Jazzhouse Keeping

December 28th 2008 11:36 am

Copyright © 2008 Whit Blauvelt

New Opportunities on the Site

What with the JJA insisting on giving me a few dollars in 2008 — the first ever, beyond some fees to my hosting provider a decade ago before I became one myself — I’ve spruced and tweaked the site a bit.  What it most needs just now is a flow of new, fresh content. There are several ways JJA members are invited to help:

  • If you have your own site or blog, we’ll now feature your RSS feed on request in the Diary section, and also a link from the Jazz Sites drop-down menu on the front page
  • Any member who’d like posting permission in the Jazzhouse Diaries blog for pertinent posts of any nature except commercial promotion should contact me directly (whit @ this domain) — I’ll set you right up

Future Jazzhouse

It may well be that by sometime this spring David Adler’s committee will resolve to move this site to a new home. For my part, I’m urging them to do it in a way that will preserve all of the fine member contributions we’ve gathered here –  your articles and photos, and those of members gone on, many of which have a timeless value to future students of jazz. The logistics of a move of this scale, that preserves the value of what we’ve already assembled, are considerable. I’m doing my best to see that whoever comes new to the project has the variety of skills required, and the willingness to cooperate in making such a transition a success.

Experimental Journalism in the Interregnum

Howard Mandel was the original editor of Jazzhouse, and is owed our applause for the great energy he poured into acquiring material for the site (as well as for all he’s done for the JJA!). For the last couple of years, James Hale has been the lead editor, and we should give him a round, too. In the last year, we’ve had some great photo shows, and the Last Post section has done well in keeping up with obituary duties, but new journalism in the Diaries and Library has slowed to a trickle, with even some of that but repurposed from other sites. When the transition is complete, the vision as I understand it is for Adler to take over the editor’s seat — a skill he ably demonstrates in Jazz Notes.

Meanwhile for the next few months, if any writers are so inclined we can have some fun and experiment here to test a hypothesis about where future journalism is going. The successful online news sites today, from politics to technology to economics to philosophy, are aggregators, portals to news which combine their original content with discussions of and links to content elsewhere on the Web, and in other media. Standing alone doesn’t work nearly so well to create real value as does standing as part of a broad, conversant community.

Recent neuroscience shows that human beings understand conversation with far less effort than we understand monological forms. As listeners to jazz, we probably already know that. What a successful aggregating Website requires is fresh content on a daily basis — not necessarily original content, fresh links in a context of minor commentary on them can be plenty. That turns an area of interest into a conversation rather than merely a park full of ranters on soapboxes. And the market for conversations, since they fit the nature of human cognition far more comfortably than rants, is the broader market.

So: Aggregators enhance a community, while also well-serving themselves (at best drawing enough traffic to profit from blog ads, which have their own aggregators to tie in with). Jazz sites, of those I’m familiar with, are behind the curve on this. The way to grow the whole network of online jazz journalism, and the broader community of jazz, in my hypothesis, is for Jazzhouse.org to become a premier aggregator.

There’s another hypothesis I know has been considered by the committee on site redesign: Repurposing the JJA’s site as merely a public brochure for the organization, with some sections hidden from the public to support contacts and activites among members. If it’s not to become a successful aggregator that could well make sense. However, if it can succeed as an aggregator, building on present resources — including our current archive of invaluable materials, which constantly draws thousands of visits from students of jazz using search engines in their research, and renewed contributions from JJA member journalists who have been so generous in past years — it would be a great waste of potential not to expand in that fine direction.

Here’s the Challenge

Anyone who’d like to explore this potential, please sign up to blog here. What’s especially valuable is commentary on what’s being discussed across the spectrum of other jazz sites, and in jazz print. This can be a perfect fit for younger journalists, who are still reading avidly, have opinions in response to that reading, and would like to get more practice with both the broader public and their knowledgeable peers. If we build it, will the greatly-expanded traffic come? That’s the experiment. There’s quite a bit of luck required for a site to really take off. The potential payoff, though, is not just an opening of career opportunities for those whose names can become better known in this context, but an expansion of the entire arena for jazz, and its journalism.

Anything we can accomplish here in the Jazzhouse Diaries can be easily continued within whatever new site design comes about, since we’re using a standard, open-source, public-domain blogging engine, and there are standard filters to move content between it and its major competitors. (The older parts of Jazzhouse, for which we built our own content management framework, are the far-trickier parts to transition well.)

So, anyone want to leap in?

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