Introducing "The Slatest," a better news aggregator.

The inner workings of Slate.
Aug. 24 2009 7:34 AM

Introducing "The Slatest," a Better News Aggregator

We're replacing "Today's Papers." Here's why.

Check out our new aggregation feature,  " The Slatest."

Illustration by Rob Donnelly. Click image to expand.

One of the great conveniences and frustrations of the Web recently has been the rise of the news aggregator. From the Huffington Post to Real Clear Politics to Newser to that cute little Web site around the corner, everyone on the Internet seems to be summarizing and repackaging the stories of the day. (There's so much aggregating going on that hardly anyone is left to write the original stories that get aggregated.) At Slate, we've been watching this development with curiosity.

David Plotz David Plotz

David Plotz is the editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

Long, long ago, in an Internet far, far away, before there were podcasts or blogs, before there was YouTube or Google, when Arianna Huffington was famous for being a Republican pundit, Slatepioneered Web aggregation. Our very first issue in 1996 featured "In Other Magazines," which summarized the key stories in, well, other magazines. (I wrote it!) A year later, we began publishing "Today's Papers," an early-morning analysis of the top stories in America's five most important newspapers. The very idea of "aggregation" hadn't even been invented yet: We called these features "meta-news."

"Today's Papers" was hilariously backward by contemporary standards. The authors originally collected front pages by fax from newspapers that barely had online editions. (Our first "Today's Papers" didn't even have links.) But the column was an instant sensation for Slate, meeting a need our readers hadn't even realized they had. It hooked an audience: William F. Buckley Jr. was particularly fervent, going into paroxysms if "Today's Papers" arrived in his inbox late. "Today's Papers" showed what Web news aggregation was supposed to be: It captured the media zeitgeist, it condensed everything you needed to know into a few paragraphs, and it was fast.

Over the next 12 years, journalism changed astonishingly, but "Today's Papers" didn't change at all. The column continues to be a brilliant condensation of one important aspect of the news, but it hasn't kept pace with Web news as a whole: It doesn't track the news as the day progresses, and it doesn't encompass all the ways people get their news besides newspapers (blogs, Twitter, TV …). We've come to realize that we haven't been doing the kind of aggregation most of our readers want.

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But neither has anyone else. The news aggregation efforts by other Web sites fall short in various ways. Some view the news through a partisan lens, making them untrustworthy for less ideological readers. Some believe that the "news" consists principally of celebrity goings-on, particularly the nipple-slips of minor starlets. Some are wonderful, but too narrowly focused, providing useful information about law or politics or energy policy but not the whole world. Some don't understand that the point of news aggregation is to save readers time, not waste it by publishing massive, undifferentiated lists of stories. And all of them—even the fastest—misunderstand the new nature of the news cycle (about which more shortly).

We saw a need for a new kind of aggregator, one that was intelligent, witty, entertaining, fast, comprehensive, and responsive to the new news cycle. So we created it. We're calling it "The Slatest"—a mashup of Slate and the latest news—and it launches today.

Before I explain what "The Slatest" is, a painful announcement: After 12 years, and almost 4,400 editions, we are ending "Today's Papers." We are also ending "In Other Magazines." This is like unplugging grandpa from the ventilator: excruciating but necessary. We believe that "The Slatest" preserves what is best about "Today's Papers" and "In Other Magazines" but is faster and more relevant.

So what is "The Slatest"? The heart of "The Slatest" is the Slate Dozen: A list of the 12 most important news stories, blog entries, magazine features, and Web videos of the moment. The Slate Dozen is published three times a day during the week: at 7 a.m., at noon, and at 5 p.m. This three-times-a-day pace is perhaps the most important element of "The Slatest," and it grew out of an insight from Slate "Pressbox" columnist Jack Shafer. In an editorial meeting one day, Jack pointed out that the news cycle is no longer daily but neither is it continuous. Rather, it has three parts.