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The 48-Hour Way to Create High Quality Content

Even if you’ve never been a reporter for your campus newspaper or have never edited copy and page proofs late into the night on a deadline, you can appreciate the intensity and focus (and coffee consumption) instilled by a press deadline. Longshot magazine harnesses that same intensity: crowdsourcing content to produce an entire 60+ page magazine and related podcasts, from topic announcement to final pages, in two days (in both digital and print editions).

Longshot was co-founded by Gizmodo’s Mat Honan, The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal, and GOOD magazine’s Sarah Rich. Their first effort that followed this “48-hour” model (which was produced under a since-redacted title that provoked the ire of CBS’s attorneys) won a 2010 Knight-Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism.

Before getting to any elements of this approach that have relevance to content marketing, here are a few highlights about how the Longshot team produced their most recent issue.

It obviously took preparation and logistical coordination, but it also took some funding. To compensate contributors for their efforts, over $17,000 was generated for the issue through Kickstarter, a crowdsourced way of acquiring seed capital for creative projects. The involvement of Kickstarter helped promote the effort and made it easy for backers to pay for copies of the final magazine in advance. Advertising partners were able to give their support, buying pages for $1,000 each, through the same mechanism.

Ready, set, go

Production itself began on a Friday at 3:00 p.m. U.S. (Eastern time), when the editors announced the topic for the issue: Debt. Writers, artists, and photographers had 24 hours to submit their stories and other materials. An ad hoc editorial and design team working out of the Gawker Media offices in New York City selected the best pieces from the 700 submissions that came in by the deadline. They then spent the next 24 hours designing, editing, and making the magazine available for printing and mailing via Hewlett-Packard’s print-on-demand service, MagCloud.

With Longshot, the challenge isn’t really to pull together a magazine in two days; it’s to put out a really good magazine that everyone can be proud of in two days.

What does this have to do with content marketing?

With more companies putting out content marketing material — some of it good, some of it not so good — and SEO becoming ever more sophisticated, quality is becoming a market differentiator. One of the fallacies that the 48-hour magazine lays to rest is that creating quality content has to take a lot of time.

If you eliminate all of the wait and queue time required to execute a content project — research, reporting, writing, editing, layout, reviewing, getting final approval, etc.) — you realize that it doesn’t have to take weeks or months to create high-quality content. However, it does take well-defined processes, a lot of discipline, and the right people. When you only have 48 hours, you don’t have time to be distracted.

Quality, real-time content

Becoming a faster and more agile content creator has its benefits. As real-time marketing promoter David Meerman Scott notes, if you can respond quickly to emerging events, leveraging the tools you’re already using to generate and refine content, you have an opportunity to give reporters their “second paragraph” and become part of the story. But can that apply to whole magazines? Well, as a matter of fact, the project that reportedly inspired Longshot was Strange Light, an on-the-fly photo magazine about a freak dust storm that hit Australia in 2009.

In the end, Longshot is a popular literary magazine by and for creative publishing types who are passionate about their art and craft. The crowdsourced content generation and production model provides an outlet for that community, and serves their passion to create something together. There’s no reason that the model couldn’t be adapted for people and audiences — whether they’re end consumers or business professionals — with other passions. All it takes is some content marketing zeal, and 48 hours.