Slate Fare

David Plotz Says Goodbye

I’ve loved editing Slate. Now it’s Julia Turner’s turn to run the magazine.

Outgoing editor David Plotz.

Photo by Andy Bouve/Slate

A couple of months after Slate launched in June 1996, our founding editor, Michael Kinsley, invited me to work for a few weeks from our headquarters in Redmond, Washington. At the time, I was the assistant editor in Slate’s two-person D.C. office, but we were owned by Microsoft, and Kinsley thought I should experience life on the mother ship.

Even though he had lived in Seattle only a few months, Mike already evangelized the fleece-and-espresso lifestyle, and a couple of Saturdays into my visit, he invited me to join him on a hike to a hot springs. I couldn’t believe it. I was the lowliest staffer at Slate, and Mike Kinsley—my boss! my journalistic idol!—proposed to spend a whole day with me.

I met Mike at a trailhead near Stevens Pass, and we hiked a couple of hours up to the spring. When we arrived, we found a small pool colonized by four hippies, two of whom were smoking pot, one of whom was simmering vegetables in the spring, and all of whom were buck-naked. Mike and I paused a few yards away. He turned to me, said, “When in Rome,” and pulled off his bathing suit. I stripped and followed him into the pool. We passed a lovely, fragrant afternoon in the spring. I remember thinking at the time: I’m skinny-dipping, in a hot spring, with stoned hippies and my boss—seems like a great job!

And it was.

When I was hired at Slate in March 1996, I had literally never been on the World Wide Web—we still called it that. I wasn’t unusual. Hardly anyone had been on the Web. Slate wasn’t even Slate yet: There was a meeting shortly after I arrived when Kinsley announced he was ditching the beta name Boot because he had just learned it was slang for “puke.”

I stayed. And I stayed. I wrote an article for the first issue—it’s not terrible! Mike assigned me what may have been the Internet’s first “aggregation,” a daily roundup of the key stories in other magazines. I covered the Clinton impeachment. I investigated the Nobel Prize sperm bank. I wore Bill Gates’ clothes. I blogged the Bible. I did podcasts years before I even owned an iPod. There was never a reason to leave: Every time I wanted to try something different, Slate threw me a new challenge. I graduated from the junior writer on an editorial staff of a dozen, to the Washington editor, to the deputy editor, and for the past six years, the editor.

I grew up at Slate. I married while I was at Slate. My three kids are Slate kids. I became a boss at Slate and a much better journalist, thanks to the most brilliant and funny and kind colleagues imaginable. I shared offices with Seth Stevenson and Will Saletan, and I wrote better purely by osmosis. I watched Jack Shafer and Jodie Allen scalpel through my bad drafts, and learned to edit. As Emily Yoffe’s man Friday, I saw how a devoted journalist throws herself into her work. I collaborated with Matt Turck and John Alderman, discovering in the process that you can’t have a great magazine without a great publisher. And I had the chance to apprentice under two of the best editors in digital or analog or any other kind of journalism, Mike Kinsley and his successor Jacob Weisberg, who’s still my boss as chairman of The Slate Group.

But today, after 18 of the happiest, most satisfying years any journalist could ever have, I am stepping down as Slate’s editor. I’m not leaving for any secret reason. Maybe it’s the rule of six: Mike edited Slate for six years. Jacob edited Slate for six years. I’ve been editing Slate for six years, and I’m ready to try something new.

It’s an excellent time for Slate to have a new leader. We’ve grown massively in the past few years: We’re coming off the most successful year in Slate history, with record traffic and financial success, and a spectacular redesign. Our staff is the best it has ever been. In recent months, we’ve published everything from the Adele Dazeem Name Generator—the most widely read piece in Slate history—to Josh Levin’s unputdownable 18,000-word story about Ronald Reagan’s “Welfare Queen.” We launched our membership program Slate Plus. Mike Pesca started his sublime podcast The Gist. And Dear Prudence offered useful advice to a woman who wanted to pay her college tuition by working as a prostitute.

More importantly, the best possible editor of Slate already works at Slate. Julia Turner, until today my deputy editor, succeeds me as editor. Slate Culture Gabfest listeners already know that Julia is brilliant and funny, and has impeccable taste in dance music. She’s also humane, wise, and brave. I can’t wait to see what she does with the place.

What astonishes me about the Slate I’m handing over to Julia is how little it has changed since Mike dreamed it up in 1996. Yes, in those days we published 10 stories a week, and now we publish close to 500 stories, blog posts, podcasts, and videos. Yes, we used to have 250,000 readers, and now we have 25 million. But the Slate DNA is the same. In the digital eons since Slate was born, Internet journalism has experimented with push, pull, subscriptions, slideshows, blogging, vlogging, slogging, disaggregation and aggregation, quizzes, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, podcasts, #longform, tablet-first, mobile-first, social-first, ladies-first, and me-first. But day after day Slate has remained smart, funny, experimental, and provocative.

What am I doing next, you ask? Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and I are going to keep doing the Slate Political Gabfest. (It would take an onslaught by rabid pandas to get me out of the Gabfest studio.) I’ll also be “editor at large” for Slate, which means I’ll help Jacob and Julia with Slate projects whenever they ask. But mostly I’m going to spend time looking for my next big thing by meeting interesting people and swapping ideas—maybe with you!

And whatever I end up doing next, my homepage—and my online home—will always be Slate.

Read Julia Turner’s article about her plans for Slate.