There’s an old saying: Woe betide the person who disagrees with Julia Turner. Not because Julia is intolerant of opposing opinions—quite the contrary! But because the verbal and intellectual demands placed upon the disagreer are significant. You must be at your best. Even bantering with Julia can be a kind of sweatless workout. To be Julia’s deputy, as I remain until the sun sets today, is to have the unenviable job of occasionally, productively disagreeing with her.
But as these collected remembrances make clear, the thing about Julia is that even as your sparring partner, she is always on your side. There is an ever-larger mission or plan to which you are both harnessed, merely working out the details—and there is no one better at reminding you of it. As a leader, she exemplifies what she prizes about Slate: the coolest of heads and warmest of hearts. Also entered into the record: her world-encompassing intelligence, her vim (to use a fave mot of hers), her daring, her kindness, her inviolable taste, and her command of a wild and woolly language.
All our sparring gloves will go a little less well used after this week. There is no better ally and fellow fort builder than Julia Turner, and few are as equipped to marshal her own prodigious force. She is, in short, a terror. We’ll miss her dearly. —Lowen Liu
Forrest Wickman: Here are two key facts that say a lot about Julia. First, I am pretty sure she worked six days a week pretty much the entire time she was at this publication. Second, I am not entirely sure of this. In other words, Julia has long been one of the hardest-working people at Slate, but she’s also not the kind of person who would ever draw attention to that. And I think this says a lot about her dedication and selflessness more broadly. There may not be as many wacky stories about her as there are about, say, her predecessor, David Plotz (though there was that one time she led us all on a night hike and we got busted). But, while she still injected plenty of her own unmistakable sensibility into, say, Slate’s still-underappreciated eight-article encomium to the movie Sneakers, I think her greatest contributions will have been the quieter ones, that extra sixth day of work she put in that few ever noticed. We’ll miss you, I Junta Ruler!
Susan Matthews: Here is an extremely Julia Turner image: her striding into Montero’s during Slate’s annual retreat, probably sometime around midnight, carrying several bags of burgers and fries for general consumption. Everyone else had migrated over from the previous bar about 30 minutes earlier to embark on karaoke, but Julia, wisely assessing the status of the room, realized the magazine would benefit from a second dinner of sorts, so she went and found it and brought it to us. It’s a story that distills the essence of the job of an editor in chief: You provide the direction and fuel that allow everyone else to make music. I will always be grateful to her for hiring me to work at Slate, just as I will also always remember how disappointed she was when I told her during my interview that, despite working at the National Audubon Society, I was not, in fact, a birder. She hired me anyway, and in her characteristic way gave me the tools I needed to grow and learn here, and I am so glad. I wish her all the best plus many new birds in Los Angeles.
Chris Molanphy: I’ll always be grateful to Julia for championing the quirky pop-chart thing I do. The time she told me at a Slate holiday party to consider writing exclusively for Slate, after I’d only been contributing a few months, made a real impression; I signed a contract to be a regular Slate feature contributor a month or two later. Julia made me feel like I had a home here.
But my most wistful Julia memory is connected to the Culture Gabfest and, natch, a pop song. Specifically, it was on the 2015 Summer Strut show—the first where the ’Festers let me sit in for an entire all-music episode. I was discussing how that year’s Song of the Summer competition had been hijacked by two songs from the prior winter and spring, respectively—“Uptown Funk” and “See You Again.” And when the producers cued up Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s two-hankie weeper, as “See You Again” reached its soaring chorus, Julia threw her arms up, closed her eyes, and mouthed along with Puth’s “Oh-oh-OHH-OHHHH!!!” chant.
The CultFest’s running joke on Julia is that she’s a passionless robot, but what I loved about this moment is that it was as full of emotion and guileless as she was. I know Julia is staying on the CultFest and trust I will get to podcast alongside her in the years to come, but I will miss sitting next to her and will cherish my memory of her, as the rappers say, wavin’ her arms like she just don’t care.
Torie Bosch: During the heyday of the Fresca, I was copy editing an article Julia had filed a couple of days before she was going to head offline to report out what would become a masterpiece: “Lost in Penn Station,” published in March 2010. She reminded me that she wouldn’t be around for a little while, and my response was something like, “How is Slate going to survive without you for two weeks?” (Or three weeks, or however long the Fresca was at the time.) Her answer: “Why does everyone keep saying that?”
We kept saying it because Julia was always someone you could turn to with a question, or for a brilliant idea about a topic totally outside of her expected wheelhouse, or an incisive and witty observation to make during those pre-Slack days of massive Slate email chains, or for advice about how to handle a tricky piece (or a tricky human being). A couple of weeks without Julia really did seem outlandish.
I thought about that moment when Julia announced she was leaving, because I still can’t wrap my head around the idea of a Turner-less Slate. Julia was the first person to send me a welcome email when I joined as an intern in 2005, and I have been grateful since then for her smarts, her kindness, and her encouragement. Slate will survive, of course—thanks in no small part to the example she has set here for so long.
Tom Vanderbilt: I wasn’t in the Slate office, so our actual face-to-face interactions were fleeting, but whenever Julia and I did meet, I was often tempted to bring up friends from our college days—except that we didn’t go to school together. I think it was just her warmth and likability, and what we like seems more familiar to us. (There’s research!) Also: Even by Slate standards, Julia was immensely adventurous, willing to take a gamble on pieces that sounded marginal at best at first but ended up having a comparatively large engagement in the world (e.g., my piece on pallets, my five-part—count ’em—series on walking, a seminal piece on the rise of self-storage units, etc.). Julia was willing to go to that weird place with you, intellectually, and then deliver you there with judicious editing, pointed inquiries, and proper good humor.
Bryan Lowder: As part of my Fresca project on gay identity, it was determined for some reason that I should have a drag queen come into the office at 95 Morton and paint me on video while she interviewed me about the essay. This all took place in a closed conference room. So when I came out in full face, wig, and heels along with Miz Cracker, I recall half the office being freaked out and half looking giddy. Naturally, the first thing I did was toddle over to Julia’s office. She looked us up and down and said, “Well, you can’t stay here.” For a split second I thought she was upset by our lewks, but she quickly added, “You look too amazing to stay in the office! Go somewhere more fabulous!” So we curtsied, made our way through the West Village at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday, and had Goldfish with the three lesbians at Henrietta Hudson. Iconic management decision, that.
Mike Pesca: The first ever Hang Up and Listen trivia question was as follows: Who is Julia Turner’s favorite member of the Boston Red Sox? Now, I have left Hang Up and Listen, Julia has left Slate, and Jason Varitek hasn’t had a major league at-bat since 2011. The answer, by the way, was Dustin Pedroia. No, it was Jason Varitek.
June Thomas: Julia is the most human editor in the history of Slate. I mean that as no diss to the magazine’s previous editors—all of whom were delightful and definitely not robots—but even while exhibiting astonishingly smart journalistic instincts and revealing a deft business brain, Julia’s humanity always shone through. Although she can be a terrifyingly tough negotiator, she’s an immensely kind person who cares deeply about the magazine and people whose work fills it, whether they show up in one of our offices every day or write one piece every few years. She’s also really, really good at her job. Back when we first started working in the same city, I’d occasionally wander by her office, having worried over a set of headlines for what felt like hours. Pretty much every time, I’d offer the briefest description of the story, and she’d throw out a perfect set of headlines in what seemed like 10 seconds. Discussing story ideas with, or being edited by, Julia was one of the great thrills of working at Slate. I’ll miss her!
Mark Joseph Stern: Julia has a comprehensive theory for every social phenomenon. I’m never quite sure if she toils for hours devising schemata to impose order upon chaos or if she just concocts genius hypotheses on the fly. Either way, her insights make every conversation both soothing and intellectually stimulating.
My favorite Julia theory—conveyed over drinks at the Big Hunt, naturally—explains why so many shy people become reporters. Seems counterintuitive, no? But Julia speculated that shy people embrace the formal, tidy mode of communication inherent to reporting, the clear roles assumed by reporter and source. Introverted reporters don’t dread their jobs because the anarchy of everyday conversation is absent; in its place is the comforting artifice of rules and obligations familiar to every journalist. Sheer brilliance.
Every Culture Gabfest devotee will recognize the Julia Theory, but I feel so lucky to have spent six years soaking them up firsthand. Julia is one of the world’s great talkers, the kind of person you just want to chat with forever so you can pick her brain about, well, pretty much everything. Her endless curiosity has fueled Slate for 15 glorious years, and I only hope Los Angeles appreciates her as much as we do.
Christina Cauterucci: I hope every writer has the chance to work with an editor whose judgment they trust as much as I trust Julia’s. She has fostered a work environment that brims with impishness (one of her favorite words for the Slate ethos) and gives writers the freedom to pursue their interests, passions, and silliest, most impossible ideas. It’s hard for me to describe Slate at its best—sharp-witted, sparkling, skeptical, tough but generous—without also describing Julia.
The L.A. Times is getting one of the most fiercely loyal colleagues I’ve ever known, an editor who will jump unbidden into another journalist’s Twitter thread, when that journalist is criticizing one of her writers, to shut the whole thing down with an extraordinarily eloquent burn. She also has an omnivorous news appetite. I once wrote a lengthy essay on the Trump administration’s use of women’s pain as punishment via abortion restrictions and family separation; the next day, I wrote a ridiculous post that required me to make a GIF of Ariana Grande finger-banging a hurricane. Julia DM’d me later that day to let me know that both pieces were equally crucial to Slate’s mission.
I will always hold up Julia in my mind as a model of strong, compassionate leadership, in part because of the way she handled the day after Trump’s election in 2016—an event for which none of us were prepared, either emotionally or editorially. In the middle of that chaotic day, Julia set aside time for us all to gather and … talk about our feelings, basically. The impromptu speech she gave us was equal parts personal reflection, eulogy (for America), and pep talk (for the work that lay ahead). It was exactly what we needed that day: a reminder that our boss, a person, saw us as people too.
Ann Heppermann: While it’s easy to talk about Julia’s poise and grace and smarts and all-around badass-ness, I want to praise her for her voice and laughter. I spent years with Julia’s voice swimming in my head, and let me tell you, it is delightful. I love the tone and timbre, the way it rises and falls as she lobs ideas and fun zingers with the Gabfest crew. What she may not know, but I will reveal now, is that whenever Julia snorted with laughter I made sure to always keep it in the Gabfest. I love, love, love her snort! I can still see the waveform, a pointy witch hat bursting on my screen. It always took her a while to compose herself after a snort, too. So yeah, let’s raise a glass to the exuberant, uncontrolled snort laughter of Julia Turner!
Leon Neyfakh: My most vivid memories are my most recent ones, so at the risk of shortchanging four happy years of working for Julia Turner, I’m going to share something that happened just a few weeks ago. It was a Tuesday, and I was working on something in the Slate podcast studio while Julia, Stephen Metcalf, and Dana Stevens were getting ready to tape the Culture Gabfest. I had just dipped into the control room to save a Pro Tools session (or something) when I heard Julia address me through the studio monitor. She wanted to know if she remembered correctly that I’d gone to the high school featured in the new docuseries America to Me, which the Culture Gabfest panelists were going to be discussing on that week’s episode.
I was touched that Julia had any idea where I went to high school, but I was even more touched that she wanted to know what I’d thought of the series. Speaking into a mic so she could hear me through her headphones, I confessed that I’d only watched two episodes and that I’d found them pretty hard to get through. There wasn’t enough plot, I said, and there were too many talking heads spouting abstract education jargon. As I criticized the show, I looked at Julia for clues as to whether she agreed with me, but she kept a perfect poker face. All she did was nod in acknowledgment of my assessment and smile inscrutably before saying it was time to tape.
The next day, when I listened to the Gabfest and heard Metcalf open the segment on America to Me by praising it to the high heavens, I did so with a burning curiosity: Was Julia on my side or not? I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sense of pride and validation I felt when I heard that she was. Part of it was relief: It could have turned out that her poker face in the studio had been hiding disapproval of my judgment. But mostly I was just happy that a person with perfect taste—in journalism, in art, in pretty much everything else—was on my wavelength.
Maybe this sounds superficial or immature: a cool story about how, one time, my boss agreed with me about something. But the truth is, if Julia had said the documentary was amazing, I would have checked my instincts and immediately watched the rest of the episodes to try to see what she saw in it.
The best part of working at Slate with Julia at the wheel has been the experience of trusting a leader with my whole heart. A lot of people go through their professional lives never once having that experience, and it’s a total gift. With apologies to America to Me—and Steve Metcalf—I will always think of it as an emblem of how lucky I’ve been to work here while she was the editor.
Ben Mathis-Lilley: Shortly after I started working at Slate, my parents were in town and I met them for lunch. We got these comically large Italian sandwiches in the Village, then walked back to the garden near the Morton Street office and were about to sit down to eat them when I saw that Julia and Jacob Weisberg were also in the garden. So I brought my parents and our sandwiches over to say hello to my bosses. It turns out we walked over to them like five seconds after Jacob offered Julia the job of editor in chief of Slate. Julia, I’m sorry for interrupting a pinnacle moment of your life with my mom and dad and three enormous footlong Italian meat sandwiches!
John Swansburg: I owe so much to Julia Turner I hardly know where to begin. She edited my first real piece of professional writing, taking a chance on an idea most editors would have dismissed out of hand. It would prove to be just the first of many times she’d help me channel an enthusiasm into a piece of writing. (It helped that we have some enthusiasms in common.) Later, she offered me a job at Slate—despite an objectively wobbly interview—kicking off a thrilling decade of editing at a magazine I had long adored as a reader.
Over the course of those 10 years, Julia gave me opportunities far too numerous to catalog here and showed me, through her example, how to make the most of them: with ambition, poise, and an unfailing sense of humor. Julia has this wonderful conspiratorial quality about her as a leader: She always made me feel like I was a crucial accomplice in the great caper that is putting out a magazine. She also has the rare knack for being a great boss and a great friend, hats than can be difficult to wear at the same time.
As I was thinking of Julia’s exciting next chapter covering the New Hollywood, an Old Hollywood anecdote came to mind. Billy Wilder admired no filmmaker more than Ernst Lubitsch, so much so that he had a sign made to hang in his office. It read, “How Would Lubitsch Do It?” it read. I’d like a sign that says, “How Would Turner Do It?” But I don’t need a sign. I ask myself this question reflexively whenever I’m confronting a tough decision of an editorial nature or otherwise. I can hear her in my ear right now, in fact, pointing out that this encomium is far too earnest—a bit treacly even. I’m going to ignore her sound advice, just this once.
Allison Benedikt: Slate’s New York office used to be on Morton Street, in a leafy, quaint, quiet West Village neighborhood that I loved very much. When Slate announced we were leaving that space for the leafless, ugly, crowded Metrotech Center in Brooklyn, I was very, very sad, and not just because it would make my commute from New Jersey a living nightmare, but also because I don’t like change—particularly change that requires one to leave the West Village for the Metrotech Center. So this was my mindset heading into work, from Jersey to Penn Station to Jay Street, on the first day at the new office. Things only devolved once I got out of the subway and tried to locate our actual building, a place that Google Maps cannot find and that Allison Benedikt also could not find. By the time I got to our actual office, I was sweaty, frazzled, and pissed. But there was Julia—always sunny, forever-unflappable Julia, waiting at the door to greet us. She smiled. I barked, “I’m never fucking coming to this place again,” and found my desk. And really, that’s the sort of boss she has always been: open to grumbling and criticism, calm when everyone else is freaking out, excited about new people and ideas and office spaces, and the most optimistic skeptic I know. I still miss the old Morton Street location, but now I’ll miss Julia more.
Daniel Engber: The first time that I ever talked to Julia, in January 2005, she offered me a plum assignment: Would I be free to write a piece for Slate on whether commandos in the Army really “go commando”? Was I ever. That would be my second byline on this website; Julia also edited my third and fourth and fifth and sixth and many dozens (hundreds?) more. I’ve been on this lucky path ever since, drafting off her decisive, clarifying edits, her marvelous ability to mend a structure or a phrase, and her endless stores of good advice and Emergen-C. For 13 years she’s been a treasured colleague, boss, and mentor. I won’t forget the many times at work that she described some column that I’d written, or some idea I’d floated in a meeting, as having been particularly “Eng-bear-ian,” with a warm, drawn-out second syllable. I’ll never know exactly what that meant, but there was never any doubt that Julia imbued the phrase with flattery and used it as a way to nudge me toward my own success. I take this as a measure of her graceful leadership, and of her virtue as a friend. One might even say it’s Julia at her most Tur-nair-ian.
Jeremy Stahl: Julia has played an integral role in supporting my career, and for that I will forever be grateful. This is supposed to be about her, though. We previously worked together when I was part of our audience development team and she was still deputy editor. I saw then up close how much of the grunt work of an editor in chief Julia has been doing for Slate for years. That sort of work—like working with the business team, helping to craft audience development strategies, taking a lead role in redesigns—is essential to producing a successful publication, even as it is not covered in glamour. Julia has been so quietly good at this work for so long that at times I’ve forgotten she’s a writer and editor first—and a really, really good one! On the few occasions when one of my projects has made it to her desk because something was big enough, or potentially important enough, or required difficult decisions from the very top, I’ve been quickly reminded of that fact. Those stories generally involved the sort of investigative work that demanded difficult choices of whether to publish something and how to present it if we did. In these rare cases, Julia managed to always find and ask the difficult but necessary question and then ultimately—if you could answer—reach the sometimes tough but absolutely correct decision. I wish for Slate’s next editor to be somewhere near as good!
Seth Stevenson: I would love to tell you about Julia the friend—a person who’s had my back at some very fragile moments in my life. But as this is for public consumption, I will instead tell you about a more public Julia: Julia the editor of Slate copy. I think I might have been her first regular writer, back in 2003, and it immediately became clear to me (as it later would to everyone else she’s edited) that whatever Julia touched, she improved beyond measure. The wise deletion of a so-so paragraph. The delicious addition of a tart phrase that elevated a sentence. The hocus-pocus structural shuffle that illuminated an argument. Julia is of course brilliant at running an organization. But, perhaps no surprise, she is also a full-on magician with words. As I write this, I am watching her pack up her desk in our Brooklyn office. I can’t believe she’s leaving, and I will miss everything about her.
Laura Bennett: At a recent Slate karaoke outing, Julia and I watched a bunch of male colleagues perform a very passionate rendition of “I Want It That Way” and decided: We wouldn’t be out-sung. So we turned to “Wannabe.” I would wager that there’s never been a two-woman girl band with worse voices and more attitude, or a greater height differential. I’ll never forget dancing and screaming “I really really really wanna zigazig AH” with my boss like a couple of demented teenyboppers, both of us playing it pretty loose but also both type-A enough to really want to NAIL those lyrics, gripping our microphones murderously and having the best possible time. This has become one of my most cherished Turner memories in part because it captures much of what I love about Julia: the way she’s made me feel like an equal always, a mischievous co-conspirator in the project of making Slate even as she ruled over us all with shrewd, firm judgment and eternal chill. No one else could make, say, planning built-if-sold editorial packages for the business side feel less like doing work than hatching an adventure. One of my favorite J.T.-isms is the word zazzy, which she deploys to describe anything creative and playful and snappy, and it’s hard to imagine a better word to describe Julia herself, the zazziest of them all. As a boss she is motivating, sure-footed, and wise—her optimism and energy have inspired me daily—but she is also, quite simply, the most fun.
Heather Schwedel: “This piece is brilliant, Heather. I love it.” That’s from an email Julia sent to me in 2015, when I was a contract copy editor, that I shamelessly saved because it meant a lot to me. It’s probably no coincidence that the stories of mine Julia complimented became the ones I’m proudest of. There’s no one whose taste I respect (and want to hear about on the Culture Gabfest) more. And not just taste in stories and cultural artifacts but in all things—she even had the coolest office chair. Of course, the thing that I probably benefit most from is her taste in people, in that she saw the potential in me and that she put together such a wonderful staff, people whom I’ve been so lucky to get to learn from and work alongside.
Jesse Baker: Julia doesn’t know this, and perhaps I’m not the only one who feels this way. But over the past few years, as I have found myself in trying situations at home and especially in professional settings, I ask myself, “How would Julia handle this?”
And the answer is simple. Julia would not let this get the best of her. Julia would not snap. Julia might well prove inspired to cuss. But she would certainly not cry over this. No, I tell myself, Julia would rise above this nonsense, and so will I.
I think, too, that the world would be a better place if we could all learn to better channel our inner Julia Turner. Julia and Elizabeth Bennet. And probably RBG. But especially Julia.
Rebecca Onion: I knew my friend had her shit together, because I had seen her ace many tests, big and small, professional and personal, over the years I’d known her before I started working at Slate. But I never knew how truly magically shit-together-y Julia is until I saw her bossing. Watching her lead people, at meetings and retreats and even just via perfectly worded emails, has given me such a sense of friend pride. Julia’s bone-deep affection for Slate was legendary among our mutual friends, and when I came to work for the magazine and went to my first retreat, in 2013, I watched that in action. I saw her have so much fun with everyone, in such a genuinely Julia way, and thought, “I can’t believe I get to be part of this vital thing my pal has helped build. I hope I do a good job.” What a blessing to have been work friends for a while!
Jeffrey Bloomer: During major events, such as elections, Slate tends to gather in a single workspace in our offices for easier assignments, idea generation, and jeering at cable news. On Nov. 8, 2016, Julia happened to sit next to me in the office we chose. She was a couple years into her tenure as the editor of Slate at the time; I was a fairly junior producer. As key states remained in play far later than anyone expected, the air seemed to leave the room, along with the color in some people’s faces. At some point, I heard the news director lean over to Julia and suggest we needed to make new plans for coverage. I looked over and saw Julia be silent for a moment, which she’d later mention she found to be a key skill—the ability to pause and give yourself a moment to think, even when you’re in the middle of a conversation. She helped marshal the coverage that night with an evident sense of regularity and calm, and then, days later, led a more emotional staff discussion of what the four years would mean for us and the magazine. I felt lucky to have a leader like that, especially then.
Josh Levin: In her 15 years at Slate, Julia has displayed unerring editorial judgment. The site’s readers and writers and editors have all benefited from that judgment, an example of which was on display in an email she sent me in September 2008, which read in part, “I’m convinced it’s going to be big. And it merges so many weird culture trends there will be much to pick over. I would very much like to read you on it.”
That was Julia persuading me to review the movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua, which I did. You might be shocked, as I was when perusing Wikipedia this afternoon, to learn that Beverly Hills Chihuahua was indeed big, earning $150 million worldwide at the box office and another $60 million in DVD sales. Like I said: unerring editorial judgment.
In my email excavation, I found that Julia didn’t just assign me that piece. She also sent a separate note thanking me for writing it, which is a thing not many editors do. But Julia is not like any other editor I’ve ever worked with or worked for. I have never, ever in my professional life had a stronger and more consistent advocate than Julia Turner. She’s supported me and lifted me up, and when the woman in charge does that for you, you can do more and better things than you thought possible.
Gabriel Roth: There’s a lot to say about Julia as a boss, but I want to cite two things specifically. The first is her frankly ludicrous ability to assemble sentences on the fly. If you’ve heard her on a podcast, you know that she can unspool an elaborate metaphor across a series of increasingly complex syntactic formations without faltering for an instant in phrasing or intonation. She talks like that all the time, whether she’s advancing some bureaucratic stratagem across a boardroom table or assessing the produce at the salad bar of a local Hale and Hearty franchise. Having the ordinary conversational business of office life conducted at so exalted a level can make you feel like you’re in a Preston Sturges comedy about plucky newspaper people, which is an extremely enjoyable way to go about putting out an online magazine.
The second is how she responds when presented with a problem. When you tell her about a situation that you’ve been unable to resolve, she pauses and practically sniffs the air like a dog catching a scent. I came to conclude that Julia loves problems, because a problem is an opportunity to bring one’s intelligence and resources to bear; it’s an opportunity to work, and work is a source of joy. I’m sure this is crap, and that Julia actually hates problems just like everyone else does, and that she wishes that things would just resolve themselves properly without her intervention. But they don’t, and life is in fact just one problem after another, and it’s only bearable if you treat those problems as opportunities to work and treat work as a source of joy. It’s an extraordinary and benevolent trick to play on the people around you, and a great way to run an online magazine.
Chad Lorenz: For years at Slate I had the daily honor of calling up Julia to size up the day’s batch of content, pick which articles and videos we would showcase on the next morning’s homepage, think through the art each promotion needed, and write the wittiest headlines we could, often inviting in another editor or two. It was an intensely creative exercise and a hell of a lot of fun. What I found most striking was the deep thinking and good-natured give-and-take that Julia brought to the collaboration. She poured forth brilliant headlines but was also quick to highlight someone else’s good idea or spot a kernel of something usable while we riffed on phrases or, more frequently, descended into absurdity. Occasionally, we’d get stuck, and Julia wouldn’t hesitate to point it out, sigh, and have us keep going with an encouraging word. Sixty to 90 minutes later, we’d end up with a sheet full of headlines that we felt was Slatey enough to put on the site. Then, 24 hours later, we’d do it again. Day after day, week after week, month after month, for years.
The first hundred or so times, I admit to being terrified by the pressure, nearly paralyzed. It wasn’t that Julia was intimidating; she was far too authentic and kind to make anyone nervous. It was more about the performance anxiety when given the opportunity to dazzle her. (By the 300th call or so, I think I got over it.) But even as it got more comfortable, it never got boring. This ritual was always the highlight of my day and was the most joy I’ve ever had at Slate.
Now I’m the one at the center of this Slate tradition, running a daily call with a couple of colleagues to write our most prominent headlines. (Hi Seth! Hi Evan!) And every day when we convene, I take what I learned from Julia—how to conjure a headline idea out of thin air, how to tweak a pretty good idea to make it great, how to spot and fix a problem headline—and put it to work to produce crackling homepage promotions … and tweets, and Facebook shares. But I also try to emulate the way she’d keep the meeting fun and creative by cultivating an energy that gets my colleagues percolating with colorful and goofy ideas. In this and many other ways, a little of Julia’s spirit will live on at Slate—day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
Jessica Winter: About five years ago, there was an event for the Hang Up and Listen podcast at a swanky space. Someone had been assigned to take the stage beforehand, rev up the crowd, and tell them nice and true things about the magazine. He flaked, for reasons lost to time. Julia, then Slate’s deputy editor, was just arriving at the venue as the fact of his flaking became urgent; some slightly panicked event coordinator asked her if she could take the stage instead, and Julia shrugged and got up there as cheerfully and casually as if she’d been asked to pass the salt, riffing knowledgeably about Hang Up and Listen, bantering with the crowd, and basically comporting herself—under hot lights, with hundreds of eyes upon her—as if she’d had it planned out all along. That kind of easeful confidence, that deep-seated love for and knowledge of Slate, that uncanny ability to speak extemporaneously in complex and perfectly articulated paragraphs, and maybe most importantly, that essential and happy quality of gameness is why she was such a beloved leader of Slate, and why she was seen as one long before she became editor in chief. Julia’s warmth, generosity, and humor are a gift she gives freely—one that her friends, her colleagues, and her readers will always treasure.
Ron Rosenbaum: I’ve had the pleasure of working with Julia since she came to Slate as an assistant editor in the last century. I’m tempted to select a single word to sum up what made her such a fine editor (and person): temperament.
I’ve worked with what seems like countless editors, some of them (very few) as smart and savvy as Julia, but there have been divas and one thing Julia is not is a diva. She’s been, as in the Willie Nelson song (“Till I Gain Control Again,” written by Rodney Crowell) “like a lighthouse” in a storm, so calm and judicious (a judicious lighthouse? Would Julia put up with that?) and willing to offer wisdom rather than demand her version of a word, a sentence, a graph.
There have been all too many occasions when just as a piece of mine was going live, I would convince myself I had to ask for an addition or a subtraction and she has been kind enough—in most cases—to understand, despite the inconvenience when I know she has eight other pieces revolving around her brain. Kindness, so rare a quality in a top-level editor. That’s what I’ll remember.
Hanna Rosin: When I grow up I want to be Julia Turner. That is seriously true. I have recently been trying to teach myself to get better at making decisions. And the main model in my head is Julia Turner. Sometimes I will send her an email thinking, this is too trivial. Surely she will just dash over a quick response. And it never happens. Never. No matter what you send her, the answer comes back thoughtful and correct. I like to imagine Julia’s mind as an assembly line of wisdom. The questions come, they go in a queue, the mind considers, wisdom emerges. It’s a beautiful thing. Those people out west are lucky as hell.
Dana Stevens: The first time I saw Julia Turner was at the Slate company retreat in 2004—an era so distant that the yearly event still happened in Washington state, not far from the lakeside mansion of the magazine’s then-owner, Bill Gates. I’m not sure I spoke to her at that opening party, other than maybe a quick introduction, but I remember noticing—forgive me for my shallowness, J.T.—that she was beautiful, stylish, and tall. In very short order, those adjectives (while remaining apt) would be buried under an avalanche of other more substantial qualities. She was keenly intelligent, analytical and imaginative in equal measure, and funny as hell, with a news sense and vision of what online publishing could be that was far beyond her years. I’m sure that I, who actually am far beyond Julia’s years, would never be able to survey the full scope of a publication like Slate and get a sense of where it was at, where it needed to be, and how to get it there. And that’s a task that Julia has thrown her whole self into for as long as I’ve known her, even before she became the magazine’s editor in 2014, only 10 years after I first admired the casual summer dress on that junior editor across the lawn.
Since we started recording the Slate Culture Gabfest—a three-way conversation we’ve been taping weekly, along with co-host Stephen Metcalf, since early 2008—I’ve had the occasion to interact with Julia in a way her colleagues in the office probably seldom get to: just shooting the breeze about whatever caught our interest that week, from Drake’s inscrutable dance moves to our favorite parts of speech. Her curiosity is insatiable, her good spirits under pressure inexhaustible, and her taste always surprising—I can never predict what Julia is going to say about a given movie, book, TV show, or cultural phenomenon under discussion. Her ability to speak in syntactically complex yet crystal-clear whole paragraphs has more than once reduced Stephen and I to stammered requests for a do-over on our last comment.
Because Julia has become so much more than a colleague, co-podcaster, and boss to me, I have to share a few flashes of memory from our outside-of-work friendship: It was a rare treat coasting on her years of birding experience in the Sydney Zoo aviary when we visited Australia for a live Gabfest show in 2017. And it was a great honor when, while we were rooming together at one of the later Slate retreats at the Mohonk Mountain House, she confided in me that she was pregnant with twins and swore me to secrecy until the coast was clear to announce. (I swear I never told a soul, Julia, even when a colleague who shall remain unnamed floated the theory and asked me point-blank.) I have danced at Julia’s wedding, drank her A-plus homemade iced coffee, and watched her laugh-cry for three full minutes while describing her favorite book as a child: the long-out-of-print Need a House? Call Ms. Mouse, the story of a gifted rodent architect capable of building whatever whimsical yet ingeniously functional structure her animal friends require. I’m sure Julia will perform equally magical tasks as the head of the L.A. Times’ culture section. But this mouse house won’t be the same without her.