Has Slate Declined?

כ״א באלול ה׳תש״ע (Tuesday 31 August 2010) · 1 comment

Slate Magazine is progressive but reliably independent, middlebrow, intelligent, interesting and well-written.Like TJIC, I read the firmly middlebrow Slate very regularly (I’ve subscribed to the main Slate RSS feed for about three years). Also like him, I have noticed some changes in Slate’s overall quality over time. Here are some things that I think Slate is doing right:

  • Podcasts. I listen to the Political Gabgest and the Cultural Gabfest every week. The overall tone of both is of course reliably progressive, but in the Political gabfest Plotz and Dickerson usually manage to think independently and in the Cultural gabfest it doesn’t matter much.
  • Christopher Hitchens. He’s at his best when picking on someone like Mother Theresa or Princess Diana; I just ignore whatever he writes about Israel.
  • Farhad Manjoo.
  • TV Club. This is a cool addition to watching a program that’s good enough to merit it. Some are better than others (I specifically didn’t like the LOST TV Club), but overall they’re excellent.
  • Off-the-beaten-path features, like Julia Turner’s series on signage and June Thomas’s articles about dentistry. Where else would I have to go to get a couple of good layman’s articles on subjects like these?
  • Emily Bazelon. She’s very poorly used by Slate. I think she does have an excellent legal mind, and certainly in the Political Gabfest they always use her to explain what the Supreme Court is doing. But why does she constantly write about child-rearing and bullying?
  • Commenting. Slate’s old commenting system, the Fray, was notoriously a pain in the ass to use, so I never commented on articles. Fortunately they’ve now overhauled it.
  • Full disclosure. Slate is the only magazine I know that publishes a list of which candidate each of its writers supports in whatever presidential election is approaching. Sure, they almost invariably support the Democrat, but wow – I really appreciate that Slate is not afraid to make this information public. Respect.

On the other hand, Slate also has been doing some things very, very wrong:

  • The Green Lantern. This column is so mind-numbingly awful that I’m convinced “Nina Shen Rastogi” is secretly a robot who’s been programmed progressively to suck the joy out of life like marrow from a bone, as progressives are wont to do.
  • Double X. Like TJIC, I don’t think I see the point of this. Slate has plenty of women writers and they are prominent enough, writing well enough on general subjects, that a special section for women doesn’t seem necessary. Besides, we live in a feminist age, with feminism transmitted culturally at every level, so women don’t need to go to special women-only sections of their online magazines to get feminist ideas.
  • Other special sections – like The Root, the Money thing, and the Sports thing. I don’t see why these must be a part of Slate. Write about those issues when they’re interesting to a middlebrow, general interest online magazine, but don’t devote entire sections of the magazine to them.
  • Eliot Spitzer. Come on, who made the decision to hire this guy? He’s contemptible and, being a politician, every time he writes something I take it just as a politician running for his next office.
  • Advertising. I had to install Adblock specifically to get rid of Slate’s new social networking menu bar at the bottom of every page. Fortunately it was successful, but I resent having to do it.
  • Crap design. I hate those hover drop-down menus. Every time I accidentally move my mouse over the menu, it expands and covers the text that I’m trying to read. Why like this?
  • Fighting Safari Reader. The “Reader” feature in Safari is one of the best things to come to the web in a long time. Virtually every site I read complies with Reader and allows me to consume articles in it (some also include advertisements, which do not bother me because they don’t detract from my experience). With Slate, Safari Reader only works about a third of the time. This bothers me to no end, and if I ever quit reading Safari daily, it will probably be because having to deal with their site without Reader as a recourse diminished my quality of life too much.

I’m not sure I’d say that Slate has declined. I don’t think it’s gotten better over the years, but I still enjoy reading it a lot and I’m glad it’s around.

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