Great journalists of the next generation are going to work through the Internet even more than most writers do today, said Jacob Weisberg ’86, editor of Slate Magazine, at a master’s tea on Wednesday afternoon.
Weisberg spoke to a crowd of about 50 Yalies at the Morse College Master’s House about his experiences at Slate, a daily online magazine where he has worked for the past 10 years. He described his opinions on the future of journalism in print, over the radio and on the Web.
“The Internet has had a huge impact on journalism in all sorts of ways,” Weisberg said. “It seems like a very exciting, fertile period in which technology is intersecting with innovations in journalism.”
Slate has dispensed with many traditional journalistic conventions, Weisberg said. Articles in the magazine often display many links to other Web pages while limiting the use of quotations. Weisberg defended Slate’s tendency to blur the strict distinction between reporting and editorializing.
“We try to be fair,” he said. “[But] people don’t go through life separating fact and opinion.”
Weisberg said one distinctive quality of online journalism is that pieces must be short to keep the reader’s attention.
“One thing we discovered really early on is that people would not read really long articles,” he said. “It’s just not cozy.”
Weisberg joined Slate in 1996, shortly after the magazine was founded, and about four years ago became editor-in-chief. When he began writing for the online publication, he said, the Internet was still gaining in popularity. Though many of his friends thought he was crazy for taking part in such a novel venture, Weisberg said, he liked being at the forefront of the development of online news.
“There aren’t many moments that you have the chance to be involved in the creation of a new journalistic medium,” he said.
One new medium that Weisberg said he is particularly excited about is podcasting. Slate branched out to radio broadcasting in 2003 with the National Public Radio program “Day to Day,” and now also produces high-rated podcasts available over Apple’s iTunes. He said print podcasts may also be possible in the near future, meaning that people will be able to read Slate almost anywhere.
Weisberg said contemporary print media is falling behind, and print reporters are slow to exploit the flexibility of the Internet.
“Most newspaper journalists really write for print,” he said. “I get a little frustrated seeing how little they’re doing.”
The media itself has become a core part of Slate’s audience, Weisberg said, and the magazine straddles the boundary between traditional reporting and newer Internet meta-journalism.
“Traditional media tends to regard us as a super-blog,” he said. “Bloggers see us as the benign face of the mainstream media.”
While Slate does not fit the definition of a blog, Weisberg said he thinks blogging plays an important and constructive role in contemporary journalism by keeping stories alive that would otherwise fade into the background. He used the example of the controversy in 2002 surrounding former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s comment that he would like to have seen Sen. Strom Thurmond — who once supported segregation — elected president, which ultimately forced Lott to step down from his position.
“[Bloggers] are a hen sitting on the eggs, incubating the story while there’s nowhere for it to go,” Weisberg said.
Zvika Krieger ’06 said reading Slate articles is one of the best parts of his day, and he enjoyed Weisberg’s style of speaking.
“I liked his honesty and willingness to talk about the challenges of media,” he said.
Julia Lauper ’06 said that although she does not read Slate very often, she was interested to hear Weisberg speak, as she previously had a more negative impression of the Internet’s impact on reporting.
“I enjoyed the discussion about the future of the media in general,” she said. “He made a really strong case for the positive role of Internet journalism.”
Before joining Slate, Weisberg covered politics for the New Republic, Newsweek and New York Magazine.
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