Missoula, Montana-based journalist Charlie Warzel ’06 is the first to admit that luck has played a large part in his career.
“Journalism’s always been a cheat code for me to not have a day job,” he says. “I don’t think I could cut it as a lawyer, and if you put me in front of an Excel spreadsheet, I’d literally die on the spot.”
As a government major at Hamilton College, Warzel “lucked into” an internship at NBC News, where he assisted in the production of Meet the Press with David Gregory, ultimately leading to stints with MSNBC’s Morning Joe—co-hosted by Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, and Willie Geist—and NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.
“I immediately loved the feeling of being in the center of big stories,” recalls Warzel, who would go on to write for Adweek and BuzzFeed News. “It became clear that journalism—the kind I’m drawn to—is just code for following weird curiosities, meeting fascinating people, and learning information before everyone else.”
Fortune would once again knock on Warzel’s door in March 2019, when he landed his current role— Opinion writer-at-large for The New York Times, with beats that include media, online extremism, politics, and technology—which he essentially created himself based on his interests.
“If I’m curious about something, I have the freedom to go down that rabbit hole and bring back what I found,” he says, noting his widespread coverage of the Internet and the ways in which it is rewiring society. “I love helping to introduce new ideas to audiences and explain complex subjects. I think it’s an immense privilege to be trusted to do that and I take it really seriously.”
In the simplest of terms, Warzel says, journalism involves reading, writing, drawing connections, and constructing arguments. “When you boil it down, it’s really just a public version of the kinds of essays and papers I learned to write at Shipley,” he notes. “Shipley—more than college or post-college life—is where I really learned how to write and think.”
Now in his early 30s, Warzel confesses to being a “work in progress”: “I’ve been so fortunate with work, but that doesn’t mean I’ve figured most other things out.” Nevertheless, approaching his writing by “pushing back on conventional wisdom in terms of being principled and honest while maintaining a sense of empathy and understanding” seems like a pretty good place to start.