How Tufts Works: Newspaper person

John Wolfson, Editorial Director of Tufts Communications and Marketing, poses for a portrait on April 4, 2018. (Asha Iyer / The Tufts Daily)

As an amateur columnist, the thought of interviewing a veteran journalist was intimidating. However, I was set at ease as soon as I met my interviewee John Wolfson, the current editorial director of Tufts magazines.

Perhaps Wolfson was so kind and forthcoming because he knows what it is like to be a fledging journalist. He began his long and fruitful career by working at local newspapers. According to Wolfson, learning about writing and reporting as a community journalist was one of the best times of his life.

After a few years he transitioned out of regional journalism and landed at The Seattle Times. He said that this newspaper’s storytelling-first approach to reported news features made working there an especially valuable experience. As a reporter for The Times, Wolfson delved into long-form news stories on topics such as declining small-scale tuna fisheries and forgotten rare book collections.

Not only was this one of the best stretches of his career creatively, but it also served as the inspiration behind his permanent conversion to magazine-writing. Although he says he has “the soul more of a newspaper person,” Wolfson truly came into his own at his subsequent stint at Boston Magazine.

Wolfson often felt passionately about the subject matters he covered for the magazine. The challenging yet exciting aspect of this job was making the content resonate with readers. He found that his writing did not need to have a broader motive: Instead, he simply focused on telling amazing stories in amazing ways.

At Boston Magazine, Wolfson moved up the ranks to assume editorial responsibilities, eventually serving as editor-in-chief. As a writer, seeing his name in print was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying; as an editor whose name was reflected by an entire magazine, those feelings were magnified.

Editing, though, brought its fair share of perks. Fine tuning other people’s work helped to improved Wolfson’s own writing. Specifically, guiding journalists as they struggled through the writing process made him more attuned to the art of effectively structuring articles.

Plus, while reporting can be a solitary task, as an editor, Wolfson enjoyed the relationships he built with his writers. He appreciated the special balance of trust which allowed both the editor and writer to contribute to the improvement of a story.

These same lessons hold for his current position as the editor of Tufts’ flagship and alumni magazines — six in total. Wolfson says that Tufts is a special place in that it gives its magazines a good deal of editorial freedom. As a result, writers are able to pursue genuinely interesting stories that make former students proud to be associated with the school. Wolfson wants Tufts students to know that not only will they find interesting and inspiring stories in the alumni magazines, but also a representation of the broader Tufts culture.

In the end, he said he feels “lucky to have been able to make a living doing something that is a real passion.” That seems pretty Tufts-like to me.