Skip to content
Who's in the Video
Michael Wolff is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the founder of news aggregation site He is a two-time National Magazine Award winner, and his latest book, "The Man[…]

Michael Wolff remembers his first time walking into the “depressing, smoke-filled” newsroom after he was hired—and knowing it wasn’t a place where he wanted to work.

Question: What was your first job at the New York Times like? 

Michael Wolff: Well it was the only job I ever wanted to have, I wanted to work for the New York Times and that seemed to me the zenith of anything that you could accomplish and so I was quite pleased to have gotten this job. Now, oddly for the zenith of all things to accomplish, I sent them a letter and said I'd like a job and 24 hours later I got a phone call from them and they said, "When can you start?" 

So life was different at that point in time. But I just felt on top of the world when I got this job and I arrived there and within 10 minutes I knew that this was all wrong. I had miscalculated everything. I never experienced a more depressing place, and I can remember it still vividly of gray filled with smoke up and row upon row of editors all seemingly with facial tics. And I thought, not only if this is not for me but if this is life I knew I was not going to make it. 

Question: Did you learn anything there? 

Michael Wolff: You know, I'm struggling now to remember. What could I have possibly learned except the really most important thing, which is that I did not want to work at the New York Times? Beyond that, I learned how a newspaper works. I learned that a whole set of skills which have not been the least useful in my professional life. 

Question: How did your story on Patty Hearst jumpstart your career? 

Michael Wolff: Reaching back. I was working at the New York Times ruing every second of my life, thinking how was I ever going to get out of here, and thinking that one could only do it the way newspaper people have always done it. I needed a scoop and I would go out and I would dream upon coming upon fires or the sky falling in front of me or anything. And lo and behold, one day my mother called me; my mother was a newspaper reporter herself, and she said, "Did you see the news?" I said, "I probably had but what did she have in mind." And she said Angela DeAngeles, who was a girl who grew up with me in my hometown of 7,000 people in New Jersey kidnapped Patty Hurst. "She's the girl who kidnapped Patty Hearst," my mother said. And I said "Whoa!" and my mother said, "This is your article!" which had not crossed my mind. And I kind of just stopped and I thought, "My God, maybe it is." The newsroom at that time at the New York Times was on the 3rd floor and I ran up to where the magazine was, the New York Times Magazine, which was, if I remember correctly, the 9th floor. I knew one of the editors there and I went and I was very young; I was 19 years old actually. I quickly told him this story and he said, "Okay. We'll commission it." 

And that was it. And I wrote this story; it actually turned out to be a very successful story and I sold the movie rights and it gave me actually the wherewithal to leave the Times and become a freelance magazine writer, which I seem to have been ever since.
Recorded on May 19, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nullam id tincidunt mi. Morbi malesuada nulla sit amet est hendrerit tincidunt. Etiam viverra, nisl id volutpat eleifend, est augue sodales orci, […]