Slate Fare

The State of Slate

In a member chat, new editor Julia Turner talks about the magazine’s future, ambitious longform journalism, and venture capital–backed competitors.

Illustration by Charlie Powell

In a conversation with Slate staffers and Slate Plus members on Monday, new editor in chief Julia Turner answered questions about her plans for the magazine’s future.

There’s an edited transcript below; find the original conversation here.

Julia Turner: Hello everyone! This is Slate’s new editor, Julia Turner. Thanks for joining Slate Plus—we’re so excited to have you as members, and I’m happy to be taking your questions this morning. Ask away.

* * *

Jdine: Do you see anything significant in the fact that Plotz was based in Washington, D.C., while you are based in New York City?

Julia Turner: I don’t, really. Since 1996, the Slate editorship has been in Redmond, Washington, (where Microsoft was headquartered), then NYC, then D.C., now back in NYC—and throughout we’ve managed to have strong coverage of politics, culture, business, and other fields.

Jdine: A corollary to that: You have lost some talented quantish policy writers recently (Matthew Yglesias and Annie Lowrey). Do you hope to bring that beat back in some sort of “Moneybox”-type blog?

Julia Turner: On the “Moneybox” front, we’ve been very happy with our current lineup of Jordan Weissmann (late of the Atlantic) and Ali Griswold (late of Business Insider). And you should really be listening to the new “Money” podcast, hosted by Felix Salmon. 

* * *

mantapage: Do you think an attempt at remaking the 1991 movie Point Break is a good idea or a great idea?

Dan Kois, Slate culture editor: Answer carefully, Julia.

Julia Turner: Pass.

* * *

ashe: How about a podcast on race? And I mean a smart, lively, and upbeat podcast, like the rest of the family of podcasts here.

Julia Turner: This is a great idea. I will raise it with the team.

* * *

Horovitz: I love Slate (obvo duh), but I would also love to see more longform reported pieces here, similar to New Yorker or New York Times pieces. For instance, I love the Frescas, like “Searching for Saddam,” but too often I find Slate pieces a little too short and breezy. Are you planning, or have any thoughts about, including more longform articles in the magazine?

Julia Turner: I think launching the Fresca program was one of David Plotz’s greatest achievements as editor, and I think our readers (and the writers and editors who get to work on the Frescas) feel the same way. So I’m not touching that program. If anything, I’m looking to systematize our approach to longform a bit, so that we can have more of it, more consistently, in the magazine.

* * *

Cynthia Rucker: Congratulations on your new position! I’m a 55-year-old high school teacher from Ohio and have been reading Slate since 1998-ish. 

I love Slate, but you have no reporter from the Midwest to report on what goes on in the middle of the country, which is often different from what happens on the coasts. (Same goes for the Deep South, the Extreme North, the Southwest, and Appalachia.) I’d love to see reports from those areas from time to time; for example, the Southwest continues to have water and drought issues—let’s hear what ‘s going on with fixing those problems.

Also, I was just saying to someone the other day that most news organizations report on the abstract policies surrounding poverty, but not on the nitty-gritty details of lived poverty around the country. Could we please have more articles written from non-Ivy writers who are in the trenches with poverty (nurses, physical therapists, teachers, etc)?

Julia Turner: Hi, Cynthia. Thanks for being a member. We are aware of our coastal bias, and we do try to broaden the range of perspectives we include when we make our assignments, and when we recruit new writers. That said, we do have a range of regular contributors in places you might not expect: our managing editor and history blogger are in Ohio, our astronomy blogger in Colorado, our weather blogger in Wisconsin, our policy reporter in Iowa. And Eric Holthaus, the weather blogger, actually went on a tour of the Southwest earlier this year for his Thirsty West series, a great read about the extreme drought they’re facing out there—you should absolutely check it out if that’s a subject that interests you.

As for poverty issues: That’s a great idea, to get some comment from folks in those fields. We used to have more of that sort of voice in the magazine back in the days of the Slate Diary. Perhaps something to look at again.

* * *

lilmaeifert: Are you pleased with current Slate Plus membership, and are you confident in its trajectory? How else do you plan to differentiate and enhance the Slate brand? I’m enjoying, for instance, the NYT Now app and the Economist Radio app. Anything like that in mind?

Julia Turner: We are really thrilled with it so far. We’re excited about the number of members we’ve signed up and about the quality of our interactions with you all. It’s so nice to hear what you guys think about what we’re doing and to have a place on the site where we can convene and chat like this. We’re still working out where to take Plus next, and we remain really curious about what you all are enjoying. The podcast segments and the stories here have gotten really strong responses. We haven’t done much yet with special events for members, but I expect we’ll try that soon too. Do you like the NYT Now app? If so, what about it?

lilmaeifert: Great response—glad to hear all is well. I mention NYT Now because I find the Slate home page and vast content somewhat overwhelming at times, and I think a curated stream of content based on user or editor could be valuable and make me more likely to dive in.

* * *

Seth Stevenson, Slate contributor: Can the Slate softball team get shirts? It would be awesome if we had shirts.

FriscoChris: Pants also. Pants would be good.

mattdick: Not as interesting with pants.

Julia Turner: Seth memorably came down against something called “shirtcocking” in his hilarious dispatches from Burning Man, so pants are a given.

As for the softball shirts: I like the idea. How much is it gonna run us? Can we sell them in the store?

Seth Stevenson: Pretty sure a three-quarter sleeve baseball jersey with “#Slatepitches” in script would be the best-selling Slate store product of all time and would single-handedly fund the magazine for three to five years.

Julia Turner: Any buyers here? Let’s focus group this!

orovitz: How about a Slate softball team versus a Slate Plus readers team? Just saying.

Julia Turner: This is a really fun idea. I’ll bring it to our captains, Seth Stevenson and Lowen Liu.

Seth Stevenson: Bring it. You do NOT want to hit the ball at Miriam Krule. She is a vacuum. 

Horovitz: Me and all us readers will dress like giant Plus signs and crush you. Question: Can Plotz now be on our team?

* * *

Paul Herman: Given the arrival of sites like FiveThirtyEight, Vox, Grantland, and others that you described as “venture-backed,” do you have plans for keeping Slate competitive? Is there any chance you can talk Jeff Bezos into venture-backing Slate?

Julia Turner: I actually think it’s exciting to have so many new competitors. Having big funding rounds allows some of them to invest big in digital content, but that just makes the Internet generally a more exciting place to be for advertisers, which tends to redound to our benefit. And Slate is lucky to have a very strong business team and to be coming off a strong year, so we’ve been able to invest editorially as well, bringing on new writers and features in the last six months. (See: Jamelle Bouie, Amanda Hess, Reihan Salam, and more.)

* * *

samfid: General journalistic question: If you planned to publish a story that would result in angering an advertiser, how would you (could you) proceed? How difficult is it to balance the demand to produce good stories with the need not to crap off advertisers and risk losing revenue? I’m aware that Slate isn’t ad-heavy; I’m just not sure I’ll get another chance to ask an editor a question like this.

And where do you stand on pandas?

Julia Turner: This is a great question. We don’t pull our punches when it comes to advertisers; we do the stories we want to do. Any serious journalistic org does the same. If you’re letting advertisers drive your story decisions, you’re not doing it right. The one thing that is fine to do is let our advertisers know about potential conflicts so they can avoid having their ads show up, say, right next to stories critical of them or their industries. I’m not involved in that, but the business team might give advertisers a heads up from time to time and move their ads around accordingly.

Jeff Friedrich, Slate Plus editor: Julia, @samfid also asked: “And where do you stand on pandas?”

Julia Turner: Oh, right. Trying to dodge that one. Panda ambivalent? Can’t get excited about them, for or against.

* * *

Derreck Johnson, Slate Web designer: You’re at home, bored, flipping through channels on a rainy day. What is the movie that you always have to stop, put the remote down, and watch (no matter where in the film it is)? For the record, mine is Bad Boys.

mattdick: Come on, isn’t everyone’s “anywhere movie” Point Break?

Michigan Guy: No no no, wrong wrong, it’s Die Hard.

Derreck Johnson: Actually I do that with Die Hard: With a Vengeance. It’s the movie that me a Sam L. Jackson fan for life.

Julia Turner: You already know the answer to that question, Derreck: SNEAKERS

* * *

J P McMahon: The feature on Slate that I consistently enjoy the most is “The Vault.” I consider myself pretty well-versed in history, but at least once a week I find myself saying, “Who knew this was out there?” as I peruse the treasure that Dr. Onion has come up with. I would appreciate seeing more history-related material on Slate.

Julia Turner: I also love “The Vault,” not least because Rebecca Onion and I go way back, and it is fun to be able to showcase her omnivorous curiosity for the benefit of Slate readers. New Slate deputy editor John Swansburg is the other biggest history buff here, so it’s definitely fair to assume that we’ll be continuing to develop our coverage in this area. Interestingly enough, there’s a pretty big set of revelations that get made in academic articles and books year after year that don’t necessarily reach lay readers. I think Slate can help bridge that gap—our readers are very interested in history.

* * *

truxel2000: As a woman in leadership, what has been one of your hardest lessons? 

What do you bring to the role that Plotz did not?

Julia Turner: I am very excited to be the first female editor of Slate. My parents were both journalists in the newsrooms of the ‘70s and ‘80s, so I have a pretty good sense of how far the profession has come. I think having a woman as editor is a nice milestone for Slate, and maybe even for the profession (it’s surprising how few of the other thinky mags are edited by women). That said, I don’t think my gender has played a big role in my Slate career thus far, and I don’t anticipate it doing so going forward. 

I tend to be leery of attributing professional traits to gender. When I first got to Slate, I was 24 and a little shy (so many smart people with so many opinions!), and it took me a little while to get comfortable piping up in meetings and on the email aliases. I wondered if that might be a gender thing. But everyone responds differently to the maelstrom of Slate. In the decade-plus since, I’ve seen men and women arrive and play their cards close for a few months while they get the lay of the land, and I’ve seen men and women show up and argue with a top editor on day one on public email. 

* * *

richardjsampson: You were a bit noncommittal about what would change under your editorship (essentially, you said something to the effect of “nothing … and everything, but we don’t know what that will look like yet”), which I understand, as I think you were speaking for the long-term.

That said, what will change immediately? I know everyone is curious about the swearing policy. I suspect any changes will be relatively minor. But there’s gotta be something you’re itching to modify.

Julia Turner: Ha! You noticed I was being noncommittal. Nice catch. I did get quizzed about profanity by the staff immediately, too. I don’t think a blanket ban makes sense—I want it to be legal but rare. And it won’t appear on the home page.

* * *

poorpete: Glad to hear the Culture and Political Gabfests will continue on. Will there an equal or greater investment in podcasts going forward?

Julia Turner: Podcasting as a medium is really taking off. We’ve made a big investment there this year with the launch of “The Gist” and other new shows, and I strongly expect that to continue. Stay tuned.

* * *

Eric Holthaus, Slate blogger: Which Game of Thrones character are you?

Julia Turner: Oh, God, none of them, I hope. They’re all evil, or doomed, or both.

* * *

Dan Kois, Slate culture editor: What’s YOUR favorite soda, and what ambitious journalistic program will we name after it?

Julia Turner: I’m a Coca-Cola girl. Let’s find the journalistic equivalent of the pause that refreshes.

* * *

davidswinney:  When will the Slate Plus-enhanced mobile app be released?

Julia Turner: We’re targeting the end of September for bringing Slate Plus to iOS apps.