Smart Reading, 20 Years On

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-10-09-24-amThere is a 5-10 minute read in the upcoming issue of the New Yorker that helps put two decades into a narrow but interesting perspective. 20 years ago I was in the process of moving my family to Costa Rica for a job I had accepted one year earlier. I remember the period described below, which could be considered the transition to life online, as we now know it. Odd to think it was happening just as we moved to a kind of Garden of Eden. Slate has been a part of “life online” ever since. I was mainly drawn to Kinsley, one of the sharpest of thinkers and communicators. He is long, long gone from Slate. But the experiment was fruitful; Slate is alive and well even as the media landscape is oversaturated with copies of copies of copies:


The digital magazine’s founding editor-in-chief and his successors got together to survey its history and its contributions to online journalism.

It’s been twenty years since Michael Kinsley, the former editor of The New Republic, undertook a novel adventure: the creation of a magazine, underwritten by Microsoft, that was to exist primarily in what was then known as “cyberspace.” “There will be efforts to update it, perhaps on a daily basis,” the Times noted, in a report that appeared below the fold on page D1 of its issue of Monday, April 29, 1996, two months before the launch of Slate.

Recently, Kinsley, who was the editor-in-chief of Slate from 1996 until 2002, and his three successors—Jacob Weisberg, David Plotz, and Julia Turner—gathered in Washington, D.C., to record a podcast: a five-way conversation with Josh Levin, the magazine’s executive editor. It was a nostalgic and forgivably self-regarding celebration of what Turner characterized as Slate’s “smarty-pants, curious journalism, opinion, and analysis.” The editors posed, grinning, for a group photo.

“We probably need to airplane mode,” Turner said, fiddling with her phone.

“I turned off any signalling for text, because my kids just text all the time,” Weisberg said. “Nate was, like, ‘You can’t do that—how can I get in touch with you?’ ”

Everyone but Kinsley wore headphones. Turner said, “I would feelweird podcasting without headphones.” As virtual tape rolled, they recalled Slate’s début. The first issues had page numbers; Kinsley expected that readers would print them. For the most part, the site updated only once a week. There was a button that a reader could click on to hear a song by Fats Waller…

Read the whole item here.

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