Crossing the Digital Divide: Making Print Publications Work Online

Over the course of my career, I’ve thrice had the opportunity to midwife print publications to online rebirths. Despite occurring over a span of more years than I care to admit, the success of all these projects revolved around a critical realization.

[themify_quote]Don’t try to translate print into digital. Let each medium do what it does best.”[/themify_quote]

I had a chance to call on this learning as the Johns Hopkins Medicine Internet Strategy and Editorial Services teams collaborated to reimagine Hopkins Medicine magazine online. The results, which can be seen here, were dramatic.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I started out in the print world. I love print. Print is, lest we all forget, one of the great technological advances that helped drive modern Western civilization. It is still relevant and still wonderful.

But it’s not digital.

Digital delivers interactivity, multimedia and sharing of all sorts. It provides instant cross-referencing and a fluid means of experiencing content.

The first question the teams had to ask themselves to make a successful translation was not “How do we make it come out the same?”, but “What do we do differently between the two versions?”

Some answers were simple: We can make the infographic clickable! (Admit it—it’s fun.) Others required a bit more thought, such as the architecture (or organization) of the content.

Information architecture—which I am an admirer of, but not an expert in (that’s this guy)—exists in many media types. The Web, as many people know, depends on good architecture, just as a building does.

People tend to forget that magazines themselves have architectural structure. Thing is, the architecture of a magazine depends on a linear path to make any sense. A magazine also only needs to look good at one page size—a website has to function not only on different monitors, but across multiple devices. The architecture of a print magazine is as wrong for the Web as that of a cathedral would be for a hospital.

So we did things differently. The content was organized to behave fluidly so that a reader can see an entire issue together or go through material by section—for instance, all the class notes over time. The pages were designed to be art-friendly and device-friendly. (Go ahead, check it out on your iPad.) And most importantly, we added types of content that print just can’t supply. The pages also support sharing tools—and if you take a peek at this piece, you can see that hundreds of readers have already shared it with others via Facebook and Twitter.

As time goes on, more interactivities, multimedia and commenting abilities will be added to the magazine. To foster that, new and more collaborative approaches to the editorial development process are underway, where multimedia directors, Web experts and print editors are coming together to think of how a story might be told, displayed and explained differently across several connected media channels.

One might say it’s integration at its best.