Auros (auros) wrote,

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Department of "things that Jack Shafer thinks are bad ideas."

Since I was planning to be around NYC, and had a pretty freeform schedule for today, last week I emailed a few NYC Slaties that I've talked to over the years, to ask whether they might like to have lunch, or a drink after work. Julia Turner, the #2 editor at Slate, invited me to actually come by the (soon-to-be-former[1]) office and sit in on their magazine-wide editorial conference call. I came in and chatted with Julia a bit about my background, and how I'd developed the relationship I have with the magazine, and she introduced me around to various people in their offices or cubes, before the meeting started. (Julia is, herself, responsible for the fantastic Signs series.) I'll try to list everyone I met, but I feel certain I'm going to forget somebody, so if any of y'all see this and I forgot you, please don't be offended! (Also, feel free to remind me, in the comment section or by email.)

  • Jacob Weisberg, who does a lot of political commentary. I'd sorta thought he was a DC person, because of the political focus, but apparently not. He's one of the longest-tenured Slaties, and one of the folks who helped establish the contrarian tone that makes the #slatepitches hashtag on Twitter funny.
  • Michael Agger, who does a lot of culture pieces, and recently did a "Moneygolf" series, about how statistics are starting to be developed that can help understand and manage performance in golf (a reference to the famous book Moneyball).
  • John Swansburg, who is (I think?) the head of the culture department, and participates in some of the TV Club conversations. (Every time they post the "Skin and Scares" commentaries about True Blood, it requires an exertion of profound discipline in order to skip it, and avoid spoiling the episodes, which I plan to watch as soon as the DVDs become available.)
  • Dan Engber, who currently does most of the Explainer columns, as well as doing various science and culture pieces. He's written a bunch of interesting articles exploring the developing science of obesity, and how our cultural norms around weight are shifting.
  • Auros and June Thomas June Thomas, who does a regular culture feature on SlateV with Slate's lead movie reviewer, Dana Stevens, and is one of the longest-standing behind-the-scenes editors, dealing particularly with international news. We had a brief conversation about the fact that Slate has a surprising number of people who've been around since within a year of Mike Kinsley founding it in '96. She did an interesting series, a while back, about her hometown in the north of England, and how its post-industrial landscape has changed over the years. I have a not-particularly-secret crush on her Mancunian contralto. If I recall correctly, June was one of the people who first started noticing my recurring contributions to the corrections alias, because she was on the corrections email alias when it first was created. (These days I mostly trade corrections emails with Chad Lorenz, who I guess is a DC person, or at least was not in the NYC office today. But he was on the conference call, and said hi.)
  • Jeremy Stahl -- or at least, the current Fray/Disqus comment moderator. I'm suddenly uncertain as to whether that was actually the name he was introduced under; I caught that he was the comment moderator, and my brain tagged him that way, and I know that the last time I knew the name of the mod, it was Jeremy Stahl. I'm feeling particularly dorky about this, because I had a long conversation with him on the way back from the sandwich shop, about whose comments in the new Disqus system are most interesting. I always enjoy arguing with J.E.C. (who offers smart, thoughtful libertarian arguments), and find Benton Love interesting sometimes (though he is, IMHO, somewhat more prone to making arguments that parrot false right-wing talking points), and on "my side" of most arguments, I can think of Makyris, nerdnam, and Conan776 (whose red-pacman-ghost icon I was visualizing at the time, but I couldn't recall his handle). I sorta miss talking with Isonomist, Demosthenes, and some of the other Fray people on a regular basis, but I've largely moved to the Disqus format, with comments attached to the end of articles rather than being off on their own page, and I'm not sure to what extent they're still around.
Other folks who I met briefly at the meeting, but didn't really talk with much, included:
  • Andy Bowers, who was visiting from LA. He's the editor of SlateV, and I believe also manages the Slate podcasts. (I was listening to one of those on the subway on the way back to Xta's temporary apartment.)
  • Ellen Tarlin, who's a copy-editor and DoubleX contributor.
  • Noreen Malone, whom I also recognized from her DoubleX blog contributions.
  • Vivian Selbo, the site design director.

A few folks had hellos for me over the phone:

  • Editor-in-chief David Plotz, with whom I traded a bunch of emails back when he was blogging about his cover-to-cover read of the Hebrew Bible; I read significant swathes of the Bible, both Old and New Testament, for my 11th grade English class, with Mr. Mercorella, who was a product of Jesuit training, and a superb teacher.
  • Media critic Jack Shafer, who wrote the notorious column about me. He had a couple of humorous remarks -- that I should never have come, since all Slate writers have an interest in disposing of the guy who makes them look bad; and that they shouldn't have invited me, because it was sort of like inviting your stalker into your home. (Somebody shot back -- I'm not sure who -- that she was sure that Jack was exactly the kind of person who would do that.)
  • Rachael Larimore, who is in charge of copy-editing. She's also one of Slate's few conservative voices; I regularly find her contributions to DoubleX intensely annoying -- which I'm sure is part of why they publish her. I definitely wish that more Republicans were, like her, at least willing to engage in some kind of civil dialogue with people they disagree with, even if we can't persuade them we're right. *g* (ETA: To be clear, I would expect that Rachael probably feels the same type of annoyance in reading the arguments of, say, Amanda Marcotte, whom I almost always agree with; there's an element of eye-rolling when you encounter arguments that follow a pattern that you hear fairly regularly, and that you've already rejected, even if it's well-written and has a bit of a new twist. In any case, she definitely comes across as a nice, hard-working person who cares about the well-being of the entire country.)

It was interesting hearing them run through the various sections of the magazine, to discuss what topics they're covering over the next few days. There was a great discussion about the Stewart/Colbert DC rally, and the right approach to covering -- whether anything interesting was left to say about the tactical politics (does it pull GotV workers away, or does it inspire first-time young voters to get out for a midterm they might otherwise miss), or whether it'd be better to look at how it plays into a macro-level political narrative (does it make liberals look snarky and unjustiedly self-regarding?), or maybe try a more narrow focus on the career and character of Stewart and Colbert. Stewart, in particular, seems to be having a lot of trouble figuring out how to walk the line between comedian and earnest political thinker -- possibly he'd benefit from looking at how Al Franken negotiated that line as he moved from pure comedy into political commentary, and then action. (Colbert will just stay in character and be bombastic, like always.)

Another entertaining discussion thread revolved around an apparent act of plagiarism by a high-circulation Indian magazine. (I think it was India Today; in any case, it's roughly the equivalent of Time magazine.) They evidently stole a few paragraphs, verbatim, from some article, and a bunch of Indian media outlets and bloggers have been asking Slaties for comments on the theft, and what Slate would do if one of its writers did something similar... There should be some kind of Slate coverage of this coming out soon.

After the meeting, I had an interesting conversation about zombies in pop culture with (I think?) Julia and Dan; there are two TV series dealing with zombies coming out, one of which I'd heard about already.

After that, I started to head out, and discovered that I was being followed by a crowd of Slaties. I said that while I didn't mean to invite myself along, I needed lunch, and I should at least ask them what was good in their neighborhood. I ended up being towed along to the Underground Sandwich Shop, and then back to the office kitchen, where I chatted with Jeremy, before finally actually leaving and taking the subway back to Xta's place.

It was a lot of fun meeting some of these folks that I've "known" online for so long. I'll need to get to DC at some point and visit the folks there; a lot of the folks I've chatted with the most -- Will Saletan, David Plotz, Dahlia Lithwick -- are all based out of that office. I'd meant to get a photo of the entire crowd that was assembled for the meeting, but I was trying to be polite / non-disruptive. I ended up just getting one shot of me with June (seen above).

I was sorry that I didn't get to meet James Ledbetter, formerly of The Big Money, who has moved on to Reuters; nor Nina Shen Rastogi, whose "Green Lantern" column deals with sustainability issues that are, naturally, of significant interest to me. I'm not sure why Nina wasn't in the office today. I'm pretty sure she is a NY person.

[1] A lot of stuff was packed into boxes, because they're moving to a new office at the end of the week. Previously they shared space with Newsweek, another WaPo property. With Newsweek having been sold, things are being shaken up. I believe the new digs will be Slate-only.


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