Welcome to SLATE
An introduction and apologia.
The name? It means nothing, or practically nothing. We chose it as an empty vessel into which we can pour meaning. We hope SLATE will come to mean good original journalism in this new medium. Beyond that, who knows? Good magazines are exercises in serendipity. Credit--or blame--for the name "SLATE," by the way, goes to David Weld, then of Microsoft, now of Cognisoft Corp.
A Seattle cyberwag says that the name "SLATE" is appropriate, because whenever he asks anyone from Microsoft, "How's your project coming along?" the answer he usually gets is, "'s late." SLATE, in fact, has been reasonably prompt. Less than six months ago, it was a four-page memorandum and a single Internet naif. SLATE is not the first "webzine," but everyone in this nascent business is still struggling with some pretty basic issues. Starting an online magazine is like starting a traditional paper magazine by asking: "OK, you chop down the trees. Then what?"
To be honest, we are running late on a few things. For the reader--you--there is good news and bad news here. The good news is that our billing system isn't ready yet. We intend to charge $19.95 a year for SLATE. That is far less than the cost of equivalent print magazines, because there's no paper, printing, or postage. But $19.95 ($34.95 for two years) is more than zero, which is what Web readers are used to paying. We believe that expecting readers to share the cost, as they do in print, is the only way serious journalism on the Web can be self-supporting. Depending completely on advertisers would not be healthy even if it were possible.
And we want to be self-supporting. Indeed one of SLATE's main goals is to demonstrate, if we can, that the economies of cyberspace make it easier for our kind of journalism to pay for itself. Most magazines like SLATE depend on someone's generosity or vanity or misplaced optimism to pay the bills. But self-supporting journalism is freer journalism. (As A.J. Liebling said, freedom of the press is for those who own one.) If the Web can make serious journalism more easily self-supporting, that is a great gift from technology to democracy.
For the moment, though, SLATE is yours for free. So enjoy. We expect to start requiring registration in a few weeks, and to require payment beginning Nov. 1.
The bad news for readers is that some features aren't quite ready yet. Prime among them is "The Fray," our reader-discussion forum. Meanwhile, though, please e-mail any comments you may have to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be publishing a traditional "Letters to the Editor" page until The Fray is up and running in a few weeks.
We especially need, and appreciate, your comments in these early weeks. Every new magazine is a "beta" version for a while, especially a new magazine in a new medium. SLATE has gotten enormous hype--some of it, to be sure, self-induced, but much of it not. We appreciate the attention. But of course, it also makes us nervous. We have a smaller budget and staff than most well-known magazines--even smaller than some webzines. We don't claim to have all the answers. But, with your help, we plan to have all the answers by Christmas.
So What's in It?
First, let me urge you to read a special page called Consider Your Options. This page explains and executes the various ways you can receive and read SLATE. If you don't like reading on a computer screen, for example, there's a special version of SLATE that you can print out in its entirety, reformatted like a traditional print magazine. If you don't mind reading on a screen but hate waiting for pages to download--and hate running up those online charges from your Internet provider--you will soon be able to download the whole magazine at once and read it offline.
Michael Kinsley is a columnist for the Washington Post and the founding editor of Slate.