The lead story was apparently an attempt by editor Michael Kinsley to establish the magazine's credibility and independence from its parent company right off the bat. Kinsley has been preparing for a flood of criticism by pundits eager to assess whether the software giant can cut it in the publishing world.
In his inaugural editorial, Kinsley attempted to address that issue head-on. "We do not start out with the smug assumption that the Internet changes the nature of human thought, or that all the restraints that society imposes on individuals in 'real life' must melt away in cyberia," he wrote.
But Kinsley, former editor of the New Republic, apparently has not been able to sever the umbilical cord to the print world completely. For one thing, Slate still uses page numbers, despite its electronic format. It was also announced that a paper version of the magazine will be available for an annual subscription of $19.95 or for free through distribution by the Seattle-based Starbucks gourmet coffee chain.
Some say Kinsley, also the former host of often-raucous CNN talk show Crossfire, has risked his journalistic career in trying to make a go of a serious online publication, especially one that's not about computers. In addition, questions have been raised about Microsoft's ability to stay objective about the news when the company itself has come to dominate so many headlines.
Kinsley dismisses these concerns in the magazine's first issue, which officially debuted at noon Pacific time.
"Slate is owned by Microsoft Corp., and that bothers some people. Can a giant software company put out a magazine that is free to think for itself? All we can say is that Microsoft has made all the right noises on this subject, and we look forward to putting the company's hands-off commitment to the test," the editor wrote. "But the concern strikes me as misplaced. In a day of media conglomerates with myriad daily conflicts of interest--Time Warner, Rupert Murdoch?s News Corp., Disney-ABC--how can it be a bad thing for a new company to begin competing in the media business? A journalist who worries about Microsoft putting out a magazine is a journalist with a steady job."
As for the publication's name, Kinsley chose it because he felt that it suggested a "hard reality" that contrasted well with the difficult-to-define state of cyberspace.
Microsoft's foray into publishing will eventually extend well beyond Slate. The company is already ramping up personnel for a series of regional online magazines with entertainment guides customized for several major cities, according to sources familiar with the plans.