Happy birthday, Slate! On June 24, 1996, Slate published its first issue. But what was it? We’ve assembled this FAQ out of coverage of the site’s launch and interviews given by founding editor Michael Kinsley over the first few years of Slate’s existence.
What is Slate?
“In the most relentlessly hyped product rollout since Windows 95, Microsoft's new on-line magazine materializes in cyberspace today,” writes Howard Kurtz. Slate is “the Microsoft Corporation's new political and cultural magazine,” reports the New York Times (“Print Edition For Journal On Internet,” June 26, 1996). Since Slate is publishing on “the Internet's World Wide Web,” it is “widely anticipated as an attempt to define a new medium.”
How do I retrieve Slate?
"To retrieve Slate," explains Ken Auletta in The New Yorker, subscribers “will connect to the Internet and type ‘http://www.slate.com,’ and it will appear.”
What if I don’t want to read on a computer screen?
“There's a special version of SLATE that you can print out in its entirety, reformatted like a traditional print magazine,” says founding editor Michael Kinsley.
What if my dial-up Internet connection is really slow? I’m sick of waiting for these articles to load!
- We can deliver SLATE to your computer by e-mail. (Caution: This may not work with your e-mail system.)
- We can send you SLATE on Paper, a monthly compilation of highlights from SLATE, through the U.S. Mail. (The cost is $29 a year. Call 800-555-4995 to order.)
- Individual copies of SLATE on Paper will be available exclusively at Starbucks. And selected articles from SLATE will also appear in Time magazine.
Many people are also downloading the entire print-out file and reading it on-screen but offline. (“We never even thought of that,” says Kinsley.)
Where should I start reading? Is there a table of contents?
In its first few months, Slate has a cover page and a table of contents. Theme music runs on both pages. “We liked having a cover, like a real, grown-up magazine, and so, it seems, did our readers with fast Internet connections,” says Kinsley.
But people with slow Internet connections complained. So soon the magazine has a new, combined “cover/contents page,” or “home page.” “It’s compressed to require less scrolling, and should download faster, too,” explains Kinsley. “To be honest, this has involved a sacrifice of aesthetics and elbow room. (Our art director had to be dragged out kicking and screaming, so don't blame him.) But we hope you'll think it's worth it.”
Are there page numbers? How will I keep track of where I am in the magazine?
Kinsley: “We use page numbers, like a traditional print magazine, and have tried to make it as easy as possible either to ‘flip through’ the magazine or to and from the Table of Contents.”
What if I decide to click on a word that is highlighted in an article and I am brought to another webpage–won’t this distract my attention?
These are called “hyperlinks.” Writes Bill Goodykoontz:
“As a general rule, we plan to avoid hyperlinks to outside sites in the text of articles, and to group them at the end instead,” Kinsley wrote in, of all things, a hyperlink in the introduction to the first issue. “It's a small illustration of our general philosophy—better call it a hope—that, even on the Web, some people will want to read articles in the traditional linear fashion—i.e., from beginning to end—rather than darting constantly from site to site.”
Interesting. Tell me more about “the traditional linear fashion.”
“What will set Slate apart from most electronic magazines, Kinsley hopes, will be a traditional, linear sensibility,” writes The New Yorker’s Auletta. “He will run pieces longer than seven hundred words, which is generally thought to be the maximum attention span of those who scroll cathode-ray screens and skate from site to site with a mouse. He will try to navigate between becoming a data bank, as are many Web sites, and a hip, dripping-with-irony magazine where people write faster than they think. Kinsley is an unabashed elitist, dismissive of the tell-me-what-you-think Zeitgeist of the Web. He does not apologize: ‘I'm too old to go whoring after twenty-somethings.’ Later, he adds, ‘I'm operating on the assumption that you can give people a meal.’”
But won’t the Internet change everything?
Kinsley: “We intend to take a fairly skeptical stance toward the romance and rapidly escalating vanity of cyberspace. 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.”
When does Slate “go to press”?
Slate is a weekly, basically.
“Many readers are asking this,” explains Kinsley, “and the answer does take some getting used to. There is new material in SLATE every weekday. In general, the cultural reviews are posted Monday and Tuesday, the feature articles Wednesday and Thursday, and the newsiest departments updated Friday afternoon. Perhaps the best time to read SLATE is over the weekend. But every article in SLATE stays ‘live’ for at least a week, so you can read or print out SLATE on any day and get a whole magazine. And if you do miss something, you can always retrieve it (free) from our archive, ‘The Compost.’ ”
An operator at the SLATE on Paper telephone subscription order desk said yesterday that business was "fantastic," the New York Times reports.
Kinsley: “What's known around our office as ‘The Battle of the Curly Quotes’ was fought this week. To make our pages more attractive, we had been using quotation marks and apostrophes that curl left or right, as appropriate, rather than all-purpose marks that are straight vertical. But it turns out that curly quotes don't show up at all on UNIX computers. The issue: Should we improve our appearance in a small way for the majority, or avoid a major problem for a small (but vocal) minority? Such are the issues that bedevil cyberpublishing.”
What about your corporate overlords?
Kinsley: “SLATE is owned by Microsoft Corp., and that bothers some people. Can a giant software company put out a magazine that is free to think for itself? All we can say is that Microsoft has made all the right noises on this subject, and we look forward to putting the company's hands-off commitment to the test. But the concern strikes me as misplaced. In a day of media conglomerates with myriad daily conflicts of interest--Time Warner, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., Disney-ABC--how can it be a bad thing for a new company to begin competing in the media business? A journalist who worries about Microsoft putting out a magazine is a journalist with a steady job.”
Does Bill Gates read Slate?
Kinsley: “[Gates] conceded that sometimes the old ways are still the best. He prefers magazines the way they come in the mail, he confessed, and he cannot read anything longer on his computer screen than a three-page memo.”
What is The Gist?
Kinsley: “The Gist is SLATE's effort to provide a quick education on some current issue in a form as free of spin as possible. Also free of quotes, anecdotes, and other paraphernalia. The only 1,000 words you'll have to read when you might rather read nothing at all.”
The first Gist column, by David Plotz, is titled “Clinton’s Drug War.”
What if I need advice or have a question about macroeconomic policy?
You can write to our Dear Prudence columnist, Herbert Stein, a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.