A little while ago I wrote about an upcoming show on MTV called I’m From Rolling Stone, in which I said some interns would battle it out for jobs at the music magazine. I expressed skepticism that they could turn out a whole season of episodes about pimply college kids hunched in dark cubicles opening letters from kooky readers. My own internship at RS 14 years ago could put the dead to sleep.
It turns out I was wrong. The interns aren’t interns at all but writers, grown-ups vying for gigs as contributing editors at the mag. They’re young, yes, but all are viable members of the workforce striving for their dream jobs. (In my own defense, it turns out this is a popular misconception; maybe the marketing honchos at MTV figure interns sound sexier than Tums-popping, Visine-dripping writer types.)
To straighten all this out–and to find out what we could learn from what I envisioned as a televised job interview–I called Norman Green, the show’s director.
Work in Progress: Who got the idea that it would make for interesting television to watch writers compete for a job?
Norman Green: Well, we’ve succeeded in making it more interesting than watching paint dry, I can tell you that. This idea was cooked up by [Rolling Stone founder and editor] Jann Wenner and the other executive producers.
WIP: The obvious comparison is The Apprentice, where would-be moguls compete for a job working for Donald Trump. Is Jann Wenner the new Donald Trump?
NG: We are very, very committed to not making it anything like that show. This is nothing like The Apprentice. There are no eliminations. There’s no stagey set. Reality shows like The Apprentice–not to take anything away from that show–they’re heavily formatted. This show is not at all. Once we found our young writers, we did evething we could to let them be Rolling Stone writers. That means Rolling Stone gave them assignments, and sent them out into the world to report these stories.
WIP: What kind of assignments?
NG: There were rock-and-roll stories that took them from Brooklyn to Roskilde, Denmark–site of the biggest rock festival in the world–and national affairs that took them from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to Prince William Sound, Alaska. In some cases they all went together, others individually, in one case as a duo.
WIP: In the real world, most job applicants don’t get to size up or even meet their competition, with good reason; no one wants a fistfight in their lobbies. How did these job applicants get along?
NG: They had a sense that they were in this together. There was a lovely sense of cameraderie. It was kind of sweet. There were some who obviously had more experience and professionalism, but that didn’t always work to their favor: one can overestimate one’s abilities.
WIP: So no backstabbing and sabotaging?
NG: What we asked them to do was very, very difficult. You’re out of your comfort zone, and furthermore you’ve got crews filming you. It would’ve been superhuman to sabotage each other and compete on top of that. Because they were in this stew together, they socialized together, they went shopping, went out for Chinese food, celebrated holidays, traveled together. There was this sense of wonder they were sharing. Here they were–these young people plucked from their lives and put in this amazing situation.
WIP: Based on what you saw directing the show, what lessons do you think viewers might learn about how and how not to win a dream job?
NG: It might sound a little like a cliché, but it’s about personal growth. Things like showing up early, staying late. If there’s something you don’t know how to do, stick at it. Nobody is born knowing how to be a good Rolling Stone writer. They had to learn how to do something by doing it.
For instance, a boss approached one person and said, I think you have the most to learn. But that person had worked very late the last night to try to learn more, and by letting the boss know that, it made a big impression. The boss had no idea. So, I would say, go the extra mile and let the boss know.
And a certain amount of social skills helped. The people who did well also had good personal skills. If you talk about people behind their backs, the people you’re talking to will figure you’re doing it about them too. I don’t know how to put this more obliquely, but it doesn’t hurt to be charming. People respond to that.
Words to work by. I’m From Rolling Stone airs Jan. 7.