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| Home | Interview With Slate.com's David Plotz -- Nov. 2000
September 2, 2014

David Plotz, 30, is Washington bureau chief of Slate.com. He writes a weekly column called "Assessment." Before joining Slate in 1996, Plotz worked as a writer and editor at Washington City Paper. He graduated from Harvard University in 1992.

JournalismJobs.com: How does Slate distinguish itself from dozens of other news content sites, ranging from Salon.com and the Drudge Report?

David Plotz: Salon has a much more tabloid sensability than we do. They do more breaking news. They're more sensationalist, more interested in sex and sexy stories than Slate is. They're interested in doing scoop journalism. They've funded and engaged in bold investigative journalism, sometimes for ill and sometimes for good. They're much more tabloid like The New York Post. Drudge is searching for the kind of sexy dramatic sensational scoop. He's not interested in analysis and good writing and cool reasoning. But I think what he does it really exciting. I don't think he's a blight on journalism as many journalists believe.

JournalismJobs.com: How has online media evolved over the past few years? Has it gained acceptance as part of the mainstream media?

David Plotz: Absolutely. When our political columnist, Jacob Weisberg, was covering the '96 presidential campaign, they seated him with technical crews. The presidential campaigns had no idea what the Internet was. They didn't take him seriously. They thought the Internet was like being a mic holder. They didn't give him the time of day. Now, Internet journalists are treated exactly the same way. The people we're covering recognize how important it is and readers have become very sophisticated. Our traffic shows there's an enormous number of people who get their news and analysis off the Web.

JournalismJobs.com: Was there a turning point for online media?

David Plotz: This is probably an unpopular view but I actually think it was the Lewinsky scandal. Really it was Matt Drudge. Not in the sense that Web journalists want to be like Drudge or that what Drudge has done is necessarily admirable. But it made people aware that a huge percentage of people were getting their news off the Web and that it was a good way to communicate. Politicians and other leaders realized it was a powerful force. They started taking places like us and Salon.com and CNET.com and MSNBC.com much more seriously than before.

JournalismJobs.com: How has online media changed the news business?

David Plotz: Slate is not a breaking news site in the same way MSNBC.com is, so we don't have the same obligation to have every bit of news about the Florida recount, every AP story on the Florida recount. That's not what we do. But our readers expect very timely analysis of the breaking news of the day and we supply it. What we've seen with the Web generally is that we have speeded up the news cycle. Media consumers have come to expect the immediacy of broadcast journalism with the quality and depth of print. It's changed the expectation of what journalism can do.

JournalismJobs.com: Has the rush to put news on the Web and on TV created more room for error?

David Plotz: There can absolutely be mistakes. In broadcast, when such mistakes get made, it's easier to correct. In broadcast when something gets said, it sort of disappears. It floats out into the world. If it's on the Web, it's printed and remains up there. Also there is the pressure to be so fast that you sometimes lose the 'contemplativeness' that you'd like for critical journalism. Sometimes you simply don't have quite enough time to craft the best argument or write a careful piece. I think Slate, much more than other sites, has avoided that. We recognize that that's a pitfall and we try to give our writers an extra hour, an extra half day, because I think there is a danger in the punditry that if it's wrong, it has no value at all.

JournalismJobs.com: How would you characterize Slate in terms of the news it provides? Is it mostly punditry?

David Plotz: It's very eclectic, idiosyncratic in the best possible way. It has a lot of analysis of political events and media coverage, as well as analysis of art and culture. It also has some, but not huge, amounts of fresh reporting and feature stories and profiles. Our motto is 'Give us sixty minutes, we'll give you the week.' We can condense a lot of news. People are overwhelmed by the amount of media they are expected to consume these days. We are trying to provide an intelligent synthesis of that media that people can get in one place, very quick analysis and description of the important news of the day.

JournalismJobs.com: How is online writing different than newspaper or magazine writing?

David Plotz: One of the hallmarks of the Web is the conversational tone. One of the hallmarks of Slate is the conversational tone backed by analytical rigor and humor. People on the Web don't have as much patience as readers of The New Yorker because they want what they want quickly. One of the ways we keep their attention is by being funny. Part of it is we have a lot of writers who are funny, or think they're funny. And part of it is by being conversational. We try to engage the reader a lot more directly so that the reader feels you are talking right to them. It ends up being more like a conversation because we are very open to our reader response. We have a very lively reader response area. A number of our columns, 'Chatterbox' and 'Explainer,' are almost reader-driven. A lot of ideas come from solicitations we make to readers.

JournalismJobs.com: Slate started out as a free site, then switched to a pay format, and is now free again. Is it successful as a free site?

David Plotz: In terms of a business model, we've had great success going back to being a free site. We've had a huge increase in site traffic, gigantic readership. I think that model of being a free site and being advertiser-driven is working for us right now.

JournalismJobs.com: How is Slate going to protect itself from becoming a dot-bomb?

David Plotz: There are two things that protect us. Good fortune and good sense. We are owned by Microsoft, a very successful company which has showed a huge willingness to support our content and our editor, Mike Kinsley. They can afford for us to lose money more easily than other sites. The good sense part is we have a very lean operation. We have a much smaller staff than comparable Internet and print magazines. We have very few editors, and our writers write a lot and that makes us a relatively cheap operation. We spend significantly less than Salon.com. Our losses are comparably small. We're pretty close to breaking even.

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Other JournalismJobs.com interviews:

  • Christopher John Farley, senior writer and pop music critic, Time Magazine -- October 2000
  • Bob Edwards, news anchor, National Public Radio -- October 2000
  • Sharon Epperson, CNBC correspondent -- September 2000
  • David Maraniss, reporter and author, The Washington Post -- April 2000
  • Wolf Blitzer, anchor, CNN -- March 2000