Good people of Slate Plus,
Justin Peters here. I write about all sorts of things for Slate: crime, media, the Olympics, fast food, my own rash financial decisions, and various other topics. I spent years as a substitute Today’s Papers columnist. I launched Slate’s Crime blog in 2012. I’ve asked the big questions, like “Why is Sbarro such a terrible restaurant?”, “Which is the best adult diaper?”, and “Is the Soloflex guy’s autobiography worth reading?” (Answers: Their food is bad, the Molicare Super Plus, and unequivocally yes.)
The point is that I’ve been here for a very long time. As a matter of fact, Wednesday, Feb. 18 marked my 10-year Slate-iversary. On that date in 2005, I published my first-ever Slate piece, about the weightlifting physician who introduced anabolic steroids to America. To celebrate this milestone, Slate Plus asked me to write this week’s newsletter. (I was hoping for something made of tin, but I’ll take what I can get.) And I thought I’d take this opportunity to review how I made my way to Slate in the first place, and why I’ve stayed for all these years.
In the fall of 2003, when I was 22, I moved to Washington, D.C. to become a journalist. I didn’t get very far, mostly because I was immature and had a terrible work ethic. Instead of applying for jobs and, you know, actually writing stories, I spent most of the next year sleeping, and drinking cheap beer at the Pharmacy Bar, and daydreaming about what I would say in my inevitable Pulitzer acceptance speech. Occasionally, I would leave my walk-up apartment—where neither my roommate nor I owned a mattress—to go and play poker with other young journalists. It was at one of these poker games that I first met Josh Levin.
Josh, of course, is now Slate’s executive editor and America’s sports-talk sweetheart. At the time, though, he was a very junior editor in charge of the site’s sports section, and was looking to build up a roster of reliable freelancers. I was the furthest thing from “reliable,” but I was a freelancer, mostly because nobody would hire me, since, after all, I wasn’t reliable. Anyway! I was thrilled to meet Josh, because I had always wanted to write for Slate, which was the smartest and liveliest Web magazine around. I knew I had made a good contact, and I was determined not to waste it. When I pitched Josh a story, I wanted it to be a good one.
So I bided my time until February 2005. Jose Canseco was about to publish Juiced, his tell-all book about steroids in baseball, and the entire sporting world was talking about performance-enhancing drugs. I wasn’t entirely sure what a “news peg” was, but I knew that a pitch pegged to the Canseco book would have a decent chance at being accepted. I dug up Josh’s email address and sent him a pitch on … a 19th-century cycling coach named Choppy Warburton.
“I propose a brief (750-800 word) recap of the 1890s bicycle doping scandal, focusing on the colorful Choppy Warburton,” I wrote, and I went on and on describing this esoteric and irrelevant story. At the end of my pitch, almost as an afterthought, I mentioned that “I've also got a pitch on Dr. John Ziegler, the man who, in the 1950s, introduced the anabolic steroid to the modern sporting world.”
Josh Levin is an intelligent man. He didn’t take the Choppy Warburton pitch, but he took the Ziegler one, which, in retrospect, was obviously the better story. I spent the next two days in the reading room of the Library of Congress, reading as many books as I could find about Ziegler and his era. I filed the piece on the morning of Feb. 18, 2005. It went live at 6:14 p.m. that same evening. “Along with Bryan Curtis’s Jose Canseco piece, this is going to be on the cover on (I believe) Monday,” Josh wrote. “Good job on this.” I got paid $400 for the story. I’ve been here ever since.
Slate has changed a lot since 2005. I’ve changed, too: My work ethic is better these days, and I’m a little clearer on the concept of a news peg. But a lot of things remain the same, too. I still count on Josh and the other editors here to tell me when my pitches are bad, and to make my good ideas better. And Slate, for my money, remains the smartest, liveliest Web magazine around.
Plenty of stories on the site this week prove my point. When I think “smart and lively,” I think Seth Stevenson, who had a fantastic piece about a high-end portable music player geared for people who, like me, “get off on listening to high-res lute music through $600 headphones in a soundproofed room.” Willa Paskin is one of the world’s sharpest television critics, and I loved her thoughtful review of CBS’s awful-sounding new Odd Couple remake. (“The new versions of Oscar and Felix feel like caricatures, whereas the old versions felt like characters,” writes Paskin. Nailed it.) I’ll read anything that the reliably delightful Katy Waldman writes, no matter what the topic; I loved Katy’s post this week on Beyoncé and the “celebrity-photo-leak waltz: Click, gasp, spin around, exalt at the zit, feel bad about the zit, twirl, curtsy, identify with the zit, repeat.” If Katy ever gets bored with journalism, she’s got a bright career ahead of her as a motivational dermatologist.
Seth, Willa, and Katy have been here awhile. But Slate continues to bring new, bright voices into the fold. I’ve long admired Alec MacGillis’ work at the Washington Post and the New Republic, so I was thrilled when we hired him earlier this year. Alec’s thought-provoking story on why St. Louis might be better off seceding from Missouri to join Illinois shows why Slate is lucky to have him. Laura Bennett, formerly of Salon, just joined Slate to helm the site’s Brow Beat blog; it’s impossible to read this Fifty Shades of Grey roundtable that Laura convened without getting excited about where she’s going to take Slate’s culture coverage. Leon Neyfakh spent years as a standout writer for the Boston Globe’s Ideas section. Now he’s covering criminal justice for Slate, and his piece about the decriminalization movement is fascinating.
More! You should read Jamelle Bouie’s smart piece on why Jeb Bush can’t escape his older brother’s legacy. You should read Ruth Graham on why “parents” aren’t to blame for making bad decisions about vaccines—mothers are. Will Oremus wrote about a startup that’s trying to reinvent the wallet. As a man who doesn’t actually own a wallet, but just keeps all his cash crumpled loosely in his pants pockets, I found the story fascinating. And I loved Ben Blatt’s investigation into the hardest shot to make in bowling, which, as it turns out, isn’t the dreaded 7–10 split, but instead something called the “Greek Church.”
Even more! Daniel Engber weighed in on a novel strategy that Arizona State basketball fans have devised to make opposing players miss their free throws. “For most of my life, I’ve thought of quiche as frittata with crust—which is to say savory egg pie,” wrote L.V. Anderson in the latest installment of her “You’re Doing It Wrong” series. For most of my life, I’ve never thought of quiche at all. But now I sort of feel like I should! Finally, if you read anything this weekend, you should read Dan Crane’s reflection on life as the stepson of Charles “Pete” Conrad, the third man to walk on the moon. “I was a characteristically dogmatic, liberal freshman at Wesleyan, and Pete was—well, he had a Navy anchor tattoo on his arm, and a photo of him shaking hands with Nixon on the wall of his office,” Crane wrote. “Also, he had gone to the moon, whereas I had not.”
I haven’t been to the moon, either. But I’ve been writing for Slate for 10 years, which is something to be proud of, too. I hope I stick around for another 10 years. And I hope you do, too.