Policy made plain.
Feb. 7 1999 3:30 AM

Length Matters


Several readers complained about the length of last week's Slate on Paper. This is the document available by e-mail or download around midday each Friday, containing a week's worth of Slate goodies nicely formatted for printout on standard size paper. Last week's was especially long (85 pages) because it included our annual "Slate 60" list of rich people ranked by their contributions to charity. But even in a normal week, Slate on Paper has been running around 55-60 pages.

Meanwhile, some America Online readers have complained about not getting their Slate e-mail at all. This was an AOL screw up, but we've straightened it out. We hope.

As for the length problem: We used to limit Slate on Paper to 44 pages. Readers complained that we were leaving out their favorite stuff. So, a few weeks ago, we asked readers whether they would prefer a file containing everything in Slate each week. The overwhelming answer was "yes." Even though it will take longer to download? Yes. Even though it will require more pages to print out? Yes. You're absolutely sure, are you? Oh yes. Because Mommy and Daddy don't want to send you a great big file if you're not going to want it. Oh yes, we want it.

So for those who think Slate on Paper is too long, you're apparently in the minority. And like all minorities in our melting-pot society, you should try to blend in and not be so conspicuous. Keep quiet and work hard. Consider marrying an "include-it-all" and raising the children that way. They'll grow up to play golf and download the long version of Slate on Paper, and you'll feel like a real American.


Many readers did raise a good question: Why doesn't the Slate on Paper file allow you to choose which articles you wish to print out instead of all or nothing at all? The answer, as to so much in life, is: We're working on that. (Or, as Slate's crack software development team puts it, in the strange argot of their tribe: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, we're working on that.")

Meanwhile, the editor has wasted far too much time poking around the many byways and cul-de-sacs of Microsoft Word, looking for some quick and dirty solution to this dilemma. Although we say so as a sister division of the same company, Word is an amazing and underappreciated piece of software. Amazing for the things it can do and underappreciated because no one knows about them. No one knows about them primarily because software instruction manuals get thinner and thinner. Even Word's online Help (in recent versions an annoying talking paper clip that many people quite rightly refuse to interact with) doesn't seem to know about some things the program can do. What other industry besides software goes to the trouble of improving its product and then keeps the improvements a secret?

Nevertheless, if you use the Microsoft Word version of Slate on Paper (we also offer an Adobe Acrobat version) a couple of Word's features can help you to print out just the articles you want. They're a bit clumsy for this purpose, but they do the job.

  • Outline View. With the slate.doc file on your screen, on the View menu, click Outline. (Or, in later versions of Word, click the fourth tiny box in the lower-left corner of the Word window--just above the page number.) If you then click 1 on the Outline toolbar that will have appeared (with any luck), you should get a list of Slate's departments, from "Today's Papers" through "The Fray." At the left of each item is a plus sign. If you click once on the plus sign, you have selected that department. You can then print the selection (an option on the Word Print menu). Or you can select and delete all the articles you don't want and print the whole remaining document. Or, if you want to get fancy, you can create a blank document in a new window, and then drag and drop the articles you want into it.

You also can double-click the plus sign for any one listing or hit one of the higher numbers on the Outline toolbar to affect the whole file and expose various sub-levels of headline, posted date, etc. For departments (such as Today's Papers, "Moneybox," etc.) that consist of multiple items, you can hit the plus sign and do your stuff for just the items you want.

  • Master Document view. This is a recherché variation on Outline view, also available on the View menu. It allows you to turn various subdivisions of a file into separate files, which you can then move around or otherwise submit to your will. Try this: Select a department you want to print (it can't be the first one, Today's Papers, for some damned reason) and hit the "Create Subdocument" toolbar icon. (It's a tiny horizontal rectangle inside a vertical rectangle with a turned-down upper-right flap--just as you would have guessed.) Your selected piece is now a separate file, set in an attractive gray box. You can drag'n'drop the other stuff you want into that box, double-click the little square icon in the upper-left corner of the box to expand the file, then hit Print. It might work.

There has got to be a way--using these and other Word features such as macros, templates, fields, styles, and so on to make a simple selective-printout menu that either could be built into each week's Slate on Paper file or could be offered as a downloadable tool. What about using "hidden text"? (Hidden from screen view but printed? Or visible on screen but not printed?) Or the automatic table of contents generator? (Could the whole text be turned into a table of contents? What on earth for?) Strictly as an amateur, the editor has tried them all and admits defeat.

Is there another amateur among Slate's readers who would like to pick up the challenge? If you beat the pros to a solution, we will name it after you, and you'll be immortalized in this little corner of cyberspace.