With her in-depth reporting and trademark humor, Tatiana Schlossberg writes powerfully about climate change—and on this episode, she details the small steps that we can all take to have a major impact on one of the defining issues of our times.
Tatiana Schlossberg is a journalist.
That’s the bio. That’s the essay. End of story.
… Or at least, it should be.
Journalism has never been the easiest profession—and that’s before factoring in the now-daily salvos against truth and the profession at large from the highest office in the land.
Take newspapers. In the rags where I’ve done time, there’s the absurd hours, the people in your life who wonder aloud, loudly, why anyone would passionately work 212 hours a week for a wage graciously described as “minimum”; the newsroom staffs that perpetually shrink despite the dawn of the infinite blank page that is the internet; the fabrications that occur on timecards to prevent hitting that haunting, forbidden word—“overtime”—that usually lands you in the publisher’s office for a demerit; the sudden and complete dissolution of the notion of a weekend (hey, it’s only a construct!); the diets of nicotine and caffeine; ancient Macs that go up in elaborate puffs of smoke, usually around deadline (really—I’ve borne witness); the literary challenge of taking seriously, for seven column inches, a news piece about a County Commissioner stealing Rolaids (also witnessed!); the Hunger Games–style combat that threatens to break out over who gets a particular story or beat; and on and on without end, given that, well, the news never does.
Jest aside, I acknowledge the utterly massive privilege that I and so many others in the field have, especially compared to myriad other industries and scenarios. But the question lingers: Why would anyone elect to do this so-often least-sexy of jobs?
The answer is something all journalists share at their core. (And no, it’s not masochism; trust me, writers have unpacked this in therapy.)
To the dismay of many the conspiracy theorist, we have no secret society, shared tattoo, handshake or pledge (though I’d be totally down). Rather, ironic for a gaggle of wordsmiths, the passion, drive and obsession that binds us is a largely inarticulable thing. Simply put, those of us who have it, have it.
Which is why it bothers me that something like this had to be written in The Washington Post: “One intern at the New York Times’ Metro desk is starting out with a boldface name. … [The New York Times] insists her lineage had nothing to do with the hire. ‘She was hired like any other intern.’”
Her byline is “Tatiana Schlossberg,” but her full name is Tatiana Celia Kennedy Schlossberg. Though she and her sister, Rose, were famously the flower girls at John and Carolyn Bessette’s wedding as children, they were raised largely outside the paparazzo purview by Caroline Kennedy and her husband, designer Edwin Schlossberg.
Her writing talents came to the fore as editor-in-chief of The Herald at Yale and grew in an internship at The Vineyard Gazette and a full-time reporter gig at The Record in New Jersey, where her lineage seemingly garnered her no special treatment or journalism day passes. Rather, like any cub reporter, she took on the kaleidoscope of daily coverage, from the absurd (stolen bulldog!) to the cryptically serious. For her efforts, she won the Wilson R. Barton Rookie of the Year Award, and came in second in the New Jersey Press Association’s Best First Year Reporter contest.
After earning her Master’s at Oxford, she worked her way up at the Times from intern to Metro Desk to Science Desk. And there, she had a realization. As she told Vogue, “No one was really talking about climate in New York. I had covered Hurricane Sandy as a reporter in New Jersey. I was interested in looking at people's recovery, how they understood climate change in their own lives. There were only four people covering climate at the paper, and they were all white guys in their 40s and 50s. I think my background of not being a science person was helpful. My first instinct wasn’t to go for what was in journals.”
Having made her mark pioneering the new wave of climate change coverage at the Times, keeping pace with the latest developments while exploring it through unseen and unexpected avenues, she’s now back with the excellent book Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have, which she and Debbie Millman discuss on this episode of Design Matters. Don’t be dissuaded by the stark seriousness of the title. Yes, climate change is a stark, serious issue. But the book is wildly approachable, thanks in large part to Schlossberg’s dry, humorous voice. Rather than lecture, she takes the reader on a journey into the heart of the multifaceted problem in the most human way possible, doing what journalists do best: Bring the dead facts to vibrant life.
While people tend to be preoccupied by her family’s political legacy, Schlossberg’s talent with words doesn’t exactly come from left field. Rather, it’s a family heirloom, with her parents and grandparents all being brilliant writers.
As she has said, “I feel like I’m carrying a different aspect of my family tradition. And I do think there are lots of different ways to serve.”
Sure, Schlossberg is a Kennedy. But she didn’t have to be.
With that grand, inarticulable thing burning bright within her, all of this is to say: Tatiana Schlossberg is a journalist.
Her words speak for themselves.
—Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief