A Shot in the Dark: Chasing My Dream of Writing for Rolling Stone Magazine
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write for Rolling Stone magazine.
My first encounter with the magazine came when I was 10 years old. At that time my older brother reached the age of thirteen and celebrated his Jewish right of passage into adulthood. Among the many gifts he received was a subscription to a magazine.
It was around that time that my musical taste was being enlightened by the rock legends of yesteryear. The cover stories arriving in the mail every two weeks featuring bands like Pink Floyd, The Beatles, AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix, and other musical legends helped facilitate the development of my taste in rock n’ roll. I’d spend much of my formative years borrowing my brother’s issues of Rolling Stone, eventually getting my own subscription a few years later.
My casual interest in the magazine turned into a full-fledged love affair in 2008. It was during the final days of my teenage years when my interest in politics was peaked by a year of historic instability. The world economy was sinking, the United States was pursuing two unnecessary wars and denial of global warming in the face of clear evidence was rampant. It was a time when Barack Obama was making a historic presidential run, and a time when the government was handing out trillions of dollars to those responsible for its economic decay.
Having had little interest in politics before 2008, I turned to the same source that had matured my musical taste. That’s when the cover of Rolling Stone magazine began featuring Matt Taibbi’s remarkably in-depth and easily digestible analysis of the global financial meltdown, Jann Wenner’s interview with soon-to-be president Barack Obama, and thought provoking stories by Jeff Goodell and Tim Dickinson on the battle over global warming.
It was stories like these that taught me one of the greatest attributes of good journalism; that it actually has the ability to change the world. Consider the significance of the late Michael Hastings’ June 2010 story in Rolling Stone, ‘The Runaway General,’ which led to the firing of the highest-ranking American military official in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.
Stories like these inspired me to pursue creative writing and media studies in university while volunteering for the school paper. Early on in my campus news days I wrote a story about how the school had failed to provide adequate accessibility to some parts of campus for disabled students. Three days after the story was published, construction on new ramps and elevators began. Just like Michael Hastings, a few words I wrote changed the world I lived in. After that, I could never imagine myself pursuing any other career path. I wanted to be a journalist, a writer for Rolling Stone.
In May of 2010 I enrolled in a Master of Arts in Journalism program, and specialized in print media. I wrote my thesis on the work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, focusing on whether or not “Gonzo Journalism” actually exists beyond his writing. My research led me deep into the archives of early Rolling Stone history. I read every story from the first five years of the magazine on a microfilm projector in the basement of the campus library. Even though Dr. Thompson hadn’t written a single word for them in those years, and I couldn’t use any of it in my paper, I couldn’t resist the urge to learn more about the history of my favourite magazine.
Towards the end of my graduate program our professors told us we had to complete a 1-month unpaid internship at the media outlet of our choice. They guaranteed us a position at any Canadian media organization we wanted, but told us any internships beyond Canada’s borders would have to be secured on our own. They asked us to write down the names of three media outlets we wanted to work for on a piece of paper. My piece of paper only had one.
Two months before the internship was set to begin I sent an email to the internship coordinator at Rolling Stone magazine with a cover letter, resume, and samples of my work, asking for one month of unpaid work. She didn’t respond. Then I decided to give her a call. She didn’t answer, so I left a message. Then a couple of days went by without a response, and I left another message. After a few days I called again, but the answering machine was full. Then I began to call everyday. Then every few hours. Still no response.
I went home to visit my parents one weekend shortly after and told them the story. While my parents were initially skeptical of my interest in journalism they could see how badly I wanted to work for Rolling Stone.
My father eventually asked why I didn’t just go down to the head office in New York, knock on the door, and demand to speak with someone.
“Because that’s not how it works,” I told him. “People don’t do that anymore.”
“You don’t know till you try,” he said.
As it turned out, my dad happened to be going to New York that week on business, and kindly offered to fly me down for an afternoon using his frequent flyer points.
On the following Monday morning I woke up at 6 a.m., boarded a flight to New York City at 8:30 a.m., landed at LaGuardia airport at 10 a.m., fought through traffic and arrived at Rolling Stone’s head office at 11 a.m., dressed in my only suit, clutching a folder containing a resume and a few of my stories.
I was in Manhattan for 4 hours before heading back to the airport, and in that time I was ejected from the Rolling Stone head office by security, twice.
I wound up completing an internship at the National Post, Canada’s third largest newspaper and one of only two national papers. The internship proved to be the most rewarding and challenging month of my life. I wrote a story every day, sometimes more, and even saw my name on the front page on two separate occasions. My editor liked my work so much he asked me to come back for another six weeks after I finished my Masters program. Although still unpaid, I continued to work at the Post hoping I might graduate to a paid position by the time those six weeks had expired. As I would later learn, The National Post would not be able to survive without a rotating staff of unpaid employees, none of whom they can afford to hire.
I eventually found myself working for a small startup that was building a very credible website dedicated to Canadian politics. As the company evolved, however, its priorities shifted, and I soon found myself spending a vast majority of my time building branded content. For example, I spent almost a year producing videos about investing in emerging markets, sponsored by HSBC Wealth Management Solutions, and featured in the National Post’s business section.
While working for this startup I continued to apply for any position that became available at major publications, but found myself still working for the same startup a year and a half later. After realizing how difficult it would be to work for any of Canada’s major newspapers as a full time employee I started contacting editors asking for freelance work. Because of my work studying emerging markets I knew my best shot would be business journalism.
A friend who was interning for the Toronto Star got me an interview with a small business editor who was looking for a freelancer, and my uncle got me in touch with a veteran reporter he had worked with from the Globe & Mail. Fortunately both gave me a chance, and so, for three months, while still working from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at a full time job, I freelanced a weekly story for both of Canada’s first and second most read newspapers.
Other journalists have asked me how it’s even possible to conduct interviews for stories on evenings and weekends alone, when nobody is around to pick up the phone, and I happily reveal my secret to them: time zones. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the ability to call an interviewee in Vancouver after getting home from work at 7 p.m., which was only 4 p.m. on the west coast, or call Prince Edward Island at 8 a.m., when they were just getting to work at 9 their time.
Although I was working incredibly long hours I knew it was well worth it. I was finally starting to see some success in what I had previously perceived as a futile job market.
After a few months of writing for the small business section of the Toronto Star I pitched a story about Canada’s video game industry, which is the third largest in the world. From what I had read it seemed to be suffering as of late, but the upcoming release of the PlayStation 4 was going to bring a much-needed boost to the industry. While researching the story I happened to call Sony Canada to ask about the new console. The publicist I spoke to remained tight lipped on the subject, refusing to acknowledge the existence of the PlayStation 4, but invited me to a “secret announcement” in New York City on February 20th, with airfare and hotel provided by Sony. I called my editor at the Star to pitch him the idea of covering the event, and after he approved I confirmed my flight.
Upon realizing that I would be in New York City mid-week for the first time since that fateful afternoon in grad school, I decided it was time to rekindle an old love affair.
When I arrived at work on Monday, February 11th 2013, there was only one thing on my mind; my only goal that day was to get the attention of someone — anyone — at Rolling Stone magazine.
After discovering that everyone’s email address at the magazine was firstname.lastname@example.org I began making my plea, starting at the top of the magazine’s masthead and working my way down. The first email was to founder and publisher Jann S. Wenner, my life-long hero. While the rest of the editors got the same generic message, I made a different plea to Mr. Wenner. The subject line of the email was “Shot in the Dark.”
Dear Mr. Wenner,
I hope this email finds you well.
As the title of this email implies, this is a complete and utter shot in the dark attempt to make you aware of my existence. I am a huge fan of your work, both as a journalist and as the publisher of the greatest magazine in the world, and as a young journalist trying to make his mark, I was hoping you might be able to offer me some advice.
Everyday when I wake up, my main priority is to be one step closer to working for you when I go to bed later that evening.
I was editor of the school paper while earning a BA in media studies and creative writing, then moved on to complete an MA in Journalism. Two years out of school I have written for all major newspapers in my native Canada, and continue to find small doses of success in an otherwise dismal career landscape.
I write about music, I write about American politics, I write about business, I write about culture and I did my masters thesis on the work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. At the age of 24 I have interviewed everyone from Noam Chomsky to Gene Simmons.
My goal is simple: I want to one day join the ranks of my favourite journalists as a writer for Rolling Stone magazine.
Once again, I know it’s a shot in the dark, but I was hoping you might be available for a brief phone call to discuss what I can do to advance that end. I will also be in New York in a couple of weeks, and would do anything for an opportunity to meet with you in person.
Should you choose to ignore this email, which I understand is the most likely outcome, know that this is not the last time you will hear my name. My one and only purpose in this world is to be a Rolling Stone journalist, and even if it takes a lifetime, I am determined to one day achieve that goal.
Thank you very much for your time. You are a constant source of inspiration and hope.
As you can tell by the admittedly desperate sounding email I was never expecting to get a response from Mr. Wenner, so I continued down the list, emailing managing editor Will Dana, then deputy managing editor Nathan Brackett, then assistant managing editors Jonathan Rigen and Sean Woods, and so on. After a few hours without a single response I sent a message to Sam Corbett, the drummer of a Canadian band called the Sheepdogs, who won a contest to be the first unsigned group on the cover of Rolling Stone. Having interviewed him and his bandmates a few times in the past he and I had kept in touch through facebook. This was his response:
Jared, I appreciate your support, and I wish I could help you out. But RS seems to be in downsizing mode. The guy who wrote our cover article has been let go in the last year, and he’d been with the mag for 10 years. The only advice I could give would be to keep trying, maybe going for a temp position or something like that.
Sorry to be a bummer…
I appreciated the response, as discouraging as it was. I was about to give up when I received the following email a few hours later:
Why dont you send me your resume and some if your writing — and any ideas you have for stories you might do–and we will arrange for you to meet with one of our editors on your visit to NY. I will not be in NY for the next few months, but come to the office and we’ll have an opportunity for you to be interviewed.
The girl who sat across from my desk looked up from her computer screen when she noticed my face starting to shrivel up.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I’m fine” is all I managed to whisper back.
I calmly stood up from my desk, walked out of the room, continued down the hall, into the stairwell, looked around to make sure I was alone, and for the first time in longer than I can remember, I started to cry.
I spent the week in a rotating state of extreme excitement and extreme fear, both feelings overwhelming and all-consuming. This was the single greatest opportunity I had ever been given in my entire life, and I would never forgive myself if I squandered it. I tried to manage my expectations, knowing that they weren’t calling me in to interview for a specific position, and likely didn’t have anything available, but how was I supposed to remain calm? Ever since my previous attempt to get a foot in the door had failed, I assumed it would take decades of work before I was even let into the building.
I quit my job a few days later. It wasn’t because I was depending on Rolling Stone to hire me, but I had found myself in the position of turning down freelance work for major publications so that I could spend more time concentrating on a job I didn’t enjoy, and that just didn’t make sense. Sure every reporter, editor, professor, and mentor I had spoken to advised against pursuing a full-time freelance career, but whether Rolling Stone offered me a position or not Jann Wenner had inspired me not to give up on the industry.
There was a black town car waiting for me outside La Guardia airport a few days later, which took me to the trendy Ace Hotel in Manhattan, where I joined up with the rest of the Canadian journalists attending the Sony event. While I was too nervous to take in the whole experience Sony was doing everything they could to show the journalists a good time. After checking-in to the hotel we were escorted to dinner, then to the launch party for the PlayStation 4, then to the ballroom with an open bar and hors d’oeuvres. I won’t get into too much detail of the event itself, because you can find all of it online, as well as the resulting article I published for the Star. I admittedly may have gone a little overboard on the open bar, but I knew it was the only way I’d get to sleep that night. After all, the interview wasn’t until 4:30 p.m., and I’d have plenty of time to recover.
I checked out of the hotel at noon the following day, still feeling the effects of the open bar from the night before, and walked around the city. After lunch and plenty of coffee the alcohol subsided and the nerves returned. I didn’t know what to do with myself for the rest of the afternoon, so I decided to reread the latest issue of Rolling Stone in Central Park.
I walked around the park for a while looking for a calm place to sit, and wound up wandering through strawberry fields. I ended up taking a seat next to John Lennon’s memorial, clutching my issue of Rolling Stone magazine, fixating on a single word: Imagine.
At 3:45 I said goodbye to Mr. Lennon, and made my way towards 1290 Avenue of Americas.
I arrived at a familiar looking desk in the lobby where a security guard asked me for my name.
He looked down at his computer, then back at me, and said, “Go ahead, they’re expecting you.” He seemed a little puzzled at the way I grinned as those words were leaving his mouth.
When the elevator doors opened on the second floor I suddenly felt like Charlie in Mr. Wonka’s chocolate factory. It was everything I had imagined it to be, and more. Old Rolling Stone covers hung from the walls like gold records in a music studio, leading down the hall to the receptionists’ desk, the glass wall behind her displaying a giant “W” and a wood panel behind that showed the words “Wenner Media.” I stopped in front of it for a moment and thought about how the same man who literally launches musical careers into the Hall of Fame, the man who was on a first name basis with most of my rock ‘n roll idols and the man who has a close personal relationship with Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Al Gore is the very same man that invited me to this meeting.
After telling the receptionist my name she told me to take a seat on the couches to her left and wait for managing editor Will Dana. I tried to stay calm, but beneath my jacket I was sweating through my dress shirt. Having arrived early I sat there waiting for the clock to strike 4:30, but even after it did, nothing happened. Finally, at 4:40, a petite brunette woman introduced herself as Will Dana’s assistant.
“Are you Jared?” she asked.
“Yes, pleasure to meet you,” I responded.
“I’m really sorry to tell you this, but Will’s not going to be able to meet with you today,” she said. My heart began pounding. “I’m so sorry, but there was a last minute emergency with the cover story. It’s going to print in three hours and Will needs to take care of it right away. Instead he has arranged for you to meet with one of our associate editors, Andy Greene.”
I had recognized Andy’s name from his byline. He was a veteran music reporter who had published some of my favourite rock star profiles and concert reviews. Unlike the managing editor, however, he likely wasn’t in a position to hire staff. I tried to not let the disappointment throw me off my game. I had come all that way for an interview, and by god I was going to get it.
I met Andy in his office, a polite boyish-looking man in his 30s with thick glasses wearing a casual brown button down shirt. I told him my story, all of it, from the first issue of Rolling Stone I ever read, to my encounter with the building’s security three years prior, to my email from Jann Wenner. He listened to every word before telling me a little about himself.
He had been at the magazine for 10 years, and while he didn’t admit it outright, I could tell he was a little jaded. I told him he was fortunate to have one of the coolest jobs in the world, and I’m pretty sure he rolled his eyes a little. He eventually revealed that in his opinion, the magazine had become somewhat bureaucratic. “They really only have a handful of people who do most of the writing for us,” he said, “and they’re probably not looking to add anyone to that roster. Your best shot is to try and get started writing some briefs for our website. I’ll send you the names of our web editors; one covers the music side and the other covers politics. You can send your ideas to them.”
It wasn’t exactly the opportunity I was hoping for, but it was something.
I sat perfectly still through my entire flight home, my mind racing as I stared blankly at the seat in front of me, trying to decide what to make of it all. I knew I should have been excited to even have an opportunity to spend some time with a legend like Andy Greene, and to get my foot in the door at the only place in the world I wanted to work, but I couldn’t help but feel cheated. I had been passed down from the founder of the magazine all the way down to some faceless web editors on the far end of an email chain. They didn’t know me, they didn’t know my story, and they likely didn’t care to give me a chance.
Since that day in New York I’ve sent the web editors dozens of story ideas, even offering to write them for free. One of the editors politely emailed me back to tell me they’re not looking for any freelance work. The other hasn’t responded.
In a way my story ends there, but in another it’s only just beginning. I still send story ideas to the web editors on a regular basis, knowing they won’t take them. I do it for the same reason that I find an excuse to call Andy Greene every couple of weeks, or send Jann Wenner an email at any given opportunity — I don’t want to let them to forget about me.
In the mean time I’m making my way in the world of freelance journalism, writing for all three of Canada’s most read newspapers as well as a few other notable publications. I’m proud to be doing something people always told me couldn’t be done; supporting myself as a freelance journalist. I might not be writing for Rolling Stone today, but I am absolutely confident I will one day.
The above was written and originally published on my website, JaredLindzon.com, in August of 2013. The story was updated with the following in January of 2016.
Seeing a promising opportunity to fulfill a life-long dream slip through my fingers was certainly a letdown, but the life of a freelance journalist is filled with rejection.
I spent the remainder of 2013 hustling my way forward in what was turning out to be a promising career path. If nothing else that one email from Jann Wenner was a sign that I was heading in the right direction. I also had my foot in the door at all three of Canada’s most read newspapers, and was building a career for myself primarily contributing to the Toronto Star’s small business section and the Globe and Mail’s careers section.
But my bread and butter was suddenly taken away from me in 2014, with the closing of Toronto Star’s Small Business Club and a major budget cut at the Globe and Mail that, in part, specifically targeted the careers section. In 2013 those two sections combined paid more than half my salary, and without replacements 2014 was shaping up to be less successful than my first year on the job.
While reaching out to new editors at the Globe and Mail, where I eventually became a contributor to its small business and automotive sections, I also began to pursue opportunities to reach larger audiences beyond Canada’s border.
Making the jump into the American market, however, proved to be almost as difficult as starting from scratch in Canada’s relatively small market. I began the summer of 2014 with a list of publications I wanted to make contact with, as well as the sections I wanted to contribute to and the editors I would need to reach in order to do so. The editors I approached, however, seemed largely unimpressed by my portfolio, viewing my country’s largest publications the same way they might view a community newspaper in small town America.
An opportunity finally presented itself in mid-august when I noticed a pattern emerge in one of the magazines near the top of my list.
For the third consecutive time an article published by Fast Company seemed somewhat similar in theme to an article I had published for the Globe and Mail months earlier. There was the one about how improv comedy can improve your career, published by Fast Company in January of 2014, which resembled a story of mine on the same subject published by the Globe and Mail in July of 2013; then the one about the importance of public speaking for entrepreneurs, also published by Fast Company in January of 2014, which was not unlike one I had published for The Globe and Mail in July of 2013; and the one about teaching kids computer coding, published by Fast Company in July of 2014, 5 months after I had published a similar story in the Globe and Mail.
To be clear I am in no way accusing Fast Company of stealing my ideas or content; I am merely pointing out that it was a natural fit, which is exactly what I told Fast Company’s editorial director, Jill Bernstein, in a cold-LinkedIn connection request that August. After sending her links to the stories I had written months before a similar story surfaced on her company’s website, I concluded the note by writing, “if you want to know what subjects you’ll be covering in a few months from now, we should talk.”
It was a bold move, but it paid off. A week later Jill and I spoke by phone, and a few days after that I was connected to the editor whom I still report to today. According to my writer’s profile page on Fast Company’s website, I have contributed 23 stories since September of 2014.
It would take several months, countless cold emails, tweets, LinkedIn requests and a widely publicized Canadian sexual abuse scandal before I got another opportunity to expand my career in a meaningful way.
Former Canadian radio personality and host of CBC’s Radio Q, Jian Ghomeshi, is accused of doing some terrible things to a shocking number of women, yet in some sadistic way I am grateful for his downfall. In November of 2014, as news was spreading of his dismissal from CBC and upcoming legal proceedings, an editor from the Guardian was frantically tweeting out messages with his email address, calling for a Toronto-based freelancer to help cover the story.
I’m not as active on Twitter as I should be considering my line of work, and by the time I had sent the editor an email, only after a friend directed me to the tweet, I received a response informing me that I was too late. The editor, however, encouraged me to pitch interesting “Canadian stories” in the future, whatever that meant.
I pitched half a dozen stories over the next month, but to no avail. The editor’s responses were getting shorter and farther between, a clear sign that I was losing his interest. I knew my next story idea had to be a home run, and it had to come soon, or I may lose my opportunity to write for them entirely.
That idea came to me weeks later over breakfast with a childhood friend, who told me about a quirky cousin of his who was launching a legal marijuana branch inside one of the country’s top corporate law firms. Canada had just undergone a significant overhaul of its medicinal marijuana policy, my friend’s cousin told me across a boardroom table a few weeks later, moving from home-grown to more of a factory system, allowing the country’s health authority, Health Canada, to oversee production. It also meant big money for first movers in the newly budding industry (excuse the pun) including those within the legal community.
The Guardian published my story on Canada’s new medicinal marijuana policy during the first week of 2015, and I would publish 7 more features on their website (including one on serial killers in London, Ontario that made it to print in the UK) before the end of the year.
The day after the marijuana story was published, however, I received an email from a Toronto-based lawyer named David Ellison who did not agree with what I had written.
I very much disagree with parts of your article today. I deal with clients in the space and I am EXTREMELY bearish on the Canadian markets. If you’re interested, we should speak.
More seasoned reporters have seen a lot of messages from those who disagree with their work, and about 90% of those conversations prove more frustrating than informative. One-tenth of the time, however, they lead down a completely new path, which is precisely what happened with David.
We began the phone call ironing out some of the reasons why he disagreed with what I wrote, but a half hour later we were talking about something else entirely. As it turned out David was part of a relatively unknown and very exclusive Wall Street networking group dedicated to the founders of hippy culture, the Grateful Dead. The group is comprised of approximately 600 Wall Streeters who have registered for an event — referred to as “family members” — 350 of whom gather every year to network over the sounds of a Grateful Dead cover band.
The first thing I asked him was why I had never heard of this group before, to which he explained that its founder, Deb, didn’t like journalists, has never provided an interview on the subject and would never let a journalist into the group. But, he said, he’d be willing to reach out and ask if it would be all right for me to contact her.
On January 14th I and another recipient with an email address that ended with @DebSaysPeace.com received the following email:
Deb, please meet Jared. Jared, please meet Deb. Jared is a freelance journalist who publishes in various newspapers etc. Deb is the creative spirited and one of a kind mastermind of Wall Street Dead aHead.
Deb — Jared and I were talking about the marijuana business in general and some of the legal issues surrounding the industry. During our discussion, I mentioned that I’m part of the Wall Street Dead aHead network and explained a little bit about the group you started and the events you put on. Jared was really interested to hear about the group so I offered to facilitate an introduction.
I responded by thanking David and telling Deborah Solomon, AKA Deb, a little bit more about myself, my career and my interest in the group. Instead of receiving an email from Deb, however, I got another one from David:
I just spoke to Deb on the phone. As an FYI, she is a bit skiddish on journalists. She has been misquoted and had things taken out of context etc. So the reason there is no press is because Deb won’t talk to journalists because she doesn’t trust them. I told her you were a legit and serious journalist and I trust that you are given our discussions and the quality of your articles.
Deb is going to return your e-mail and will talk to you. I stuck my neck out because I think you’re an upright, good and honest guy. I just ask that you respect her trust and deal honourably and in good faith.
When I finally got Deb on the phone the next day one of the first things she said to me was, “this is off the record, right?” She would ask three more times during our 45-minute phone conversation. I tried not to ask too many questions about the group, and accepted whatever information she volunteered. She told me the next event wasn’t going to take place until the fall of 2015. I told her there was a chance I would in New York in June. She told me to reach out again when I knew exactly when I’d be in town, and we’d meet in person then. She also sent me a t-shirt from the group’s previous event.
My week in New York City in June of 2015 began with a series of meetings at various publications, including Fast Company, the Guardian, Fortune Magazine, VICE, the Wall Street Journal and Inc. Magazine, followed by a weekend with friends at the Governor’s Ball Music Festival on Randall’s Island, which sits between upper Manhattan and Astoria.
As had become regular practice with each planned trip to New York I sent an email to my personal hero, Jann Wenner, a couple of weeks before I left with the subject line “Another Chance…”
Dear Mr. Wenner,
It’s been nearly three years since you were gracious enough to allow me to meet with Andy Greene in New York, and while the meeting did not result in any career or freelance opportunities with Rolling Stone, I remain forever grateful for that brief glimpse into the inner workings of my favourite publication.
I will be in NYC next week, and have already arranged meetings with my current editors at Fast Company and the Guardian, as well as some new contacts at VICE, Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, Inc and Entrepreneur. I am excited to expand my freelance career with these publications, but the trip would not be complete without first reaching out to you.
My request is two-fold: I’ve grown a lot as a writer in the last three years, and I want another chance to prove myself to the editors at Rolling Stone; and I want to meet you, in person. You’ve been a personal hero since I started subscribing to the publication 15 years ago at age 12, and it would be an honour to shake your hand. As a long time reader, I may even have some useful insights for you.
I will be landing in New York on Sunday evening (the 31st) and will be available through the end of Thursday (the 4th). If you and/or one of your staffers could grant me five minutes of your/their time, I would once again be forever grateful.
Technology had changed a lot since my first email to Jann Wenner nearly three years prior. In that time I had downloaded a chrome extension called Sidekick, and less than a minute after I sent that email a notification popped up in the top right corner of my screen informing me that “Jann Wenner has opened your email.” Two minutes later I received the following response:
Thanks for your interest. The best thing for you to do would be to send a sampling of your clips that would be most relevant to us. If we want to pursue, we will get back to you. Right now, like everyone else, we are cutting back, so there are no new jobs or openings, and very limited opportunities in freelance. We’ll look forward to your package.
I responded 13 minutes later with four recently published samples of my work, including the medicinal marijuana story for the Guardian. Moments after I hit send the wheels started turning again. “Jann Wenner has opened your email.” “Jann Wenner has opened your attachment.” “Jann Wenner has forwarded your email to someone @Rollingstone.com” “Someone @Rollingstone.com has opened your email.” “Someone @Rollingstone.com has opened your attachment.”
On May 27th at 4:28pm, 4 hours and 25 minutes after I had sent my initial email, I received the following:
I showed your clips to our editors and while they think what you have done is very good, they don’t feel there are any opportunities for you here. Good luck, Jann Wenner.
I felt defeated as I wrote my response.
Not a problem, Mr. Wenner. I greatly appreciate the consideration, and will continue to work my very hardest at becoming a RS contributor one day.
I was about to shut off my computer when I decided to send another email to Jann, three minutes later:
While you are in contact with your editors, however, may I run a quick story pitch by you?
It’s about a Grateful Dead themed networking association for high-level professionals on Wall Street, with 350 members and 400 more on the wait list. Every year they gather at a private venue with an open bar and a Grateful Dead cover band.
The founder of the group has never given an interview before, as she was burned by a reporter who misquoted her nearly a decade ago, but after a few conversation she’s agreed to allow me to be the first. She says that she formed the group because she was tired of hiding the fact that she works on Wall Street at Grateful Dead shows, and hiding the fact that she was a Dead Head on Wall Street. (I now realize that I had mistaken David’s quote for Deb’s. Deb has never hidden her hippy roots).
The next event is taking place this fall, and I’m the only reporter allowed inside.
If it interests you, please pass this idea on to the appropriate editor. Thank you once again.
Of course I had not yet been granted access to the event, and the attempt was a complete Hail Marry, but for a moment it seemed like it might pay off. At 8:07 that evening I received an email from Jann that was CCed to Caryn Ganz, the editor of Rolling Stones’ website.
Turning you over to RS.com
They may be interested
I sent two follow up emails to Ms. Ganz the following week, but never received a reply. But even if Rolling Stone wasn’t interested, I still felt the story was still worth pursuing.
Though I got a good sense of her vibe over the phone Deb still caught me off guard when she emerged from behind a wall and approached me in the lobby of her office near Time’s Square that July. Her flowing, white bell sleeve shirt was slightly more appropriate for a concert audience member in the ’70s than a powerful finance professional in 2015, and each time I saw her she seemed appropriately dressed for both scenarios. She greeted me with a hug and seemed genuinely enthusiastic to meet me, though she once again confirmed that we were off the record four times over the course of our hour-long lunch together.
From what I could gather she was the perfect ambassador of the professional hippy culture, constantly alternating between laid back and fierce. Between comparing musical tastes and reminiscing about music festivals and concerts she would occasionally change her tone, look me in the eye and repeat the rules and regulations I would have to adhere to in the hypothetical event that I am granted membership into Dead aHead: All interviews would be arranged through her, I was not to approach any members unsolicited, I was not to “act like a reporter” at the event, I was not to take any pictures and my story could not name any names unless I was granted explicit permission by the member I was naming.
There was, however, a noticeable turning point in the conversation when we realized we would both be attending the same music festival that weekend, and my worthiness was solidified after I told her all about my obsession with Rolling Stone.
I left New York City the following Monday afternoon feeling pretty exhausted from six straight days of networking followed by three straight days of music festival partying. In spite of the pain I was satisfied knowing that when the hangover finally subsided I would begin my first assignment for Fortune Magazine, I could begin shopping around a story on Dead aHead and that I would begin planning a significantly longer stay in the Big Apple that autumn.
I didn’t think about Rolling Stone or Dead aHead too much during the remainder of the summer of 2015, aside from one occasion in early August, after reading a New York Times headline: Caryn Ganz Joins The New York Times As Pop Music Editor.
I didn’t bother pitching the Dead aHead story to Rolling Stone after reading it though. Jann had already done me the favour of passing it along to one of his editors, and I didn’t think I’d have much luck making the same request twice. Instead I reached out to the Wall Street Journal’s A-Hed section, whose editor informed me she would publish it if only they had a freelance budget. I also approached an editor from The Atlantic, who told me they were interested but would only consider publication after seeing a first draft. I also mentioned the story in casual conversation with my editor from Fast Company in October shortly after I returned to New York City, who assured me the story would have a home in her section if not elsewhere.
During my 10-week stay in New York City in the autumn of 2015 I caught a fever and was ill for a brief 24-hour period. Unfortunately that illness overlapped with the event I had worked months to gain access to. I put a blazer over the t-shirt Deb had sent me after our first conversation and made my way to the Irish bar in midtown where the event was taking place. I spent a majority of the night quietly sipping on a glass of water, taking notes on my phone and trying not to look too much like a reporter.
I spent the rest of my time in New York City the same way its other 8 million residence did: hustling. The Dead aHead story was low on my priority list, behind those assignments that would pay my way through the unreasonably expensive city and those that would help expand my career in the United States.
I emailed Deb to request a formal interview on October 22nd, two days after the event, and again on October 26th when I did not receive a response. Deb finally responded in an email with the subject line “I am still overwhelmed and leaving for Baltimore this afternoon” and nothing in the body but the contact information of a Dead aHead family member I was permitted to interview.
Upon her return from Baltimore Deb got sick, and when she recovered a friend of hers tragically passed away. I gave her time and space, knowing that in spite of her “skiddishness,” as David described it, she wouldn’t let me leave New York City that December without getting the interview I had, in part, travelled all that way to conduct. I only started to question my trusting nature as I began to pack my bags that final week.
I expressed my urgency in one final email, conceding that if she did not respond my story would have to be scraped together from what little information I had: one on-the-record-interview, and the barely coherent notes scribbled down on my phone.
On December 10th, exactly 48 hours before my flight departed for Toronto, I made my way back to Deb’s office for a formal interview. After a welcoming hug and some apologies I took a seat across her desk, and for the first time since we had been introduced 11 months prior I took the voice recorder out of my bag and pressed the big red button.
By way of further apology Deb didn’t let me leave the building until she had made contact with two more family members I could interview by phone upon my return to Toronto. She also emailed me pictures and any further information I requested. I conducted the final interview with a family member on Tuesday December 15th, completed a first draft on Wednesday December 16th and sent it to a friend for editing.
At 4:34 pm on December 17th I made my final plea:
Hello Mr. Wenner,
I hope all is well.
As you may recall I reached out to you in May with a story idea that you forwarded to former online editor Caryn Ganz. The story was about a networking group of 350 Wall Street executives who are also self-described Dead Heads.
While I did not get a response from Ms. Ganz the story was just an idea at that point in time. In October I became the first journalist to ever step inside this quasi-secret society, and after months of negotiating with its founder I was finally granted an exclusive interview just last week.
I am reaching out to you today with a draft, below, for your consideration. Please let me know if you or one of your editors is interested in publication.
5:10pm: “Jann Wenner has opened your email.”
I am sending this to our new top editor at RS.Com. Brandon Geist. He’ll get back to you
5:13 “Jann Wenner has forwarded your email to someone @Rollingstone.com”
5:17 “Someone @Rollingstone.com has opened your email.”
Hi Jared, good to meet you. I’ll give this a read and let you know.
I knew it could be hours, even days before Brandon got around to reading my story, and there was no use in sitting at my laptop nervously following the digital breadcrumbs of my email’s journey. Instead I headed down to the Toronto Christmas Market, which had been in operation for nearly a month but was closing its doors in a few short days.
My brother Matthew was a vendor at the market, which had proven to be a turning point for his new food business, gaining local media attention and drawing crowds that stretched along the Christmas tree lined paths of Toronto’s distillery district. Having just landed back in Toronto I had to see it for myself before he served his final chimney cake at the market that weekend.
Like everyone else I waited 45 minutes for my cinnamon sugar-covered spiral of bread, though I didn’t have to pay for mine. All the while I was actively trying not to imagine someone at 1290 Avenue of the Americas, the office I had visited three years ago, sitting at a computer reading the words I had written.
I was stuffed into a crammed streetcar screeching down King Street when an email arrived in my inbox.
Hey Jared — hope you’re well! I’d be interested in running this piece. How does $(REDACTED) sound as a fee? I’m out of the office tomorrow, so could you try me back Monday morning?
Senior Editor, Music, RollingStone.com
I didn’t cry this time, although one could be forgiven for assuming I would, seeing as I did after receiving my first response for Jann Wenner nearly three years prior. Hank’s email did send shivers down my spine, but I didn’t cry, or jump, or scream.
That was, of course, in part due to the fact that I was stuck inside of a tightly packed streetcar, but there was something else that held me back.
While writing this story’s previous chapter three years ago somewhere deep down I knew I was skipping a few steps. Instead of spending years climbing the ladder Jann’s email got me thinking that I might see my name in Rolling Stone at the very start of my career. This time, however, there was no offer of a potential shortcut. I had spent years working my way up, and while the feeling didn’t induce tears it filled me with a deep sense of pride that I would have never experienced had Jann Wenner or Will Dana or Andy Greene allowed me to skip those steps.
I tried to type an email response to Hank and Jann. I also wanted to write to Deb and David, my parents, my brother, my friend who had helped me edit the story and just about everybody else I knew, but between the nerves and cold that effort only added a light dusting of cinnamon sugar, fresh from my brother’s stand at the Christmas market, to the screen of my smartphone.
On January 4th, 2016, 17 years after I had read my first article in Rolling Stone magazine, 10 years after that magazine inspired me to pursue journalism as a career, 5 years after an unsolicited visit to Rolling Stone’s New York office was denied by security, 3 year after my first email to Jann Wenner, my first step inside the Rolling Stone office and my decision to pursue a freelance career, 18 months after my first article in an American publication, one year after the publication of my first story for the Guardian, my phone call with David and my first contact with Deb, and 3 months after the event itself, you can read my first story for RollingStone.com about the Wall Street Dead aHead networking group at the following address:
Deb noticed the article before I did. She sent me a link to it at 11:11 a.m. without a comment. As much as I wanted to read through it I first had to know what she thought. I wrote my response before clicking the link, and before the page had a chance to load I got a reply from Deb with more exclamation marks than letters:
In a sense the story ends there, but once again it is only just the beginning. I had vowed long ago that I would write for Rolling Stone, and while I have accomplished that goal this one story for the magazine’s website is only just the beginning. I look forward to sharing what comes next.