Less Wall-to-Wall, More Fourth Wall – Slate Goes Head to Head with the Huffington Post

Only very seldom is my attention captured by the launch of a new online media platform (Dan Abram’s unpronounceable Mediate seems like the most tiresome exercise imaginable, so tiresome that I had to debate whether or not to even link to it, and I’ve yet to bother launching my own Twitter), yet Slate.com’s recent announcement of their news aggregating Slatest is perhaps the most forward-looking development since Google decided to add in that little tab labeled “News.”

Slate editor David Plotz and ombudsman Jack Shafer are spot-on in realizing that the news doesn’t need to be generated on a 24/7 basis, that in fact most of the stories we encounter in the course of the average day are posted once in the morning, when the print journals “make” the news, again in the afternoon as bloggers and Twitterers and CNN talking heads begin to react to that day’s top stories, and once again in the evening, as the multitude of stories are placed in opposition against one another. We might think of these phases as analogous to reception, digestion, and introspection that accompanies any other cultural event, from the reading of a novel to seeing a movie. If I think about it (and it probably says something that up until this very instant, I hadn’t), I probably check my Google Reader no more than two or three times a day; once in the morning, to cue up any story of interest in tabs, again in the afternoon if I need something to read, and then again in the evening before I try (nobly) to retire my laptop for the day.

Slate hopes to by introducing something that is alternately referred to as the Slatest or the Slate Dozen (under the assumption, I guess, that while the first name is catchier, the second one more accurately depicts just what the service is meant to accomplish), which basically tracks the development of the day’s top stories thrice daily. Is the choice of precisely twelve stories that warrant attention artificial? Absolutely, but so too is the supposition that the Huffington Post needs to rotate its front page a half dozen times a day, so that right now the previous top news item, “Holder Launches Probe into CIA Interrogation Charges” is now sharing space with “Coroner Rules Michael Jackson’s Death a Homicide.”  Someone at H. Post made the call that a significant (read: enormous) proportion of their readership would be more interested in the Jackson story than in the Holder bit, which has been developing throughout the day, but presumably this same someone couldn’t quite bring himself to knock the deliciously liberal Holder bit out of top billing. Someone had to make this editorial decision, just as someone at the NY Times toggles which stories get placed in bigger font than others, but by handing assessment of the news over to a select panel of editors, Slate is just being more honest about it.

In a profile in The New Yorker this past year, it was observed that Arianna Huffington invites nearly everyone she meets to blog for her, which is of course a boon of that newly-installed blogger is Bill Maher or Alec Baldwin or Gordon Brown (anyone with the H. Post iPhone app will note that posts by Arianna and other celebrities are given priority over the rest of the rabble, even that day’s top story), yet becomes outright preposterous if the person in question is basically just a credentialed press cub elsewhere who is basically just recycling content from elsewhere under misleadingly bombastic headlines. Slatest (the other name is not only less catchy, but harder to type to boot) seems to eschew all of that, even generating the staff’s running Twitter feed of potentially interesting stories sans direct attribution. Slatest, as the near antithesis to Mediaite, seems to be the first web aggregator to directly acknowledge that what we perceive as news is by default a product of our collective experiences, not a function of a single individual (even if he is Alec Baldwin) exerting his influence on the day’s happenings.

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