Jack Shafer.When Microsoft began publishing its online magazine Slate
in 1996, it wasn’t anchored so much in Redmond as in cyberspace, its founding editor recalled. A typical staff meeting took place by phone with writers and editors around the globe and “me (late as usual) from the Microsoft parking garage,” said Michael Kinsley. “Of the four original top editors, Jodie Allen was in Washington, Judith Shulevitz was in New York, and Jack Shafer and I were in Redmond, but it made no difference since 99 percent of our communication was via e-mail.” Since that startup, Allen, Shulevitz and Kinsley have departed, but Shafer, a onetime editor at SW’s sister paper SF Weekly, hung around to become one of the website’s most-read writers as author of Slate’s “Press Box” column. Until this week, that is, when Slate, now the property of The Washington Post, laid off media critic Shafer and three other staffers in another unnecessarily messy group downsizing, erasing the last traces of Microsoft’s version of Slate and raising questions about the future of V2. As reported by Adweek and others, Shafer was sacked along with “Chatter Box” columnist Timothy Noah, foreign editor June Thomas, and senior editor Juliet Lapidos. Shafer apparently will continue to contribute to Slate, but is licking his wounds. “After the incision heals and the stitches come out,” he tells
The Alantic Wire, “I’ll have a better idea of how I feel and what I’m going to do next.” Only hours before Shafer’s announced departure, American Journalism Review posted a favorable profile of the writer, calling him a sometimes-brilliant critic and citing in particular his trenchant observations of media mogul Rupert Murdoch–one of his columns was slyly headlined: “In Defense of Rupert Murdoch: A brief word in support of the genocidal tyrant.” AJR later updated its story with a note on the Slate layoffs.Presumably, Slate’s move was not in reaction to Shafer’s last column, “Print vs. Online: The ways in which old-fashioned newspapers still trump online newspapers.” Then again . . .Many who admired Shafer’s work argued that, like other media downsizings, Slate’s cuts made little sense–getting rid of top writers seems contrary to the ultimate goal of attracting more readers. Foster Kamer of The New York Observer sized it up as “the stupidest media move in recent memory.” Shafer’s Catch 22 was being good enough to earn big bucks, therefore becoming too expensive to keep around. At least that was hinted at by Slate editor David Plotz in his comment to Adweek: “This was a decision that made sense both financially and editorially. It was a painful decision for us. But it was a decision that we think–coupled with some new editorial and technological investments that we’re going to make–will pay off in the long run.”That so many supporters Tweeted their outrage over his departure was at least a consolation prize, Shafer said. “The Twitter stream is like a drinking fountain filled with beer. I like it!”Follow The Daily Weekly on Facebook and Twitter.