How one Iowa City alternative radio host became a Conde Nast Editor

Olivia Hanson

Marissa G. Muller started out interviewing indie artists for her radio show at 89.7 KRUI in Iowa City, but after a freelancing at a few big names like Rolling Stone, she eventually landed at Conde Nast as an editor. Here’s what she had to say about internships, career aspirations and getting involved in the journalism world.

Q: What’s your official title?

A: West Coast Trending Editor, Condé Nast


Q: Where did you grow up?

A: Chicago


Q: Where did you receive your education?

A: University of Iowa


Q: How did you get into journalism?

A: After a fortuitous encounter with the manager of KRUI, I was asked to start a radio show, where I could share my interest in indie and electronic music. Eventually I started interviewing artists for it and, at the suggestion of one of my professors, I started pitching artist interviews to music blogs. I published my first one with Fujiya and Miyagi at a now-defunct music magazine and went on to intern there and accumulate clips while I was a college student. When I graduated, I was able to take those writing samples and pitch to other publications. I regularly contributed to MTV, among other online outlets, which took me from Chicago to Los Angeles, where there were more writing opportunities. There, I freelanced for Rolling Stone, PAPER, and Complex while holding down a marketing day job. Then, I officially crossed over into journalism full time as a weekend and evenings editor for The FADER before joining VICE as a deputy editor and, most recently, Condé Nast as a trending editor.


Q: How did you get your first “big job?”

A: My job as deputy editor at VICE, my first salary journalism job, came from working closely with my colleagues for years. The person who hired me was one of the people I worked with at The FADER, and my co-worker was a person I wrote news for at CBS.


Q: Have you always aspired to work for Conde Nast?

A: Absolutely.


Q: What steps did you take to get to where you are today? What internships prepared you for Conde Nast?

A: I grew up at the tail end of the intern economy — before there were some essential regulations in place for ensuring that interns are compensated and treated fairly — so having the privilege to be able to work for free when I was starting out really played to my advantage. I started writing for gratis for music blogs in college (including one I interned at, R.I.P. Crawdaddy! magazine), then, when I graduated, moved on to writing for publications that pay. Though, I wouldn’t recommend this path for anyone today. Your art, regardless of its form, is something that you labored over and something you should be paid for.


Q: What keeps you motivated?

A: To me, the coolest part of being a professional writer is being able to shape the cultural conversation and, hopefully, articulate things that emotionally resonate with others.


Q: What does your day-to-day job look like? Do you write content yourself?

A: I’m constantly culling the internet for stories as they bubble up, before they become plastered across every feed. When I find one, I either write it myself or, if I’m too deep in edits, outsource it to one of our writers.


Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

A: Trying to predict what stories will hit and which will brick. Sometimes, though (see: #MermaidThighs, mermaid toast, and anything unicorn) you just know.


Q: What’s the best part of your job? What’s the most important thing you’ve learned at Conde Nast?

A: I love how much this job forces me to keep a pulse on pop culture and even deeper pockets of the internet before it crosses over.


Q: Any difficult challenges you faced to get to where you are today? Were there times when you had to learn from your mistakes, and learn to deal with them?

A: The fluid nature of journalism — specifically, online journalism — is one of the most glaring challenges. The industry is constantly changing direction, so being adaptable has been a challenge. When I started seven years ago, there wasn’t such a thing as trending news — my current job didn’t exist. I’ve also had to shift my focus just over the past year alone, because the election reshaped trending news and what people want out of their news. Before working at CN, I mostly covered music and fashion. But over the past six months I’ve had to jump into writing about politics, social justice, and health.

Social media not only changed the direction of online content, but, for many of my peers, it changed how people got hired. Having a social media presence is almost mandatory for writers, but I was one of the last to make it on clips alone. 

Q: What’s your biggest piece of advice to aspiring writers and editors? What skills would you tell someone looking to rise up in the editorial ranks to really hone from the beginning?

A: Block out your fear of failure. Don’t stop yourself from pitching or writing something because of uncertainty. Do enough research that you become an authority on your subject. At the same time, stay open to feedback. As an editor, the easiest writers to work with are the ones who can quickly process edits and learn from them. Consistency is also key: there are brilliant journalists who can never file a story on time and there are decent journalists that can turn in steady work on time. Sometimes, persistence beats genius.   


Q: What about confidence?

A: Confidence is everything. That’s true. But so is positivity. There will always be someone smarter, there will always be trolls, and there will always be days when things don’t go your way. But if you focus on all of the positives in your life, you can block out the noise.

Just for fun:

Q: If you weren’t involved with an art magazine or the art world in general, what would you do?

A: I would either be an interior designer or opening a design-centric home store that showcases young designers in my neighborhood, Highland Park.


Q: Who inspires you the most?

A: Joan Didion. She is the impossible standard to meet.


Q: Have you met any celebrities thus far?

A: It’s hard to go anywhere in Los Angeles without running into a Kardashian-Jenner. They really are everywhere. In my career, I’ve also spoken with people like Lady Gaga, Kate Hudson, Kerry Washington, Courtney Love, Janelle Monáe, Lana Del Rey, A$AP Rocky and Hailee Steinfeld.


Q: What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?

A: Pick my husband’s brain and hike with him and our two dogs.


Q: Favorite place to shop?

A: Opening Ceremony.