If you don’t know what this means, don’t worry: Any citizen of the media world will be more than happy to guide you through it. Shafer’s press column would be an ideal place to look, actually, if it were a different star writer at the top of his game who was suddenly laid off. He’s one of four cutbacks announced by the web-magazine pioneer yesterday, along with foreign editor June Thomas, columnist Timothy Noah, and associate editor Juliet Lapidos. Shafer, Noah, and Thomas had all been with the site since it was owned by deep-pocketed Microsoft; Lapidos worked there for four years. Both Shafer and Noah, on book leave, told Politico they’ll write for the site on a freelance basis. (Disclosure: Intel Noreen previously worked at Slate, and couldn’t have a higher opinion of all parties involved.)
Though the Slate Group shuttered two of the sites it launched during the recession, The Big Money and DoubleX, Slate’s original site had seemed to largely duck the brutal cuts that have hit the rest of the industry, at least until yesterday. But the site is owned by the Washington Post company these days, which recently announced a 13 percent drop in its online division revenues last quarter, among other gloomy statistics. Editor David Plotz made clear that the decision was a financial one, not a reflection on the work of the four journalists, but the move grabbed more attention than a typical cost-cutting measure, given Shafer and Noah’s high profiles and close identification with the Slate brand. In a particularly cruel bit of irony, as Erik Wemple, another Shafer protégé, detailed in the Washington Post, Shafer actually gave Plotz his first job in journalism. Not the only cruel irony, either: The same day Shafer was laid off, the American Journalism Review published a big, admiring profile of the critic. Twitter was full of encomiums to all four, but Shafer, especially: Fellow media writer David Carr tweeted, “If @jackshafer can get laid off, rest of us media hacks better shine up resume. Decision makes Slate look crippled, desperate and dumb.”
Shafer wasn’t the only press critic making news yesterday: Jim Romenesko, proprietor of the indispensable, eponymous media blog, announced that he’ll retire from news-biz blogging at the end of the year. He’ll return to reporting at a new site, jimromenesko.com, and cited both the tedium of long-time aggregating and the evolved media landscape for his decision.
“My role kind of vanished. I was a town crier but just one of many,” he added, acknowledging that the social media revolution had left him somewhat disoriented but determined to find something more rewarding.
“I was recently criticized by someone who said I didn’t tweet very well. Then he went on to write about his lost luggage. If that’s tweeting, well, I don’t know,” he said.
So while Shafer will surely get snapped up by another employer, and Romenesko’s blog will be handed down to other writers, the surprising news about such iconic names in media criticism prompted a whole lot of existential contemplation about the news business from journalists not explicitly paid to do so.