A decade ago, aspiring journalists could just think about journalism and leave the financial side to others. Now, to be a successful journalist you have to think like an entrepreneur and understand something about the business you’re in. You have to build your own audience, as distinct from that of your publication. You have to think about what kind of organization can support the work you want to do, with integrity and staying power.
Developing a new business model to support high-quality journalism was an essential part of the Slate experiment when we launched it in 1996. We wanted to see if the internet could help us break out of the pattern where serious magazines perennially lost money.
There have been some ups and downs, to say the least. In the early days, we had the lonely thrill of being “Web pioneers.” Back then, we developed some of the key forms and hallmarks of digital media: news aggregation, blogs, slideshows, the more personal, conversational tone of Web writing and headlines. In 1998, we were the first news site to try a paywall. In 1999, we were the first to get rid of one.