While I would love to claim all the credit for The New Leaf Journal, I must confess that my co-editor, Nicholas Ferrell, has done most of the heavy lifting while I have toiled away with my music and other assorted shenanigans. In addition to writing and editing, he has worked on technical issues relating to the site’s design and smooth running. While I am happy with the work we have done on The New Leaf Journal in the first month, I find myself faced with an issue of importance: I’m not quite sure how to explain what The New Leaf Journal is to potential visitors. In this little post, I will recount my latest efforts with Nick to craft a compelling answer to that question.
A Facebook Comment, an Existential Crisis
Nick cannot market the site on Facebook. This is because he is an anti-social, anti-Facebook, contrarian curmudgeon. Thus, I shouldered the burden of creating a Facebook page for the site and serving as its administrator. While I am excited about The New Leaf Journal, being put in a lead position to sell the site caused a bit of a crisis. How do we explain the site to new potential visitors?
On Wednesday, May 27, I noticed an interesting comment on our Facebook page. Essentially, while the commenter expressed general support for our doing something creative, the commenter expressed uncertainty about what exactly we had created.
Holding Attention in the Information Age
The Facebook comment got at something that has been haunting me since early in the project: is merely describing The New Leaf Journal as being something to the effect of a variety website for meaningful content too vague a concept to be successful? It has always been difficult to capture and hold peoples’ attention. But in the age of click bait, best of lists, and slideshow presentations, I would argue that it has become even more difficult in recent years.
As some of you may know, I am a song-writer who works in a traditional, verbose, American style. Given my sensibilities, I have watched in horror as social media and video upload sites have relentlessly reduced the maximum length of content to miniscule levels such as sixty seconds (Instagram) or fifteen seconds (TikTok). My copy of Moby Dick is 580 pages long. Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row is eleven minutes and 21 seconds – with some of his live performances crossing the 45-minute mark. Is there a place today for long books which require careful attention? Can a song hold contemporary listeners’ attention for 11 minutes? Relatedly, could Melville or Dylan adapt to the constrained, hyper-visual formats demanded by platform such as Instagram and TikTok?
I have pondered whether the art of building a long narrative is a dying one. There is a beauty in building something – taking a reader, listener, or viewer with you – and watching them leave the experience fulfilled. How does someone who is committed to telling a story or examining something meaningful in-depth compete in a world of search-optimized lists and rapid-fire clicks? Should one soldier on and adapt to the popular platforms of the moment? Can it be done without losing the essential timelessness of great stories? Is there a middle ground? For me as an artist, these are existential questions that I have no good answer to. But for now, I digress.
Returning to the Issue at Hand
Facebook allots us 250 characters to describe The New Leaf Journal. The astute comment we received on Facebook raised an interesting, and momentarily disturbing, question: What is our site, succinctly? If we cannot explain that in a boiled-down way, potential readers will gravitate toward sites that can make their purpose immediately clear.
Defining the Site
I quickly forwarded the comment to Nick, and we discussed and debated the topic well into the night. Enlisting the tactics of Don Draper from Mad Men, I presented Nick with a series of questions, trying to lead him to an answer. However, unlike Don Draper, I did not have the answer, so I was looking for him to offer one. Accordingly, our conversation devolved to petty bickering, name-calling, and personal insults – as often happens with friends.
What The New Leaf Journal Is
Eventually, Nick presented a new about The New Leaf Journal outline that I found resolved my concerns. Today, he turned that outline into a new About The New Leaf Journal page on the website – accessible here and from our header menu and side-bar. From this About, I created a synopsis to use on our Facebook page:
The New Leaf Journal is an online magazine for meaningful fresh content in areas including creative writing, culture, music, art, literature, history, current affairs, aesthetics, and the good life. Follow us for content that is worth your time.
Below, I will quote several full excerpts from our new About The New Leaf Journal page.
What is The New Leaf Journal?
[The New Leaf Journal] presents creative writing content and musings from our editors and writers. You will also find many articles about society and culture, music, arts, literature, and current affairs.”
Why should you follow us?
Because our writers and editors post content in a wide range of areas, we believe that The New Leaf Journal has something to offer to all readers and content consumers. Among our articles, you will find challenging essays, creative works, informative discourses, and breezy musings.
Is the content part of a coherent whole?
The New Leaf Journal’s tag-line – ‘Where the leaves are perennially virid’ – highlights the common fiber that holds our content together. Whether one writer contemplates the good life in today’s world, or another examines in detail the history of a folk song, we will always work to create meaningful fresh posts.
Feedback is Always Welcome
Thank you for reading, and I hope our new site description offers a better idea about our project. I welcome all suggestions, comments, and feedback at The New Leaf Journal Facebook page.
Update (August 6, 2021): The best place to send feedback is our Guestbook.