Here’s something for media critics. Last night AdWeek broke the news that Slate had laid off Jack Shafer “and several others.” I’d known this for a few hours; I walked up to Shafer’s office earlier in the day to beg him for inspiration on a story that was going poorly, and saw a stack of cardboard boxes, one already full of books about Rupert Murdoch and the 1930s and boozy detectives. AdWeek’s story went up only an hour or so after the news became official. I braced myself for phone calls and e-mails from reporters asking for details: Who were these “others”?
I got one call. Hours later, I got another call. That was it. The reactions to the news stayed on Twitter, where some fan of Jack’s or Slate or neither would 1) express some poignant disbelief 2) swear revenge on his paymasters and 3) speculate on who else was gone. There was occasionally 4) speculation about why this happened that fit into convenient ideological boxes. A journalism critic gets tossed, and in their outrage, his fans steer clear of anything that might look like journalism.
Too bad – they missed an even more depressing story. Not only has Slate lost Jack (he’ll continue as a contributor, and no, I not sure what that means), we’ve lost three more great writers. Tim Noah, June Thomas, and Juliet Lapidos are all out. Tim was just returning from book leave, where he was expanding his already-classic series on economic inequality. June had just published an e-book version of her series on the possible decline of the American gay bar. Juliet had been on a tear of great, weird, conceptual stories about the nature of slang, cross-sex movie friendships, and other stuff that’s more interesting than politics.
If you weren’t reading this stuff, you’re in luck – it’ll be online ‘til the Internet dies. If you write, you should study it, because these people think and write circles around most everyone in the job-formerly-known-as-the-Life-of-Kings. Has Shafer ever written a cliche? I haven’t seen it. Looking through his recent columns you find lines like these:
The Blitzer tedium piles up like Minnesota snowdrifts as the interview plods on.
When you heave a turd into your punch bowl, you do so fully expecting your guests to gag and spew upon first sip.
Looking through Tim’s latest stuff (we have to redefine “latest,” because, again, book leave) you find all manner of columns about complicated, could-be-boring subjects, with bullshit handled just the right way. (“Opponents of the database point out that cars kill a lot more people than toasters, and that’s certainly true.”) I’d point out more great writing, but it gets tiring, realizing that I don’t get to work with these people anymore.*
So: Tim Noah, June Thomas, Juliet Lapidos, Jack Shafer. Have at it.