MATTER, the longform science and technology news site that promises "deep, intelligent journalism about the future," is changing.
It is moving all of its content to Medium, which bought MATTER earlier this year. It has dropped its paywall; everything it publishes will now be free. And instead of publishing one story a month, it plans to step up production. "Will more output mean lower quality? We promise you that it absolutely will not. One of our core goals for the next year is to make MATTER’s pieces—which are already competing with some of the best out there—better and better," MATTER's editors wrote on Nov. 21.
And on Thanksgiving day, MATTER's editors published a startling reflection on its first year of publication–startling because MATTER's editors were so forthcoming about their missteps, about how much they've learned, and about where they are headed.
A lot of the journalism business is based around gut instinct, and the insights that people do have are often clutched close: after all, why share a piece of information if it’s your competitive advantage?
Frankly, that’s one big reason that mistakes get made again and again. I hope that if we share a few things we’ve seen then others won’t make some of the same mistakes we have… and maybe they’ll enjoy some of the same successes we have, too.
It's hard to imagine such a confession from any of the mainstream news organizations. Those are the people who invented the idea of operating on gut instinct and holding insights close. MATTER's decision to abandon that approach makes me optimistic about MATTER's future.
The paywall–MATTER began by charging 99 cents per story–was impeding MATTER's growth. MATTER says it was adding subscribers, but not fast enough. "Perhaps any barrier can be too much of a barrier," its editors wrote. Further, other news outlets that MATTER tried to work with were "pretty reticent to write about, syndicate, or even link to, paywalled material," MATTER wrote.
MATTER also realized that one story a month wouldn't be nearly enough to hold readers' attention. "We were out of step with the rhythms of the web," MATTER's editors wrote. And its decision to offer stories as Kindle singles also proved to be more difficult than the editors had expected. "Non-fiction feels pretty crowded out," MATTER wrote.
These are the kinds of observations that are made by media critics, not by news organizations themselves. I commend MATTER for its openness, and I hope it finds its way.