My First Byline: Interning at the New Republic in 1986

Watch Jacob Weisberg and William Saletan talk about the start of their journalism careers.

Jacob Weisberg and William Saletan on CSPAN.
Jacob Weisberg and William Saletan on CSPAN.

Photo illustration by Slate. Screenshots courtesy CSPAN

This is the first piece in an occasional series that will explore the early careers of Slate staffers. 

For the Slate offices, the water cooler story of December was the recent turmoil at the New Republic. There were different kinds of gossip. “What this means for journalism’s future” gossip. “My friend who works there and what they will do now” gossip. And there was also “When I worked there” gossip, since many Slate staffers have also worked for the New Republic.

And thankfully, this discussion surfaced this bit of archival treasure, a 1986 C-SPAN interview with reporter-researcher interns from the New Republic. It features current Slate Group editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg and Slate national correspondent William Saletan. –Jeff Friedrich

Who found the video?

Jacob Weisberg: I just saw a link to the video on Twitter. I had no choice but to watch it immediately. 

How do you think the internships of the 1980s differ from today? 

William Saletan: My recollection of those days (and I don’t know whether it’s accurate) was that it was really hard to get an internship where you could write and be published. The good news is, now it’s a lot easier to get that kind of internship, because the old media elite has given way to content-churning websites. The bad news is, being published no longer guarantees you much of an audience, or even the education of being carefully edited.

Weisberg: There’s probably no place today that’s as good as TNR was back then to start a career as an opinion journalist. Slate aspires to be the same kind of talent farm, and I think we come close. One of the many talents we launched was Frank Foer. It’s easier now than it was then for young writers to get published and find an audience, but it’s much harder to stand out from the much bigger crowd. 

If you were just starting out in your writing careers today, do you think you would have applied to the current iteration of the TNR researcher-reporter internship?  

Saletan: Yeah, I’d probably try the same thing again, if I were coming out of college with the same level of inexperience. But if I were going back to those days now, having enjoyed the life I chose, I’d try the road I didn’t take, which was to write music. I’m pretty sure that would have ended badly, but it might have been fun to find out.

I think that for a lot of us who came of age in the Marty Peretz era, his sale of the magazine was the big upheaval, in terms of ending that era. The mass resignations feel like the other shoe falling. Not really bearing on former TNR people, but a total bummer for our friends and colleagues who were there at the end and have quit. 

What did you do after you left the reporting program? Where else did you go before you arrived at Slate?

Saletan: I went back and finished college, then I worked at the Hotline, then I wrote a book and freelanced for a bunch of magazines. And then one day Mike Kinsley called me and told me he was starting an online magazine. People were laughing at him. That was 18 years ago.

Jacob, how has Will changed since that video?

Weisberg: Will is EXACTLY the same, and I mean that in the best way: same brilliant analytical mind, same delighted guffaw, same weird immunity to gaining weight.  

Will, how about Jacob?

Saletan: Jacob worked incredibly hard and was fearless. He took down people like Roger Stone, who thought they could charm or bully him. I think he understood that life is short, and you should use your time well, and you don’t have to back down from anyone just because you’re young. That put a little extra backbone in the rest of us.

I think he’s still doing that. Slate is what TNR was, and then some. That guy in the video is reason No. 1.