The Washington Post Co.'s purchase of Slate, announced yesterday, ends a local presence for the Microsoft online magazine known for putting a colorful twist on daily news. Microsoft put Slate up...
The Washington Post Co.’s purchase of Slate, announced yesterday, ends a local presence for the Microsoft online magazine known for putting a colorful twist on daily news.
Microsoft put Slate up for sale earlier this year, and rumors spread in September that The Washington Post was close to buying the company. Terms of the deal were not disclosed yesterday.
The site, founded in Redmond in 1996, gained national recognition when it hired Michael Kinsley, former New Republic editor and co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” as its first editor. It won awards for its wit and was called “less self-conscious and more yuppified” than its chief competition, Salon.
The Washington Post said it will keep hands off Slate’s editorial operations, but it intends to use its media business expertise to turn around the sporadically profitable company.
Some changes have already been made to the 30-person organization, including the closing of the 12-person Redmond office. It will continue operating from offices in New York and Washington, D.C.
Outgoing Publisher Cyrus Krohn, Slate’s first employee, will be replaced by Cliff Sloan, former vice president of business development and general counsel of Washington Post’s online division, which includes washingtonpost.com and newsweek.com. Krohn will stay at Microsoft and work with the MSN Video team.
Otherwise, most of the changes are expected to occur on the financial side of the operation.
Scott Moore, general manager of MSN Network Experience, which includes directing Slate, MSN and MSNBC, said Slate typically has broken even financially, with occasional profitable quarters.
Part of the problem, he said, was that Microsoft’s other media-related entities, including MSN and MSNBC, were geared toward much larger audiences, making it difficult to sell ads for all of them at once.
In November, Slate had 5.01 million unique users, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. In the same month, MSN and MSNBC had roughly 22 million and 70 million users respectively, he added.
“Our focus today is on the big categories, like sports and news,” Moore said. “For a niche publication like Slate, we wanted a buyer who would appreciate Slate and continue to distribute it on MSN after the sale. The Post met all of those criteria in spades.”
In contrast to Microsoft’s giant online entities, Slate,
which does not charge for access to its content, is a closer match to washingtonpost.com, which had 7.05 million users in November.
Jacob Weisberg, Slate’s editor, said he saw Slate struggle at Microsoft because of the size differences.
“Microsoft is a huge, huge company and MSN is targeted at the mass market. We are a niche publication,” he said. “I think being in a media company surrounded by people with the expertise on how to sell advertising to a magazine like Slate is positive.”
Samir Husni, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi, said in a way Slate was a “spoiled-rotten kid.”
“It had this big fancy daddy who was bankrolling it,” he said. “Now the question is can it live outside of Microsoft in a completely different light and in one that does not have as much money as Bill Gates?”
Sloan, the new publisher, said Slate wants to take advantage of the overlap in audiences among the three entities — washingtonpost.com, newsweek.com and Slate — without harming the editorial side. “We are buying it for the journalistic voice that it has developed. The last thing we want to do is change it,” he said.
He added that the Washington Post’s Web sites have had success in selling advertising, with revenue from its online publications increasing 59 percent for the first nine months of this year compared with last year.
“We expect to have the same success with Slate,” Sloan said.
Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org