Josh Levin is the national editor at Slate. He is the host of the podcast Hang Up and Listen and the author of The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth.

“I think it’s a strength to make a thing, one that people might have thought was familiar, feel strange. And reminding people - in general, in life - that you don’t really know as much as you think you know. I think that carries over into any kind of storytelling.”

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Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a staff writer at the New York Times and the author of Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel.

“As a profile writer, the skill I have is getting in the room and staying in the room until someone is like, ‘Why is this bitch still in the room? Get her out of there!’ It’s a journalistic skill that is not a fluffy skill. There are people who are always actively trying to prevent your story, prevent you from seeing it, from seeing the things that would be good to see. There’s a lot of convincing, comforting and listening going on. And there’s a lot of dealing with the fact that somebody in the middle of talking to you can suddenly decide that you are the worst. Those things are very tense and it’s a specific skill that I have that can defray all those things. Or it lets me stay.”

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Renata Adler is a journalist, critic, and novelist. Her nonfiction collection is After the Tall Timber.

“Unless you're going to be fairly definite, what's the point of writing?”

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Alex Mar has written for The Believer, Wired, and New York. She is the author of Witches of America and the director of the documentary American Mystic.

“I really do believe that all of us run on some kind of desire for meaning. And if someone is an atheist and they don’t subscribe to an organized system, it doesn’t mean that they don’t crave something. Maybe it’s their job. Or maybe it’s the way that they raise their children with a certain kind of intense focus. Or something else. As humans, we are built to crave meaning, right? For me, that was something that I wanted to explore about myself.”

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David Epstein has reported for ProPublica, Sports Illustrated, and This American Life. His new book is Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.

“You can’t just introspect or take a personality quiz and know what you’re good at or interested in. You actually have to try stuff and then reflect on it. That’s how you learn about yourself—otherwise, your insight into yourself is constrained by your roster of experiences.”

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Michael Pollan writes for The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker and is the author of nine books. His latest is How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.

“I don’t like writing as an expert. I’m fine doing public speeches as an expert. Or writing op-ed pieces as an expert. But as a writer, it’s a killer. Nobody likes an expert. Nobody likes to be lectured at. And if you’ve read anything I’ve written, I’m kind of an idiot on page one. I am the naïve fish out of water. I’m learning though. The narrative that we always have as writers is our own education on the topic. We can recreate the process of learning that's behind the book.”

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Casey Cep has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The New Republic. She is the author of Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee.

“I want to meet all of these expectations. I want my book to be a page-turner. I want it to be a beautiful literary object. I want it to sell. I want it to do all of these things. But at the end of the day, I just want to feel like I’ve honored this commitment between writer and reader, and writer and source. And those are sometimes in conflict.”

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Mark Adams is the author of Mr. America and Turn Right at Machu Picchu. His latest book is Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, the Last Great American Frontier.

“It’s always sheer and utter panic the whole time I’m on the road. I never sleep more than like three or four hours a night when I’m on the road because I wake up at 4:00 in the morning and I’m like, Who am I going to talk to today? I don’t have anything scheduled for today. What am I going to do? And sometimes things work out for that day and sometimes they don’t. I think when you start to lose that feeling — that tense feeling, that pit in your stomach — then the work starts to lose something as well.”

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Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and a co-host of Political Gabfest. Her latest book is Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration.

“I'm pretty convinced that if everybody went to criminal court we would not have courts that are dysfunctional the way our courts are. Because what you see every day is a lot of dysfunction and disrespect. It’s kind of deadening. Most people—especially most middle and upper-class people in this country—don’t know anything about the system. They haven’t experienced it first-hand and they prefer not to think about it. It’s very stigmatized. A lot of what I do is just bear witness.’”

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Sloane Crosley is the author of I Was Told There’d Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number. Her latest essay collection is Look Alive Out There.

“The more extreme things get in reality, the more extreme escapism has to be. It’s like Game of Thrones or bust. But in reality, I think that part of what I’m trying to do with this book — or in anything I write — is to give permission to be mad about little things. Just because there’s all of this, someone still slid their hand down a subway pole and touched you. Or somebody bumped into you. There are still these minor indignities and infractions that occur consistently. And I think there’s some sort of robbing if you tell yourself, Well, I’m not going to be mad about this because of the political landscape that we’re in.

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Christine Kenneally has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Monthly. Her 2018 Buzzfeed article, “The Ghosts of the Orphanage,” was nominated for a National Magazine Award.

"I understood that the abuse was a big part of the story. But the thing that really hooked me and disturbed me and I wouldn’t forget was the depersonalization that went on in these places. It wasn’t just that the records had been lost along the way. It became really clear that the information was intentionally withheld, and it was all part of just this extraordinary depersonalization that happened to these kids.”

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David Wallace-Wells is the deputy editor of New York and the author of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming.

“Between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees of warming, just that extra half degree of warming, is going to kill 150 million people from air pollution alone. That’s 25 times the death toll of the Holocaust. And when I say that to people, their eyes open. They’re like oh my god, this is suffering on such an unconscionable scale. And it is. But 9 million people are dying already every year from air pollution. That’s a Holocaust every year, right now. And our lives aren’t meaningfully oriented around those people and those deaths. And very few people we know have their lives meaningfully oriented around those people and those deaths. And I think it’s quite likely that, going forward, those impulses of compartmentalization and denial and narcissism will continue to govern our response to this crisis. Which is tragic.”

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Linda Villarosa directs the journalism program at the City College of New York and is a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine. Her article "Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis" was one of Longform's Top Ten of 2018. She is at work on a new book, Under the Skin: Race, Inequality and the Health of a Nation, due out in 2020.

“I think at the beginning I was afraid to say it right out, so I think I was saying ‘racial bias’ or something like that. Then I stopped. ... I think how I learned about it both in earlier reporting and in grad school and in my own research was that race is a risk factor for a bunch of different health problems, whether it’s heart disease, infant and maternal mortality, or HIV. It’s just said that race is a risk factor. It’s disproportionate. What it really is is that race is a risk factor, but it’s also a risk marker. Instead of looking at what individuals are doing wrong, it’s what society is doing wrong in creating problems for individual people which lead to health crisis. It’s sort of like bias, related to racism, is creating problems in people’s actual bodies. That’s what I came to understand. It really shifts the blame off the individual.”

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Michael Lewis is the author of several bestselling books and the host of the new podcast Against the Rules.

“I think anything you do, if it’s going to be any good, there’s got to be some risk involved. I think the reader or the listener will sense that you were taking chances and it will excite them. So, you never want to do the same thing twice, and you don’t want to cling to something because it’s the safe thing. I try to keep that in mind. Ok, I started with this, but if I push off shore clinging to this life raft or this floatation device and I get way out of swimming range of the beach, but I find this more interesting flotation device, have the nerve to jump from one to the next. You never know where it’s going to lead.”

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Hillary Frank is the creator of The Longest Shortest Time podcast and the author of Weird Parenting Wins.

“I think motherhood is not valued in our culture. We don’t value the work of mothers both at home and then at work. Mothers are the most discriminated against people at work. They’re discriminated more against than fathers or people without children. Mothers are promoted less, hired less, and paid less. People are forced out of their jobs after they announce that they’re pregnant, they’re passed over for promotions, and they get horrible, discriminatory comments like, ‘Oh, don’t you really think you want to be at home? Do you really want to come back?‘ And American work culture is not set up for people to be parents and mothers.”

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Casey Newton covers technology for The Verge and writes The Interface newsletter.

“I remember one time a Facebook employee told me when I wrote something critical and I said something like, ‘Yeah, I know that one was a little harder on you.’ I remember he said to me, ‘Please understand that this helps to make the case internally for changes we want to make.’ When this type of criticism get published when we know that this is the conversation, we can push for these kinds of changes on the inside. If you believe that these platforms are going to be around and that they aren’t going to be shut down and all the executives put into jail, I think what you actually want is to see them get better at things.”

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Wesley Morris is a critic at large for The New York Times, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, and the co-host of Still Processing.

“I think that the taking of extra time to be more thoughtful and less reactive is, to the extent that I have any wisdom to impart, that is it. Just wait a second. Because someone’s going to get there before you get there anyway.”

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Evan Ratliff, a co-host of the Longform Podcast, is the author of The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.

“We’re all less moral than we think we are, including myself. I’m interested in the justifications people provide for themselves to get deep into something that starts as one thing and ends up as a murderous criminal cartel. Paul Le Roux, sure—but also doctors and pharmacists. It’s interesting to think about where the pressures in our lives create moral ambiguity that we didn't think was there, and why we do things that we’ve said we'll never do. We look at someone else and think that they’re really bad or evil, but then we’ve never experienced those pressures. That cauldron of factors is something I’m very interested in because I think it applies to everyone.”

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Kiese Laymon is the author of How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America and Heavy: An American Memoir.

“It’s ironic to me that my mom was the woman who taught me how to read. She was the black woman who taught me how to read and write. And everything I wrote outside of my house I was taught not to write to my mama. I just think that’s where we are as black writers and black creators in this country. Literally because most of our teachers are white. Principals are white. The standards are white. But I wanted to flip this on its head and I wanted to write this book to the person who taught me how to read and write. And, yeah, we got some dysfunctional, fucked-up shit going on. But we also have some abundant love shit going on, too.”

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Patrick Radden Keefe is a New Yorker staff writer. His latest book is Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.

“What was strange for me was that it was before I was born, almost a half-century ago. I went to Belfast and asked people about it and you could see the fear on people’s faces. So this notion that this event that’s older than I am still felt so radioactive in the present day was challenging from a reporting point of view, but it also, at every step along the way, made me feel as though it was good that I was doing this project. That this was not a kind of inert, stale history story I was telling. It was something that was vivid and palpable and menacing even now.”

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Rosecrans Baldwin is a writer and regular contributor to GQ. His latest novel is The Last Kid Left.

“It requires a lot of preparation in order to just have lunch with Roger Federer. Being a person who tends toward anxiety and also a former Boy Scout—put those two things together and I will exhaustively prepare so that I can come across like a complete idiot. The idea of sitting down with someone like that is that you should know everything about their life and their career so that you can go in with 12 questions in the back of your mind.”

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Christie Aschwanden is a freelance science writer. Her latest book is Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery.

“I think every writer has this sort of obsession in a story that they write over and over in different forms. For me, it’s about belief and how do we decide what to believe. How do we choose what evidence is credible? How do we make those decisions?”

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Lydia Polgreen, former foreign correspondent and director of NYT Global at The New York Times, is the editor in chief of HuffPost.

“Like a lot of people, I think I went a little bit crazy after Donald Trump got elected. ... If Hillary Clinton had won the election, I have a feeling that I would still be a mid-level manager at The New York Times. But after the election, I really started to think about journalism, about my role in it, about who journalism was serving and who it was for, and I just became really enamored with this idea that you could create a news organization that was less about people who are left out of the political and economic power equations, but actually for them.”

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Thomas Morton is a writer and former correspondent for HBO's Vice News. He was at Vice from 2004-2019 and is a major character in Jill Abramson's Merchants of Truth.

“You have to go with your gut and I feel like that’s one of the most essential qualities in doing anything of the nature of what we did. Of making documentaries or reporting news or current events, you really have to have a good sense of intuition for who you’re dealing with, what they’re telling you, what you’re telling them, how you’re behaving. It’s all human interaction, you can’t govern that with hard and fast rules or with extremely set rules. Beyond the extreme ones there are always going to be murky areas. You have to be willing to accept that and work with those.”

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David Grann is a staff writer for the New Yorker. His new book is The White Darkness.

“I do think in life, and in reporting, that reckoning with failure is a part of the process. And reckoning with your own limitations. I think that’s probably the arc and change I have made as I get older. Just as O’Shea doesn’t get the squid, failure is such an integral part of life and what you make of it. Too often we’re always focused on the success side, and I don’t always think the successes teach us as much as the journey and having things elude us. ... I'm being completely honest, I look at every story I've ever written as a failure. Because I always have some model, some perfect ideal, that I want to try to reach.”

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