Earlier this year, Slate turned 20. That’s a tender age in human years, and well past dead for dogs. For an internet magazine, it puts us in rare company. When Michael Kinsley launched Slate in 1996, he was one of many journalistic pioneers staking out claims on what people still called the World Wide Web. Suck, Feed, and Salon were already publishing; dozens of other digital ventures were launched during that mid-’90s boom. Slate—thanks in large part to the ambitious, experimental, convivial spirit Kinsley instilled here—is one of the very few that’s still thriving.
Which means that the points of etiquette on how to celebrate 20 years of practicing journalism on the internet remain to be worked out. Our print forebears offer few useful pointers. Their anniversary commemorations—the leather-bound volumes, the covers made of other covers—didn’t seem right for a magazine like ours that’s never had a definitive physical form. And the misty memories from former writers, the self-praise, and self-examination contained in typical anniversary issues are great for staffers and superfans, but we didn’t want to mark our birthday just by looking back, and at ourselves. So we decided to do something different: to celebrate our anniversary by looking forward, and at the world.
For the next three weeks, we’ll be running an ambitious package called the Next 20. We’ve asked our writers, podcasters, and video producers—plus a few familiar faces from our past—to examine events both big and small from the previous two decades: the first armed drone strike. The first judge to fall victim to what we now understand as the nomination wars. The day a young woman running a Harry Potter fan site received a surprising email from a movie studio. We’ll ask how each of these events was overlooked or misunderstood at the time, how they changed the world we live in, and what they can tell us about where we’re headed in the decades ahead.
Why spend our anniversary examining the future? Well, for one thing, it felt like a classic Slate pitch—we like to keep you readers on your toes. But as we combed through our archives at the beginning of our anniversary year, we were struck by what a fascinating stretch it’s been. The 20 years of Slate’s existence have been marked by extraordinary change—in the way we think about gay rights and race in America; in the way we think about terrorism, torture, and war; in the way we meet and mate and live, and watch and learn and play.
To help you see these changes through the lens of Slate’s coverage, we did make you an anthology, although it doesn’t have a gilt cover or a deckle edge. After two decades in business, our magazine sometimes seems infinite, an endless stretch of the internet bounded by the endlessness of the internet itself. We’ve published so much! Today’s Papers, Explainers, TV Clubs. Essays, investigations, recipes, reviews. But if finitude can feel hard to come by on the internet, it does exist. Slate has, as of this writing, published 152,734 things, and if you’re reading on a desktop, every single one is represented as a pixel on the interactive below. The entire history of Slate, on one screen.
In an accompanying essay, Nathan Heller explores what it means for a magazine to leave no paper trail, part of a Slate Plus series digging into the magazine’s history. (You didn’t think we’d forget our superfans, did you?) But right here you can mouse over, or search, and eavesdrop on the conversations that smart people on the internet have been having for the past 20 years. You’ll also find a record of a world at a pivot point. Many, though not all, of the changes during this period were driven by the same technological transformation of our culture that made Slate itself possible. And that transformation is still just beginning. One key to Slate’s durability over the years is that—in our journalism and our business—we’ve made a habit of taking the long view. But as old as Slate seems, and as long as we’ve been tending and furnishing the homestead Kinsley established for us out here on the digital plains, we’re all still frontiersmen and -women at a moment of accelerating change. Over the rest of September, the Next 20 will offer a provocative peek at what’s still to come.