updated 7/23/2004 4:06:22 PM ET 2004-07-23T20:06:22

Microsoft Corp. is in talks with five or six potential buyers for its online magazine Slate, an executive said Friday.

Scott Moore, general manager of MSN Network Experience, which handles content for Microsoft’s MSN division, said the company is in early discussions with several media companies over a potential sale.

(MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

Moore declined to identify the companies, and cautioned that the deals might not come to fruition. “We’re at the beginning of the process,” he said.

Moore said Microsoft has been approached before about a possible sale of Slate, but this is the first time it is taking the offers seriously. He said Microsoft is especially interested in a deal that might allow it to create a partnership with another media company, which could potentially help increase advertising revenue on the MSN site.

Microsoft is most interested in a deal that would allow Slate to continue to be found through the MSN network of Web sites, Moore said. But he said it wouldn’t be opposed to a deal that also put Slate content elsewhere, either on the Web or in print.

He stressed that Microsoft is committed to continuing Slate even if a deal does not come through.

“There’s not any desire to sell Slate for the sake of selling Slate,” he said.

Jacob Weisberg, Slate’s editor, called the interest in buying the Web site “flattering.”

“Microsoft’s been a wonderful place for us for eight years. The question is really whether there would be a better place in the next stage in our development,” he said.

Weisberg declined to comment further on the specifics of any discussions, or how a change of ownership might be a better move for the Web magazine.

Slate is part of Microsoft’s MSN online division, which includes its Hotmail e-mail service, Internet search portal and other Web content.

The MSN business unit swung to an operating profit of $121 million in Microsoft’s fiscal year that ended June 30, after losing $567 million in the 2003 fiscal year. The company attributed the turnaround to an increase in advertising revenue and a focus on keeping costs down.

Slate itself is breaking even at this point, Moore said. The site attracts about 5 million readers a month.

Political commentator and columnist Michael Kinsley founded Slate with Microsoft’s financial backing in 1996, and was its editor until February 2002. In April, Kinsley was named editorial and opinion editor at the Los Angeles Times.

During its eight years online, the Web magazine has become known for its political commentary, quirky news and arts features and, occasionally, its celebrity contributors.

Former stock analyst Henry Blodget wrote about the trial of Martha Stewart for Slate and recently contributed a “Wall Street Self-Defense Manual” on investing. Blodget paid $4 million to settle charges from regulators about his stock ratings and was banned permanently from the securities industry.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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