Interviewing the Interviewer…

He may be the head of the department of my school for our Fashion Journalism program, but Paul Wilner has contributed so much more when it’s come to the free press. As a matter of fact, Mr. Wilner has not only proven himself as a seasoned journalist, he’s also proven to have the chops and the bad-assery to support as well as front the style and arts sections of magazines and news papers; something that’s actually quite surprising to find in a humble, yet gregarious man. To back up my claims, let’s review his creds: a former editor of the San Francisco Examiner magazine, a contributing writer to the likes of Harper’s Bazaar, The LA Times and the Paris Review, AND he was THE FOUNDING editor of the San Francisco Chronicle Style section. So really, he knows a thing or two when it comes to the world of fashion journalism. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Paul Wilner and was able to pick his brain on how to get an internship with a magazine, his favorite job ever, and on writing in a garret…


Audacity: What got you into writing, at first? What was your first job?


Paul Wilner: I always liked writing and I had always been interested in reading. I had thought that maybe I would study liberal arts, maybe get a job in academia. But I think to go the academic route…to write an extremely well researched , possibly stuffy piece with a lot of foot notes…it wasn’t me, so much. It wasn’t until my mom got me a job as a copy boy at the New York Times. That’s when it really started all coming together for me.


A: Have you written in any other medium and/or genre?


PW: Yeah, I’ve written some fiction, I’ve written some poetry. I’ve done a fair amount of literary criticism, as well.


A: So why journalism, then?


PW: For me it was all about the mix. Journalism was a way to major in writing, but was also a way for me to make a living in writing, as opposed to being in a garret or sitting in a studio. That works for some people, but not for me. It gets lonely and you can get into a head trip about yourself.


A: Best advice for aspiring journalists, especially those who wish to break into fashion journalism, specifically.


Like any [job], there are people involved so it’s good to have some basic psychological skills, and to know how to get along with other people. As far as the work itself, I think it’s important to take each discreet unit, in whatever job it is you have, and to do it as well as possible.


A: Ok, what was your favorite or worst job ever?


PW: When I moved to LA, I was working for a newspaper called the LA Herald Examiner and we had a really good editor. Back in New York [my editor] had helped develop writers like Tom Wolfe…people I admired. We had a small, peppy staff and a lot of opportunities to do great things.


A: What gives a budding fashion journalist that “edge?”


PW: It’s almost a given that you already have an edge because technology comes naturally to you. Beyond that I think that the old rules still apply: being persistent, being curious and leaving your value-judgements out of it. I especially think though, that if you continue to be curious about what’s going on in the world, and you can continue to communicate that curiosity, then you’ll find no shortage of things to write about.


A: Do you have any ‘insider’ tips on how to best break into the industry or get an internship?


PW: Cultivate contacts if you can. Look at websites and try to identify the different publications. Try and get in contact with somebody and email them and let them know that you’re enthusiastic about what they’re doing, because everyone likes to hear that they’re doing something well. I think the main thing for students (today) especially, is to try and get past the bureaucracy that is human resources, and meet with someone face-to-face. I’m a big believer that internships can be very helpful, even if you have to take an unpaid one, two, three or five…they’re all building blocks.


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