Slate’s EIC on Why Real-Time Election Projections Will ‘Help Equalize the Playing Field’

Our FishbowlDC interview with Julia Turner.

You can’t expect Slate, originator of the #slatepitch, to do anything but its own thing. For Slate editor in chief Julia Turner, that applies not only to the “surprising argument or surprising new perspective on the world” that Slate is known for, but also to its decision not to slavishly follow the business model fashions of the times. “In the current media landscape you surprise audience by not following the dictates of social distribution and by opting to do things that have their own internal logic rather than responding to the logic of the economics of the business,” she told FishbowlDC.

Consider what it took to even get online back in 1996, the year Slate was born as a digital only publication: a free phone line, a dial-up modem slower than even your worst malfunctioning router, an AOL account where you rationed the hours that came with your free trial.

And as the years and decades passed and internet life changed, Slate persevered, and more than that, it remained itself. The story Turner told of the 20-year organization, which celebrated its anniversary in September, was one of consistency. “There’s really a spirit and sensibility to Slate that it remains consistent, I think in part, because of the continuity of our staff,” she told FishbowlDC.

But don’t confuse continuity with a resistance to change. “It’s just extraordinary how many big trends in internet journalism Slate has really helped start and was there at the dawn of,” she said, citing among them aggregation and innovations in blogging and podcasting.

On Tuesday, Slate will give another one a test run when it partners with VoteCastr to report out real-time projections throughout Election Day. To do it, Turner will be breaking with tradition, not Slate’s but the media en masse, which has in general refrained from reporting on polling results until after the polls close.

The move is intended not as a ploy to be first to call winners, but to end what Turner called a “paternalistic” practice that “puts journalists in the awkward and unfamiliar position of concealing information from their readers,” as she described in a post announcing the partnership in September.

We spoke to Turner about Slate’s Election Day project, the publication’s legacy, and what’s next.

FBDC: In terms of Slate’s general influence on digital media through the years—where do you see it most and what do you feel are the biggest components of that influence?

Turner: I think probably Slate’s biggest influence on journalism has just been in the voice of journalism. Slate recognized very early on that when you are writing digitally it made sense to let go of the formality that marked print publications and to really adopt a voice that was essentially your smart friend watching the world with you, so it was colloquial, witty, funny, loose, full of conviction and interesting points but made in a very personable way. And so, Slate’s voice has really been over the years a collection of voices—our specific writers who cover the world in particular ways and really sound like themselves doing so as opposed to adopting some kind of uniform house style. As a mode of journalism, that’s everywhere now. The kind of colloquial nature of the web is something we all take for granted but it’s really something that Slate pioneered.

FBDC: How do you feel about the #slatepitch being such a recognizable part of Slate’s identity?

Turner: I love the #slatepitch. I think it’s a real badge of honor for us to have spawned an actual, organic meme online that isn’t the product of an ill-conceived marketing campaign. When people use the hashtag #slatepitch on Twitter, they sometimes mean it as derogatory. I think the worst possible version of it is the idea of provocation for provocation’s sake without any intellectual honesty or rigor. I think that’s a caricature and not an accurate reflection of what we do. I think we try to make surprising arguments and try to expose those readers to new ideas and unexpected experiences, because that’s what makes a publication interesting. We’re committed to doing that, but to doing it with real analytic rigor and intellectual honesty, so I think the #slatepitch meme is one that recognizes that impulse in our work.