No matter what you go into, you need to be prepared to fail a lot. You need to be ready to hear the word no, to be dismissed, to feel discouraged, and to want to throw in the towel. Then, you have to get back up again and do it all again the next day.
Wendell Jamieson has spent a career delving into New York’s stories. A writer and editor with over three decades of experience in his craft, Jamieson is well-known in the city’s journalism circles as an investigative reporter. He contributed to four of New York’s major newspapers, but is best-known for his work with the New York Times. Wendell worked as the publication’s Metro desk editor for five years, from 2013 until 2018. During his tenure at its head, the department achieved two Polk Awards and stood as a four-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Today, Wendell has left print journalism to apply his journalistic skills to consulting projects in the private sector.
Wendell Jamieson’s love for writing and reporting began at an early age. As a child, he was teased for watching Walter Cronkite’s news broadcasts and eagerly pouncing on his family’s daily copy of The New York Times as soon as the paper had made its way around the breakfast table. A native of Brooklyn’s Park Slope during the high-crime era of the 1970s, Jamieson was keenly aware of the tensions that seemed to conflict with the beauty of the neighborhood even as they lent vibrancy to it. For Jamieson, his home was an inspiration and a motivator that would drive him to write, listen, and explore.
Wendell Jamieson’s passion for print journalism ultimately propelled him to seek an undergraduate degree at Boston University in 1984. Following his graduation four years later, Jamieson took the first steps on his career path as a journalist — first as an obituary writer for the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, then as a police reporter for the New York Newsday and New York Daily News. During the decade he spent in the latter role, Wendell covered well over 600 homicides and was a member of the Newsday team that was ultimately recognized with a Pulitzer for their reporting on a fatal subway crash in Manhattan. That accomplishment, among others, propelled Jamieson into an editor’s role with the New York Daily News. Three years later, he took a different editorial at the New York Times — a decision which would come to shape the next chapter of his career.
During the 2000s and 2010s, Wendell Jamieson held a number of roles. He served as an Assignment Editor, City Editor, Metro Web Editor, Deputy Metro Editor, and, finally, Metro Editor. He led several significant investigations, including but not limited to a look into the hardships immigrant women working in nail salons regularly face and the myriad reasons that New York’s subways are crumbling away. His most recognized project, however, occurred in 2001. That year, he was asked to lead the paper’s efforts on the “Portraits of Grief,” a wide-spanning retrospective that profiled the thousands of lives lost on 9/11. The ambitious project ultimately earned a 2002 Pulitzer Award from public service in 2002.
Beyond print journalism, Wendell Jamieson also has two nonfiction books to his name: Father Knows Less, a parent’s whimsical answer to his child’s youngest questions, and New York by New York, an art book that illustrates some of the city’s most influential social movements. Today, facing a decline in print journalism, Wendell works to apply his journalistic skillset to strategic communication in the private sector. He remains active as a writer and consultant in New York City, where he lives with his wife, Helene, and their two children.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
The idea to pursue journalism came to me like a bolt from the blue when I was 18 and thumbing through a college catalog. I had always appreciated the writing and the news; growing up, my cousins always teased me for watching Walter Cronkite’s broadcasts. The choice to study writing and reporting was intuitive; from there, I built a 30-year career out of my passion for print journalism. Now, I’m trying to create an entirely new space for myself on that foundation by using the journalistic skillset I developed within the world of communications.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Because I’m a consultant, no two work days are the same. I’m never stuck on a grind; I run from client to client, assignment to assignment. Experientially, it’s the exact opposite of the stereotypical “daily grind;” as a consultant, I have a chance to touch on a diverse range of interests and work on the “fun” parts of a project — the research and writing — without shouldering its more boring aspects.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Honestly, I don’t think I can say! My ideas come to me at the most unexpected times. When I was Metro editor for the New York Times, I always found my best ideas on the subway in the morning. I’ve found that the best way to come up with a great idea is to remove the pressure — rather than consciously struggle to come up with a great idea, you have to leave your mind open to the possibilities and listen, listen, listen to those around you.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Private journalism. It’s no secret that traditional print journalism is struggling right now, and frankly, I don’t think the industry will ever recover its footing. Private journalism, however, takes the skills that conventional journalists have and applies them to a different need. For example, I recently wrote a white paper for a client who aims to fight the scourge of human trafficking. In terms of quality and depth of reporting, I would stand that paper up against anything published in The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. I reported and wrote it just as I might have when I worked at the Times’ Metro desk. The only significant difference is that only a handful of people will see the whitepaper. But it’s still journalism — I didn’t pull any punches, and I didn’t protect any sacred cows.
The possibilities there excite me; I see the potential to use the skills I honed over a lifetime in new ways, and maybe come up with an idea that can bring work — lucrative work — to print-strapped journalists.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Triage. If you have two assignments and one is easy while the other is hard, do the simple one first. Get it out of the way. Then you have more time with less pressure to deal with the tricky one. This goes against some work philosophies that you should tackle the biggest challenge first.
Triage. If you have two assignments, one easy and one hard, you need to do the easy one first. Once you get it out of the way, you’ll have more time — and less pressure — when you deal with the tricky one. This strategy does go against some popular work philosophies, I’ll admit, but in my experience, it’s better to get the smaller challenge out of the way first than it is to struggle with the biggest and race to finish.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Take a breath. Calm down. Chillax.
Looking back, I can see that I pushed myself too far, too fast, and too much. I probably would have benefitted from slowing down and appreciating the moments as they come, rather than perpetually reaching for the next.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
It’s an unpopular opinion nowadays, but I honestly think that many politicians and government officials genuinely want to make a positive change in their communities.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Make a point of going out and meeting people from all walks of life. Talk to them; download their brains whenever you can. If you live in a bubble, you’ll never be able to access ideas and perspectives beyond it. On a similar note, try to involve yourself in different fields. Right now, I’m consulting for PR firms and a newspaper chain, as well as ghost-editing two books and helping plan a gallery show of my stepfather’s paintings. Each of those tasks uses a different part of my brain. So — apply yourself to cultivating a diverse mindset! You might find that you have an idea or solution to one problem that works well for another. It’s easy enough to transpose experiences and ideas from one area of practice to another.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Revisit conversations, even if they don’t give you the result you were hoping for the first time. When I first started exploring the communications field, I did a round of interviews. I asked a lot of questions. A year later and with some assignments under my belt, I went back to all the folks I spoke with in the beginning — and found that we had very different conversations. I had lots to add that I hadn’t before, just from the few experiences I had picked up since. And guess what? More assignments followed.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Just one failure? That’s a wish — no matter what you go into, you need to be prepared to fail a lot. You need to be ready to hear the word no, to be dismissed, to feel discouraged, and to want to throw in the towel. Then, you have to get back up again and do it all again the next day. The only way that you can overcome failure is to accept that it will happen — and, if you manage to stay determined and work hard, that success will follow.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think there’s a need for wedding writers. Couples will pay quite a bit for wedding photographs and videos — but what about for someone who could interview the bride, groom, parents, and guests, then create a framed bespoke piece about it all? I think some newlyweds would love something like that.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought a really nice tie. I haven’t spent that much money on a tie in years. But I had a dinner, and a new season is coming up, and…well, it’s a nice tie! On a more serious note, though, now that I’m working in communications as a consultant, I have a lot of meetings — and frankly, you can’t overdress for those.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Some might laugh, but since I’m constantly running around the city to different consulting gigs, I’ve started relying on the Pigeon App. It tells me when trains are coming and is invaluable in helping me get where I need to be on time. I also like the Citizen App, which tells me when crimes are happening nearby, so I can avoid them and not be late.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line by the famous chef Eric Ripert. Talk about working your way up!
What is your favorite quote?
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart” – Stephen King.