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 Slate's editor at large. 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.

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.

Overnight, newspapers launch the news. They publish stories clarifying the events of yesterday; they break their own investigative stories; they print zeitgeist-defining feature articles and op-eds. The morning brings Phase 2, when Web media reacts to the news. Bloggers and other sites respond to the news that broke overnight, and newsmakers push back against or try to exploit these stories. Phase 3, the buildup, comes in the afternoon, as the events of the day unfold—congressional action, a presidential gaffe, turmoil in Asia. The media break this news, and analyze how it fits together with yesterday's top stories. Opinion makers try to shape how the day's events will play on the night's cable shows and in tomorrow's newspapers. The next morning, it all starts over again.

"The Slatest" is built to capture each of these three periods. At 7 a.m. ET, we publish our morning edition of the Slate Dozen, which, like "Today's Papers," will highlight the most important stories breaking overnight in the big newspapers. (It's even being written by our longtime "Today's Papers" columnist, Daniel Politi.) The second, noontime edition of the Slate Dozen will capture how those overnight stories are being reframed by opinion makers. The afternoon Slate Dozen, which publishes at 5 p.m. ET, will analyze the events of the day and preview the next day's news. The Slate Dozen will be written to save you time, cherry-picking the most important, interesting, and entertaining points in the coverage. You can read short versions of all 12 items on "The Slatest" home page or click through to longer versions. And, of course, you can always follow a link to the original media source.

We're making the Slate Dozen easy to find. We'll publish it three times a day on "The Slatest" home page. You can also reach it from the Slatest box near the top of the Slate home page. And you can get the Slate Dozen by e-mail newsletter. You can opt to receive one, two, or all three of the Slate Dozen's daily editions as well as our weekend edition. Those of you who have been receiving the "Today's Papers" newsletter: We have automatically signed you up for the morning edition of the Slate Dozen. The Slate Dozen will also soon be available on Slate's mobile site and via Kindle. The Slate Dozen is the core of "The Slatest," but there is much more. You'll notice at the top of "The Slatest" page a large headline and picture. This lead story is the top news item of the moment. It will end up in the next edition of the Slate Dozen, but until it does, the top box will keep you current with breaking stories.

The blue box on the left side of the page carries the Slate staff Twitter feed. In the past, when stories caught our eye—an amazing photo essay on North Korea, Jayson Blair's new job as a life coach, a clip of Barney Frank chewing out a town hall protestor—we would spin them around the office by e-mail. We realized that our readers might be just as interested in these stories as our colleagues. The items in the Twitter feed usually aren't the latest news but, rather, the stories that baffle us, amaze us, make us crack up. (You can also sign up to follow us on Twitter.)

Below the Twitter box is the News Right Now, which automatically pulls the top headlines from the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Drudge, the Huffington Post, the Smoking Gun, TMZ, the New York Times most-e-mailed list, and MSNBC.

We're eager for you to comment on "The Slatest" stories, so we're using "The Slatest" to experiment with a new feature available from Facebook. Facebook Connect makes it incredibly easy for Facebook members to post comments about Slate Dozen stories. (Unfortunately, if you're not a Facebook member, you won't be able to comment.)

"The Slatest" is a work in progress. We'll soon be adding a video feature and a stunning interactive news map. We'll also be tweaking "The Slatest" in response to your suggestions, criticisms, and questions. So please send them to me at theslatest@gmail.com.

And please read "The Slatest" here.

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