My career path

How some of journalism’s all-stars got where they are

Illustrations by Sergio Membrillas

Mary Norris

Copy editor at The New Yorker for more than 30 years, author

  • Tried and failed to be a waitress twice, and was fired from both jobs after two days and two weeks, respectively.
  • After college, worked for a costume company and then drove a milk truck, the “best job I ever had.”
  • Landed an entry-level position at The New Yorker in its editorial library and steadily moved up the ranks, working at the magazine on and off for more than 30 years.

RELATED: “I had a great assignment for Rolling Stone . . . if only I could stop with the throwing up and marathon sleeping”


Lydia Polgreen

Editor in chief of HuffPost

  • First job was at 14, working at a taco place named Taco John’s, with memorable Mexican-spiced tater tots.
  • After college, took an unpaid editorial internship at Washington Monthly and waitressed at night at a Malaysian restaurant.
  • Took a “very traditional” path, moving from small to large papers and eventually to The New York Times in 2002. Left to helm HuffPost in December 2016.

Adrian Chen

Staff writer at The New Yorker

  • Worked at a Minson Brother’s hardware store in Rutland, Vermont, at 16 and then cashiered at Home Depot and Staples.
  • Did market research for Nielsen, watching primetime television and identifying product placement.
  • First journalism job was at Michigan Daily, at the University of Michigan. Climbed steadily from there, working at Willamette Week, The Onion, Slate, Gawker, National Geographic, and, as of February 2016, The New Yorker.

Stephanie Foo

Producer at This American Life

  • Got a summer internship at the San Jose Mercury News at 16, and shortly after, started writing stories for a small newspaper called the Evergreen Times, while also working at a comic book shop, stacking the shelves, one night per week.
  • At 21, moved to San Francisco and briefly worked at the warehouse of an outdoor patio manufacturing company.
  • While running a journalism summer program for FastForward Magazine, started a podcast called Get Me On This American Life, which eventually led to an internship at the radio show Snap Judgment at the age of 22, and a producer position with This American Life at 26.

TRENDING: You’re probably not quoting enough women. Let us help you.


Pamela Colloff

Senior reporter at ProPublica and writer at large at The New York Times Magazine

  • Had two internships in college, at SPIN and The Village Voice.
  • After graduating, took a spontaneous road trip to Austin, Texas, and ended up spending three years waiting tables during the day and freelancing at night.
  • Hired by Texas Monthly as a staff writer at 25, and stayed at the magazine for 20 years, until March 2017, taking a dual role at The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica, the first of its kind.

Doreen St. Felix

Staff writer at The New Yorker

  • At 15, walked into the Housing Works thrift shop on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, offered to “help out,” and landed first job.
  • Freelanced after college, due largely to relationships cultivated on Twitter with editors at Pitchfork and The Hairpin; was eventually approached by Jessica Grose, who hired her as an editor for Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter.
  • Worked at MTV News for a year, until 2017, when took a job as a staff writer at The New Yorker.

Jenni Monet

Freelance journalist

  • Worked at the Cherokee Nation Bingo Hall, before it became a full-blown casino. Dressed in a tuxedo-like uniform, ended up being so bad at the job that “the managers thought I was stealing money from the bingo hall. Turns out, I was just really bad at fast math.”
  • Worked through undergrad with several jobs, including one as a demo ski technician at a resort in the winter, and another as a reservationist with the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum in the summer. Also had stints as a cocktail waitress, hardware store employee, and gymnastics instructor (having been an all-American cheerleader in high school).
  • Has reported in Albuquerque, Durango, Tulsa, Alaska, Qatar, and New York City, where has also worked for local broadcast stations, Public Radio International, and Al Jazeera America.

 

Choire Sicha

Styles editor of The New York Times

  • First jobs included telemarketing, being a coffee boy at World Coffee in Los Angeles, and a barista at Espresso Bongo in San Francisco.
  • Became a health educator and HIV test counselor at the Larkin Street Youth Center at age 19, and went on to work as an assistant editor at the People with Aids Coalition, a paralegal at the HIV Law Project, and an assistant director at Visual AIDS.
  • Became the editor in chief and editorial director of Gawker, then freelanced, then worked as a senior editor at the New York Observer, then went back to Gawker, freelanced again, co-founded The Awl, went to Vox Media, and, finally, was hired as the Times’s Styles editor.

ICYMI: Occupational hazard: On leaving journalism

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.