Slate produced some of its smartest, and most moving, work in the days and months after the Sept. 11 attacks. Navy veteran Scott Shuger left "Today's Papers" to cover the war on terror full-time and handed off the feature to its current writer, Eric Umansky.
The year had its goofier side, too. As The Sopranos exploded as a cultural phenomenon, we enlisted psychiatrists and therapists to conduct a weekly dialogue about the show and Tony Soprano's therapy. Virginia Heffernan became our first regular TV critic. David Plotz's "Seed" project, an investigation into the mysterious Nobel Prize sperm bank, played with a new kind of Internet journalism—open-source, collaborative reporting. By using readers as his sources, Plotz dug out the buried history of this strange eugenic experiment in a series of stories that would lead to his 2005 book, The Genius Factory.
A year of upheaval at Slate. Michael Kinsley announced he was stepping down as Slate's editor, though he would stay on as a weekly columnist. In April, chief political correspondent Jacob Weisberg succeeded Mike and shifted the base of Slate's operations from Seattle to New York. Christopher Hitchens, fresh from quitting The Nation over political differences, began writing a weekly column titled "Fighting Words." In June, Scott Shuger died in a scuba-diving accident at age 50. Fred Kaplan, who had just left the Boston Globe, took over the military-affairs column Scott had been writing, "War Stories." Jack Shafer began writing "Press Box" regularly. William Saletan became chief political correspondent. Daniel Gross took over the "Moneybox" column. Meghan O'Rourke, a recent arrival from The New Yorker, succeeded Jodi Kantor as Slate's culture editor. On the business side, publisher Scott Moore got kicked upstairs to a high-powered executive job, and Cyrus Krohn—who had been Kinsley's first Slate hire back in 1995—replaced him.
We joined forces with two media powerhouses in 2003. In May, Slate began distributing Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury strip on the Web, along with Doonesbury'sarchives, special polls, and contests. In the summer, Slate and National Public Radio began producing Day to Day,an hour-long midday news magazine. Day to Day became the fastest-growing show in NPR's history, airing on more than 100 stations by year's end. Seth Stevenson took over the "Ad Report Card" column from Rob Walker. Emily Yoffe began writing her hilarious, masochistic "Human Guinea Pig" column. We won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence Online, the first time a Web-only publication had nabbed the prize.
We started considering an exit strategy from Microsoft. Though Microsoft had always supported Slate and respected its editorial independence, we were finding it hard to develop the business side of the magazine. Microsoft, which at one point in the late '90s was publishing several dozen content sites, had shut them all down except Slateand its MSNBC joint venture, and we began to feel we would be better off at a media company. So, in the middle of the year, Editor Jacob Weisberg and Microsoft executives began exploring the possibility of selling Slate. The Washington Post Company emerged as the most suitable buyer, and in the fall, Microsoft struck a deal to sell Slateto the Post.
In the meantime, we were busy with the presidential election. Our "Swingers" series took Slate reportersto every tossup state in the campaign. The "Election Scorecard," William Saletan's tool to analyze state polls, proved one of our most popular features ever, as readers frantically crunched and recrunched the data to see whether Bush or Kerry had the edge. And Henry Blodget returned from his Internet-era notoriety to cover the Martha Stewart trial for us.
The sale to the Washington Post Company went through in January, making us a sister publication to the Washington Post newspaper and Newsweek magazine. Slate closed its Seattle office and settled almost the entire staff in New York and Washington. Cliff Sloan, vice president of business affairs and general counsel for Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, became our new publisher. Michael Kinsley, who had left briefly to run the Los Angeles Times opinion section, returned as a columnist. Our multimedia efforts grew. We started publishing the best newspaper political cartoons—a portfolio that now features 14 Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonists. In December, Slate and Magnum Photos began collaborating on "Today's Pictures," a daily slide show of photographs from Magnum's extraordinary archives. Witold Rybczynski signed on as our architecture critic. *