After a grace period of a few months, internet pundits are targeting the hapless TCJ.com for an old school internet beatdown. TCJ.com thought it knew its way around the ‘net, but wandered up the wrong side of the street and is getting an absolute pasting from hardcore internet bullies site contributors and longtime Journal admirers.
Noah Berlatsky, never afraid to bite the hand that feeds him, spies the mark in the alley and delivers the first blow from the cosh:
The bad is that TCJ’s content has been unsettlingly erratic, to put it mildly. There remains a lot of good writing, from Shaenon Garrity, Matthias Wivel, Tom Crippen, and many others. But there’s also been David Ritchie posting random tchotchkes, Dave Pifer posting even more random snapshots and Kent Worcester posting his course syllabus, complete with advice on writing style quoted from Strunk and White. And while these are particularly egregious examples, they aren’t aberrations. You don’t get through a week on tcj.com without at least a post or two that makes you think, “what the fuck?” And not in a good way.
The comments to this post deliver many more blows, with sharp criticism of the site’s acknowledged flaws such as: a bad commenting system, terrible decks (the part of the post you read before the cut in the “pageview” click model), an interface that would have been cutting edge in 1997, and a user-unfriendly architecture that has people throwing up their hands and walking away–after delivering a few kicks to the ribs:
I gave up on the TCJ.com shortly after the relaunch because it made me work too hard to find content I liked. Given the number of other interesting things on the Internet, I haven’t really missed it. I looked at TCJ.com again today, and the changes that Noah described aren’t enough to bring me back.
For Christmas, I asked for a subscription to the new print version of the Journal. My wife attempted to subscribe by going to this website. She’s a smart person and computer-literate, but she was unable to figure out how to purchase a subscription. I think this is another sign that this website has problems.
With so many other established, well-respected choices out there, you can’t rely on the tenacity of your readers to work through your overuse of flashing ads and confusing non-layout.
If Groth wants to slam online work for being “amateurish, shallow, frivolous” (as he did as a site welcome, a badly chosen introduction if ever there was one) and think that they’re going to show all those bloggers how things should be done… well, the contrast between those intentions and the actual site should be in the dictionary as the most obvious example of “hubris” I’ve seen in a while. Gary, your baby was out-of-date before it launched. Your contempt for online work shows through in the lack of effort put in here, with the site ignoring common best practices apparently through ignorance that there even were such things.
Having donned our own pointy toed boots this morning, we’ll join in the donnybrook with a single jpg (slightly sized down) from Journalista, which used to be regular reading but is now a “maybe later” afterthought in our daily rounds because it’s so hard to find and impossible to read when we do:
This is how Journalista reads on a Mac on Firefox, which is, not to put too fine a point on it, the most common browsing experience for those who might be called the “influencers and decision makers” of the computer literate. Given this font crash, the computer literate can only moan “Four type sizes in three sections? WTF–??!!??” While it’s pretty obvious that whoever designed the TCJ site wasn’t very conversant with modern website design, his (or her) emerging awareness of the use of a stylesheet is rather like a child’s wonderment at the majesty of seeing a live raccoon for the first time — wow, what does that cute thing do?
While bad web design is only a technical fix away — God knows I’ve been fiddling with sidebars and widget since I launched my own website — the overwhelming fail of the new TCJ.com is that the content, by a squad of some of the best writers on comics out there, is so ill-served. The obvious lack of any editorial oversight is the most troubling aspect of the site’s misfire, as Groth’s self-serving salvo seemed to indicate that bringing the Journal’s well-honed editorial vision from the print world to the internet was going to show us all how it’s done.
As it stands, the effect is of the old timer claiming that he’ll show these whippersnappers how to toot about in that new fangled horseless carriage, all right. Take a look at the spanking new design just unveiled for Comics Comics, a site which, like many, including the one you’re reading, wouldn’t exist without The Comics Journal and its legacy. Comics Comics is calibrated for modern web surfers, putting its excellent archives from its talented contributors in a form that is easily searchable and reusable. On the other hand, TCJ.com is so poorly laid out that the best contributors would rather post their best content on their own blogs for free than get paid for it on TCJ.com.
As someone whose first published work was in the old Journal, and someone whose favorite comics list is predominated by Fantagraphics volumes, I want to be loyal to the old girl, but the new website is just a mess. Sadly, as Berlatsky notes in his opening salvo, it looks like this is kinda the way it’s gonna go for a while. Which is a shame because a revitalized online Comics Journal could be the real ass-kicker on the comics internet block, instead of the hapless victim of a group intervention with fists.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.