Josh Eidelson was a Nation intern in 2011. He currently covers politics, labor, and inequality as a reporter for Salon. Previously he was co-host of a podcast for Dissent and blogged for The Nation. In this interview, Spring 2014 intern Sam Adler-Bell talks to Josh about his work as a labor reporter and his tips for freelancers.
1. You've accomplished a lot in the short tine since your internship in 2011. How did you get from being an intern to where you are today?
That's kind of you to say. I've had a lot of good luck, and benefited from many forms of privilege and generosity. A few pieces of advice I've found helpful: pitch smartly and aggressively; listen closely; seek out lots of feedback and advice; cultivate relationships; and hone a beat.
2. You once worked for the hotel/restaurant workers union Unite Here (so did I). How would you describe the difference between your work as an organizer and your work as a journalist? Do they overlap?
The goals are different, the responsibilities are different, and much of the work is different. But there are some overlapping skills involved. In both cases, you need to tell stories, and you need to ask good questions, and listen actively, both to draw out stories and to tease out contradictions. I would not tell anyone whose goal is to be a journalist that they first need to be spend five years as a union organizer, but I'm very grateful to have had that experience.
3. You've established a beat for yourself covering labor organizing efforts outside the traditional union/NLRB structure. How important do you think it is for journalists to specialize and/or create a niche for themselves early in their careers?
Among the many things I totally misjudged about journalism when I started trying to be a journalist, I assumed that the way to get freelance assignments was to convince editors you were into as many different things as possible. That turned out to be wrong: most of the assignments that did the most to help me get off the ground were assignments I got because I knew something about labor, at a moment when there was increasing interest in it. I do think there's value in showing some versatility, and also in challenging people's ideas about where the boundaries of a particular beat are. But as a freelancer, my sense is you're more likely to get assignments by seeming like one of the thirty best people out there to cover a dozen different stories, than by seeming like one of the thousand best people out there to cover a million different stories. And one of the best reasons for an editor to take the chance of giving you an assignment is if you come to them pitching a story, based on really knowing your beat, that other reporters don't know is a story yet.
4. What's the best advice you've ever gotten from a more seasoned journalist or writer?
If you're not racking up lots of rejections, you're doing it wrong. (Though it's important to learn from specific rejections too.)
5. Where is your favorite place to write?
I like writing at coffee shops, ideally where the music is good but not so good that it gets distracting, and — I know this is neurotic — where there aren't lots of strangers working intently. Because that can stress me out.
6. Would you rather (A) have an extremely successful and fulfilling career documenting the decline of progressive movements and governments, or (B) fail as a writer but live to see the establishment of a truly egalitarian world order?
Failed writer badly chronicling a just society.
7. What was your favorite part about the Nation's internship program (and don't say happy hour)?
I'll always be grateful for the mentorship I got at The Nation, during the internship and after. My favorite thing to happen to the Nation internship since I left was the move to start paying minimum wage.