Slate Crowd-Sources the Assignment Desk

By Steve Smith

In a novel experiment in audience engagement, is bringing the notion of user-generated content to a higher editorial level this week. Slate’s Reader Takeover project invites readers to suggest which stories the long-lived digital magazine should cover. Over the coming weeks, readers will not only offer up and vote on the ideas for stories they want the staff to cover, but individual columnists and reporters will let readers decide what they should pursue next.

Slate deputy editor Julia Turner tells minonline that the project is an extension of the generous back-and-forth the site already has with its readers. “We are getting great ideas from readers all the time. They are always sending tweets, posts, emails weighing in on what we should cover. So we thought it would be fun to do this big blow-out project to let the readers put their hand on the tiller.”

The project seems designed to underscore the level of engagement the media brand has with its loyal readers, a quality not overlooked by advertisers. Mercedes-Benz has signed on to sponsor the effort.

The project starts with an open ended survey of readers who will write in 150 words or less what they want covered. Turner says hundreds of suggestions have already come in during the first day. As to whether editors really will see new editorial directions come from the experiment, Turner says the early evidence suggests good diversity. “I would say there are some things where our readers show a close understanding of what we tend to do,” she says. “But there are also things coming out of left field. It is a good range.”

The editors will, well, still edit, in that they will cull the entries and offer up the top ideas for user voting. In addition many of the writers and perhaps even the podcasts will give their readers a multiple choice poll of possible assignments for their own coverage. Turner says that generally the Slate staff has been eager to try the experiment in crowd-sourced editing. “Everyone is willing to do at least one poll, and no one has declared they would not participate.”

The project will run through the end of November.

Slate, which was started by Microsoft in 1996 as a digital version of a magazine, has always been the edges of digital journalist. It was among the first sites to make news aggregation from other publications a standard part of the editorial mix. It pioneered and maintains a full slate of podcast programming. And it has gone through a fair share of au courant business models in its 16 years. Former New Republic editor Michael Kinsley was Slate’s first editorial leader when the publication was under Microsoft ownership. In 2004 the brand was acquired by Washing Post Company.