PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The Great Debate: Salon vs. Slate

Amy Depaul and Marco Ursi

Dear Marco,

Greece or Rome? Jordin or Blake? Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

It’s hard to resist comparing two obvious rivals, and Internet-based publications Salon and Slate are no exception. To be fair, these two online magazines are close cousins, both offering a mix of politics, culture, the arts and some blogging. In addition, they both feature lively writing that goes heavy on the irony. But Salon is the better magazine.

The simple reason is that Salon, even in its currently anemic state, still does more heavy lifting, digging up new information and revealing it to readers. Check out Mark Benjamin’s story about the death of a suspected terrorist in CIA custody, for example. Also, Salon also has more of an edge, a sense of outrage. The website still offers a link to a complete file of Abu Ghraib photos and reporting as if to say: we have not forgotten. That kind of commitment to the important issues of the day is what journalism is supposed to offer. In addition, I’d be remiss not to give Salon props for having a female editor and a highly readable blog about women’s news and issues called the Broadsheet. On a related note, don’t forget that back in Salon’s halcyon days, the magazine gave birth to a feature called Mothers Who Think. MWT launched a whole new way of writing about motherhood, offering a welcome alternative to slick and predictable parenting magazines. As for premium content, I wish you didn’t have to go through the home-page ad to get to Salon’s articles, but it’s well worth the few seconds delay.

What of Slate, then? It’s all cleverness, no real sincerity and not enough real reporting, relying a little too much instead on that tired old staple, commentary. And while there’s nothing wrong with wise-guy writing that blithely disses President Bush, Paul Wolfowitz and the like, it’s not compelling in comparison to the prospect of learning fresh new information. As for Slate’s propensity for explaining things, let’s just say that if I needed more background information I’d go to Wikipedia. Finally, some of Slate’s stuff is supposed to be clever but it doesn’t work for me. Case in point, the multiple choice quiz on Jose Padilla, headlined "Padillapalooza". This kind of goofball format would work on, say, Scooter Libby, but not on a life-and-death matter. Bottom line: Not funny. Of course, Slate is known for playing around with creative formats. One that I especially like is when they have one person write a letter and another responds. And on that note….



Hi Amy,

It is indeed hard to resist comparing two rivals. It's been happening recently in media circles up here in Canada, where our two biggest newspapers, The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail have both debuted redesigns in the last month. The early winner, in my opinion, is The Star -- ironic since it looks a lot like the old Globe.

But we're here to talk about Slate and Salon and I'm supposed to defend the former and slay the latter. Before we get to that, let me just point out that I think both websites are at times entertaining, insightful, well-written, frustrating, and most of all, innovative, or at least, good at stealing all the best ideas from other places and using them for their own purposes.

Slate, though, is the better online magazine -- and not for the classic journalistic reasons you've pegged your Salon case on. You're right in pointing out that Slate doesn't do much original reporting, but I don't think that's ever been a part of their mission. Breaking stories is a job for the folks at the New York Times, Washington Post, big-time print magazines like The New Yorker and all those citizen journalist types on the web. Slate's goal is different: help people make sense of the overload of information dumped on us everyday -- a very important task in our media-saturated societies. To equate Slate's organized, witty, and smart explanatory journalism to Wikipedia is akin to equating a classic novel with the Coles Notes version. You lose the soul.

As you mentioned, Slate's become known for playing around with creative formats and here I think they shine much brighter than Salon. From David Plotz's wonderful Blogging the Bible feature to the delightful TV and Book Clubs to the What's in Other Magazines and Today's Papers round-ups, Slate has made itself into a one-stop shopping destination for media consumers. Combine these with the untouchable layout (it's almost shocking that their model hasn't been adapted by every newspaper and magazine on the continent) and flawless display writing (today's cover story: "The Great American Beer Crisis" -- come on!), and you've got one of hell of a magazine.

I don't have much to attack Salon with. The layout isn't as nice to look at or intuitive to use. There's not as much content. No Jack Shafer. No Christopher Hitchens (or is that a good thing?) But I like it for the most part -- that is, whenever I stick with it. I think you've totally underplayed that whole premium content/front page ad thing. It's an awful online model and more often than not, discourages me from bothering with the magazine at all.



Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.