Michael Hastings. Courtesy of Blue Rider Press/Penguin, via Rolling Stone.
Michael Hastings, a contributor to Rolling Stone and to Buzzfeed, died Tuesday in a car crash in Los Angeles.
His last published item at Buzzfeed was on the NSA spying leaks. The work that brought him most renown as a reporter was his 2010 Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal profile, "The Runaway General."
Max Fisher, today in WaPo: "Hastings is today, and will likely continue to be, remembered as the journalist who brought down a four-star general and the face of the war in Afghanistan. But that story was just one piece of a remarkable but too-short career of speaking the truths that no one else was willing to, keeping his notepad open when others might have closed it, a refusal to play by the unspoken rules and a delightful disobedience to which we were all beneficiaries. He was never afraid to burn a bridge if he thought doing so might help him tell his readers something they needed to know."
Max references this Reddit AMA Hastings did in 2012, in which he offered ten tips for aspiring journalists.
Okay, here's my advice to you (and young journalists in general):
1.) You basically have to be willing to devote your life to journalism
if you want to break in. Treat it like it's medical school or law school.
2.) When interviewing for a job, tell the editor how you love to report.
How your passion is gathering information. Do not mention how you want
to be a writer, use the word "prose," or that deep down you have a sinking
suspicion you are the next Norman Mailer.
3.) Be prepared to do a lot of things for free. This sucks, and it's
unfair, and it gives rich kids an edge. But it's also the reality.
4.) When writing for a mass audience, put a fact in every sentence.
5.)Also, keep the stories simple and to the point, at least at first.
6.) You should have a blog and be following journalists you
like on Twitter.
7.) If there's a publication you want to work for or write for,
cold call the editors and/or email them. This can work.
8) By the second sentence of a pitch, the entirety of the story
should be explained. (In other words, if you can't come up with a
rough headline for your story idea, it's going to be a challenge
to get it published.)
9) Mainly you really have to love writing and reporting. Like it's
more important to you than anything else in your life–family,
friends, social life, whatever.
10) Learn to embrace rejection as part of the gig.
Also worth reading: James Poniewozik on Hastings' legacy and "who journalists really work for." And LA Weekly has details on what Hastings was investigating just prior to his death: the CIA. More about the cause of the crash here.