There was a time when electronic magazines and newsletters meandered around the Internet without much attention.
It was a publishing medium ignored by the rest of the world until given commercial viability by PC proliferation and the multimedia-friendly World Wide Web. (Money can't buy you love, but it can certainly buy market penetration.)
The people with answers said all this nascent field needed was the credibility of a major player, a corporate force that would suck additional business behind it the way a speeding semitrailer pulls trash into its airstream. This was to be the mission of Slate, which is the e-zine bankrolled by Microsoft and edited by former New Republic editor Michael Kinsley.
Slate (www.slate.com) made its debut last month, and Kinsley's baby appears to look a lot like him. The graphic content is purposely understated, verging on dull. The tone is thoroughly buttoned-down Beltway, but with a passable knowledge of what's truly hip.
It was expected to be content-driven, with an insider's take on politics. But with a sugar daddy like Microsoft picking up the tab, Slate was also expected to take some risks.
Body piercing? That's so 1992. Anne Hollander cobbles together a piece hopelessly mired between "Oooh, gross!" and the curmudgeonly and dismissive voice one would expect from the thoroughly ossified "60 Minutes" essayist Andy Rooney. For yuks, dig out the "Is Microsoft Evil?" discussion thread that never answers the question but lobs a few bombs at Bill Gates.
On the upside of the parabola, the debut issue highlights the effectiveness of multimedia with an audio file of Irish poet Seamus Heaney reading his work. Political wordslinger Roger Simon reveals what takes place at those quaint little diners in Iowa and New Hampshire where presidential candidates go to )) meet real people.
Those nicely composed shots of White House wannabes show little of the actual mayhem. Those real people often get whacked in the head by cameras, stepped on, elbowed, cursed at, shoved, and are generally seen as breathing scenery. It's an enlightening take on the sound-bite mentality of the White House
O. J. again
At Salon (www.salon1999.com) there's more of an eclectic offering, including what one can only hope will be the last O. J. Simpson story ever written. In addition, writer Anne Lamott looks back on her 10 years of sobriety. An interview with Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Ford ("Independence Day," "The Sportswriter") opens a few windows into this writer's psyche. There is a link between two central themes in his life: why he has been with the same woman for 32 years and why some of his best writing centers on the aftermath of personal turmoil.
Shooting the breeze
For a respite from all heaviness, there's Mr. Showbiz, found at www.mrshowbiz.com, a relentlessly breezy e-zine that takes nothing seriously. It's the largest independent entertainment site the 'Net, with most of its material both original and timely. It's a hybrid publication of the kind only possible on the Web, mixing elements of a daily newspaper and a weekly magazine. It's evolving into a must-read for folks interested in entertainment.
Pub Date: 7/14/96