Erin Lee Carr is a documentary filmmaker and writer. Her new film is Mommy Dead and Dearest.

“I feel like I’ve always had the story down—that’s not been really difficult for me. So the difficult thing, I think, for me, has always been access. Can I get the access? Can I withstand the pressure? You know, there’s been so many times where I wasn’t being paid to do the job, and I had to wait on the access. And it’s not for the faint of heart. You know, I could have spent a year and a half of my life doing [Mommy Dead and Dearest] and I could’ve not gotten the access to Gypsy, and it kind of would’ve been a wash.”

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Ariel Levy is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of The Rules Do Not Apply.

“I don’t believe in ‘would this’ and ‘would that.’ There’s no ‘everything happens for a reason.’ Everything happens, and then you just fucking deal. I mean we could play that game with everything, but time only moves in one direction. That’s a bad game. You shouldn’t play that game—you’ll break your own heart.”

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Jeffrey Gettleman is the East Africa Bureau Chief for the New York Times and the author of Love, Africa: A Memoir of Romance, War, and Survival.

“I’m not an adventure-seeking adrenaline junky. I like to explore new worlds, but I’m not one of these chain-smoking, hard-drinking, partying types that just wants thrills all the time. And unfortunately that’s an aspect of the job. And as I get older and I’ve been through more and more, the question gets louder. Which is: Why do you keep doing this? Because you feel like you only have so many points, and eventually the points are going to run out.”

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Rafe Bartholomew is the former features editor at Grantland and the author of Two and Two: McSorley’s, My Dad, and Me.

“I never saw it as something negative because [my dad] comes out, to me, at the end, extremely heroic. … He becomes this dad who I idolized as a bartender, a guy who would hang out with me and make me laugh, a guy I just adored almost every step of the way. I mean, of course, everybody gets into fights. But to me it was always so obvious that he had overcome the problems in his childhood, he’d overcome his own drinking problem, he’d done all these things, and by the time I was older, he’d even found a way to get back into writing and self-publish a couple of books of poems about the bar. So he’s sort of managed to tick off all those goals, just maybe not on the same schedule, maybe not in the most normal way.”

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Nick Bilton is a special correspondent for Vanity Fair and the author of American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road.

“I’ve been covering tech for a long, long time. And the thing I’ve always tried to do is cover the people of the tech culture, not the tech itself. … I've always been interested in the good and bad side of technology. A lot of times the problem in Silicon Valley is that people come up with a good idea that’s supposed to do a good thing—you know, to change the world and make it a better place. And it ends up inevitably having a recourse that they don’t imagine.”

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Samin Nosrat is a food writer, educator, and chef. Her new book is Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking.

“I kind of couldn’t exist as just a cook or a writer. I kind of need to be both. Because they fulfill these two totally different parts of myself and my brain. Cooking is really social, it’s very physical, and also you don’t have any time to become attached to your product. You hand it off and somebody eats it, and literally tomorrow it’s shit. … Whereas with writing, it’s the exact opposite. It’s super solitary. It’s super cerebral. And you have all the time in the world to get attached to your thing and freak out about it.”

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Sarah Menkedick is a freelance writer and the founder of Vela. Her upcoming book is Homing Instincts: Early Motherhood on a Midwestern Farm.

“I’d been rejected a ton of times—I had that 400-page thing that never became a book. So there were plenty of epic rejections that felt catastrophic. And I’d sort of arrived at this point where I was like: I’m living in my parents' cabin, and I’m pregnant, so whatever. Fuck it. I’m gonna write whatever I want to write.”

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David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker. His new book is Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.

“The more stories I reported over time, the more I just realized there are parts of the story I can’t always get to. You know, unless this is a reality show and there’s 18 cameras in every room, and people [talk] before they sleep, and maybe you have some mind-bug in their brain for their unconscious, there are just parts you’re just not gonna know. You get as close as you can. And so the struggle to me is to get as close as I can, to peel it back as close as I can, but understanding that there will be elements, there will be pieces, that will remain lingering doubts.”

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Alex Kotlowitz is a journalist whose work has appeared in print, radio, and film. He’s the author of three books, including There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America.

“The truth of the matter is, given what we do, we’re always outsiders. If it’s not by race or class, it’s by gender, religion, politics. It’s just the nature of being a nonfiction writer—going into communities that, at some level, feel unfamiliar. If you’re writing about stuff you already know about, where’s the joy in that? Where’s the sense of discovery? Why bother?”

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Brian Reed, a senior producer at This American Life, is the host of S-Town.

“It’s a story about the remarkableness of what could be called an unremarkable life.”

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Hrishikesh Hirway is the host of Song Exploder.

“I love the idea that somebody would listen to an episode [of Song Exploder] and then the feeling that they would have afterwards is, ‘Now I want to make something.’ That’s the best possible reaction. Whether it’s music or not, just that idea: ‘I want to make something.’ Because that is the thing that I love most, getting that feeling.”

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Sheelah Kolhatkar is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street.

“Suddenly the financial crisis happened and all this stuff that had been hidden from view came out into the open. It was like, ‘Oh, this was actually all kind of a big façade.’ And there was all this fraud and stealing and manipulation and corruption, and all these other things going on underneath the whole shiny rock star surface. And that really also demonstrated to people how connected business stories, or anything to do with money, are to everything else going on. I mean, really almost everything that happens in our world, if you trace it back to its source, it’s money at the root of it.”

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Al Baker is a crime reporter at The New York Times, where he writes the series “Murder in the 4-0.”

“When there’s a murder in a public housing high rise, there’s a body on the floor. Jessica White in a playground, on a hot summer night. Her children saw it. Her body fell by a bench by a slide. You look up and there’s hundreds of windows, representing potentially thousands of eyes, looking down on that like a fishbowl. …They’re seeing it through the window and they can see that there’s a scarcity of response. And then they measure that against the police shooting that happened in February when there were three helicopters in the air and spotlights shining down on them all night and hundreds of officers with heavy armor going door to door to door to find out who shot a police officer. They can see the difference between a civilian death and an officer death.”

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Caity Weaver is a staff writer at GQ.

“I always try to remember: you don’t have to tell people what you’re not good at. You don’t have to remind them of what you’re not doing well or what your weak points are. Don’t apologize for things immediately. Always give a little less information than they need. Don’t overshare.”

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Matthew Cole is an investigative reporter at The Intercept, where he recently published “The Crimes of Seal Team 6.”

“I’ve gotten very polite and very impolite versions of ‘go fuck yourself.’ I used to have a little sheet of paper where I wrote down those responses just as the vernacular that was given to me: ‘You’re a shitty reporter, and I don’t talk to shitty reporters.’ You know, I’ve had some very polite ones, [but] I’ve had people threaten me with their dogs. Some of it is absolutely cold.”

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Alexis C. Madrigal is an editor-at-large for Fusion, where he’s producing the upcoming podcast, Containers.

“Sometimes you think like, 'Man the media business is the worst. This is so hard.' When you spend time with all these other business people, you probably are going to say, ‘Capitalism is the worst. This is hard.’ Competition that’s linked to global things is so hard because global companies are locked in this incredible efficiency battle that just drives all of the slack out of the system. Like media, there’s no slack left, and I don’t know where things go after that.”

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Ana Marie Cox is the senior political correspondent for MTV News, conducts the “Talk” interviews in The New York Times Magazine, and founded Wonkette.

“When people are sending me hate mail or threats, one defense I have against that is ‘you don’t know me.’ You know? That wasn’t something I always was able to say. As I’ve become a stronger person, it’s been easier for me to be like, ‘The person they’re attacking, it’s not me.’”

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Brooke Gladstone is the host of On the Media.

“I’ve learned so much about how easy it is to redefine reality in this era of billions of filter bubbles. How easy it is to cast doubt on what is undeniably true. And I think that that’s what frightens me the most. I actually think that’s what frightens most people the most. How do we make sure that we all live in the same world? Or do we?”

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Ezra Edelman is the director of O.J.: Made in America.

“When I say what I learned is that America is even more fucked up than I had previously thought, it’s that—the superficiality of it. How we are willingly seduced by these shiny people and these shiny things. And, again, when I looked at O.J.’s trajectory, that was an operating principle.”

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Alexey Kovalev is a Moscow-based journalist and the author of the recent article, “A Message to My Doomed Colleagues in the American Media."

“It’s really disheartening to see how little it takes for people to start believing in something that directly contradicts the empirical facts that they are directly confronting. The Russian TV channel tells you that the pill is red, but the pill in front of you is blue. It completely alters the perception of reality. You don’t know what’s real anymore.”

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Jeff Sharlet writes about politics and religion for Esquire, GQ, New York Times Magazine, and more.

“I like the stories with difficult people. I like the stories about people who are dismissed as monsters. I hate the term ‘monster.’ ‘Monster’ is a safe term for us, right? Trump’s a monster. Great, we don’t need to wrestle with, ‘Uh oh, he’s not a monster. He’s in this human family with us.’ I’m not normalizing him. I’m acknowledging the fact. Now, what’s wrong with us? If Trump is human, what’s wrong with you?”

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Jace Clayton is a music writer and musician who records as DJ /rupture. His book is Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture.

“What does it mean to be young and have some sound inside your head? Or to be in a scene that you want to broadcast to the world? That notion of the world is changing, who you’re broadcasting to is changing, all these different things—the tool sets. But there’s this very fundamental joy of music making. I was like, ‘Ok. Let’s find flashpoints where interesting things are happening and can be unpacked that shed different little spotlights on it, but do fall into this wider view of how we articulate what’s thrilling to be alive right now.’”

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Terry Gross is the host and co-executive producer of Fresh Air.

“Part of my philosophy of life is that you have to live with a certain amount of delusion. And part of the delusion I live with is that maybe, from experience, I’m getting a little bit better. But then the other part of me, the more overpowering part of me, is the pessimistic part that says, ‘It’s going to be downhill from here.’ I try not to judge myself too much because I’m so self-judgmental that I don’t want to over-judge and get into too much of ‘Am I better than I was yesterday, or not?’”

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of Between the World and Me and a national correspondent for The Atlantic. His latest cover story is “My President Was Black."

“[People] have come to see me as somebody with answers, but I don’t actually have answers. I’ve never had answers. The questions are the enthralling thing for me. Not necessarily at the end of the thing getting somewhere that’s complete—it’s the asking and repeated asking. I don’t know how that happened, but I felt like after a while it got to the point where I was seen as having unique answers, and I just didn’t. I really, really didn’t.”

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Hua Hsu writes for The New Yorker and is the author of A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific.

“I remember, as a kid, my dad telling me that when he moved to the United States he subscribed to The New Yorker, and then he canceled it after a month because he had no idea what any of it was about. You know, at the time, it certainly wasn’t a magazine for a Chinese immigrant fresh off the boat—or off the plane, rather—in the early 70s. And I always think about that. I always think, ‘I want my dad to understand even though he’s not that interested in Dr.Dre.’ I still think, ‘I want him to be able to glean something from this.’”

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