When Slate introduced its news aggregator on Monday (a week ago), it promised that the system would be better and faster. "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," wrote
editor David Plotz. In it's first week, though, "The Slatest" has struggled, linking to the same stories multiple times -- and sometimes well after the news cycle has moved on. In one case, the Slatest linked to the same article three times.
As a devotee of Slate's former news aggregator, "Today's Papers" (and to a lesser extent, "In Other Magazines"), I was and am worried about change. What made TP so good was that it compared and contrasted the coverage between different sources; it pointed out when, say, one of the majors was publishing a story the LAT had weeks earlier; it questioned the strength of stories. It allowed the writers (notably Daniel Politi and Eric Umansky before him) to use their expertise as news junkies to explain to readers what mattered and why.
Slate's email to TP readers on Monday promised that TP was being replaced with something better. "Rather than publish just one daily news summary in the morning, we will now provide three updates a day, tracking the news as it develops."
And Plotz's column specifically laid out what the new service would deliver:
"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."
In the first week, the Slatest has not done that.
The Slatest's most striking problem so far is that it often links to the same article multiple times, most often in the morning and afternoon editions. Here are a few examples (I don't claim to have caught them all):
Tuesday morning and afternoon editions both had the WSJ
on the Bernanke appointment, LAT
on the MJ coroner report, NYT
on Giuliani and the governor's race and David Ignatius
on Iraq. Tuesday afternoon and evening had the same Reuters
piece on violence in Afghanistan.
Wednesday morning and afternoon had NYT
on interrogations directed from Washington, NYT
on MJ series on A&E and NYT
op-ed on the CBO, while Wednesday afternoon and evening had a Politico
piece on Kennedy's possible successors.
Thursday's morning and afternoon editions had the Boston Globe
on plans for Kennedy's burial and the LAT
on MJ. Thursday afternoon and evening linked to the New Yorker
on NYC teachers.
Friday's morning and afternoon editions carried the LAT
on Iran and AP
on Nixon digging for dirt on Ted Kennedy. Friday's morning, afternoon and evening editions (hat trick!) all carried the NYT
on tension between the CIA and Justice Department.
Whether linked to once or twice, the articles have often been a news cycle or few old.
A much-talked-about Guardian
exclusive about Obama and mideast negotiations, posted Tuesday evening British time, didn't make it into Slatest until the Wednesday afternoon edition. Wednesday evening's Slatest linked to a CQ
article on Charlie Rangel's un-reported assets; that story says it was originally posted at 1:02pm on Tuesday, and updated at 5:28pm Tuesday.
On Wednesday evening, Slatest linked to that morning's NYT articles on how lawyers can't get jobs. We had all seen that article by then; while it wasn't on the front page of the print edition, it sat atop or near the top of the Top 10 most emailed for much of the day. The article itself was unimpressive; it was almost entirely many-months-old news. ("That's 'olds' not news!" as a former boss of mine would say).
Thursday's afternoon and evening editions linked to Politico's
story from 7:58am that morning updating the news on possible successors to Kennedy. Thursday afternoon's edition linked to the WSJ's
article from that morning on Gaddafi and his tent. It was a thorough article, but it was a story that had been flagged days earlier: by the New York Post
Monday morning, the AP
on Monday evening, and AFP
and a host of others Tuesday.
This post isn't meant to bash Slate; it's meant to be a friendly critique. Slate's TP set a high standard. If they could do TP three times a day, perhaps that'd be ideal. The new system is attempting to do more, but so far it hasn't succeeded. It has not done well with what it's supposed to do - provide news updates quickly.
I'm not sure that giving up the narrative form of TP for a series of 12 separate summaries of articles is ever going to work as well. But maybe. It will need to be much sharper and faster, at least.