Slate Editor Defends His Site's Relevance

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This week's New York Observer takes a critical eye to the online magazine Slate. By Internet standards, the politics and culture site founded in 1996 is practically ancient. And though it pioneered Web-based journalism, it's noticeably falling behind rising competitors like The Huffington Post and Gawker in online traffic. It also doesn't seem to be growing its Web audience much. Diagnosing the site, The Observer's Nick Summers homes in on Slate editor-in-chief Jacob Weisburg:

[Slate] is consistently smart, even if none of it seems remotely Webby. That's the rap on Mr. Weisberg, too: the bar-none best Web editor in New York who runs a tech-backward site, and may not have the technology chops to make it as a Web mogul.

...If Slate invented blogging, it definitely didn't invent social media, distribution deals, verticals, the slide show, search-engine optimization or other technologies essential to succeeding as a Web publication today and can even be said to do most of those things poorly. On Twitter, @slate has 96,832 followers, fewer even than the musty New York Review of Books.

Already, The Observer story has prompted a response from Weisburg who pushed back against the article in a letter to Slate's staff:

What was most wrong with the piece was the notion that we're not focused on what works on the Internet in the way our younger competitors are. I talked to the author extensively about our new tech team, Slate Labs, our breakthroughs with long-form journalism on the web, the Frescas, the Hives, predictive polling, the excellence of our Twitter feed, and how we finally cracked the case on commenting. I'm afraid the nice young man had no idea what I was talking about. I told him that new competition is pushing us to innovate more quickly than we did in the years when we had a category largely to ourselves. He ignored all that, using our candor about past weaknesses against us and portraying us as not caring about SEO, aggregation, etc.

The piece is a good example of a kind of bad journalism we thankfully seldom see at Slate, which starts with a premise and ignores any evidence that doesn't support it. Please continue to prove it wrong.

Summers, fast at the trigger, fired back at Weisburg in a blog post explaining his side of the story:

Here is that quote again, but with my recollection noted in brackets on each point. "I talked to the author extensively about our new tech team [I mentioned it in the piece], Slate Labs [I didn't write about this—and should have], our breakthroughs with long-form journalism on the web, the Frescas [I called these efforts a "runaway success"], the Hives [we did not discuss this], predictive polling [we did not discuss this], the excellence of our Twitter feed [we did not discuss this], and how we finally cracked the case on commenting [we did not discuss this]." If Mr. Weisberg did mention those latter topics, it was so briefly that I did not record it in my notes.

Mr. Weisberg views my thesis as "that Slate's doing badly and that the Internet is passing us by." I disagree somewhat. I wrote that Slate produces fantastic editorial content, and that there is concern among staffers, amply documented, that Slate is falling behind.

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