Colloquium Series: Michael Wolff

On October 15th, renowned journalist, Michael Wolff paid a visit to Montclair State University. Currently he is an editor for Vanity Fair and a columnist for the Guardian, USA Today, and British GQ. As for the rest of his immensely successful career, he holds a long list of achievements. One of those being a four-time nominee and two-time winner of the National Magazine Award.

Wolff discussed everything from the changing world of digital media to his experience with Rupert Murdoch, while writing his biography, The Man Who Owns the News. He brought his utterly honest option, which kept the audience of students and faculty intrigued and fascinated.

Today, the way we consume our news and media is worlds different from when Wolff first began his career. He has worked through all the advances and changes, good and bad. Thus having a wealth of knowledge about the industry including what works and what doesn’t.

Wolff informed the audience, the one medium that will never fail is television. Even with all of the advances in technology and the Internet, television will always be the most efficient source. The whole point of a narrative is to “grasp your attention for a certain amount of time” Wolff said. The issue with digital media today is it allows the viewer to do an overabundance of things at the same time, which in return makes it more of a “circus.”

In 2008, Wolff published his biography of Rupert Murdoch, The Man Who Owns the News. Over the course of nine month, Wolff interviewed Murdoch and close family, including his 100-year-old mother. Wolff holds between 60 to 70 hours of Murdoch on tape, claiming he now knows everything about him. Wolff joking added, “If you ask him what he would regret in his career, this would be one of them.”

Wolff, referring to Murdoch as a “sociopath monster”, went on to share a funny story which occurred over those nine months. Murdoch agreed to do the book under one condition. Wolff would have to change the date of when he met his 3rd wife so it was after the date he left his 2nd wife. In good humor Wolff clarified even though everyone knew, “he doesn’t know everyone knows.”

Wolff discuss the success of Fox News, “It really does its job incredibly well”. Regardless of those who disagree with the tactics of Fox News, “It identified an audience and it has consistently spoken to that audience without hardly missing a beat for over 15 years now”. Fox has built a relationship with their audience and repeatedly deliver day after day. “You disagree with it but your unable to compete with it.”

When asked to give a bit of career advice, he ended on a reassuring note. Although the industry is nothing like it was 40 years ago, there are benefits that come along with that. Now, the media industry has many more ways in, providing opportunities for those just starting out to advance at a faster pace. Wolff, who had previously bashed popular website, Buzzfeed for being “vast” and “having no revenue” admitted it would be a good place to work right now. As long as you have the mindset of “I just got this job, I’m really excited and now I need to think about what my next job is.” With this mentality, new workers will be able to navigate their way through their newly found profession. Wolff ended with “That’s the way to most intelligently play this game.”

Montclair State | New Jersey

Chelsea Hermann

Currently a Junior at Montclair State University majoring in Communications with a concentration in Television Production and minor in theater.