David Plotz’s decision to step down as Slate’s editor was deeply disappointing for professional media-watchers like me: No rumors of newsroom drama. No reports of clashes with the brass. Just a cheery goodbye note and the assurance “I’m not leaving for any secret reason.”
Reached by phone, Plotz said twice that he’s had a “wonderful time” atop Slate’s masthead. “There’s a person who can edit the magazine better than I can,” he said of newly named editor Julia Turner. His resignation was effective today, Plotz said. Turner’s in charge, and Plotz is now an editor-at-large with an amorphous portfolio: “It’s one of those titles you create because you’re not exactly sure what the person does,” he said.
“The job does not bring me the same satisfaction today that it brought me three years ago,” Plotz said. “What am I gonna do, die here?” He said he liked that Turner said he was “dropping the mic” in her note about her plans for the publication.
“I’ll leave it for others to judge, but I like that phrase,” he said. “I don’t want to coast in the job or do the job poorly.”
Plotz was fairly certain the final story he edited with his old title is Reihan Salam’s piece making a case for closing New York’s Stuyvesant High School. With the change, Slate’s gravity is shifting northward to New York, where Turner is based, from Washington, D.C., where Plotz works. Should D.C. staffers be concerned that a New York story is his swan song?
“Slate grew up with this disparate, spread-out culture,” said Plotz, who has worked at Slate since 1996. “We were born in three offices,” he said, and “the culture is very strongly organized around dispersed working.” He did allow that having Turner in New York along with Slate Group editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg and Publisher Matt Turck will “be a shift” but said it would not be a “radical change.” The company’s VP for tech, Dan Check, and General Manager Brendan Monaghan are in D.C., as are some senior editorial staffers.
In his adieu-to-the-old-job story, Plotz wrote “mostly I’m going to spend time looking for my next big thing by meeting interesting people and swapping ideas—maybe with you!” I asked whether he was moving into a role similar to Marcus Brauchli’s, who after stepping down as The Washington Post’s executive editor became an adviser to Graham Holdings Company. (Slate is owned by Graham Holdings, which used to be named The Washington Post Co. before it sold its namesake paper to Jeff Bezos.)
“I’m doing something similar in the sense that I’m still on staff and I’m still drawing a paycheck,” he said. If Graham Holdings CEO Don Graham “has specific projects for me, I’m there for him,” he said. Will those opportunities be confined to publishing matters or will he be on the lookout for more home healthcare opportunities? “If I could find the Graham Holdings Company another great hospice company I’d do it in a second,” Plotz said.
I also asked him about David Carr’s tweet suggesting a Satanic undertone to the six-year tenures of all three Slate editors:
— david carr (@carr2n) July 14, 2014
“I wouldn’t like to tip my horns too much here,” Plotz said, “but you know, Kinsley, Jacob and I were all white Jewish guys born within a couple decades of each other, so make of it what you will.”
Correction: This post originally called John Alderman Slate’s publisher. Matt Turck holds that position.