People are living in this very news-rich environment. We are under no illusion that people are coming to Slate as their first and only news source; they’re consuming news everywhere, all over the place. When they get to Slate, they may know about Osama bin Laden’s death, they may know about Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger splitting up, they may not. But what’s critical is that they come to Slate for a sensibility, and for a kind of conversational intelligence. The voice of “The Slatest” has to be like the voice of Slate.
Looking across the industry, there are so many news digests now of this type, whether a “Cheat Sheet” kind of thing e-mailed out to readers, or a daily morning link roundup type of thing built into the website itself. Is there more of a demand for shortcuts now, from the audience? Is there just a new expectation that that’s what news websites or online magazines will do, that it’s just part of the service they have to provide for their readers?
I do think that every news operation has to focus on what it does better than other people. So I do think there’s a lot of comparative advantage happening. The people at Politico are great on a particular subject matter and a particular area, Washington, D.C. In the case of The Huffington Post, there’s a comprehensiveness, an insistence that they will be faster than anyone else. It’s not as if everyone is doing exactly the same thing—everyone is covering the same news subjects, but in different ways, doing what they do best. Part of all this is, obviously, all web journalists have the goal of keeping people on our sites. We know that they’ll be more likely to stick around if the environment is richer and more comprehensive. So part of it is that everyone wants to be “sticky.”
If you look around, everybody does some form of aggregation. Even the primary news sites, even The New York Times does things which are effectively aggregation. They don’t call it aggregation—no one calls it “aggregation,” actually—but there are blogs that round up things other people have written, and quote heavily from them, and attempt to benefit from the work that other journalists have done. What they’re doing is applying their intelligence to it. They’re saying, “The New York Times can make sense of what this blog is getting at, and frame it for you in a different way, even though this blog has done the primary work on it.”
That’s similar to what Slate is doing, and that’s, I’m sure, what Arianna says The Huffington Post is doing, is that you’re providing something that’s more useful to your readers than the original source material may have been. So that Slate readers are going to want to get something that is for them—that is more designed for them—that looks at the story in a more “Slate-like” way. That’s not the only angle they’re going to want on a story, but when they’re at Slate, they’ll want a “Slatier” look at it.
The question is, How much of this kind of thing is your secondary work, and how much is your primary work? Slate has been doing aggregation-like activities from day one, but Slate itself also has a distinct sensibility and set of activities that it pursues on its own. With the kind of journalism and analysis that we do, there’s a huge, rich environment that Slate has created. “The Slatest” is one part of it, but it’s not the defining part of it. I think that the best media sites find a way to combine aggregation-like features with their own unique strength. That’s true of The Huffington Post, which does a ton of aggregation but also has a very organic set of blogs and articles, it’s true of The Atlantic Wire, it’s true of The Daily Beast . There are very few sites that exist as stand-alone aggregation efforts that I think are any good.
The Drudge Report would have been the first one, right?
Oh, Drudge is so interesting. There’s no original content there, right. Drudge is just a different thing altogether! He just has this incredible curatorial mind. Drudge, and sites like Arts & Letters Daily—those sites which don’t repackage content at all, they just link out—those are also very valuable, but those are a different kind of thing altogether.
Do you ever fear that there will be, if not more websites, more people on staff at websites who are devoting their days to linking and summarizing, more than people producing original content? What if we run out of people doing original content and there’s nothing left to link to?