"Debate club" is an excellent description! We have something unique here that is so far ahead of the game it looks old fashioned. Slashdot is not a "news" site and never has been, if I want to read a good a news site then I will go to the BBC. The slashdot "story" is just a summary of the (alleged) topic up for debate, it points to one or more articles that are already fine examples of traditional news publishing such as the BBC and invites the reader to express and defend their opinion on it.
The new style is like every other mainstream site because it's coming from a long publishing tradition. Things are set into columns, the columns surround by pictures in a way that's both easy to READ and eye-catching. The newspaper tradition does not expect the reader to insert their own comments within their carefully layed out columns.. Slashdot's format begs the reader to WRITE something. At Slashdot the comments are the content, take the focus away from them and it will rapidly devolve into just another link farm..
Put another way, if the active Slashdot commentators liked the traditional feedback formats of newspaper publishers then there would be no reason for Slashdot to exists. Sites like the BBC would keep the eyeballs on their own site. The comment system is Slashdot's "value add", without it, it's toast. Make it look like a traditional comment system that's normally provided by the real news sites and people will just comment directly on the real news site.
There's a reason people like me came here in the late 90's and are still actively commenting, it's not support for Slashdot in the way one supports a football club, it's support for a genuine alternative to the traditional publishing meme. One that has the ability to turn a story into a conversation, which is something I think is desperately needed to counter the undue influence of the incontestable propaganda statements known as "opinion columns" that dominate the MSM, particularly in the US.