Policy made plain.
Dec. 14 1997 3:30 AM

Michael Kinsley on Slate traffic, new features, etc.

Traffic Report


How many people read Slate? Last August, in a "Webhead" column by our then-Program Manager Bill Barnes, we attempted to answer that question, while at the same time explaining why any claims about the popularity of Web sites are inherently suspicious. With that same caveat, we offer an update. In August, we were serving an average of about 90,000 pages a day, seven days a week. In recent weeks, we have been serving about 140,000 pages a day. As that Webhead column explained, the design of a site can drastically affect the page count. (A Web "page" is of no fixed size, and the same material can take few or many pages.) We think a better measure is "unique browsers": the number of individual computers that visit a site. (Each computer is counted just once, no matter how many times it visits.) In the month of August, we had about 80,000 individual readers by this measure. In the month of November, we had close to 140,000. This doesn't count the 22,000 who get Slate delivered by e-mail every Friday morning (if you wanna sign up, click here), or the thousands who get e-mail delivery of "Today's Papers" five days a week (click here to sign up).

Why the growth? Naturally we'd like to attribute it to our excellent editorial product and to the kindness and enthusiasm of Slate readers in spreading the word. But we suspect that other forces are at work as well. There's the steady increase in the number of Internet users, who nonetheless account for barely 15 percent of the adult population. And there's the particular boost Slate has been getting from our beloved distribution partners: America Online, Hotmail, and the Microsoft Network. To whomever we owe thanks, thanks!

And if you're one of our new arrivals, welcome.

New Stuff


Slate continues to be an experiment in magazine journalism on the Web. We try things--sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. This week we inaugurate no fewer than three new features:

"Reply All" is an update on the old-fashioned epistolary novel (fiction in the form of letters, such as Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the 1782 novel by Choderlos de Laclos that was turned into a play and two different movies a few years ago). Our version is fiction in the form of e-mail among three characters: one in Washington, one in New York, and one in the Bay Area. Each character's mail is written by an author in that city. In another throwback to earlier forms, Reply All will be written and published in weekly installments. Chapter 1 is posted now.

"International Papers" is a worldwide version of our popular Today's Papers column, synthesizing and commenting on what leading newspapers outside the United States are saying about the major news stories (Al Gore was a bust in Kyoto, apparently), and noting stories that are being ignored in the United States but loom large elsewhere. (Did you know, for example, about the beauty-queen boom in India or the controversy about transsexual athletes in Australia?) At least for now, International Papers will be updated just twice a week, on Monday and Thursday evenings, PST. The author is Alexander Chancellor, a distinguished columnist for the Guardian of London and former editor of the Spectator. By its nature (not to mention Alexander's nature), International Papers will be less structured than Today's Papers. Rather than analyzing the same five front pages every day, it will flit around the world, courtesy of the Internet, looking for trends and patterns. The language barrier will be a challenge, but our author is about as well qualified as anyone to take it on. Although he doesn't know much Chinese or Urdu, he is fluent in French, German, and Italian. Oh yes, and a bit of English.

"Cheat Sheet" is a spinoff of the "Hackathlon" (see below). It is on tryout as a replacement for "The Gist." We're looking for ways to bring readers quickly and painlessly up to speed on issues in the news they haven't followed closely, or have found confusing, or--frankly--are bored by but feel guilty about it. For the Hackathlon, a hack writing contest for journalists, Deputy Editor Jack Shafer provided a "cheat sheet" of information the contestants could draw upon in each of four rounds. The cheat sheets were so entertaining and informative that we thought we'd try this form as a regular feature. The first one, about the Arlington Cemetery flap, is posted now.


As part of the ebb and flow of Slate features, two have concluded their runs. Don't miss this week's breathtaking conclusion to "Doodlennium," the cartoon saga of the chicken people by Mark Alan Stamaty. (And of course, the entire year-and-a-half-long series is available in "The Compost.") Liberated from Doodlennium, Mark will have an expanded role in illustrating the rest of Slate. (Check out his drawing of Robin Williams and Matt Damon in "Summary Judgment.") "Varnish Remover," Robert Shrum's analysis of a TV commercial, has been suspended to allow Bob to concentrate on whatever it is he does exactly as an international political and business consultant. But he'll be back, we hope, either with Varnish Remover or some new feature, closer to next fall's elections.

More New Stuff

We need your help with another new feature that starts next week. It is an advice column, called "Dear Prudence." Although the author stands prepared to answer questions on any topic, she is better qualified to share wisdom about morals and manners, what youth can learn from age, and macroeconomic policy than about how to get your brand-new, #$#@%&! $200 fax modem to work properly. Please send your inquiries to prudence@slate.com.

Hacks Americana


The first annual Slate "Hackathlon" is over, after four not-especially-grueling weeks for four not-really-so-hackish hacks. And the readers have rendered their verdict. The NewYorkTimes now has another honor to add to its string of Pulitzers. Michael Specter, a Moscow correspondent for the Times, was judged to be the biggest hack by a 37-percent plurality of Slate readers. Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker came in second with 27 percent. British journalist Geoffrey Wheatcroft, representing the nation that invented hack journalism and whose journalists still pride themselves on maintaining their lack of standards, got a disappointing 19 percent. And Hanna Rosin of the NewRepublic came in last with 17 percent. But she's young: She has plenty of years yet in which to compromise her integrity. For more details and analysis of this historic sporting event, go to the Hackathlon itself.

Slate Between Covers

Looking for a good Christmas present? Allow us to suggest the following recent books by Slate authors (click on each title to order it from Amazon.com):

The Man Who Ate Everything, by Jeffrey Steingarten (Knopf). This is a collection of hilarious and informative essays by the food critic of Vogue. Only one of the pieces included comes from Slate. But it is the title essay.


Degas in New Orleans: Encounters in the Creole World of Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable, by Christopher Benfey (Knopf). This is the tale of an 1872 visit by the Impressionist painter to the relentlessly colorful Louisiana city. Benfey is Slate's art critic.

Fair Play: What Your Child Can Teach You About Economics, Values and the Meaning of Life, by Steven E. Landsburg (The Free Press). Landsburg writes the monthly "Everyday Economics" column for Slate, and several of the essays in this collection first appeared here. (In fact, you can still read them here.)

Trail Fever, by Michael Lewis (Knopf). Tales of the 1996 presidential race by the writer who is now exploring the new American economy in Slate's "Millionerds" column.

The Factory of Facts, by Luc Sante (Knopf). This is a memoir about growing up in Belgium and America by the prominent cultural critic who writes often for Slate. It actually doesn't come out until February, but you could always buy a gift certificate.

Slate is pleased to have supplied so many outstanding writers to the House of Knopf, and looks forward to a seasonal fruit basket. Actually, an ad or two would go down well. For readers who (like the editors) found the mental exercise in Steven Landsburg's most recent "Everyday Economics" column a bit hard to follow, Steve tries a different version in "E-Mail to the Editors" (scroll down to the third e-mail message and read his response). You might find it more satisfying. We did.

Janet Is From Mars, Bill Is on Venus

Corrections: Slate's "In Other Magazines" column incorrectly said that TheNewYorker said that President Clinton calls Attorney General Reno "The Martian" behind her back. The New Yorker actually said that Clinton aides call her this. Also, the Washington columnist spells his name Rowland Evans, not Roland as Slate's "Pundit Central" alleged last week.

Dear Prudence:

I am just a guy named Bill being pursued by a gal named Janet. Janet was also pursuing another guy named Bill, but he somehow or other put her off the scent. She's stopped chasing him, but she's still chasing me! Neither of us appreciates her attentions. What I want to know is, why does she have this vendetta against guys named Bill? And how did the other one manage to lose her? What has he got that I don't got? Is life unfair, or what?


Bill G.

Redmond, Wash.

--Michael Kinsley