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Washington Post Buys Microsoft's Webzine

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2004; Page C01

The Washington Post Co. said yesterday it is buying Slate in an effort to boost the media company's online traffic but does not plan any editorial changes at the eight-year-old Web magazine.

In announcing a deal to acquire Slate from Microsoft Corp. for an undisclosed sum, said to be in the millions of dollars, Post executives said they would keep Jacob Weisberg as editor and most of the 30-person staff.

_____Essential Background_____
Microsoft in Talks to Sell Highly Rated Online Magazine, Slate (The Washington Post, Jul 24, 2004)
Dear Diary: Today I Took Slate for a Ride (The Washington Post, Mar 11, 2002)
Michael Kinsley Is Logging Off As Editor Of Online Slate (The Washington Post, Feb 12, 2002)
Online Media: Old News? (The Washington Post, Feb 21, 2001)
Sites Find New Ways to Profit (The Washington Post, Feb 25, 1999)

Asked for reaction, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said by e-mail: "Mostly I'm really proud of Slate's pioneering role in online journalism, and confident it will continue to lead the way. As one of the early -- albeit minor -- participants in Slate's diary section, I'll always feel incredibly close to it -- and will definitely remain an avid fan and reader." He added: "Graduating to media ownership seemed the obvious next step for Slate, and I'm confident it will thrive wonderfully under The Post."

Weisberg pronounced himself "delighted" with the move. "Microsoft has been a great place for us for the last 8 1/2 years," he said, but "it was a tough place to develop our business because it wasn't a media company and doesn't want to be a media company. They're really big and we're really small. The joke was always that we're almost a rounding error, but a rounding error probably exaggerated our status."

Ann McDaniel, a Post Co. vice president, said: "Our goal is not to in any way change Slate. We think it's important that it keep its personality. Over time, we hope to find a business model that will make money. You're not suddenly going to see a different kind of Slate."

Jeff Jarvis, who writes a blog called BuzzMachine.com and is president of Advance Publications' Internet arm, called the sale "a smart move" because "The Washington Post has been in many ways clever and smart about online. It will support Slate in a good environment that understands media in a way that Microsoft, God bless them, which tried many times, didn't." Had the sale fallen through, Jarvis said, Microsoft "wouldn't necessarily have been a happy home" for Slate once "they already tried to give you up for adoption and failed."

As if to underscore Slate's independence, the magazine ran a piece yesterday by media columnist Jack Shafer that criticized a front-page Washington Post series on the murders of new and expectant mothers. "I was glad to whack the new master one more time," Shafer said yesterday, adding that he plans to continue doing so and has found that the newspaper "has a remarkably thick skin" about criticism.

The Post reported in July that Microsoft was looking for a buyer and that the leading contenders were The Post Co. and the New York Times Co. The Times did pursue a possible deal, according to people familiar with the matter. The Post's Web site already has an alliance with MSNBC.com, which is partly owned by Microsoft, and former Microsoft executive Melinda Gates, the wife of the company's founder, was named to the Post Co. board in September.

Cliff Sloan, general counsel of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, will become publisher of the money-losing magazine when the deal takes effect next month.

Scott Moore, general manager of MSN Network Experience, called the sale "bittersweet," saying: "It's a little like seeing your kid go off to college." But Microsoft now has "a mass-market publishing strategy," he said, and "Slate is more of a niche publication. Slate wasn't going to get as much attention as it really deserved."

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