Wired Beyond Her Years
When I first contacted Maren Jinnett via e-mail, she confessed, “When I saw the subject line, I assumed it was an interview request for Chris (a normal occurrence!)….” Chris Anderson might be the king of free, but Maren, at only 23, maintains his kingdom. Maren moved to California in October of 2008. After five months of interning at Wired, she was promoted from gadgets intern to her current position as Anderson’s assistant. The following excerpts were taken from a phone interview on March 16, 2010.
Alexa: So, what is your typical day like as Assistant to the Editor in Chief?
Maren: It’s sort of a complicated answer because my typical day can really vary. Chris travels a ton. And depending on any given month, he may be in the office a minimum of six business days all the way up to a maximum of maybe 15. There’s almost no month that goes by that he’s in the office every single business day and sometimes he’s barely here at all.
A: What is it like when he’s in the office?
M: The bottom line with the job is that I have to split my brain into however many pieces are required of me on any given day, and one of those pieces is always where’s Chris and where should Chris be. So definitely, while I’m doing everything else, I have to keep an eye on conference calls that he needs to be on, or meetings that he needs to go to, or anyone who’s in front of me who’s asking to see him in that given moment…A lot of what I do is being sort of his gatekeeper. I make sure that he gets [to] places on time. I make sure that he’s—it sounds crazy, but I make sure he’s doing his homework. Like, I make sure he’s reading the parts of the magazine he’s supposed to read, that he’s handing off presentations that are due for speeches he’s about to give…I book all of his travel; so given that he does travel a lot, I usually have to make sure that I’m managing buying his tickets, creating itineraries for him so he knows what to do.
I think people are often really surprised when they realize that Chris literally has no idea what he’s doing from one minute to the next. He outsources that part of his brain to me. He’ll just come right up to me and say, “so what do I do next?” I literally manage every step that he takes. It frees him up to come up with all sorts of other things like ideas for the magazine.
A: And when he’s not around?
M: God, what else do I do? I handle freelance travel, I run pitch meetings—mostly logistics. I do research for Chris. So, research for story ideas, research for book ideas. But it’s very much the kind of job that as long as you can multitask and manage a ton of tiny details at once and be open to kind of going with the flow [with] whatever gets thrown at you, then no two days really do look the same.
A: What is it like being such a young assistant?
M: You know, it’s hard for me because I got picked from the intern pool to be his assistant. People had previously seen me as the intern they mostly ignored. It took me a while to kind of feel like people did respect me. And the person at my job before me was about ten years older than I was. And I knew that I was probably one of the youngest assistants [Chris] has ever had.
A: Then is age ever an issue with Chris?
M: It’s not from Chris. Chris himself is someone who is mostly in awe of people who are fairly young and seem to know what they want. In his early twenties he was, you know, in a rock band and he was a delivery boy on a bike. I mean, he just kind of did his thing and was not the person who was super ambitious and had all the internships and, you know, crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s. That was not his background. So I think because he had that experience when he was younger, when he meets someone who’s in their early twenties who is achieving at a young age I think he’s mostly in awe of them. And it’s never a question of “oh, you’re immature, I don’t respect you”; it’s “wow, good for you for having your life together at a young age. That’s impressive.” No, I don’t feel ageism from him. But it’s in the air, it’s in the environment, especially in journalism.
A: I know Wired is all about technology. How do you feel about the subject matter?
M: It’s so funny. I was super interested in tech before I moved [to San Francisco]. Here it’s technology. It’s like every single person you talk to wants to tell you about the start up they’re working on. All the guys work at Google, Microsoft, Facebook and I work at Wired and so there are times , actually, when I feel very suffocated by all tech, all the time. It was a little more fun when it was just sort of a passion and a hobby and now that I’m living in it, it’s kind of—there are moments when it’s a little too much. But it can be exciting, too.
A: How well do you think Wired has dealt with changes in the magazine market?
M: I was here in September when Condè Nast went through a big shake up, cut a ton of magazines, cut a ton of staff members. I was here through all of that. I technically have the safest position at Wired, so it was a very interesting place to be while watching everything look so shaky for everyone else. It was hard to be that close to it. A couple of editors were good friends of mine and they got laid off. It was rough for a while. But I think that Wired is perfectly positioned to sort of reinvent itself now that people are really excited about new ways of consuming media, particularly graphic-heavy media like magazines…I think magazines still have a place. And I think our magazine in particular is extremely interactive, extremely visually laden…So Wired, I think is going to be fine.
Note: This interview was cut down from approximately 44 minutes of tape.
Stay classy, San Francisco.