Behind the Scenes at 48 Hour Magazine

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Heather Powazek Champ/Flickr
Sunday, 7:07 a.m. Alexis Madrigal and Mat Honan. Five hours left.

This weekend, a group of San Francisco media friends got together and produced a glossy print magazine, start to finish, in just about 48 hours. The theme was "hustle," and they got 1,502 submissions from around the world. Their 60-page final product is now for sale online, and you can also preview the magazine's contents. "Issue Zero" went on sale Monday night for $10, and as of this afternoon, the magazine has sold more than 1,000 copies. Printing costs for each copy are $9, and profits from the $1 markup will be divided in an innovative fashion.

The founders are already planning their next issue of what may become a quarterly publication

"Issue Zero" of 48 Hour Magazine started on Friday, with would-be contributors chattering to each other excitedly via Twitter, and built to full steam by Saturday afternoon, when dozens of working journalists and designers gathered to put together a magazine just for the dumb stunt love of it.

I spent part of the weekend at 48 Hour Magazine's borrowed headquarters, and left feeling as if I had enjoyed a brief vacation in The Wire: no sleep, true devotion, and lots of masochism, takeout, and caffeine.

It was awesome.

Day One

5:30 p.m. Friday


I show up at the magazine's temporary headquarters at Mother Jones. The office is emptying for the weekend, as normal offices do. I can't find the 48 Hour Magazine people, so I open my laptop and check out their live streaming video. (Transparency: one of the principles of the project.) Turns out they're right around the corner.

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The cover of the magazine
Three of the founding editors are there: Sarah Rich, recently a senior editor at Dwell magazine, Alexis Madrigal, a staff writer at Wired.com, and Mat Honan, a freelancer and contributing editor to WIRED. The three other founders would show up at the headquarters shortly, along with friends, spouses, colleagues and former colleagues, and, by Saturday, one baby, and two dogs. 

When Honan wrote a description of the discussion that catalyzed the 48 Hour Magazine idea, he called it, "A ridiculous number of hipsters walk into a bar." 

On Twitter, the editors came off as buoyantly enthusiastic, and they're like that in person, too.  Within five minutes, Honan has logged me on to their website as an editor and I'm starting to read submissions.   

6:30 p.m.

The documentary film crew shows up.  

This is not totally crazy. The 48 Hour project is a Twitter sensation. More than 6,000 people signed up to potentially contribute to the magazine's first issue, some from as far away as Brazil, Rwanda, and Japan. The project had been covered that day by the L.A. Times and the Wall Street Journal.

But when the filmmakers arrive to document the drama and the glory, they find a handful of people working quietly around a conference table.

Their hair is clean. Their shoes are on. They are not visibly intoxicated.

The film crew retreats to an empty conference room to regroup.

7-11 p.m.

Transparency and magazine editing do not usually go together. As we're reading submissions, everything we say is streamed live on the Web, and anyone can watch and listen to what's happening. That means, conceivably, that a contributor could be listening to what the editors say as his or her piece is being read.

At one point, Honan looks up from his computer and notes that some commentors who are watching the livestream don't like the negative response to some of the entries. It's a tricky moment. As Rich points out, criticism and rejection are part of all editorial processes; what people are seeing is the way real magazines work. (A kinder version, even; magazine editors are not a gentle breed.)  At the same time, what's taken 48 Hour Magazine this far is the goodwill of the Internet. Everyone who submits won't be included in the print magazine, but part of the appeal of the project is that anyone could be. It's an experiment built on populism and inclusion. Now those principles are bumping up against editorial judgment.


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