A timeline of Slate'sfirst 10 years.

June 1996 - June 2006.
June 19 2006 6:56 PM

A Slate Timeline

Ten years of the magazine's history in 10 minutes.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.


David Plotz David Plotz

David Plotz is Slate's editor at large. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

It was originally going to be called Boot, in tribute to the protagonist of Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop. Then someone informed Michael Kinsley that "boot" was slang for "vomit." So Kinsley picked Slate instead. In our inaugural issue, June 24, 1996, he wrote that the name "means nothing, or practically nothing. We chose it as an empty vessel into which we can pour meaning. We hope Slatewill come to mean good original journalism in this new medium. Beyond that, who knows?"


The magazine, as we all insisted on calling it, was a fortunate product of Kinsley's curiosity, Microsoft's money, and the emerging infatuation with the Internet. Tired of playing the liberal on Crossfire and of working for unprofitable journals beholden to whimsical benefactors, Kinsley approached college acquaintance Steve Ballmer in the summer of 1995 and suggested that Microsoft publish a Webzine. An online magazine, liberated from the production and mailing costs that squeezed general-interest print titles, might actually become profitable. Ballmer and Bill Gates, newly enthralled with the Internet, quickly signed up Kinsley. On Christmas Day, 1995, he moved to Seattle (occasioning a Newsweek cover for which he posed in a rain slicker, holding a salmon) and set up shop on the Microsoft campus.

When Slate launched six months later, it was both radical and conservative. Slate intended to be skeptical about its new medium, Kinsley declared in his opening essay: "We do not start out with the smug assumption that the Internet changes the nature of human thought, or that all the restraints that society imposes on individuals in 'real life' must melt away in cyberia. There is a deadening conformity in the hipness of cyberspace culture in which we don't intend to participate. Part of our mission at Slate will be trying to bring cyberspace down to earth."

The early Slate was indeed earthbound. At first, Slate was essentially a weekly print magazine that happened to be published on the Web—more like a New Republic without the lead time than a revolution. Most articles were posted on Friday, and the site was not regularly updated during the week. (The first "issues" even had page numbers.) But we took baby steps toward Web-iness with e-mail debates and computer art exhibits. Perhaps the most important editorial accomplishment of our first six months was "The Slate 60," a roster of the year's most generous charitable donors. The ranking would become an annual tradition.

By year's end, Slatewas attracting 15,000 readers a day. We had offices in Seattle, New York (home base for culture editor Judith Shulevitz and political correspondent Jacob Weisberg), and Washington (a tiny bureau run by Jodie Allen). Slate lost money, of course—our only revenues were a tiny trickle from early banner ads. One creative business scheme went memorably awry. Our first publisher struck a deal with a burgeoning coffee chain called Starbucks to sell copies of a monthly Slate compendium in its outlets around the country.It was a disaster. Store managers had no idea what to do with the magazines, which mostly piled up in their storerooms under boxes of Amaretto syrup. So much for Seattle synergy.


We began the year by chickening out. Our plan had been to start charging for subscriptions to Slate in January. But our payment software was buggy, which gave us the excuse we were looking for to postpone the day of reckoning.

More notable was that Slatebegan to act less like a print magazine and more like a Web site. One prod for this was the death of Princess Diana in August. When the news broke, Web traffic spiked to record levels, and our competitors (notably Salon) crammed their sites with news stories, speculation, memorials, poems—anything to capture browsers. Slatechose not to interrupt one of its summer "skip weeks"—a tradition inherited from print magazines in which publications shut down and everyone goes to the beach. Diana's death finally made us understand that online journalism is by nature a round-the-clock business. Our publishing pace began to pick up—from weekly to daily to several times a day.

Another mark of our accelerating pace was the launch of "Today’s Papers," an early morning summary of the five national newspapers. Scott Shuger stayed up every night reading the papers on the Web, then posted the column by 6 a.m. and e-mailed it to tens of thousands of subscribers. (Matt Drudge, then an obscure Internet junkie, had been our first choice to write "Today's Papers," but he turned us down and suggested Scott.) Other beginnings: Herb Stein, our 80-year-old economics columnist—and the most rational man you could hope to meet—started writing an agony column called "Dear Prudence." Atul Gawande inaugurated the "Medical Examiner" column; James Surowiecki signed on as our first business writer; and Michael Lewis moved to Silicon Valley and started covering Internet-boom culture for us in a column called "Millionerds."



The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Right of Free Speech
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.