Going ‘All in with Chris Hayes’

The journalist on the limiting factors of success and how learning to code shaped his mind

Chris Hayes, the political commentator and journalist who hosts his own MSNBC show, “All in with Chris Hayes,” visited Microsoft to chat about his new book, A Colony in a Nation. In the book, he tackles the notion that racial inequality in today’s America has barely improved since the inception of the civil rights movement and offers his thoughts on how we can still change that.

Watch his behind-the-scenes interview, and check out the abridged transcript below.

YouTube Video

Megan Carpenter: Hey, Chris. Before you get on stage, we want to talk to you about the work you do and what inspires you. How do you think about your purpose in the work you do?

Chris Hayes: I think of the purpose of my work primarily in journalistic terms and civic terms: being truthful, being unflinching, sort of watering the garden of democracy. Cultivating a vibrant civic culture, telling good stories, keeping people’s attention, speaking truth to power, which is a cliché but an important one.

There’s a balance between the commercial imperative and the journalistic one, so we try to find that balance and be animated by what we think the work is doing for the general democratic health of the country.

Megan Carpenter: What’s a time you took a risk, maybe you failed, and what did you learn?

Chris Hayes: When we launched the show [“All in with Chris Hayes”] in April of 2013, we took a lot of risks and we failed a lot—failed a tremendous amount. I have the scars to show for it.

Through this sort of iterative process of taking risks and failing, I learned a lot about modulating these competing imperatives between storytelling, journalism, the medium of television, and the imperative to grab people’s attention, and I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now if I hadn’t made all of those mistakes along the way.

And in some ways, one of the other threats as you ascend over the learning curve in any kind of undertaking is that you start to get less risk averse as you feel like you have it figured out.

That’s something I’m worried about now. We’ve assembled a lot of knowledge from a technical perspective, like how the show works and how keeping an audience works, and I worry that that locks you in increasingly because you don’t want to go back to the bad old days.

Megan Carpenter: How do you think about leadership, especially as somebody who made it big at a relatively young age?

Chris Hayes: I had a very strange trajectory, because for the early parts of my career, I was essentially operating solo. I was a freelance writer, or I was a staff writer with a tremendous degree of autonomy, or I was living in Chicago. I had this period of my life, from 22 to 29, where I was on my own. That could be really daunting, but it cultivated a sense of, “I should say what I think” and “I should fight for mine.”

I think that actually was really useful for me because it cultivated a sense of independence that helped later in leadership when I was directing something bigger than just me and my keyboard.

Megan Carpenter: Obviously, you have a pretty sweet gig at MSNBC, but let’s say tomorrow you came to work for Microsoft. What would you want to work on, and what would you want your title to be?

Chris Hayes: Well, there’s a period in my life when I learned to code and did a lot of coding. It was a crucial part of my intellectual development, and I miss that. In fact, I was just up the other night scanning through Python kits to buy myself, as a hobby.

Megan Carpenter: In your free time.

Chris Hayes: Exactly. . . . If you guys are in the market for a really sweet Tetris game coded in Pascal, I can help you out.