It’s always been a distinct mix of top news—obligatory news—and weird things. The weird things were fun and valuable, and probably Josh Voorhees, who writes “The Slatest” now, will continue to do some of those. But it’s not intended to be a “news of the weird” feature; it’s intended to be a feature which is a very smart, entertaining brief on the most interesting stories of the day, and sometimes the most interesting stories of the day are the weirdest. But then in some weeks—for instance, the death of Osama bin Laden—it’s going to be heavily focused on the hard news.
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.