Slate in many ways epitomizes the idea of a publication living solely online, while at the same time being beholden to a traditional media parent company. Founded by former New Republic editor Michael Kinsley in 1996, Slate was acquired by the Washington Post Co. in 2005. The sites current editor is David Plotz. Before joining Slate, Plotz was a senior editor and staff writer for the City Paper.
Like a number of other online magazines that were launched at that time Slate was seeking a mostly younger hipper audience, mixing political commentary and satire with harder news and features. Among those who contribute to the online magazine is noted intellectual Christopher Hitchens. Other features include the column “Dear Prudence,” named for the Beatles song that gives advice about life and love.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Digital Media: Slate’s Layoffs Signal Flaws in Web Model—Unexpected ‘Head Winds’ Buffet Online Pioneers Ad Sales,”August 26, 2011 ,the online publication is a relatively small part of the Post Co.’s overall revenues. The WSJ reports the larger company reported a 50 percent decline in second quarter profits, with online operations showing a 13 percent drop in ad revenue. That led to the lay-offs of four of Slate’s approximately 50 staffers, including long-time media critic Jack Shafer. The job cuts have prompted concerns on the part of the broader media community that if the parent company continues to founder its online site may also run into trouble.
However, it is also clear that the online news site continues to innovate. One example being a new project with National Public Radio, and the group Intelligence Squared. The media outlets are partnering to provide online access to the presidential debates beginning on September 7th.“By integrating interactivity, video, live streaming and an open gateway to social media streams, the partnership will greatly enhance the way the audiences watch live debates in America,”said Dana Wolfe, executive producer of Intelligence Squared US debates.
As for Slate’s future, it seems that will in part depend on the ability of its parent to adapt to the new reality of a declining print media profits, while at the same time continuing to innovate and attract advertisers and eyeballs to its site. In some ways I find the current homepage to the site a bit busy, but will be looking at that in future posts on this site.