"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 13 November 1995. Updated every WEEKDAY.

If This Is A Salon, Where's The Do?

[Saturn Ad Banner]

The braintrust behind Salon fin

de siècle scored quite a coup

when they not only managed to

finagle a Saturn sponsorship for

their new beta publishing

endeavor, but succeeded in

wrangling an ad banner that

elegantly summed up their own

mission statement in ten words

or less - "No hyper salesmen. No

cyber babes. No virtual stuff."

Lofty (if admirable) goals

for a lofty Web site, perhaps,

but distinctly apropos for a new

magazine deigned from the ground

up to catch that oft-ignored

40-something readership on the

net. Salon may end up admitting

more than they bargained for,

though, as the irony pervasive

throughout the site (intended or

not) charms the orange workshirt

off of even the most "coltishly

petulant" slacker. (And we're

not just talking about the "No

hyper salesman" copy on an ad

banner/hypertext link!)



Editor David Talbot, formerly of

the SF Examiner, created the

Salon concept nearly a year ago

with publisher David Zweig,

former marketing manager of

Time, Inc. The results you see

today revolve around a simple

enough premise: for an audience

past a certain age, the

adolescent shenanigans of net

zines like Suck lose some of

their frisson. A fair enough

proposition, but setting oneself

up as the antipode to HotWired,

while exhilarating to the VCs,

may prove more well-intentioned

than well-conceived.


[Borders Orders]

The roster of columnists, many of

whom seem to volunteer oddly

enthusiastic endorsements of

various antidepressant

medications, deliver a fairly

rote selection of theses - each

delivered in encapsulated,

large-typed 300-word chunks. The

pomp of the discourse, which

ranges from Mary Gaitskill on

Nabokov to Camille Paglia on TV

talk shows, is foiled quite

nicely by order forms at the end

of each article for books

available by the author from

official Salon underwriter,

Borders. This amusingly shady

practice of tying together

journalism and sales gives Salon

the possibly unintended feel of

a Sears-Roebuck catalog,

resulting in some brow-raisers

along the way - as when spy

novelist John Le Carré's

lament that the "multimedia

connections of publishing ...

[are] producing a breed of

self-promoters" is immediately

followed by a convenient 800

number offering audio cassette

copies of the interview for only




And hiring a stable of Wired

contributors to supplement your

core of Examiner defectors may

turn out be equal parts curse to

blessing. Where Salon touches upon

Internet-related issues it reads,

unsurprisingly, like second-rate

Sunday paper fare - diligently

maintaining a ten-foot-pole's-

length distance from any POV that

smacks, in their words, of

"techno-cult" elitism. The lead

feature in its Comix section

dutifully reprints one of our

favorite Tom Tomorrow strips -

taking aim at the cult of Wired,

naturally. Further cementing its

stance, the site as a whole

methodically avoids linking to

outside sites, which may force

some to wonder why this

publication was built for

the Web in the first place.


[Mr. Rheingold's Neighborhood]

Some perspective can be gleaned

from the confused ideology

stuttered in its statement of

purpose, which hails the

Internet as "the most democratic

medium in history," a

technology that can be employed

"to hear all America singing,"

while in the same breath

decrying the "ugly cacophony of

talk radio." Do the editors of

Salon really believe that an

appeal to common courtesy will

incite a "return" to the

revisionist nostalgia of the

inspired discussion of the

19th-century salon? Didn't

contributor Howard Rheingold

warn them that, even on the

WELL, discussion runs a lot

closer to Citizens' Band than

chambre bleu?



Grandiose convolutions aside,

Salon's real purpose is far more

noble than their rhetoric of

"terrible honesty" and

anti-digital fetishism - many of

the writers and artists on staff

not only hold grim first-hand

memories of last year's San

Francisco newspaper strike -

at least one of the key

Salon players (Scott Rosenberg)

was actively involved in the

Free Press, the net-based

workers' publication launched

during said showdown. It's far

from shocking that the talent

involved in that project would

find themselves smitten by the

promise of Internet publishing -

it served them well in their

time of need and will most

likely prove fruitful for them



[Amy Tan]

Eventually, we expect the

SF-based francophiles to work

themselves out of their

anti-digerati corner and grab

the Suck-graduates they so

desire (fluffy arts &

entertainment mixed with

institutional pretension sounds

like a winning formula to us).

Perhaps a greater acceptance of

their chosen publishing medium

will come when they get their

discussion space up and running,

which could give the Salon an

excuse for being on the net. We

had secretly hoped for an area as

vacuous as our favorite online

service, eWorld (Salon is hosted

on the same bank of machines),

but only received notice that the

Salon's, erm, salon area isn't

yet ready for service. Oh, well.

Who needs the interactivity,

when you have the hype?

courtesy of the Duke of URL