Slate is an online magazine that covers current affairs, politics, and culture in the United States from a liberal perspective. It was created in 1996 by former New Republic editor Michael Kinsley, initially under the ownership of Microsoft as part of MSN. On December 21, 2004, it was purchased by The Washington Post Company, later renamed the Graham Holdings Company. Since June 4, 2008, Slate has been managed by The Slate Group, an online publishing entity created by the Graham Holdings Company to develop and manage web-only magazines. Slate is based in New York City, with an additional office in Washington, D.C.
A French version (slate.fr) was launched in February 2009 by a group of four journalists, including Jean-Marie Colombani, Eric Leser, and economist Jacques Attali. Among them, the founders hold 50% in the publishing company, while The Slate Group holds 15%. In 2011, slate.fr started a separate site covering African news, Slate Afrique, with a Paris-based editorial staff.
In July 2014, Julia Turner replaced David Plotz, who had been editor of Slate since 2008. Plotz had been the deputy editor to Jacob Weisberg, Slate's editor from 2002 until his designation as the chairman and editor-in-chief of The Slate Group. The Washington Post Company's John Alderman is Slate's publisher.
Slate (ISSN 1091-2339), which is updated throughout the day, covers politics, arts and culture, sports, and news. According to Turner, the magazine is "not fundamentally a breaking news source", but rather aimed at helping readers to "analyze and understand and interpret the world" with witty and entertaining writing. As of mid-2015, it publishes about 1,500 stories per month.
Slate is also known (and sometimes criticized) for adopting self-described "left of center" and contrarian views, giving rise to the term "Slate Pitches." It is ad-supported and has been available to read free of charge since 1999, but restricted access for non-US readers via a metered paywall in 2015.
Slate features regular and semi-regular columns such as Explainer, Moneybox, Spectator, Transport, and Dear Prudence. Many of the articles are short (under 2,000 words) and argument-driven. Around 2010, the magazine also began running long-form journalism. Many of the longer stories are an outgrowth of the "Fresca Fellowships", so-called because former editor Plotz liked the soft drink Fresca. "The idea is that every writer and editor on staff has to spend a month or six weeks a year not doing their regular job, but instead working on a long, ambitious project of some sort," Plotz said in an interview.
In 1998, Slate introduced a paywall-based business model that attracted up 20,000 subscribers but was abandoned afterwards. A similar subscription model would later be implemented by Slate's independently owned competitor, Salon.com, in April 2001.
On November 30, 2005, Slate started a daily feature ”Today's Pictures”, featuring fifteen to twenty photographs from the archive at Magnum Photos that share a common theme. The column also features two flash animated ”Interactive Essays” a month.
In June 2006, on its tenth anniversary, Slate unveiled a redesigned website. In 2007, it introduced Slate V, an online video magazine with content that relates to or expands upon their written articles. In 2013, the magazine was redesigned under the guidance of Design Director Vivian Selbo.
In 2011, Slate was nominated for four digital National Magazine Awards and won the NMA for General Excellence. In the same year, the magazine laid off several high-profile journalists, including co-founder Jack Shafer and Timothy Noah (author of the Chatterbox column). At the time, it had around 40 full-time editorial staff. The following year, a dedicated ad sales team was created.
In 2012, Slate launched the "Slate Book Review", a monthly books section edited by Dan Kois.
In 2013, Slate became profitable after preceding years had seen layoffs and falling ad revenues.
In 2014, Slate introduced a paywall system called "Slate Plus" offering ad-free podcasts as well as some bonus materials. A year later, it had attracted 9,000 subscribers generating about $500,000 in annual revenue.
In June 2015, Slate started moving all content behind a metered paywall for international readers, explaining that "our U.S.-based sales team sells primarily to domestic advertisers, many of whom only want to reach a domestic audience. ...The end result is that, outside the United States, we are not covering our costs." At the same time, it was stated that there were no plans for a domestic paywall.
Slate's articles have presented news and opinions from a liberal perspective, eventually evolving into a self-proclaimed liberal news site. However, the website claims that writers use factual evidence to back up their claims.
Since at least 2006, Slate has been known for publishing contrarian pieces arguing against commonly held views about a subject, giving rise to the #slatepitches Twitter hashtag in 2009. The Columbia Journalism Review has defined Slate pitches as "an idea that sounds wrong or counterintuitive proposed as though it were the tightest logic ever" and explained their success as follows: "Readers want to click on Slate Pitches because they want to know what a writer could possibly say that would support their logic". In 2014, Slate's editor-in-chief Julia Turner acknowledged that a reputation for counterintuitive arguments forms part of Slate's "distinctive" brand, but argued that the hashtag misrepresents the site's journalism: "We are not looking to argue that up is down and black is white for the sake of being contrarian against all logic or intellectual rigor. But journalism is more interesting when it surprises you either with the conclusions that it reaches or the ways that it reaches them."
According to NiemanLab, Slate has been involved in podcasts "almost from the very beginning" of the medium. Their first podcast offering, released on July 15, 2005, featured selected stories from the site read by Andy Bowers, who had joined Slate after leaving NPR in 2003. By June 2012, Slate had expanded their lineup to nineteen podcasts, with Political Gabfest and Culture Gabfest being the most popular. This count had shrunk to fourteen by February 2015, with all receiving six million downloads per month. The podcasts are "a profitable part of [Slate's] business"; the magazine charges more for advertising in its podcasts than in any of its other content.
Slate podcasts have gotten longer over the years. The original Gabfest ran fifteen minutes; by 2012, most ran about 45 minutes.
To be a Slatey writer, you must cut through the media welter [...] This can be done in a number of ways. [One] is to make the contrarian case that all the common assumptions about a subject are simply and hopelessly wrong.