How al-Qaida can fix its magazine, Inspire.

Dubious and far-fetched ideas.
July 20 2010 5:26 PM

God Is Great. Inspire Is Not.

Tips for al-Qaida's lame new magazine.

Saudi-owned television network MBC shows alleged terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. Click image to expand.
Al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden

Al-Qaida's new English-language magazine, Inspire, is not living up to its name. According to NPR, the month-old publication has failed to reach its target audience: young men trying to decide whether to join the jihad against the West. But it's nothing a team of media consultants can't fix. Here are a few tips they might offer:

Get on the Web. News flash:The Second Caliphate is over. Glossy magazines are dying, and not in a good way. And yet, Inspire is a 67-page glossy. To read it, you have to download a PDF. Time to modernize, guys: Inspire needs a fully interactive Web site, complete with blogs, slide shows, and exclusive videos (sorry, Al-Jazeera). If you want to take us back to the 8th century, you first have to embrace the 21st.

Go daily. It's been a month since Inspire launched, and we're still waiting for Issue No. 2. Here' a tip: Publish every day. There's no shortage of jihadi news. (Suicide bombings, fatwas, and beheadings are especially click-y.) You want to be there when it happens—or, if you know the right people, before. Don't just win the day. Win the Fajr, Dhurh, Asr, Maghrib, and Isha'a.

Click image to expand.
Inspire, al-Qaida's English-language magazine

Redesign. The cover is a mess. Keep it simple—a title, a headline, and an illustration (not Muhammad). You also need more art. Flesh out articles with charts and infographics. Don't tell us how to "make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom."Show us.

Better branding. The tagline for Inspire right now is "… And Inspire the Believers." Inspiring! Not. First of all, the repetition is redundant. More important, you're limiting your scope. Advertisers like believers, but they also like nonbelievers (or, if you prefer, future believers). Try to avoid alienating that demographic, even if it means printing a special "infidel edition" that contains fewer slide shows of public stonings.

Improve SEO. You're harder to find than Osama. Type inspire into Google, and you get pharmaceutical companies, roofing services, and hair products. Search engines favor articles with keywords like jihad and al-Qaida at the top. Instead of vague metaphors like "The West Should Ban the Niqab Covering Its Real Face," use straightforward SEO-friendly headlines like "Die Filthy Western Infidels Jihad Al-Qaida 9/11."

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Drive the conversation. Why should readers read you? Because you don't just report the news. You help people understand it. Don't just tell them Sunnis are better than Shiites. Explain why.

Lists. Lists get eyeballs. Suggestions: "Top 10 Albums Not To Listen To." "60 Peaceful Quranic Verses To Ignore." "15 Jihadis Under 15." And, of course, an annual "Best Mullahs" list.

Get readers involved. Don't just broadcast. Foster reader interaction. Hold exclusive salons that give participants access to major al-Qaida figures, hosted by your hot young editor in chief, 24-year-old Samir Khan. Solicit citizen journalism from the cutting edge of Wahhabism. For example, Diary of a Woman Who's Not Allowed To Go Outside.

Be brief. No one has time for long essays on the afterlife. Articles should be short, dense, and to the point. Summarize the key bits up top: What exactly does the afterlife offer? Why should we care? Why is life after death trendy right now, anyway?

Be useful. Fewer gauzy tirades like "Message to the People of Yemen"; more service journalism like "Sending and Receiving Encrypted Messages." People already know why they're waging jihad. They need to know how. For example, how to make a martyrdom video—and how not to.

Recruit new talent. You have one huge advantage over the rest of the news industry: deep pockets. Leverage your resources to bring in top talent from ailing publications, such as Newsweek.

The future of Inspire is bright. Follow these tips, and we guarantee you will blow up the market. So to speak.

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Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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