Old at 10, Slate.com sparks media soul-searching
By Claudia Parsons
Not much has survived 10 years on the Internet, so Slate magazine's
celebration of that milestone this month sparked self-congratulation,
criticism and much soul-searching about the future of old and new
Slate, a news magazine Web site that mixes humor and political and
social commentary, has plenty of critics, the loudest of whom were
invited to air their views online. This prompted descriptions such as
"shrill and superficial," "liberal, contrarian and haughty,"
"insufferable" and just plain "irritating."
But whatever the critics say, Slate has survived and boasts usage
figures comparable to the Web versions of The Los Angeles Times, the
Chicago Tribune and National Public Radio, according to Internet usage
measurement firm Hitwise.
A big reason for its survival is what media columnist Jeff Jarvis,
author of media Web log www.buzzmachine.com, calls "two very good
sugar daddies." Launched in June 1996 by Microsoft Inc., Slate was
sold to The Washington Post in 2005.
Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism at New York University and blogs at
http://www.PressThink.org, said Slate also succeeded in adapting -- going
from weekly to daily to real-time, switching revenue models, and
adding space for readers to talk back.
David Talbot, founder and editor for 10 years of Slate's longtime
rival Salon, said newspapers and magazines were like "oil tankers" by
With circulation declining, major U.S. newspaper groups have announced
rounds of job cuts in recent years, and the industry is immersed in
endless debate about its future.
"The newspapers have lost one of their key bases now to Craigslist
with the classifieds: you'd think that would be a huge wake-up call,"
Talbot said, referring to the free site that is now a one-stop shop
for everything from apartments to dating.
"Newspapers' future is on the Web. They should be developing more
opinionated writers," he said. "Fox News showed where popular taste
is. People want in-your-face, opinionated media."
Norman Pearlstine, editor-in-chief of Time Inc. from 1995 until the
end of 2005, said the Internet had overtaken newspapers in their three
traditional strengths -- timeliness, being publications of record, and
"The most exciting thing that could happen is that newspapers and
magazines become more publications of opinion," Pearlstine said at a
media forum for Slate's 10th anniversary.
Jarvis said British newspaper The Guardian was leading the way with
its two-month-old communal blog http://www.commentisfree.com, where
the paper's journalists write articles in the chatty style of blogs
and enter into debate with readers.
Jarvis said the new role for the journalist was to be the moderator,
but even that is being overtaken by sites such as http://www.digg.com,
where readers choose what tops the news by voting on stories. "What's
one year old is more interesting than what's 10 years old," Jarvis
Rosen said his journalism students at NYU still aspire to a career in
traditional media, but he started teaching "Blogging 101" this spring
to open their horizons.
Vanity Fair media columnist Michael Wolff said the big challenge for
print media apart from advertising was not the direct competition from
the likes of Slate, but that nobody now relies on a single newspaper,
Web site or TV channel. "The idea of one source of information is
laughable now," he said.
According to Hitwise, only four news sites boast a market share of
more than 2 percent. Yahoo is top with 6 percent.
For Jarvis, that means advertising money spread more thinly and
targeted at niche markets -- good news for "citizen journalists" and
bloggers, including his 14-year-old son.
"My son gets checks for the blog he writes and it's plenty for him to
buy an iPod," Jarvis said.
But Talbot said blogs and news sites like www.drudge.com, ranked
No. 5, were entirely dependent on "old media" for the stories they
link to "like the birds that sit on hippos."
"Without the old hippos, those birds would be out."
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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