Exclusive Interview: Career Advice from ‘TIME’ Editors Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy

Last night at the book launch party at the New York Public Library for The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, we interviewed the authors for their insight on how to make your mark in a blossoming media career, leveraging sources, and of course, writing a well-researched narrative book on top of having a day job.

Aside from the fact their book reveals the fascinating private relationships and clubhouse (yes, there really is a clubhouse) among U.S. presidents, this is one of two posts since they provided tremendous insight on media careers and the writing process as well.

Got jobs? When it comes to employment, Gibbs, the deputy managing editor at TIME, says college graduates interested in making their mark in media have more opportunities than older generations thanks to modern technology. And hey, if you’re not a recent grad, no worries there. Sounds like versatility is the key to impressing editors; it’s never too late to learn new skills and think about storytelling across multiple platforms. She explains:

“What I’m most impressed by is that even if they love writing, if they love print they are so versatile about platforms. They know what would make a good podcast, they think about videos, they think about presentation and design. They’re so much broader in the way they think about storytelling. When I was coming out of college, storytelling was very much something you did with pencil and paper so the technological platform versatility I think is realy valuable. That way, when you come into an organization, there are so many doors. If we may not need writers, we may need videographers, Web designers…I’ve always found that once you’re in the door of a place and you have the chance to show how you operate and how talented you are, then anything can happen.”

Plus, she points out the magazine and website aren’t really divided. It’s not like there’s one team or another to join. Instead, think of it as one entity. “It’s very much an integrated team and this is why which ever door you come through, you end up coming together.”

As for Duffy, TIME’s executive editor, writing the book and revealing the back room conversations, rescue missions and rivalries, was an extension of the storytelling he and Nancy are accustomed to writing.

Lessons to be learned from these bestselling authors (they also wrote The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House): Think long-term and big picture. Despite our constant news cycle and the ability to blog and post a story within seconds, he says it’s important to think about the opposite as well — long-term trends with lasting value.

“One of the great things about working at TIME is while we publish every hour and every day and every week, you’re also taught from a very early age to look for things that have long-lasting significance that are longer than just the moment so while we can be covering things from week to week and day to day and even from hour to hour sometimes, we are always keeping our eye on the bigger picture.  And so in some ways, writing the book was an extension of all the things that we were doing at TIME whether it was on the Web or in the magazine because we’re always looking for the long trends and the long stories and the ones that have lasting value.”

Plus, Duffy points out not only should a book have lasting value, it should contain either a strong narrative or timeless message as well. The ultimate scenario is containing both.

“We think with The Presidents Club we were able to do both but you can just look at the bestseller list and see that readers are interested in both great ideas and a great storytelling. And sometimes one or the other will be enough. If you can vary the two then you really have the makings of something special, something that has even broader appeal.”

Tomorrow we’ll hear from Gibbs and Duffy about how they collaborated on the book, carved it into an already busy work schedule, and worked with sources who just happen to be presidents.