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Like CliffsNotes, but for Magazines

Website distills magazine content for readers with short attention spans, then shuts down

By Davide Berretta

Nine pages, for a total of 6,062 words: Seymour Hersh’s latest New Yorker article is not something you want to read on your cell phone. In fact, how do you know it’s worth reading at all, without investing an hour bent over the magazine?

A savvy reader might have turned to the website Brijit.com, where a quick search would have told her that Hersh’s February article, "A Strike in the Dark," gets a rating of two dots out of three ("special, worth making time for") and that "the anonymity of Hersh’s stories is often frustrating, but he has enough hard data to make this one concrete."

Meant to give the busy magazine buff a guide on what to read, Brijit coupled a rating system with 100-word synopses of long-form magazine articles. As the website explains: "We wish deep down that we were the kind of people who could read The Economist and The New Yorker cover to cover every week, watch the Sunday morning political shows, and never miss an hour of This American Life. But we’re not. And chances are, neither are you. Because who’s got the time?"

To solve this dilemma, about 250 registered users read articles from a growing list of sources that ranged from Sports Illustrated to The Harvard Business Review. Then, coordinated by a handful of editors, users wrote reviews (for $5 a piece) that assessed whether an article—or radio program or TV show—was balanced, fluffy or factually supported. Most reviews included a link to the piece online, but an article didn’t have to be accessible on the web to earn a Brijit review.

The name Brijit is a play on the idea of ellipsis, represented by the three dots above the "iji," and was also chosen because of its homonym "bridge it," which suggests a connection between readers and writers.

"This is the short-form point of access to long-form journalism," said Jeremy Brosowsky, the website’s founder. A former Goldman Sachs analyst, he claims to be one of a handful of people in the world who have thought extensively about translating magazine content to the web. He had raised "considerably less than a million dollars" in startup capital, he said, and had tried to supplement it with advertising dollars, e-commerce and business partnerships with publishers.

But time is not the only scarce resource in journalism. Just as the 2008 issue of the New York Review of Magazines came off press, including an article introducing readers to Brijit, the website suspended publication. The homepage now reads: "At the moment, Brijit is out of money and can no longer afford to bring you the world in 100 words." The archive of 16,000 abstracts is still available online.

When Brosowsky’s venture capital deal vanished a few weeks before the money was set to roll in, the site found itself without funds. Brosowsky—who preferred not to say which venture capitalist bailed on him–has paid off all of the writers, and is now sporadically posting unpaid abstracts. Brosowsky is still looking for a way to save Brijit, and says he is "cautionsly optimistic" but admits that a revival of the website looks less and less likely. He believes Brijit could find a home in some large media company, and claims to have had a number of serious conversations with large companies.

The limbo into which Brijit has fallen has received much attention from sites like ReadWriteWeb, Nytimes.com, the Morning News, and CenterNetworks. But Brosowsky has asked TechCrunch, the bible of Internet startups and arguably the biggest blog on the internet, to not write about Brijit, in order to avoid Brijit ending up in the TechCrunch deadpool (a list of companies the editors deem hopeless), which would kill any chances of Brijit receiving any further funding.

The website, which launched in late October 2007, had received a decent amount of press and compliments on its elegant graphics, but it had yet to make a splash in terms of web traffic. In February 2008, it had 45,000 unique visitors. Digg.com, the web’s top aggregator, has more than 20 million every month. In the months leading up to its closure, Brijit’s traffic had picked up: Brosowsky claims that visits lately had been growing by about 20 percent a month.

‘s limited success probably had something to do with the abundance of websites telling people what’s worth reading: With so many sites aggregating links, Brijit may seem like the sophisticated guest who has come too late to the party.

But while other aggregators focus on headlines, breaking news or cat pictures, Brijit and Arts & Letters Daily—a digest of essays and reviews run by The Chronicle of Higher Education—were the only ones dedicated to directing readers to long-form content. More important for the still print-centric magazine industry, Brijit encouraged readers to get away from the computer, pick up a copy of the magazine and read all 6,062 words on paper. On the web, that was a first.

Unfortunately, the project that was supposed to save long-form journalism is now looking for a savior of its own.


Correction: June 27, 2008. This article has been altered from the original version that appeared in the print edition of the New York Review of Magazines 2008. It has been updated to reflect the closure of Brijit.com in May 2008.


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