An Ode to Slugline, the House of Cards Website


It is strange that I miss Slugline, since I have never actually read a single post published by the (fictional) website. The only piece I have seen — on Claire Underwood’s iPad, for about four seconds — was a brief report about a union protest at a fund-raiser for clean water. No disrespect to Zoe Barnes, who wrote the post on a bus, but the excerpt was pretty boring — not the kind of thing that ends up on Most Shared lists at the end of the month, definitely not a site that I would read in real life.

(Spoilers follow for those who haven’t begun House of Cards’ second season.) Still, if you’d asked me about my favorite parts of the Netflix drama’s first season, I would’ve yelled “Sluglinnnnnnnne” at you with the joy of a person who has stock options; I am heartbroken that it vanished under a train along with Zoe Barnes. First of all, Slugline is a great name. (Beau Willimon’s re-naming fortune awaits for him in San Francisco.) And plot-wise, last season’s investigative journalism was ten times more compelling to me than the fake hacker, what-is-even-happening-there schemes of season two. (The obvious exception: Cashew, the guinea pig, who deserves his own spinoff.) But I suppose I really loved Slugline the same way that politicians seem to love the rest of House of Cards: because it was a glamorized, barely accurate but still pointed version of the blog world I live in every day. The show got a lot right — about old versus new media, about Twitter, about start-up decor — and it was funny about all of it.

That is more of a distinction when you consider other ridiculous, made-for-TV websites like FaceUnion (SVU), YouFace (30 Rock), and the immortal Bockmail (The Killing). The Good Wife does a good job of incorporating internet culture into its story lines, but its websites are invented for the purposes of a legal procedural — meaning the focus is on the case, rather than the workings of the site. House of Cards was actually interested in Slugline itself, from the editorial process (such as it was, anyway) to the political consequences of its scoops. It developed the office culture; it quoted page views and retweets. House of Cards as a whole is exceptionally fluent with new media, and Slugline was its entry point. It was clearly created by someone who actually uses the internet.

It’s still made up, obviously. Some things that Slugline got wrong, based on my personal experiences: editors at big sites (like, say, this one) do actually read the stories on their site before they get published  and they usually have opinions on what those stories are about. People over 30 do work at start-ups. I have never actually seen a bean bag chair in an office (though I have worked on the floor). But nothing is more annoying than bloggers yelling, “It’s not like that IRL!” at depictions of their job — and if you subtract the Congressional affairs and the subway murders, Slugline is like blogging IRL, kind of. Enough to entertain, which is all you can ask from a show about trade unions and whether or not someone agreed to vote for the bill. So RIP, Slugline, and thank you making bloggers look vaguely cool for half of a season. Lord knows we needed it.

An Ode to Slugline, the House of Cards Website