Boxes Within Boxes
Reader discussion forums such as Slate's "The Fray" are one of the advantages of publishing on the Web. But they also create a weird anomaly. On the one hand, the writings of professional journalists and others who appear in Slate at our request, and get paid for it, are put through an editorial process more or less like that of a traditional paper magazine, which can take several hours to a week or more from manuscript to "publication." On the other hand, any stranger anywhere in the world can have his or her words posted on our site instantaneously and with no editing at all (except very occasionally after the fact).
Faced with this contradiction, we decided not to start rigorous editing of the Fray. It remains a place where Slate members can speak out, unmolested by meddlesome editors wielding software programs such as Semicolon KillerTM and Shut Up Already 98 for WindowsTM and Antitrust AutoPurge ProTM (which automatically erases any turn of phrase analyzed to agree with the Justice Department--about anything).
Instead, we have been experimenting cautiously with the opposite approach: giving a few trusted writers the same freedom to publish in Slate that the readers enjoy. Our first "fraytech" feature was "Today's Papers." To be honest, this decision was based less on philosophical insight than on the fact that none of us wanted to be up every weeknight at 3 a.m. or so, when Scott Shuger files his copy.
More recently, we've added "Chatterbox" (political scuttlebutt and speculation) and "Culturebox" (insights and musings about culture, high and low). Both these departments are updated with new material two or three times a week, very approximately, on no set schedule and at no particular time of day or night. From the author's laptop to Slate, nonstop.
Now we are adding two more fraytech features. Or rather, two established Slate features are evolving in accord with the Web imperatives of frequency and speed:
"The Motley Fool," James Surowiecki's weekly column on business and finance, becomes "Moneybox"--still written by Jim, but shorter takes, more frequent, and more timely. We hope to continue our happy relationship with the Motley Fool shortly with a new feature. (Surowiecki has left the Fool to become a columnist for New York magazine.)
"The Gist," our weekly background briefing on some issue in the news, will become "Explainer." An explainer is journospeak for an article that, um, explains things (he explained). Our Explainer (the person, not the article) will be standing by every weekday to explain things the newspapers and television and even news Web sites leave unclear. It might be the historical background of some current news story. It might be a straightforward rundown of the facts and arguments in a controversy that has been clouded by strong passions and flying sound bites. Or it might be a snappy summary of some issue that would be clear enough if you actually read the entire five-part Philadelphia Inquirer series, which you're not about to do, because life is short. That's fine! Explainer will read it for you.
Explainer is fully capable of finding news stories confusing or unclear without assistance but also welcomes suggestions from puzzled readers. E-mail email@example.com any time, day or night. The Great Explanation begins around June 10.
Now With Extra Spin
There's also been a change in "The Week/The Spin" that we hope you'll approve of. It now comes with two or three mini-essays a week by William Saletan on the order of his "Frame Game" feature: shrewd analysis of how an issue is being framed by the contending interests and who is winning the frame game. These essays are accessible directly from the Contents page or from the relevant item in The Week/The Spin.
"Reply All," our experimental novel-by-e-mail written by three anonymous authors in three different cities, moves outside the subscription wall for a while, beginning today. In other words, you can get it free. You can also download all 26 existing chapters as a Microsoft Word or an Adobe Acrobat file. In recent weeks the characters have become embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky affair, as Ken Starr tries to subpoena a manuscript the three e-mailers are desperate to keep unpublished. Enjoy the story so far--on us. But you may have to subscribe to find out whodunit.
The Accidental Asian, by Slate Contributor Eric Liu, has been published by Random House. A "personal and poignant defense of assimilation, written in the tradition of Richard Rodriguez and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.," says the BarnesandNoble.com Web site (whatever tradition that might be--apart from the one of books on ethnicity that sell a lot of copies, to which we hope Eric's book does indeed belong). For selfish reasons of our own (i.e., we get a small cut), we prefer you order the book from Amazon.com. But it's the same price at both sites: $16.10, or 30 percent off the list price of $23. You can read some of Eric's writing in Slate on ethnicity and other topics by clicking here.
Slate Tupperware Party
What are friends for? They are for buying what you're selling, among other things. With that thought in mind, Slate announces our Referral Program: Persuade a friend to subscribe to Slate, and we'll extend your own subscription for six free months. Just e-mail the new subscriber's name and, if possible, e-mail address, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send as many names as you wish, as often as you wish, and get six additional months of Slate for each one. We will check to make sure that people by these names have really subscribed--but we won't check on whether they're really your friends, or if you really persuaded them to sign up. Click here for more details and to read the fine print.
Meanwhile, is that computer you got your father for Christmas--hoping to bring the old man out of the Stone Age, for heaven's sake--sitting mockingly dark and silent in the den, unused and unloved? What that computer needs is a subscription to Slate. You, meanwhile, need a Web®TV Plus, the box that turns your television into an Internet terminal. Fortunately, Slate has a special Father's Day offer: Buy a Web TV®Plus (a $285 value), and Dad will be entered in a sweepstakes to win a fabulous $19.95 subscription to Slate. No, wait. That's wrong: Buy Dad the Slate subscription for just $19.95, and you get entered into a drawing for a Web TV®Plus.
See official rules for details. No purchase necessary. Some restrictions apply. (We've always wanted to say that.)