The Evolution of Slate

Digiday explores Slate’s early days and the transition to being owned by the Washington Post.

In Internet years, Slate is a gray beard. It debuted in 1996, backed by Microsoft. It was at the forefront of many now-common Web trends. It was ahead of the curation curve with “Today’s Papers” and even experimented with a subscription model in the late 1990s (subscribers got a Slate umbrella). It proved that Web-only publications could produce serious, high-quality journalism….

In its first iteration, Slate described itself as an online magazine, published once a week and with page numbers. But it began experimentation with new online storytelling vehicles. You could argue that “In Other Magazines,” which debuted in June 1996, was an early forerunner to the type of aggregation that built blogs.

“I’d do it on Sunday,” Plotz said. “I’d get Time and Newsweek to have them fax the issue, and I’d write about what was in these magazines and update during the week.”

But then a curious thing happened. Princess Diana died in 1997 and changed the course of the outlet. Slate, with a down week, missed what was arguably the first big Web-culture story. What’s more, its rival Salon was all over the news.

“We were dry, and we realized we don’t understand the medium,” Plotz said. “We can’t walk away and have a site that functions and is relevant to the conversation.”

The outlet did a 180, changing from a once-a-week publishing schedule to a daily, then twice daily schedule. It launched blogs, such as Mickey Kaus’ Kausfiles and developed some stellar podcasts like the “Culture Gabfest,” which is still successful today.

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