Accidental journalist shares knowledge, experience

Time magazine senior writer and bestselling author Lev Grossman gave a talk about his long and unorthodox career in journalism in the Peplow Pavilion last night.

“I’ve been a journalist for about 20 years, and I’ve learned some things along the way,” Grossman said. “I’ve learned these things in the slowest and most painfully embarrassing ways possible. So, I’m going to pass them on to you so you can learn them privately and unembarrassingly.”

Grossman said following his college graduation he did almost nothing for 10 years.

“During that time, I half-started many careers that I didn’t really want to do because, and this sounds glib, I didn’t believe in myself,” Grossman said. “So, my advice to you is this: Figure out what you want, and then bet on yourself.”

Grossman talked about how he eventually got a job at Time deleting hateful and obscene messages from the magazine’s online bulletin boards. In 2000, an opportunity to actually write for the magazine presented itself in the form of a computer virus.

Grossman said one of his editors wanted him to do a cover story about a huge virus that was infecting millions of computers because he was too lazy to do it.

“He had me write it because I worked in the Internet Division, and he assumed I knew something about technology,” Grossman said. “I didn’t know anything, but I stayed up all night and wrote it anyway. It was my first cover story, and it ended up being the worst-selling cover story of all time. Just goes to show you that sometimes your big break isn’t actually your big break.”

Nevertheless, Grossman said he stuck with the magazine and eventually got another big break thanks to the disastrous merger between Time Warner and AOL. He said the financial fallout from this merger was so dire that Time magazine had to lay off a lot of its senior staff.

“I ended up becoming Time magazine’s book critic and head technology writer, making me one of the only people who got anything out of that merger,” Grossman said. “When I tell people that story, they tell me I’m lucky, but it was only partly luck. I was in the right place at the right time, but I had been in the right place for three years. Sometimes you have to get yourself in the right place and just wait.”

Grossman concluded his lecture by urging students not to be disheartened by their failures.

“Throughout my life, there were points where I thought my career was over,” Grossman said. “You have so much room to screw up, and you will screw up over and over again. It’s not the mistakes that kill you; It’s only the mistakes that save you, but only if you learn from them.”

Students said they enjoyed Grossman’s advice and learned more about the field of journalism.

“I came to the lecture because it was extra credit for a class but I was actually really impressed by it,” Katie Wilson, a freshman television arts and theater production double major, said. “I feel like a lot of it was applicable to careers and situations beyond journalism.”


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