The Daily Californian Alumni of the Year Spotlight: Margaret Talbot

Margaret Talbot/Courtesy

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This spring, the Daily Californian will celebrate its Co-Alumni of the Year at its alumni & friends event on March 14, where we will honor Noah Berger and Margaret Talbot. To purchase tickets to the event or raffle tickets for our annual raffle, please click the link attached here.

Every award-winning journalist started off somewhere. For New Yorker staff writer Margaret Talbot, that place was The Daily Californian, which she affectionately calls the “training ground” for her successful journalism career.

Talbot has been named one of the Daily Cal’s Alumni of the Year. She recalled the early days of standing outside Los Angeles newsstands thumbing through magazines and hearing dinner table stories about her father’s career in the entertainment industry.

Talbot’s first dabblings in journalism began as editor of her high school paper. She later joined the Daily Cal during her undergraduate career at UC Berkeley. Incidentally, Talbot wrote her first article for the Daily Cal before she was even hired as a reporter. The first time she walked into the office with hopes of becoming a staffer, she was asked to fill in for a reporter who had been assigned to cover a campus speech from the Dalai Lama.

“I had no idea who the Dalai Lama was, but I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity,” Talbot recalled with a chuckle.

One frantic encyclopedia search and one typewritten article later, Talbot became an official part of the news department.

She later became an editorial page editor and eventually editor-in-chief during her junior year in 1981. Talbot recalled fondly the antique typewriters and butcher paper sheets used to print articles, as well as the quaint teleprinter that elicited ringing bells every time a breaking story came in from The Associated Press.

Despite her early ventures into writing, however, Talbot had not always intended to pursue a career in journalism. While working toward her master’s degree in history at Harvard University, she stumbled upon then-startup magazine Lingua Franca while looking for a part-time job. Talbot’s stint as an editorial assistant and later an editor at the small magazine proved to be a turning point in her career, as she left behind her plans to enter academia in pursuit of a career in journalism.

“Sometimes you have your mind set on one thing, but then you fall into something that’s so much more compelling,” Talbot said. “There’s only so much planning you can do.”

After a successful editorship at Lingua Franca, Talbot held positions as senior editor at The New Republic and contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine.

A longtime admirer of The New Yorker, Talbot began working at the magazine as a staff writer in 2004, reporting on issues in politics, gender equality and social policy while also writing creative long-form pieces profiling musicians and movie directors.

Talbot has amassed more than 200 bylines during her time at The New Yorker. Her in-depth profiles of singer-songwriter Mitski and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont during the 2016 presidential election stand out in particular to the seasoned journalist.

According to Talbot, however, her most influential piece is a long-form article analyzing the impact of the opioid crisis in West Virginia. Talbot’s piece inspired illustrious photographer Nan Goldin to found the advocacy organization Prescription Addiction Intervention Now, which aims to hold the Sackler family responsible for its role in the opioid crisis.

“For me, it’s always meaningful when I feel like an article has had some sort of impact,” Talbot said. “You don’t have to necessarily write with any clear idea of what this will produce — you just try to be as truthful and as accurate and compassionate in your reporting as you can.”

Contact Amber Tang at [email protected]