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What Happened at Slate This Week?

Traffic swami Jeremy Stahl tallies his favorite stories of the week, from #Ballghazi to #SotU.

Photo illustration by Slate. Illustration by Charlie Powell

Photo illustration by Slate. Illustration by Charlie Powell

Hi there, Slate Plus!

I’m Jeremy Stahl, a Slate senior editor. When I’m not writing about sports or editing Slate’s sports coverage, I work on “audience development”—it’s my job to help our stories reach as many readers as possible. That means I spend a ton of time trying to figure out which Slate stories are popular and why.

So, as I tell you my favorite stories of the week, I’ll also share a few numbers. I’ll talk about how many people our stories reached and where those readers came from.

Let’s start with our State of the Union coverage, which was fast, comprehensive, smart, and the best I can remember it ever being. In terms of instant reaction, Will Oremus was one of the first to note and praise Obama’s muscular climate change position that called out the GOP’s “I’m not a scientist” cop-out line (the third-most popular story of the week, with 280,036 page views, most of those coming from being featured at the top of the r/politics subreddit and from Facebook). Our next-day coverage, led by Slate chief political correspondent John Dickerson, was superb. If you want to understand what politicians are trying to accomplish with their actions and rhetoric but also understand whether they succeeded, Dickerson explains it better than anyone. After the speech, he described perfectly how Obama’s tough talk on middle-class issues, while seemingly noncontroversial, was a direct challenge—and threat—to the GOP (14th-most popular story of the week with 103,748 page views, and much of them from Google). The next day, Slate newcomer Alec MacGillis demonstrated how lucky we are to have him join the staff this week with his debut politics piece on how Obama’s call for a middle-class tax cut and a tax hike on certain upper-income Americans was a not-so-elaborate trap that potential 2016 Republican candidates were already walking right into (ninth-most popular story of the week, 149,336 page views, the biggest chunk of them from Yahoo).

For me, the week’s other big story was Ballghazi, the aptly named and overinflated scandal surrounding the New England Patriots’ alleged use of doctored footballs in the AFC Championship game. Luke O’Neil had a very funny response to all the Bill Belichick haters out there, which essentially was “you’re welcome, anti-Patriots sports fans, for all the entertainment Belichick provides you” (32,196 page views, lots coming from Yahoo, Google, and RealClearSports, but most coming from the Slate home page). My favorite Deflategate piece this week, though, came courtesy of Ben Mathis-Lilley, who answered the burning question of “how to talk to your kids about Ballghazi” in his excellent FAQ on the subject (38,431 page views, Facebook traffic galore and additional hits from something called MGoBlog—maybe its turning up there has something to do with this?).

Slate’s culture coverage is always fantastic, and Dana Stevens’ look at the political and cultural litmus test that is the controversial Clint Eastwood blockbuster American Sniper was no exception (75,756 page views and some very decent Google traffic). But my favorite cultural pieces that I read on Slate this week came from two writers who don’t normally write on the topic. Politics staff writer Jamelle Bouie wrote an illuminating explanation of why the new Marvel Universe reboot is much more than it appears to be (solid Twitter traffic). Jurisprudence and LGBTQ-issues correspondent Mark Joseph Stern, meanwhile, wrote a wonderful look at the costly lies of American Sniper author Chris Kyle (451,845 page views, second-most popular post of the week, half of the traffic from Facebook).

I hope you enjoyed that little peek inside our internal traffic numbers, and thanks for reading! Also, thanks for loving Slate so much and know that we love you back!