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Nick Bilton says he left the New York Times because he ‘wanted to be more challenged’

Bilton, now a writer for Vanity Fair and the author of “American Kingpin,” says the Times “wasn’t challenging anymore.”

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For most journalists, a job at the highly competitive New York Times might seem like the sort of job you hold onto for as long as possible. But former New York Times columnist Nick Bilton says the Gray Lady can get tiresome.

“You don’t really write that much at The New York Times,” Bilton said on the latest episode of Recode Media. “You do a lot of reporting and you, every once in a while, get to write a really fun turn of phrase. But there’s a structure. A column is a lede, a nut graf, a couple of quotes. You maybe get to sprinkle in a tiny bit of opinion, but if you do too much, you get your hand slapped. And then you have a kicker, and that’s it. It’s literally a jigsaw puzzle you can put back together every single solitary week.”

Bilton left the paper last year to become a special correspondent at Vanity Fair, and this week released his latest book, “American Kingpin,” about Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht. He said that after more than a decade working for the Times, it “wasn’t challenging anymore” and he didn’t want to wind up writing his way into a “velvet coffin.”

“I wanted to be more challenged,” he said. “I loved the Times and, uh, almost all my colleagues there. But I just was like, you get one life and I wanted to try to do something different. I’d done some freelance work for Vanity Fair and I found it was such an amazing culture.”

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For many readers, he said, the predictability and tight editorial control of the New York Times is a feature, not a bug: “You can pick up that paper or go on that website and you know what you’re getting.” But he’s found that, as a writer, he prefers the looseness of Vanity Fair.

“If you work on the sports desk [at the New York Times], you are never writing about Donald Trump,” he said. “If you’re on the politics desk, you’re barely ever writing about tech ... I got in major trouble once for writing a story that could have been a borderline science story. All hell broke loose, and I’ve seen that happen a lot of times.”

“At Vanity Fair, I get to write about politics and Hollywood and business and tech and the Silk Road and everything,” he added. “One week, I’ll be working on an investigative story, trying to find the Trump tapes, and the next I’ll be working on something about the Fyre Festival, and the leaked pitch deck. It’s a really great place to work.”

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