Why Charles Duhigg told New York Times he wanted to cover the insurance industry

New York Times reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg recently did a Longform.org podcast with host Aaron Lammer. Here are some excerpts from what I thought was an entertaining 45-minute chat:

On interviewing for journalism jobs:
“For anyone who is in journalism school or is thinking about it, this is the best advice I can give you about getting jobs in journalism: the nice thing about journalism is the way you get the job is the same way you do the job, which is that essentially you just hustle your way into it. There is no drawback in being as aggressive as possible in trying to get a job, because what you’re proving to the editor is: I will be this aggressive getting stories.”

On his Washington Post internship:
“The whole point of doing the Washington Post internship is you’re supposed to get an offer of a job. I was one of the people who was not offered a job at the end of the internship; half the interns got job offers and I did not. …I’ve often said you could staff an incredible newsroom with the people that the Washington Post did not hire and the New York Times has done exactly that.”

On interviewing with the New York Times
“I went in and I said, ‘I want to apply for the telcom job.’ We talked about telecom. I know nothing about telecom, but I sort of read clips on the plane. But then [Times business editor] Larry Ingrassia said, ‘So if you could have any beat at the New York Times, what would it be?’ I kind of knew [this was coming] because this is an inevitable question. I said, If I could cover anything, I would cover the insurance industry, and I would cover the insurance industry like it’s this passionate, passionate story — the same way this guy David Cay Johnston had covered taxes — because everyone owns insurance and no one ever thinks about it, and there’s people’s lives at risk, and there’s companies that essentially want to extort you for your premiums.

“The reason I said that is because I knew that no one had ever said that to Larry Ingrassia. No one ever says, ‘My passion is to cover the insurance industry,’ and the number one thing you want to do when you’re writing a story or when you’re applying for a job or doing anything else, you want to be surprising. People love surprises.”

powerOn the downside of success:
“Life actually gets harder in many ways once you’re successful. …Being successful means that you have to work more — that the reward of success is you get to do what you want to do all the time, and you have to do it all the time. You don’t get to relax; you have to actually be more tense. In the last year, The Power of Habit was — I was really lucky — a big best-seller, I worked on a series at the Times called the iEconony, where we’ve been investigating Apple, which got a lot of attention. I would say the last year has — I feel very fortunate, and I feel kind of even guilty saying this — the last year has been the hardest year of my life because I’ve been working all the time and because every day I feel like I’m missing opportunities.”

* Listen to the podcast (longform.org)