Last Friday was the third anniversary of Eleven-ThirtyEight’s official launch. Usually we mark the occasion solely via the bi-annual Second Look feature, which ran all last week, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how the site has developed thus far and how best to move forward now that we’re knee-deep in the Disney Era of Star Wars filmmaking, so I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss these things with you, our beloved audience.
When I was first approaching people to write for this site in early 2013, part of the “elevator pitch” for what I had in mind was that instead of posting news, ETE content would be news. I’m nothing if not presumptuous, but what I meant by that was that the platonic ideal of an ETE piece would be something that wasn’t being said anywhere else—something that needed to be said, and that upon reading, people would want to pass on to others in the way they would an important news item. That was very much FiveThirtyEight’s reputation after the 2012 American presidential election, and that was the bar I wanted us to be aiming for at all times—hence our name—even if the reality was unlikely to be quite so lofty.
While not directly related to this goal, another priority I established early on was that we would post on a regular schedule—for this reason, I’ve often used the word “journal” to describe ETE rather than “blog”. Posting content whenever it strikes one to do so, in my mind, was the hallmark of a news site, where important things might happen at any time and prompt immediate reaction; and conversely, where there might be occasional periods where nothing happens at all. I wanted to set us aside from that by being, well, predictable—you might not know whether a given day would involve breaking news or the deepest of deep cuts, but you could bet your ass that on Monday at 8am EST, we would have something for you to read.
Looking back now, I’m actually…kind of amazed that I made that happen. We’ve adjusted the schedule once or twice, but with only a handful of exceptions, ETE has been reliably publishing new material three to four times a week for three entire years. In that time, WordPress tells me we’ve run 543 posts, with over 870 thousand words between them. We’ve accumulated almost a third of a million views, with our unique daily visitors having almost doubled from 2013 to 2016. In other words—whatever it was I wanted to establish ETE as being, I believe the point has been made. The question now is, how best to continue to be that going forward?
While I’m very proud of the body of work that exists here currently, and the reputation we’ve cultivated on Twitter and elsewhere, as Editor-in-Chief I have to admit that I’ve slowly but surely lost sight of the ball. We may not cover news in a direct sense, but there are indeed big chunks of time—particularly over the summer when the movies are far away and Rebels is off the air—where there’s very little to talk about. Keeping the schedule full regardless of what’s going on has been a huge challenge. At times I’ve resorted to running pieces—both my own and from guests—that aren’t fully developed yet, or that I’m not necessarily in love with in the first place, just because a hole is looming. Often, before getting to that point, I’ve poked and prodded our staff writers to a degree that I’m not comfortable with. To be honest, I’m not comfortable ever doing it, but I have a certain aptitude for nagging and it’s kept things chugging along more times than I can count.
But that doesn’t result in the best content, and just as importantly, it’s not fun for any of us. I don’t invite people to write here so I can browbeat them into churning out a steady stream of whatever, I invite them because I value their points of view and I want to provide a place for them to flourish—at a pace that they’re comfortable with.
So from now on, that’s what I’m going to do. Our publishing days will remain Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but as of this week, I’ll no longer be concerning myself with whether or not we publish every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In practice, that means that we almost certainly will not. Of course, Life Debt comes out tomorrow (and Jay Shah’s first reactions will be here for you on Wednesday), so between that and Star Wars Celebration Europe this weekend (not to mention SDCC) I would imagine July will remain a fairly busy month for us. Likewise with October bringing the Rogue One tie-in Catalyst, Ahsoka, and the likely return of Rebels. But during the doldrums of August and September? Things might slow down around here. I really can’t say—the point is, I’m not going to worry about it.
What I will be doing is renewing my focus on quality, and the inherent value of a given idea. The ETE staff’s ongoing group DM will now be used primarily for brainstorming and proofreading, rather than me asking if anybody is free tomorrow and able to throw something together. Likewise, I plan to start doing our Not a Committee group pieces on a regular monthly schedule from now on, and there may even be more frequent Aggressive Negotiations chat pieces—but those are tricky to schedule, so we’ll see. If I’m not sure the premise of an article is the strongest it can be, or the best match for what we do here, we’ll set it aside, or rethink it. Quality will come before not just quantity, but timeliness as well—if something can’t get written in time to be proofed by myself or another member of the staff, it will be rescheduled for later. For you as readers, this all may not even be that noticeable depending on how often you visit, but when you do come by I hope you find more to be challenged, intrigued, and excited by than ever before, even if there are fewer pieces overall.
Again, I’m not unhappy with what we’ve been producing all along; far from it. But I’ve been reminded lately by some particularly strong pieces of what ETE can be at its best, and I believe in always aiming for the highest possible bar even if you can scarcely conceive of reaching it. It’s time to see how much higher we can fly this thing.