As much as the burningman.org redesign mattered to me, the Journal is closer to my heart. Volunteering on the Burning Blog was how I got my start with the Burning Man organization, and now I get to help take that publication to the next level.
When we launched burningman.org in 2014, we re-skinned the blog to match and called it Voices of Burning Man, but that was just to buy time. As soon as burningman.org was stable, we started a design process for a full-fledged Burning Man web publication that would become the Burning Man Journal. I couldn’t be more proud to show it to you.
The Burning Man Journal is now the paper of record, if you will, for all of Burning Man culture. Gone is the standard wall of reverse-chronological text that a blogging engine produces by default; now we have a visually driven, multi-dimensional canvas for laying out the Burning Man story.
The Journal has a front page that allows us to feature the key stories covering each aspect of what’s going on in our world right now, as well as section pages that enable more topically focused exploration. Our authors — most of whom are volunteers and participants, not Burning Man staff — are now more prominently featured with avatars and bios. And, best of all, our posts have been given a typographical overhaul that makes Burning Man stories more enjoyable to read than ever before.
Last year’s burningman.org redesign required input from all over the organization because all of our artistic, philosophical, and business objectives had to be reflected in it. The Journal was different, and as the only former journalist on the team, I had much more to offer this time around. This wasn’t my first redesign of a longstanding web publication, either; my experience with the ReadWriteWeb/ReadWrite relaunch was invaluable in figuring out how to do this. Once again, the main job with the content was to re-flow the extensive back catalog into new sections that reflect a changed organization’s new editorial mission.
The steward of that mission is Will Chase, Burning Man’s Minister of Propaganda and the person with whom I’ve worked most closely since he first asked me to blog for the Org in 2010. He deputized me as the blog’s managing editor in 2013, and now the two of us know every post on this blog backwards and forwards. We got to redraw the categories from the ground up, and I think we nailed it. Thanks to the outstanding implementation by our designers and engineers, we got a new feature that makes the whole topical structure of the blog make sense at last: sections.
Since WordPress allows blog categories to be nested, we were able to implement six parent categories as the sections of the Burning Man Journal, each with its own front page. That allowed us to give each subcategory its own definite topical home. Stories can be cross-listed in different sections, but the surrounding posts will give them a clear context depending on which section you’re reading. This accomplishes so many objectives at once for readers and for us alike.
Readers now have obvious destinations for finding and sharing stories about the Burning Man topics they’re looking for. Black Rock City is home to all stories about the temporary desert city where the event takes place. Burning Man Arts, now its own program of the Burning Man Project, will highlight the work of Burning Man artists all over the world. Global Network is the section of the Journal dedicated entirely to the stuff we do beyond Black Rock City, including our own programs like Burners Without Borders, affiliated independent things like Regional Events, and even non-Burning Man stuff we like and want to highlight. News and Opinion are self-explanatory, and the Philosophical Center is where we hash out Burning Man values and principles. In the grid view for browsing stories, each story’s categories are clearly displayed on a red tag in the corner. These show you the specific topics in each story at a glance.
This section architecture is going to make an enormous difference for how our organization communicates, too. As the organization matures and finds its footing as a nonprofit, our departments are starting to map pretty well onto the headings of our global storytelling instead of just reflecting pure city planning logistics. We’ve got teams dedicated to Burning Man Arts, Regionals, and the various other top-level programs, and those teams will now be able to have more editorial control over their sections and drive their constituents straight to relevant stories. That will free up lots of bandwidth in Comm Team brains to concentrate on the News section, to shepherding the diverse and disparate kinds of content in the Black Rock City section, and to moderating comments, which… is an area with room for improvement.
But I don’t think I can overstate how much of an improvement the Burning Man Journal is already. Now that my role at Burning Man is as a general member of the Comm Team instead of a content strategy specialist, I can think holistically about our publishing platforms and how they serve our participants. I am committed to making Burning Man’s online spaces uplifting and enjoyable, as well as informative.
Just like Black Rock City, our virtual spaces should be transiently habitable zones of Radical Inclusion, Communal Effort, and Civic Responsibility. All the other Principles, matter online, too, but these three are the ones I feel most responsible to promote as an editor. Burning Man is now everywhere, all the time, and its participants are all cultural ambassadors. Now we measure how good of a time we’re having by how much good we’re doing, and our ecstatic Burns around the world are there to constantly raise the bar for our imaginations. The Burning Man Journal is going to reflect all those stories right alongside the weird desert mythologies of how we got here. I’m proud to say we’ve finally got a publication capable of doing that job.
We owe this launch to our designers, Silvia Stephenson and Tanner Boeger, and our developers, Andrew Lowe and Masha Oguinskaia. We all worked together on burningman.org, too, and it was a pleasure to keep this experienced team together and build something with fewer cooks in the kitchen this time. With the Journal, we got to build exactly the site we wanted, and the Tech Team executed flawlessly. Not only did they nail the features and the design, they bent over backwards to build us the CMS tools the Comm Team needed, and even the ones we merely wanted but surely could have lived with out. We didn’t have to. Thank you.
Thanks from the bottom of my heart to the Comm Team. This is the best team I’ve ever been on before. Megan Miller, Communications Director and best boss in the world, thank you for turning us loose to spend so much team energy on this redesign. I know you know how critical it is to our objectives, and that’s why I’m all the more grateful for the trust you put in Will and me to do it right.
Will Chase, I don’t say this enough: THANK YOU for the opportunity to put all my work into making Burning Man happen. Reading your work is what convinced me I needed to get Out There in the first place, and you were the one who decided my writing and editing could help out the cause, too. And now look at that blog. Look at how good all that old stuff looks. Whatever lies ahead for Burning Man, it’s your storytelling that will always remind us how we got here.
Finally — and this is the part where it gets truly trippy for me — I want to thank the Burning Man founders who entrusted us with this job of figuring out how to retell the story that is originally theirs. To Marian Goodell, thank you for keeping us on task, for your relentlessly good taste, and for giving us the go-ahead to do this at all. And to Larry Harvey, I’m glad you liked my joke site titles. Thanks for giving us the space to get weird, and for showing us the lifetime of good stories that can follow from one blind date with reality… if you take it to the right place.