I’m delighted to have an interview with Courtney Hazlett, columnist and Celebrity Correspondent for MSNBC, for my Embracing SUCCESS series. Courtney covers media and pop culture as a columnist and on-air personality for MSNBC and MSNBC.com She is a regular contributor to “Morning Joe,” MSNBC dayside programming, and frequently appears on “Today “and “Access Hollywood.” I was impressed with Courtney when I met her and after the interview, I’m really inspired. She’s a woman who believes in pursuing your passions and living by them.
When you were in school, what did you want to be when you grew up? I always wanted to be a doctor. About halfway through college, it became painfully obvious that I was terrible at chemistry. I decided to head in a direction that played off my strengths—reading and writing. I majored in philosophy.
What was your first job out of school? I was a sailing coach and then became an editorial assistant at Boating magazine. I had no formal journalism experience in college so I realized I had to parlay my hobbies into a job.
How did you swing into what you do now? I made it up to senior editor at Yachting magazine, at which point I realized I liked journalism and media but didn’t want to get pigeon-holed. The only way to calibrate and reset was to go to journalism school. I went to Columbia and started focusing on getting more into pop culture. It was another one of my interests.
How did you learn to be so good at what you do? I dive into subjects, love them, become an expert, and be very good at the craft. I worked the whole time I was in school. I was at the Smoking Gun. By the time I graduated (it took me 2 years since I was going part time) I was at People magazine.
Did being a woman ever hinder you? I often have days when I feel like I’m in a man’s business. When you look at the management at the top, it’s mostly men. The majority take me for what my accomplishments and talents are. From time to time I get approached by someone in a position to further my career who says, “I hear you’re actually kind of smart.” (laughs) Would they say that to a man? I don’t think so. I’ve never felt that if I was a man I’d get a free pass or get away with something but I do think a woman has to come out of the gate a little bit stronger. I kind of only know one speed, which may be a blessing in disguise.
How do you handle criticism? I have fairly thick skin, which is essential in this business. There’s somebody out there who starts their day posting what’s wrong with my column, along the lines of “I can eat pen and paper and puke up a better column.” I just think go for it! But it can start to get to you. There’s this nasty thing called the Internet that provides a forum for people to say things that they’d never say to your face. I think that’s unfortunate, a misuse of the medium and I wish people would use their time in a more productive way. But it is what it is. You have to just move forward and past it. Constructive criticism is always welcome.
Have you experienced problems with celebrities you’ve reported on where the news was negative? No. There are times a publicist asks if I have to run that or can I kill it. But I’m not in the business of killing things because I like you. If it’s fair, it’s fair. I get pegged as a gossip columnist, which I sort of loathe. At the end of the day, I have sources and my columns go through the legal department and several editors and are well vetted.
What gives you satisfaction? I get a lot of satisfaction when I devote a lot of time to something that doesn’t have an immediate payoff and then it does. I love the idea of becoming an expert in a new subject every week. That’s not to say I don’t know what I’m talking about. For example, right now we’re going into upfronts so I thought I need to know a little more about advertising. It’s narrowing a focus and makes you see everything differently. I call I doing homework. That’s a very satisfying part of my job. I like taking some of my time away from 30 Rock to do homework and see that pay out over the course of time.
What’s the favorite part of your career? I like being on the leading edge, getting information and having the responsibility to put it out there in a way that interests people. I think right now more than ever is proof that you can put really god information out but if nobody is reading it, it doesn’t matter.
What qualities do you think helped you advance in your career? The idea that I never had a playbook helped me out. I didn’t feel I had to follow an A then B timeline. I was able to go full steam ahead. If I wanted something, I went after it. I guess I have this warped sense that everything will work out.
How do you separate your job from who you are? I don’t. What you see is what you get with me!
How would you describe yourself to someone who doesn’t know you? I’m a journalist who puts my work out there through every medium possible. I’m on television; I have a column online; I still do print pieces from time to time. I started doing some radio. I think now you can’t put all your eggs in one communications basket. I always had a sense when I was growing up that I would end up with a job that doesn’t have an exact job description, even when I went into medicine.
How do you see the current job market? Right now, people are looking at the difficult job market through the wrong lens. It’s a great time to get the job you want because you can walk in and if you have great ides, convince someone that it’s great. You can do things outside the box. Right now people want something different. Look at newspapers. They have great information but no one’s reading them or buying them. Take note of that. Think about “what can I do to set myself apart and make people interested?” This is a fantastic time!
What does success mean to you? I want to do well and be very good at what I do. I want to be respected in my field. That’s success to me. I love waking up every day at 4:45 and getting a run in before I go to work and those sorts of things. I’ve struck a good balance. It might not look like a balance on the outside, but for me it is.
What do you see yourself doing in 10 years? I have no idea! It will all work out. I didn’t think I’d be here three years
ago. I just kind of choose my interests and keep trying to do what I’m doing as best I can. And new opportunities pop up. I’m not afraid to go to somebody with a different idea and see where it takes me.
What gives you the balls to do those kind of things? Naivety? I just think what’s the worst that can happen? If someone says “no,” I’m not going to get fired for having an idea that doesn’t work. I just think why not? I guess I have a certain level of self-confidence that gets me to that place where you can knock on someone’s door, send that email or pick up the phone. I just don’t believe in having things happen to you. Life would be so boring. I prefer to make it happen.
How important is passion? It’s absolutely essential. I don’t believe in waking up in the morning If you’re not going do something you’re passionate about. Just do something you love! There’s nothing more unattractive to me in a person than someone who clearly hates their job. Do something else. I don’t mean to sound cavalier in saying this. But I truly believe that everybody has to have something they’re really interested in and there’s probably a way to make your life revolve around it.
What’s your best advice for someone who wants to follow their passion but is scared? Be inventive. I’m blessed with having had my upbringing. My parents were very nontraditional in getting to where they are. I was a sophomore in college before they were both out of school. I was really lucky to grow up with the example that you could have a family and a job on top of that and be really happy—busy but happy.