The arrival of another magazine on the World Wide Web (a "webzine" in common parlance) is hardly news. A morning spent clicking your way round the Net will bring you dozens of them, ranging from the innovative to the downright awful. The word has got round that anyone can be a publisher on the Net and, unfortunately, a few too many people bereft of talent have taken that literally.
Slate, however, is something different. It comes with two thing that most webzines lack - cash and editorial clout. The cash comes from the dollar-lined pockets of Bill Gates's Microsoft, which owns the title; and the clout comes from its editor, Michael Kinsley, formerly of the New Republic.
The result is that the launch of www.slate.com has been big, big news. Judging from the first issue, however, the Microsoft/Michael Kinsley line- up has produced something more interesting to read about than actually read.
The contents are standard, slightly uninspired weekly fare. The cover story "The Temptation of Bob Dole" examines the arguments for a tax cut. There is a letter-inducing piece of simplistic social analysis "Jews In Second Place", a Committee of Correspondence - which takes an issue every week, while a collection of clever people add new opinions every day - a summary of other weeklies, and The Week/The Spin, which looks at how other people have covered the news.
What we have is a worthy attempt at a magazine. The writing is a distinct improvement on about 98 per cent of what you find on the Net. And the presence of Kinsley, a proper editor rather than a Net-head who fancies dabbling in journalism, has given the Net credibility as a publishing medium.
But what is so shocking about all that? Throwing an editor of Kinsley's clout at the Net, and then finding that he has produced something better than the mass of amateur online zines is as about as surprising as watching Mike Tyson step into the ring with Dale Winton and give him a good thrashing. The victory might be convincing, but what does it really prove?
The main problem is that Slate is crying out to live on paper. Its lengthy static features plead "print me". They even have page numbers, which really takes the print metaphor too far. This would be acceptable in an old title doddering to online status, unable to break out of its paper-based format. But for a magazine that has been launched on the Net, for the Net, it simply will not do.
Kinsley has been eager to state that …