the editorial board also promote a kind of hybridized space. Some editors want a hands-on approach to soliciting material and others want to winnow a constant stream. Some want to incentivize submissions through the use of technology, contests, and personal appeals whereas others feel like content begets content.
There is also the challenge of presentation. My instinct, as the first-generation of born digital computer dwellers, is to build a robust, eclectic, dynamic, and bustling space on the web where quality content can thrive and writers and readers can build audiences. Other value the quiet churn of paper production where there’s space to think, to winnow, and to shape. (Lest one thinks I’m privileging the former at the expense of the latter, I’ve updated the NDQ website with a stable front page that emphasizes the paper version of the journal and moves the digital content to a “blog” tab. I also plan to promote more content from NDQ so that the web and the paper version coincide better (and this is in keeping with the interest of our authors to disseminate their work widely.) Check it out here.).
The web produces another form of hybridity. There is a deep love for paper among NDQ editors and contributors (and me)! As a result, I’m committed to preserving the paper version of the journal, but I also want to make sure that we don’t shun the digital both because our authors want it and because it is an inexpensive and expansive way to expand our readership). At the same time, we need to make sure that the NDQ web presence and the larger mission of the journal do not diverge unnecessarily so that it ends up stifling our wildflower garden beneath a carpet of public humanities monoculture.
The challenge, of course, is whether such a hybrid beast can survive. Can we simultaneously be a viable platform for the public humanities and a literary journal, a digital destination and a paper publication, a productive field of grain and a natural prairie…
And last but not least, a financially sustainable project and an honest reflection of our shared to commitment to the little magazine.