“In grand Slate tradition, tell us a little bit about yourself.”
That’s the invitation that concludes every email announcement of a Slate hire.
And that’s the invitation that we’re extending to Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent Jordan Weissmann, who chats with us about his smartphone addiction, the challenges of being a generalist, and the importance of modern dentistry.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a native New Yorker, which is a polite euphemism for a “neurotic wreck who you should never, ever allow to drive your car.” Specifically, I grew up on a block of the Upper West Side in Manhattan which, according to one of the show’s creators, was the model for Sesame Street. My neighborhood has been reduced to a phalanx of faceless high rises with a Whole Foods. But I’ll always feel a special connection to Oscar.
What did you do before Slate?
Before Slate, I was an economics writer for the Atlantic. And like most business journalists, I sort of stumbled into it. (I don’t think there are many aspiring reporters who lie in bed at night dreaming of the day they’ll get to write the hell out of an IPO.) I was a journalism major in college. When I went off to school in 2004, I fully expected to follow the traditional newspaper reporter path of working my way up through the metro paper ranks until, if I was lucky, I either graduated to a national daily or won a Pulitzer for reporting a series on, like, financial skullduggery in the municipal waste management system. Obviously, the media world changed a bit by the time I graduated, and I’ve been lucky enough to work at some great places.
You sometimes wear headphones in the New York office. What do you listen to while you write, if anything?
I have a short work mix that I first made when I was about 17 and which I’ve lightly tweaked every once in a while since then. I don’t listen to it every day—because that would be strange—but when I’m having trouble concentrating on a piece, it puts me in the right frame of mind, sort of a like a Pavlovian trigger that makes me type.
Favorite drink of all time?
When I was younger and didn’t really have a clue what I liked, I used to order a scotch and soda whenever I went to a bar, because there's a great part in Down at the Rock and Roll Club where Richard Hell just shouts, well, “Scotch and soda!” Plus, bartenders never looked at you funny when you asked for it, which seemed important at 21. So that's a nostalgic favorite. Now, I order, like, tiki drinks given the chance. Really, I've fallen.
Favorite animal encounter?
I once visited an ostrich farm while on a road trip with some friends in South Africa (we were interning for newspapers there while in college), where they allowed you to ride the birds around a ring. I was about six pounds over the weight limit, but my sense of decency was outweighed by the fear that I’d never, ever have an opportunity to ride one of these gloriously absurd beasts again. Unfortunately, a hard drive crash killed all my pictures from the day (remember when your whole life wasn't stored in the cloud?). Except this one.