MEDIA PROFILE: Slate's focus on thought and discussion make ittough to pitch

When Slate switched from a subscription to advertising model, its popularity surged - except among PR pros. The news-driven website is a 'Fort Knox' for pitches, but Sara Calabro finds the site's Diary the best chance to get a client seen on Slate.

When Slate switched from a subscription to advertising model, its popularity surged - except among PR pros. The news-driven website is a 'Fort Knox' for pitches, but Sara Calabro finds the site's Diary the best chance to get a client seen on Slate.

Termed "the thinking person's Solitaire

by former editor Michael Kinsley, Slate.com is one of today's most compelling news-driven websites. Kinsley recently stepped down from his post, but this former editor of The New Republic and co-host of CNN's Crossfire brought a lot of experience to the table and, in turn, developed an online magazine with a highly educated and increasingly powerful following.

According to Media Metrix, Jupiter's website measurement tool, 61% of Slate readers have a college degree or higher, and the average household income of readers is $83,126. Since the magazine switched from a subscriber- to an advertising-based model, it has experienced a huge rise in readership.

Slate attracted 2.8 million users in 2001, and consistently appears in the top 10 among general news and information sites. Its increasing popularity has left PR professionals yearning for a tip on how to get their clients a mention in the webzine.

With a greater focus on analysis and discussion than many of its rivals, Slate keeps its readers abreast on current issues, but goes a step further by challenging them to think about the meaning behind what's in the news.

For those in PR, however, the real challenge lies in actually getting through to the Microsoft-owned site that is admittedly "an extremely hard pitch.

Jodi Kantor, New York and culture editor, explains how Slate is a website about ideas. "We do not cover new products, business coverage is limited, and we do not do interviews."

Suzette Brewer, assistant director of media relations for The American Indian College Fund, complains, "They are totally inaccessible. I have pitched them several times without so much as a blip on the radar ... they are like Fort Knox.

Like many, Brewer wonders, "I'm not sure how they assign stories or where they get information."

The answer is, internally. Slate uses few freelance writers or outside information sources. "We do not do a lot of pieces that require experts, and we use minimal quotes,

says Kantor. Slate staffers usually aren't interested in unsolicited news materials, and because there is no set editorial calendar, there is little room for PR pros to work their clients into upcoming features.

For the persistent souls who do attempt the impossible Slate pitch, e-mail is certainly the way to go. With no main phone number to screen unwanted calls, writers at Slate are very hesitant to leak their direct lines. With e-mail, however, they are slightly more lenient. One PR pro points out that some of the writers "have e-mail addresses at the ends of their stories.

He hints, "I have struck up several e-mail conversations with Rob Walker (writer of the Moneybox section), and he always writes back."

Although it may not be what most pitchers have in mind, Slate's Diary section is the best chance they have at getting placement on the site - assuming Eliza Truitt (elizat@ microsoft.com), keeper of the section, finds your client's day-to-day life interesting enough for the section's many followers. So many, in fact, that a compilation book, The Slate Diaries, was published in October 2000.

Each week, Slate invites someone to keep a five-day diary, in which the subject reflects on his or her daily happenings. Readers then comment in a discussion forum. Because the charm of the section is its honesty and directness, it is published with virtually no editing, which requires that anyone pitching needs to have good writing skills. In the introduction to The Slate Diaries, Michael Kinsley writes that the entries are meant to have "the special voice of e-mail, combining the spontaneity of talking with the reflectiveness of writing."

Famed figures as well as less recognizable people fill the diaries with quality writing and compelling subject matter. To name a few, music artist Beck, the prime minister of Pakistan, Bill Gates, and a school nurse from Pennsylvania have all participated. Slate's editors make no exceptions to the rule that the entries cannot be written by anyone other than the person being featured. But, if clients are willing to put the time in (yes, Bill Gates did actually sit down and write his), it presents a rare opportunity to appear on a popular website.

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