Former ''New Republic'' editor talks about Microsoft, ''Slate,'' and the future of the web

By Peter Kobel
June 14, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

As the highest-profile journalist to stick his toes into cyberspace, Michael Kinsley knows he’s got one tough assignment. The former editor of The New Republic and liberal talking head on CNN’s Crossfire will debut Slate, his Microsoft-backed ”politics, policy, and culture” webzine (, on June 14, at a time when many online magazines are having trouble navigating the Web’s dangerous Darwinian waters and turning a profit (last week, The Web Review, the closest thing to an institution in this fledgling medium, announced it would cease publication). Kinsley, 45, admits to being ”a bit terrified” by the media scrutiny, but when we caught up with him by phone recently, he seemed relaxed. And no wonder: He’s happily ensconced in Seattle, some 2,700 miles outside the Beltway.

1. Might the Web go the way of the eight-track tape?
There’s a chance my thing will fizzle. There’s no chance the whole thing will fizzle.

2. What about critics who complain that you can’t take webzines to the bathroom like you can, say, ”The New Republic”?
Let’s hope screens get smaller and lighter. Here at Microsoft — so we’re not talking about normal human beings — I saw someone come out of a stall with a laptop.

3. You were originally going to call the magazine ”Boot”?
Yes, but then I was reminded that it’s a slang term for barf.

4. ”Slate” sounds like a color in a J. Crew catalog. What’s it mean?
Practically nothing. It sounds hard and real, but it’s all bulls—. I like the fact that it’s not hip and ironic. I don’t like the we’re-so-cool attitude that’s so popular on the Web.

5. ”Slate” has a theme song?
We’ll have opening music. For the first month, it’ll be Fats Waller’s [recording of] ”You Meet the Nicest People in Your Dreams.”

6. What are the strangest things you’ve seen while surfing the Net?
I found some naked people. I found a site that converts any word you want into anagrams. Slate is going to have a puzzle, and I’d like to link to [that site].

7. Do you miss Pat Buchanan and ”Crossfire”?
I miss my friends, the gossip. E-mail helps you keep up with gossip.

8. How’s the food in the Microsoft campus cafeteria?
It’s not bad. They have strong competition — the food in Seattle’s so great.

9. Have you had many dealings with Bill Gates?
I met him once, and we exchanged one E-mail. We get along very well.

10. Did you send him a present for his newborn?
No. Do you think I made a mistake? I don’t think he needs 18,000 gifts from employees. What would I get him?