The Buzz

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LET'S BE CLEAR: The Buzz loves Slate way more than any other Microsoft-branded item. More than Excel. More than Word and Windows. More, even, than the infamous video of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer freaking out onstage. So The Buzz is not cheered by the news that Microsoft's seeking a buyer for Slate, since it's all but impossible to figure out how it can exist in its current fashion if sold.

Slate's been around since `96. Reports suggest the property broke even a couple of quarters last year. That's "breaking even" with the mighty leverage of the Microsoft Network behind it. As for the general economic fate of smart Web-content plays ... well, let's introduce you to Salon.com and toast the memory of Inside.com. "The biggest software company has not been able to make a penny," said one deal-side exec. "Who could?"

A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment, but the New York Times Co. and Washington Post Co. are said to be interested. It's hard to see how big names like those, who've struggled to turn a buck online themselves, could do so with that bugaboo of profit-smart, magazine-style journalism. Ask Atlantic Monthly. Ask The New Yorker. The best case for Slate is to end up like those, in the hands of a deep-pocketed owner who doesn't answer to Wall Street, and who's willing to lose a few million while showing off a really cool new toy. Like, oh-Bill Gates.

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