News & Politics

Remembering a Job Interview With Ben Bradlee

"What can you do for my newspaper?"

Bradlee on the May 1987 issue of Washingtonian.

In 1982, I was leaving a temporary job at the Department of Labor as a press officer when a mentor got me an interview with the legendary editor of the Washington Post Ben Bradlee.

I hadn’t worked on a newspaper in 20 years, and that was the Syracuse University Daily Orange, so I knew this couldn’t be a job interview. But the chance to meet Bradlee was too great to pass up.

I showed up at the Post, was ushered into the glass office on the edge of the newsroom, and there he was—truly larger than life.

“What can you do for my newspaper?” he asked.

“Absolutely nothing,” I replied. “You write about people in Georgetown. I am a working mother, and I need an orthodontist who works Saturdays.”

Bradlee slammed his hand down on his desk. “This is the newspaper that is on the President’s desk every morning,” he shouted.

“I’m sure it works for him, ” I said. “But it doesn’t work for me.”

“Who are you?” he challenged and asked me to write three essays about my life as a Bethesda working mother.

I wrote three essays, and he hired me to write a weekly column for the Maryland and Virginia sections of the paper.

I can only imagine what other reporters at the paper felt about my role as the instant columnist, but for two years, I wrote and relished every byline in the Post.

Eventually, a new local editor came in and fired me—but I’ll never forget my interview with the man himself, who took a chance on me.

Leslie Milk is Washingtonian’s lifestyle editor.