Today the Washington Post Co. announces that it is buying Slate from Microsoft Corporation, our home since we began publishing in 1996. When the transaction closes in mid-January, we will leave the splendiferous House of Gates for the munificent House of Graham.
Readers are likely to notice little, if any, change in the magazine. All of our senior editorial staff and writers are staying on, and most of the junior ones as well. Although the move creates exciting opportunities for us, especially on the business side, neither the new publisher nor the old editor (who is also staying) envisions drastic editorial changes. Washington Post Co. Chairman and CEO Don Graham and his colleagues have impressed upon us that they’re buying Slate because they like it the way it is, not in order to make it into something else. They’ve assured us that we will retain our editorial independence and stay separate from our new sister publications, which include the Washington Post newspaper, Washingtonpost.com, Newsweek, and Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel. Slate is not going to be merged, submerged, bent, folded, spindled, or mutilated.
These were also key considerations for Microsoft, where Slate has been generously supported lo these many years. Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer had the wisdom to say yes when my predecessor, Michael Kinsley, came to them in 1995 with a proposal for a journalistic experiment. We’re all deeply grateful to Microsoft for giving us the financial backing and freedom we needed to experiment, stir up trouble, and grow into early adolescence with the new medium. When we published articles that the “shirts” in Redmond can’t have liked very much, they did not complain or otherwise attempt to restrain us. When other online publications were being scaled back or shuttered, our budget remained intact. Even after determining some years ago that it did not much want to be in the media business, Microsoft assured us that we had a place, if a somewhat anomalous one, at the company. In a final burst of vision, the MS execs came to the realization that at this stage in Slate’s development, we would be better off at a media company than at their technology company. But even as Microsoft put Slate on the block, Bill G. let us know we’d be welcome to stay put if we couldn’t find the right buyer.
I am confident that we have found the right buyer for Slate. The Washington Post Co. is known for supporting high-quality publications, for taking editorial integrity seriously, and for being as good as its word. Don G., as we shall now call him, recognized early on the journalistic potential of the Web, making a significant long-term investment in Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive (WPNI), the Post’s online wing. Don wants Slate to become consistently profitable, but he is a patient man and prepared for this to take a while. Like the other people we’ve met at the Post Co., Don is almost suspiciously nice and appears to have some kind of personal relationship with each of the approximately 30,000 employees at his company. Another of these disturbingly nice Posties, Cliff Sloan, has agreed to become Slate’s new publisher.
Though we’ve decided to go our separate ways, Slate and Microsoft will remain friends. We’ll be maintaining a “distribution” relationship with MSN, which means that Slate headlines will continue to appear on the MSN.com home page. Nor are we severing our ties to the Pacific Northwest. For the time being, several Slate employees will continue to work from Seattle. So this isn’t goodbye to all that—just goodbye to some of it.
It is farewell, however, to a few longtime staff members who are leaving us behind. Cyrus Krohn, our outgoing publisher, was Slate’s first employee and has done everything for the magazine short of performing a striptease for an audience of drunken salespeople in Las Vegas. Never mind—Cyrus did do that! He is going to stay on at Microsoft with the MSN Video team. Our associate publisher, Eliza Truitt, who, like Cyrus, began her career here as an editor, is seizing the opportunity to pursue a career in photography. Associate Editor Amanda Fortini is moving to California and will continue to write for the magazine. Helping us through the transition, but leaving thereafter are several other loyal, long-standing, and much-valued Slatesters: Production Designer Lori Johnson, Redmond Office Manager Gretchen Evanson, Development Engineer Krisjan Fritz, Support Engineer Igor Shames, and our payments and newsletters guru, JoAnne Spencer.
Slate, and I, will miss each of them.