Today, I spoke to Pat Olsen, who is a lead writer for the popular New York Times column, “The Boss” and also writes a 1st-person executive column for On Wall Street and Family Business magazines. In this interview, Pat goes over her writing background, gives journalism advice and more.
What inspired your “The Boss” column for the New York Times?
I was writing for other columns in the business section when my editor wrote to several of us freelance contributors to announce that there would be a new column. I’m not privy to how it came about, but it’s been my single most favorite thing to do.
Who has been the single most interesting person you’ve interviewed in your journalism career?
I wish I could pick one person but I have to go with the cop out. There have been so many who have inspired me, and they can be so eloquent. People who make it to the top of a company, or entrepreneurs who make it into the column, are different from you and me!
There are a lot of young aspiring journalism majors now. Is it still possible to become successful in this area? What do they need to know?
I could give advice for hours on this. I have tech writing experience, and I’d recommend they get a second skill, too. I also have an M.B.A. They can’t be shy because you have to market yourself like crazy these days. I’d find a mentor as soon as I could, and I’d learn as much about the new media as I could. I’d tell them not to think they’re settling if they can’t get a job at that certain newspaper. I know a young journalist who really wanted to write for newspapers but got a job writing for a travel site instead. She likes it OK, or make that a lot after being unemployed for a long time.
How has journalism helped build your personal brand? What opportunities were created for you?
Writing for the NYT is just the best thing for exposure. I actually heard from a literary agent soon after I started. (It didn’t work out that time, but I did eventually find another one and wrote a book.) I’ve also gotten a couple offers of other assignments, too, which has been nice.
Looking back at your career, what would you have fixed or focused more on?
I love the short 1st-persons, but I’m also drawn to the long narrative form, such as those in Nieman Narrative Journal, so I guess that means I wish I’d focused more on that area.
Pat Olsen writes on business, health, education, and general interest subjects from her New Jersey home. She’s a lead writer for the popular New York Times column, “The Boss” and also writes a 1st-person executive column for On Wall Street and Family Business magazines. (Her New York Times byline is Patricia R. Olsen.) Her feature articles, essays, and profiles have appeared in numerous national publications, including ForbesLife Executive Woman, Dealmaker, the Chicago Tribune, USA Weekend, Financial Planning, Hemispheres (United’s inflight magazine), the San Francisco Chronicle magazine, MORE, Remedy, and Diabetic Living, among others.