WOODSTOCK – Had Matt Bean followed the path he’d originally laid out, the 36-year-old would be a half-decade removed from earning an M.D. and a Ph.D.
Instead, he changed course and ended up the editor of Entertainment Weekly. The Woodstock High School graduate was hired as the publication’s editorial leader earlier this year, coming over from his job as managing editor of Sports Illustrated’s SI.com.
Bean had a change of heart during the twilight of his college life at the University of Chicago. Studying neurobiology and biopsychology at the time and eyeing a long road to a dual doctorate, he decided instead to attend graduate school at Columbia University in New York City – not for medicine, but for journalism.
He’s never looked back.
Friday, as Bean’s first year on the new job ticks on, he talked on the phone with reporter Shawn Shinneman. The two discussed Bean’s late-blooming pursuit of journalism, his currently hectic but satisfying day-to-day, and the ways the Internet has changed the experience of growing up in small-town Woodstock.
Shinneman ranked somewhere south of No. 1 on the list of Bean’s most interesting conversations of the day. Earlier, Bean had talked to “the dude” himself, actor Jeff Bridges. All in a day’s work.
Shinneman: How the heck do you go from neurobiology and biopsychology to journalism?
Bean: Well, I kind of always loved working on the school paper. I was running the culture and entertainment section of the student alt-weekly, and I thought I’d just try journalism for a year before signing up for the 10 years or whatever it would have been to get the M.D.-Ph.D. I was aiming for. ... And I figured I could always go back to medicine.
Shinneman: When you got into journalism, did you have a vision for your career path?
Bean: I was really just excited by the whole, what do you do, day in and day out – that it would never be the same thing in journalism. ... You essentially had a license to be curious for the rest of your life. It was exciting to me because I knew I could continue to reinvent what it was I did.
Shinneman: You mention your day-to-day. What is that like now that you’ve come over to Entertainment Weekly? I think the movie stereotype of the magazine editor is that they live a very hectic life. The phone’s always ringing and they’re always on the go. Do you get much sleep?
Bean: I’ve never really been busier than I am now, but I’ve also never loved my job as much. I was just over at Sirius radio. We have a channel, 105 on SiriusXM. And every once in a while I’ll conduct a town hall, whether it’s with Samuel L. Jackson, Jeff Bridges. We had Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.
But Jeff Bridges was over there with me today, and what an amazing opportunity to sit down and talk to someone who has truly been able to write his own script. Just really inspirational, really interesting, and he’s such a good dude.
Shinneman: So the transition is going well ...
Shinneman: You grew up in Woodstock. ... How often do you get back?
Bean: I was just back a couple weeks ago. I come back probably three, four times a year.
Shinneman: When you tell your friends and colleagues in New York about Woodstock, what do you say? How do you classify the area?
Bean: The easiest way to do it is to ask whether or not they’ve seen “Groundhog Day.” That’s shorthand. If you have, then you’re familiar with the town.
Someone who’s grown up in a city the size of New York might not understand what it’s like to grow up in a town the size of Woodstock. And kids in Woodstock these days, they might not understand that Woodstock was a very different place before you had the Internet.
Shinneman: How so?
Bean: Well I don’t know how old you are, but...
Bean: So you were playing around on the Internet when you were bored, and you got to learn about all these places. Whatever intellectual curiosity you had, you could scratch that itch by just logging on.
Well, I’m 36. The Internet was kind of around by the end of my teenage years in Woodstock. But they were just bulletin boards. It wasn’t this wealth of resources. We kind of had to make our own fun. We spent a whole lot of time at the library just trying to expand our horizons. But it was just a different experience. It was much more about living your life than having chances to escape it.
Shinneman: Have you gotten used to New York City through the years?
Bean: I think I’ve learned how to deal with it. I like leaving the city, to just unwind. I don’t think it’s ever possible to get used to the pace of it here. I can bear it, and I love the fact that you can always get something great to eat, you can always see a band. You typically get access to a lot of really great stuff first.
But I don’t know if it’s growing up in the suburbs or Woodstock in particular, but I like things to slow down every once in a while.
The Matt Bean Lowdown
Who is he? Editor of Entertainment Weekly and EW.com
Favorite food: Homemade pasta or anything cooked on the Big Green Egg