Microsoft Gets Crimson Tinge

Slate

Contrary to the stereotype of the Harvard graduate, Michael E. Kinsley '72 spends more time downplaying his many successes than talking about them.

In the last 25 years, Kinsley has spent 10 years as managing editor of The New Republic and six years hosting CNN's "Crossfire."

Kinsley currently heads Slate, Microsoft Corp.'s on-line "Webzine," a magazine on politics and culture.

But looking in the Class of 1972's 25th anniversary report, none of these achievements can be found. Kinsley simply lists his occupation as "journalist."

Ask Kinsley about being named a Rhodes Scholar and he says that he was probably selected because of "a lapse of standards."

"Not all Rhodes scholars are scholars, although many of them are," Kinsley says. "I just wasn't one of them."

"It was a period of distraction, and I certainly didn't take as much advantage of the opportunity to learn as I should have," says Kinsley, who concentrated in economics at the College.

Kinsley also brushes off being offered the position of managing editor of The New Republic before he even graduated from Harvard Law School (HLS), saying that "it was a much smaller operation back then."

Kinsley says he convinced HLS to allow him to finish his law degree at George Washington Law School so he could take on the job starting in January of his third year.

"The job of managing editor at The New Republic is essentially the same job that I did as an editor 10 years later," Kinsley says. "And the position of editor is largely an honorary one."

In his usual fashion, Kinsley sidesteps the role he played in the growth of the liberal magazine.

"I like to think that I had some influence on both the flavor of The New Republic and on its stature," Kinsley says. But he credits Martin H. Peretz, lecturer in social studies at Harvard and the current owner of The New Republic, as "the one who made it the influential magazine it is today. It was at a very low ebb when Marty bought it, and he has changed it greatly."

Kinsley credits The Crimson with teaching him the skills he has needed to get to the top. As the vice president of The Crimson, Kinsley says he spent most of his time at the newspaper.

"The guy was just phenomenal--just look at what he's accomplished since then," says Patrick R. Sorrento, The Crimson's production supervisor since 1967. "Everything he did, he did absolutely right. Whatever the assignment, he did it."

Despite being "the obvious star of his comp class," as Sorrento describes him, Kinsley was never elected president of The Crimson. Instead, Kinsley was named vice-president, the only one in the newspaper's history.

"They gave him a title without any real responsibilities," Sorrento says. "Mike had a cockiness about him--he knew he could do all these things--and some people held that against him. But his cockiness was warranted."

Sorrento says Kinsley was notorious for being able to break a story almost before it even happened.

"He was so good at everything he did, that it didn't take him four hours to write a story," Sorrento says. "He would come in and bang up a breaking story in 30 minutes."

Kinsley says working on The Crimson gave him a healthy skeptical view of the world, a style that is endemic in his columns, many of which have been published in Time and Harper's.

"There was certainly a premium put on a certain posture of worldliness at The Crimson," Kinsley says. "In retrospect, it is somewhat comical."

Kinsley, who lived in Mather House as an undergraduate, also says that the tumultuous nature of the times made working on The Crimson especially exciting.

"The U.S. was heavily involved in Vietnam and then there was the invasion of Cambodia," Kinsley says. "Politics just swallowed everything."

But when Kinsley returned from Oxford in 1974 as an assistant senior tutor in Kirkland House and a law student, he says the political activism had already faded.

"I remember one of the students came to me in 1976, and she was in deep agony because she couldn't decide what bank training program to work on in the summer," Kinsley recalls. "To me, it was sort of like asking what planet she should visit."

"College for me was a time when the whole world was supposed to be turned upside down," Kinsley adds. "The idea that someone would go to a bank training program was stunning. The Business School was a foreign country."

Kinsley, who is now employed by Bill Gates and the Microsoft Corp., says he does not think along those same lines anymore.

His latest venture involves Slate, an on-line magazine on politics, policy and culture published by Microsoft.

"I was interested in Slate because I wanted to edit a magazine again and, like everyone else, I discovered the Internet," Kinsley says, who continues to freelance and serve as a contributing editor for Time. "[All] journalists dream of having their own publication, and the idea of creating a publication in a new medium was doubly exciting."

Working on the Internet, however, has presented special difficulties that Kinsley says he expects will be solved when new generations of readers grow more accustomed to modern technology.

"Many of our potential readers are not on the Internet, while others do not want to read it off the computer screen," Kinsley says, although he notes the magazine has a printable edition available for free at "read@slate.com". "Maybe we'll just have to wait for current college and high-school students to become interested in Slate before we see our readership go up."

Kinsley says that his new magazine is trying to increase its audience.

"Right now, we're aiming for any readers that we can get--intelligent, politically involved--the kind of readers that read the magazines that I worked for over the years," Kinsley says.

But though Kinsley may question the popularity of his new undertaking, the magazine, launched in June 1996, was already serving an estimated 70,000 readers only two months later.

"Editorially, we're still evolving towards the direction of a news magazine," Kinsley adds. "We are much smaller than Time and Newsweek in terms of staff, but we try to give you a perspective of the week. Our house slogan is 'Give us an hour and we'll give you a week."

Nevertheless, Kinsley's typically nonchalant attitude resurfaces when discussing Slate's future.

"We'll just see how it progresses," Kinsley says