Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In Other Magazines

Slate has broken my heart. They’ve decided to discontinue the “In Other Magazines” column.When the week came to a close “In Other Magazines” cobbled together a list of the most interesting feature stories “in other magazines”, directing readers to must-reads and steering them clear of must-misses. Insofar as it was a taste-making and agenda-setting enterprise, it was a valuable service.

Over the weekend I would settle on two or three long-form articles to get a broader perspective on a particular social debate. Perhaps the most illuminate piece of writing I came across this summer was Atul Gawande’s New Yorker article on the regional cost disparities of medical procedures in the state of Texas.

Comparing two demographically similar towns only 800-miles apart, Gawande found that the pre-capita cost of Medicare for McAllen, at roughly $15,000, was close to double that of El Paso, at $7,504. The conclusion Gawande draws is that culture matters. Medical professionals in McAllen had gotten into the habit of looking at the health care system as service industry, collecting fees for more and more procedures. Patient care was an afterthought.

For a time during the summer Gawande’s piece became the go to primer on the dysfunction of the United States health care system. Even president Obama, just as the house and senate were preparing to draft various pieces of health care legislation, implored members of congress to read the article. It’s likely that didn’t. But if they wanted to they could have happened upon it “In Other Magazines”. Alas.

But in its demise Slate has inaugurated The Slatest, the news aggregator to rival all other news aggregators. Collecting the top stories from the top newspapers, The Slatest will at the very least offer breadth. Most interestingly, though, is what Slate editor David Plotz has to say about the “New Cycle” as it exists today:
Overnight, newspapers launch the news. They publish stories clarifying the events of yesterday; they break their own investigative stories; they print zeitgeist-defining feature articles and op-eds. The morning brings Phase 2, when Web media reacts to the news. Bloggers and other sites respond to the news that broke overnight, and newsmakers push back against or try to exploit these stories. Phase 3, the buildup, comes in the afternoon, as the events of the day unfold—congressional action, a presidential gaffe, turmoil in Asia. The media break this news, and analyze how it fits together with yesterday's top stories. Opinion makers try to shape how the day's events will play on the night's cable shows and in tomorrow's newspapers. The next morning, it all starts over again.

This is crucial. The Slatest will attempt to capture this process and document what the “New Cycle” has become, a struggle by public interest groups to frame the social, political, and economic narratives of the day -- journalist and media organizations, in turn, synthesizing and refereeing these struggles. I hope amongst all of the news and events Slate doesn’t forget what’s going on in other magazines. They have important things to say too.

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