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By Martin Wolk
msnbc.com
updated 4/30/2004 11:06:38 AM ET 2004-04-30T15:06:38

Pioneering online journalist Michael Kinsley is leaving Microsoft's online Slate magazine to become opinions editor for the Los Angeles Times, the newspaper announced Wednesday.

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Kinsley, 53, joined Microsoft in 1995 to become founding editor of Slate in a closely watched experiment that turned the software giant into the unlikely publisher of a nationally respected journal of opinion. Kinsley stepped down as editor of Slate about two years ago, although he has continued to serve as a contributor.

(MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)

At first many observers were skeptical that Microsoft could succeed as an online publisher, especially at a time when the software giant was frequently the subject of unflattering front-page news stories about its business practices. Microsoft has been for years at the center of highly publicized federal, state and private litigation over accusations that it competed unfairly.

But Slate has become an influential and independent voice, especially on political issues, has won many awards for online journalism and has been nominated several times for the National Magazine Awards.

As a business proposition for Microsoft, Slate's success has been less certain, although Kinsley said in an interview that the online magazine has achieved his original goal: Breaking even.

"As honest an accounting as can be done we are, as I understand it, breaking even, maybe even making a little money," he said. "Yes, I think we've met the test I laid down."

Prior to founding Slate, Kinsley was a co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," editor-in-chief at Harper's and longtime editor of The New Republic, where he was author of the "TRB From Washington" column. He is a contributing writer at Time magazine.

At the L.A. Times, Kinsley will be responsible for the daily editorial and letters page, the commentary (op-ed) page and the Sunday opinion section. He said he would write editorials and launch a new column, probably within a few weeks of his official start date, June 14.

"Mike is a writer of wit and insight, a lucid thinker on public policy and an innovative editor known for spotting and developing talent," L.A. Times editor John Carroll said in a statement.

Kinsley said he accepted the job on condition that his new employers allow him to split his time between Los Angeles and Seattle, where he has lived since joining Microsoft.

Kinsley will be joining a newspaper on a roll after sweeping the annual Pulitzer prizes announced this month. The L.A. Times won five of the prestigious awards, including recognition for its coverage of the California wildfires, a series on "the Wal-Mart effect" and columns by its auto critic. The Wall Street Journal, with two prizes, was the only other news organization to win more than one this year.

Despite its many awards, the Los Angeles newspaper often has struggled for national stature with the big East Coast dailies, led by The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Journal. Kinsley said he hoped to play a role in changing that.

"The Internet makes that possible in a way it never was before, so this is the moment, if ever," he said. "But they're very, very committed to California and to their readership there. ... They are not going to sacrifice an iota of that for national attention. They want them both, and there's no reason they can't have them."

Kinsley said Microsoft had always been completely supportive of Slate's independence, although he acknowledged the online magazine no longer has any particular relevance to the company's long-term strategy.

"We're a historical accident, but I think we're a pleasant accident," he said. "People read Slate, and they may not think about Microsoft, but it doesn’t do Microsoft any harm to be putting  out this high quality product which is not any way a shill for the company."

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