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Devil's Advocates

Slate anthology shows off e-zine's gifts, foibles


For several years, it seemed like any business that declared itself e-anything was sure to have the money roll in and tons of ventures muscled their way into search engines. One of the many was the first fully online magazine, Slate, originally wholly backed by Microsoft. Over the years, Slate managed to stay afloat and reinvent itself with the times, changing its model on a couple of occasions until it has become a fairly reputable newsmagazine.

An entire decade has rolled by, and Slate is still going strong, making it prehistoric in e-years, so the publishers decided to celebrate with an anthology of some of its most memorable pieces: The Best of Slate: A 10th Anniversary Anthology. Full disclosure: I am a fan of Slate, having followed it for years, and was already familiar with many of the articles.

For those unfamiliar with Slate, it is a prime example of what could be loosely termed "new journalism:" emphasis on analysis stemming from personal experience and working outward, possessing a certain attitude and tone, playing up reasoned explanation of multiple sides instead of objectivity and freely using viewpoints and vocabulary that traditional journalism avoids. Originally intended to be a Gen-X look at news, Slate has, over time, evolved to become a new direction, welcoming bloggers and citizen journalists far more readily than traditional media. The selected articles, which range from one black woman's examination of her own racismto a writer's experimentation with Paxil and how it changed his personality, are far more intimate than anything you'll find in a newspaper or traditional magazine, and this works in Slate's favor. Of the 50-plus pieces in the anthology, none of them are anything less than compulsively readable and entertaining.

However, the flip side is that all these pieces, with the possible exception of Harriet McBryde Johnson's thoughtful examination of the Terri Schiavo case, "Not Dead at All," share an attitude that the anthology editors refer to as "Slate-iness." For those in tune with it, this isn't a problem, but fans of traditional journalism may not agree. By its own admission, Slate has dispensed with many cornerstones of traditional journalism, including fact-checking and balance, which may undermine its worthiness to some. Although not mentioned in the book, Slate editors maintain a running tally of errors simply called Corrections, and articles published online frequently have notations in the article text that report factual errors made in first runs.

As the editors themselves would admit, Slate is not for every taste, nor does it try to be. The anthology is much the same; for those in tune with "new journalism," the anthology will prove to be a bracing blast of fresh insight and strong writing. For those who prefer the traditional path, the anthology may prove to be a collection of harangues and demagoguery. Either way, The Best of Slate is never dull.