Interview: Jacob Weisberg

Before blogs, Craigslist, or Google, there was Slate. The web magazine, created in 1996 by Microsoft, has been at the forefront of web publishing and has helped drive the nascent medium's credibility.

Before blogs, Craigslist, or Google, there was Slate. The web magazine, created in 1996 by Microsoft, has been at the forefront of web publishing and has helped drive the nascent medium's credibility.

Jacob Weisberg is the website's editor, having joined in its inaugural year after working for the New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, and Vanity Fair. He assumed leadership of Slate in 2002, steering the ship recently toward an acquisition by the Washington Post Co.

PRWeek: How has the acquisition by the Washington Post Co. changed Slate?
Jacob Weisberg:
I'm not sure any great difference is apparent to readers, although behind the scenes, things are very different. We're in a different office. We have a new publisher and new ad sales force. All of those changes are vastly for the better. We were not, in any way, unhappy at Microsoft. They took care of us and incubated the magazine for many years. But I think a lot of us here came to the conclusion that, to really develop the magazine and let it grow to what we wanted it to be, we needed to be in a media company. The Post Company has given us the opportunity to grow as a business and a publication in the ways that we always hoped we'd be able to do. I would describe it as a maturing of the publication. It's not radically different, but we've become much more established.

PRWeek: Are mainstream media outlets that have built empires in print paying more attention to their online endeavors?
Weisberg: The shrewder ones started doing that long ago. The online properties are certainly not as important to them in terms of revenue - yet. But if one projects current trends forward and sees the [potential] growth online versus the difficulty of achieving any kind of growth in print, it only makes sense for a forward-looking media company to be extremely focused on its online titles or online versions of its print titles.

PRWeek: How have blogs impacted Slate?
Weisberg: We're extremely enthusiastic about blogging as a phenomenon and have been for many years. Kausfiles is considered by some to be the first general-interest blog that attracted a real nonspecialist readership. Slate is not a blog, but it now contains several blogs, including "The Has-Been," by [Democratic Leadership Council President] Bruce Reed and our "Today's Blogs" survey. We have heard for a long time that people are interested in blogs, but either didn't have the time or familiarity with them to know what to read. Our "Today's Blogs" feature is modeled after our "Today's Papers" feature ? it gives you some sense of the discussion, and lets you go much further. It's helmed by some of our young people ? who really get blogs and spend time with them ? who give you a survey of what's happening in the 5 million blogs.

PRWeek: Blogs are publishing very quickly, and newspapers are publishing slowly. Is the move for successful online companies going toward the middle?
Weisberg:
It's a different model of investigation and discovering the truth. A lot of the traditional media feel very threatened by blogs. And the web, in general, and blogs, in particular, raise the price of error for journalists, both online and in print. While an individual blog may be inaccurate, unfair, or dishonest, the collective intelligence of the web and thousands of people picking apart anything they see in print makes journalists more careful. When you make a mistake now, there's almost no chance of it going unnoticed. And when it is noticed, you'll be humiliated in public. Blogs have made entities like The New York Times more accurate and forthcoming about acknowledging errors that occur. ... It's a kind of fact checking that you'd never get from a [media] fact-checking department. Certainly the idea of publishing first and fact checking second makes a lot of people uncomfortable for good reason. It's certainly not the approach that Slate takes. We make every effort to ensure everything we publish is absolutely true, as much as any print publication. I would put our record for accuracy up against just about any publication. I would also put our forthrightness and transparency in acknowledging and correcting errors up against just about any publication.  My point is that it's a hobby for a whole group of people to catch the mainstream media out. People love to find mistakes, and we're on the receiving end of that as well. We invite readers to find mistakes in Slate. And when I write something now, I am much more careful than I ever was in my years as a print journalist at double-checking everything and not assuming it's true. You just know now if you try to gloss something over, you'll get caught, and it's going to be embarrassing.

PRWeek: How is the interaction between Slate and PR people?
Weisberg:
It's pretty comparable now to print publications, which speaks to the maturity of the medium and our acceptance. Early on, it was a real issue to get our clients into screenings and to get review copies of CDs and DVDs. Now, I think Slate is part of anyone's plan when doing PR.

PRWeek: Are there any particular areas of coverage you feel you don't get enough pitches from?
Weisberg:
We're a very lean staff, so it's hard for us to deal with a large volume of pitches. The truth is, we don't make it too easy for people to get our phone extensions. We've definitely developed very good relationships with PR people in arts and culture. We've developed a much closer relationship with movie studios to get the material we need in a timely fashion. The one area I might mention is music. We're further behind with record labels than we are with the film studios. It's probably because it's not as regular a feature as film or arts and television.

Name: Jacob Weisberg
Outlet: Slate
Title: Editor
Preferred contact method: zuzanna.kobrzynski@slate.com
Website: www.slate.com

 

 

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