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so what do you do?

So What Do You Do, Vanessa Grigoriadis?
The people in your media neighborhood.

BY ALBERT LEE | Grigoriadis has profiled Monica Lewinsky, Mariah Carey, Lizzie Grubman, and other members of the troubled-yet-stylish sisterhood for a variety of glossy magazines, including Spin, Talk, and Rolling Stone. A few years ago, at age 25, she sold the movie rights to her first New York magazine cover story — a rollicking piece about a clique of glamorous, shallow, 20-something publicists — to Columbia Pictures for $400,000.

Occupation: Contributing Editor, New York magazine; freelancer for other glossies.

What did she do with that $400,000? You know that whole bear market thing? There you go.

First real job: After waiting tables? Assistant to Michael Hirschorn, then executive editor of New York magazine.

Heroes: Bruce Chatwin

Latest obsessions: Yoga, trance, Osho, big parties on big rooftops, and walking around NYC.

She'll always read a story by: George Gurley, at The New York Observer

Stories she's proudest of: "I'm Seen, Therefore I Am," a Nerve.com piece on peeping-Tom porn site VoyeurDorm; "The Single-Mom Murder," about the murder of fashion journalist Christa Worthington; "Mat Scratch Fever," a Spin article on pro-wrestling groupies

Why she became a journalist: Because I believe that the world needs less product and more examination. Because I like acting, which is essentially what you're doing when you're reporting. Because I've always liked telling long stories to big groups of people. Because I'm an absolute and complete adrenaline junkie. Because there's no better feeling than thinking you possess the ability to think objectively. And because I wanted people to think I was cool and smart and important, because then I thought they'd like me more! Oh, the irony... No one has more enemies than a journalist.

Worst moment on assignment: Getting kicked out of a dorm bathroom in U. Wisconsin Eau-Claire (a girl had killed herself and her new baby there), sneaking back in, getting kicked out again, sneaking back in, getting kicked out again by a posse of unbelievably irate Christians who told me I was definitely going to hell.

Best personal source for gossip: Wouldn't you like to know?

Smartest thing she ever did for her career: Stopped turning in as a first draft to editors what I considered a final draft. If you turn in something rough, the process becomes much more collaborative. Plus, they're going to get their way no matter what, so you might as well get that shredding going.

Note-taking tips: Someone once told me to keep a notepad where everyone can see it and a recorder where no one can see it. Unfortunately, when you conceal a recorder, you can't hear anything that you've taped, so that's no good. So I usually keep a notepad and recorder out at the ready.

Her two cents (and then some) on celebrity journalism: It's KILLING THE PROFESSION!!!!!!

Why do you think that all these mags are cutting pages and losing ads and shortening their articles? Because half the stories in them are about an actor who sat down with a reporter for 45 minutes over a cup of tea! Who wants to read that?

I mean, it can be fun to write those kinds of pieces, because it's always fun to analyze someone's personality. But you're essentially engaged in the opposite of what makes journalism good: instead of writing about an exciting thing that happened in the universe somewhere today, you have to write about a TOTAL non-event. You have interview subjects who are only there because their publicist told them they had to be there, who hate you no matter how cordial you appear because they know you're going to stab them in the back because they've had it done a million times before, BUT you've got to be cunning and flirty and oh-that-happened-to-me because you're under huge editorial pressure to get them to say something plantable, please, please, please.

To add insult to injury, then you have to go write nice things about them!

Which is the part I really don't understand. How many people do you know who sit around slobbering about how great celebrities are all day long? Sure, we've each got a couple that we like, but for the most part the only reason anyone wants to look at pictures of celebrities is to make fun of them!

Anyway. I think we all need to put our collective feet down and say that we won't do interviews with celebrities under these conditions, 'cause if this shit doesn't stop, there are going to be even fewer mags to write for than there are now, and soon enough of us writers are going to find ourselves up a creek. Vote Vanessa for mayor.

Three lessons learned from freelance writing:
1. You can always get the story (re: what you want).
2. You can't always get the story (re: what you want).
3. Life: roll with it.


Read more in our Archives. Send your feedback to Jesse Oxfeld.

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