Zoë Schlanger was a Nation intern in 2012. She is currently a reporter for Newsweek. In this interview, Spring 2014 intern Laura Cremer, who works with the Institute's Investigative Fund, asks Zoë about her career and who inspires her.
1. What advice would you give to recent intern alumni, current interns, or future interns?
To recent alumni: Reach out to other alumni! Former Nation interns are some of the warmest, most engaging people I've ever met, and probably the best crowd to turn to for career advice. If you know someone is a Nation intern alumna, and you admire their work or just think they're cool, ask them to grab coffee. You're part of a pretty special community now, so reach out.
To current interns: I highly recommend going to happy hour with your other current interns, frequently.
To future interns: Don't be intimidated by your first week. Or at least know that everyone else is too.
2. What's it like to be assigned to write about an extremely wide range of topics, as you are at Newsweek? As interns we're often advised to specialize — do you find covering everything at once to be difficult? educational? fun?
This is my first full-time writing job, and I love it. I try to get as much science reporting in as possible, but it is great to get to move around widely and learn about different things. I just wrote a piece about the very fierce Chilean rapper named Ana Tijoux, which is not something I ever thought I'd do. I get to write about abortion laws, water crises, chemical contamination, and just about anything else my editors agree is important. It has been really fun.
Then again, specializing is also great, and I hope to do that down the line. I'd like to write about health/science/the environment in longer-form ways, one day, so it's important to me to find ways to get experience covering that stuff. But I've found that being flexible and willing to jump in the mix for any story is a very valuable thing this early in my career.
3. You've already worked at half a dozen publications, less than a year out of college: which experience or experiences (besides the Nation Internship!) have been the most useful (or interesting) for you as a young journalist?
Besides the Nation internship, the most valuable thing I've done was to edit my college independent alternative news blog, NYU Local. It was started by students as an answer to NYU's official college paper, which rarely reported on stories critical to the administration. I spent all four years writing for NYU Local, learning how to develop contacts, and I eventually broke a few decent stories. I edited other writers' work, hired new writers, and learned a bit about how to run the business side of a small internet publication. That definitely taught me more than the few journalism classes I took in school, and it was all made twice as fun by the fact that everyone stayed up all night coordinating on Gchat to put out the next day's content. The energy around it was great.
4. What draws you to journalism, and how did you first know you wanted to write? Is it reporting in general, as a process, or getting the word out on particular topics that's exciting to you?
It is definitely both of those things. I love reporting because I love talking to people. It seems like impossibly good luck that it is a professional requirement to call all the top experts in any given field and listen to them talk about whatever they've spent their lives studying or practicing. It's a master class every day.
Besides that, I think the chance to tell stories that help people connect with topics like the health risks of under-regulated chemicals or the human toll of energy extraction is what draws me to journalism. It's about giving people a chance to care.
5. Who are you favorite writers, either for content or style — or both? Favorite publications to read?
I love Mac McClelland's writing. Her human rights reporting is totally alive and engaging and full of beautiful characters. Elizabeth Kolbert was probably my first journalism hero — everyone should read her new book. Amy Harmon's reporting at the NYT on environment and health is incredibly smart and measured. I think Kate Sheppard (formerly at Mother Jones, now at the Huffington Post) is an awesome environmental reporter. Ann Friedman's columns always make me feel better.
I think Nautilus is my favorite publication right now. Their website is beautiful and their narrative approach makes science journalism downright literary.
6. What is your favorite writing that you yourself have done?
I haven't done anything that I'm really proud of, yet. But this story about what happened to an NYU campus in Singapore might be my favorite. It turned out to be a very tangled story. I also had a lot of fun reporting on the student movement in Madrid for The Nation. But I'm still waiting for the chance to write a big piece that I feel really good about.
7. What was your favorite part about The Nation's internship program?
Being around so many smart, lovely people. But fact-checking is a close second. I loved picking apart long stories and putting them back together, fact by fact.