In early January, two days after an abrupt announcement that the top editor of Slate was stepping down, the publication’s staff signed into a Zoom meeting with the company’s chief executive and a consultant for Graham Holdings, the publication’s owner.
Slate was not profitable, the consultant, Ann McDaniel, told them. She had been brought in to suggest ways to improve the publication and shore up its business, she said, according to five staff members at the meeting.
When asked about what needed to be fixed, Ms. McDaniel pointed to Slate’s website, saying it was unattractive and suggesting that more resources needed to be put into the design team, according to the people.
Ms. McDaniel’s comments came as a surprise, said the people at the meeting. But it was not the only indication to the staff that Slate was in a tough spot.
Credit…Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Making money from an online publication continues to be a tricky business, even for established brands like Slate. Many digital media companies have merged in recent years, hoping that by joining forces they can compete with the likes of Google and Facebook for online advertising dollars.
Slate made its first move to build revenue through subscriptions instead of relying on advertising in 2014, with a membership program called Slate Plus. The company plans to soon double the cost of renewing subscriptions to Slate Plus to $119, from $59.
Navigating the fast-changing digital media landscape has left Slate struggling to define its identity, said three of the staff members who were at the meeting, who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisals. Slate once stood out as a home for contrarian takes and intellectual debate, but that distinction has faded in recent years, they said.
The questions about its mission have increased after several high-level departures this year, the people said. The departure of Jared Hohlt, who had been the editor in chief since 2019, was followed a couple weeks later by Allison Benedikt, a longtime staff member who was a top editor. Other departures last month included Gabriel Roth, the head of podcasts; Laura Bennett, the editorial director; and William Saletan, a writer who had worked for Slate for 25 years.</…….