In 1996, in a move that rocked the mainstream media, editor and commentator Michael Kinsley relocated from Washington, D.C., to Seattle to found an online magazine backed by the Microsoft Corp. The magazine, Slate, is now owned by The Washington Post Company--NEWSWEEK's parent--and edited by Jacob Weisberg, but Kinsley still keeps a hand in as a columnist. He spoke with Jerry Adler about online journalism's first decade:
To some extent, I guess it's inevitable. I love the way Slate is now a fixture in the journalistic landscape. For the first few years it had to be referred to as "Slate, Microsoft's experimental online magazine that some people read on their computer via the Internet ... " Now it's: "Slate reported yesterday ... "
Well, I married my boss (Microsoft executive Patty Stonesifer, now CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), so the question comes up. Ten years ago everyone woke up with the same thought: We need a Web site. Even Microsoft wasn't immune. I approached them, and I think they thought, What the heck?
We had no idea what we were doing. I thought people would download it--if I even knew what a download was--and maybe print it out. We thought we'd close once a week, like The New Republic. The idea that anything could be posted instantaneously just didn't occur to us at first.
Pretty soon, I'd be writing a column and send it in and then go out for a sandwich and if it wasn't up when I got back, I'd bitch about it.
The fact that it breaks even, at least part of the time. I said from the beginning, the test would be if it was self-supporting. And even though the experiment with charging for subscriptions didn't work out, the idea that The Washington Post Company paid serious money for it makes me very happy.
One thing we never mastered was long-form journalism on the Web. Articles that might appear in The New Yorker or The Atlantic. Of course, no one else has figured out how to do it, either.
I'm going to ... I hate to say "teach a course at Harvard." I'm going to lead a seminar that will experiment with different approaches to journalism on the Web. I've come full circle: 10 years ago I started out with all the backing in the world, and thought I'd do something that didn't use the technology at all, and now all I'm interested in is using the technology to enhance journalism.