This is my final post on Slate, at least for now. It seems only fitting that I allow an editor at the online magazine to answer some of the questions I have been asking about the publication all semester. Julia Turner, from the New York office of Slate, generously agreed to give me some of her time. Ms. Turner is deputy editor, dealing with several of the online magazines regular columns. She regularly does work in the areas of language, fashion, advertising and media and has a firm grasp of why Slate looks and feels the way it does.
So, first I asked her about that. In other words, how is it that Slate has the same three quarter layouts as competitors like NPR and the The New York Times, yet looks so completely different? “One thing that our readers have been very attached to over the years is reverse chronological vertical lift of stories,” says Turner. What she means is that stories are arranged in the order they are published, with the older material lower down on the page. Turner says since readers can see whats been posted most recently it would not in her words be a “herculean” task for readers to see everything published on Slate in a given day. (Personally, I think that would still be pretty herculean!)
Another feature of Slate is the navigation buttons at the top of page (fly-outs), which I find very helpful in terms of seeing what is going on at the site at any given time. Turner says there has been a “heated debate” within Slate about how much they are used, but adds, “We just sort of want to give people a lot of different ways to navigate.” It can also link people to a homepage with material they are specifically interested in.
But, there is much more to Slate than just design, which as I’ve noted previously can at times appear a bit busy. Slate in many ways is at the heart of the debate we have discussed in class over the future of news (fons), versus the future of media (foms). “Slate is a classic second read, we’re offering you analysis, opinion, insight on news….we try to be as speedy as possible, because we live in an internet world…but we are not typically reporting as it happens,” says Turner. And she defends Slate’s long-form journalism, noting”its definitely a concerted effort,” since she says “less enterprise journalism is being done.”
As for the future direction of Slate, that is still evolving. Turner says one innovation over the past year is the hiring of a new photo editor to help with that aspect of the publication. “I think we have seen having great photography can really tell the story.” Turner says a site “refresh” done in September has also integrated visuals more into the magazine. She says in the year ahead Slate plans to try experimenting with photography size as some users get larger more high resolution monitors.
What does Turner like best about Slate? “I love the sortability of the top stories tab, I love that you can look at all the content we have and how different folks are interacting with it,” she says.
As for what she would like to change? “I would like to see us have smarter presentations, smarter recirculation across the site…I think we could be better in terms of presenting podcasts we do, or slideshows in blogs…I think we can do a better job of getting folks who are reading some Slate stories to find other Slate stuff.”
Lastly, Turner says she is encouraged by a shift away from what she calls the obsession with “page views” in online media, with more attention being paid to unique views (who is looking at the site and why). And the fact that breaking stories may still be what drives people to online sites. I think for Slate that will be key in terms of its survivability going forward.