Virginia Heffernan

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Virginia Heffernan
Virginia Heffernan.jpg
Virginia Heffernan in 2012
Born Virginia Page Heffernan
(1969-08-08) August 8, 1969 (age 46)
Hanover, New Hampshire, United States
Occupation Author, columnist
Nationality American
Genre Internet
Pop culture

Virginia Heffernan (born August 8, 1969) is an American journalist. From 2003 to 2011, she was a staff writer for The New York Times — first as a TV critic, then as a magazine columnist, and then as an opinion writer. She has also worked as a senior editor for Harper's, a founding editor of Talk, a TV critic for Slate, a fact checker for The New Yorker and a national correspondent for Yahoo News. Heffernan writes as a cultural critic, with particular attention to digital culture. She is known as a playful, stylish and erudite writer; in 2014 Ben Yagoda in the Chronicle of Higher Education named her among his top candidates for "best living writer of English prose."[1] Since 2014, Heffernan has been a Visiting Scholar in Media, Communications and Culture at NYU and a regular contributor to Backchannel and The Message, both writing collectives housed on The Medium website.[2] She currently writes a monthly column on language for The New York Times Magazine called "First Words".

Background and education[edit]

Virginia Heffernan was born in Hanover, New Hampshire. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Virginia (1991) and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She also received an English Literature Master's Degree (1993) and Ph.D (2002) from Harvard University. Her father is a retired professor of English literature.



Heffernan began her career as a fact-checker with The New Yorker magazine.[3] She served as a senior editor at Harper's and founding editor of Talk magazines,[4] and as TV critic for the online magazine Slate.

In June 2002, the Columbia Journalism Review named Heffernan one of its "Ten Young Editors to Watch".[5] In September of the following year, Heffernan departed Slate to join The New York Times. While there, she started the blog "Screens" for the New York Times website, which eventually became "The Medium" blog (named after her column).[6]

In February 2012, she became a national correspondent for Yahoo News,[7] where she covered the 2012 presidential election and wrote about subjects related to media, technology, politics and culture. In June 2013, Heffernan began a series of articles for Yahoo News, entitled "Glass Menagerie", on her experiences using Google Glass OHMD.[8]

Heffernan is a regular contributor to Backchannel and The Message, where she writes about digital culture. She is also the editorial director of West studios, and a monthly contributor to "First Words", a column in The New York Times Magazine.[9]

In her journalism, Heffernan writes about culture and technology using methods of literary criticism.[10] Her work often centers on the human side of technology, and culture in general, and she advocates broader and more critical thinking with regard to newer technologies.[11]

In parallel to writing on the subject, Heffernan also participates actively in social media. She openly befriends her readers on Facebook, tweets frequently[12] and maintains an active Tumblr.[13]

Books and TV[edit]

Heffernan has contributed to a number of books, covering topics that include depression, TV series and the impact of the internet.

In 2005, Heffernan (with co-writer Mike Albo) published the comic novel, The Underminer. The MTV documentary on the murder of Matthew Shepard, Matthew's Murder—for which Heffernan wrote the script—was nominated for an Emmy award.[14]

Her book about digital culture, Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet, is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.[15] [16]


In July 2013, Heffernan published an article entitled "Why I'm a creationist".[17] In this, Heffernan stated that "I have never found a more compelling story of our origins than the ones that involve God", and that she was "considerably less amused and moved by the character-free Big Bang story (“something exploded”) than by the twisted and picturesque misadventures of Eve and Adam". She concluded by quoting author Yann Martel's summary of the subtext of his novel, Life of Pi: "1) Life is a story, 2) You can choose your story, 3) A story with God is the better story".[17][18] In a subsequent discussion on Twitter with the popular science writer Carl Zimmer, Heffernan clarified her stance — "I'm a creationist on aesthetic grounds".[19]

Heffernan received much criticism for her column.[19][20][21][22][23][24][25] Critics responded to her postmodern stance,[24] several quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts".[19][22] However, writing in The Guardian, Andrew Brown dismissed Heffernan's critique of evolution, but noted that: "[s]he is certainly not a young-earth creationist ... [b]ut she wants stories where people find hope and courage in the events of the world around them, and she finds them in religion, not in science". Her column subsequently provided the subject for a debate in The New York Times.[26]

In a later interview on CBC Radio, Heffernan said of the column, "I meant to chronicle my own admittedly arbitrary intellectual evolution around the subject of the origins of the cosmos and the origins of human consciousness. It had slowly dawned on me that journalists were expected to share a consensus about the origins of those things. And I wasn't in that consensus and I wanted to speak up ... I only chronicled how that belief came into my own life".[27]


Heffernan lives in Brooklyn Heights with her two children.

Published works[edit]

  • Heffernan, Virginia (1999). Bonney, Jo, ed. Extreme Exposure: An Anthology of Solo Performance Texts from the Twentieth Century. Theatre Communications Group. ISBN 1559361557. 
  • Heffernan, Virginia (2002). Casey, Nell, ed. Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression. William Morrow Paperback. ISBN 0060007826. 
  • Heffernan, Virginia (2002). The Threat of American Life: Literary Defensiveness at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century (Ph.D.). Harvard University. 
  • Heffernan, Virginia (2004). Bauer, Douglas, ed. Prime Times: Writers on their Favorite TV Shows. Harper Perennial. ISBN 1400081149. 
  • Albo, Mike; Heffernan, Virginia (2005). The Underminer: The Best Friend Who Casually Destroys Your Life. Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 1582344841. 
  • Heffernan, Virginia (2011). Brockman, John, ed. Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future. Harper Perennial. ISBN 0062020447. 
  • Heffernan, Virginia (2014). Brockman, John, ed. What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night. Harper Perennial. ISBN 006229623X. 


  1. ^ "Wordsmith Bingo – Lingua Franca - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education". Retrieved January 4, 2015. 
  2. ^ "The Message". The Medium. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  3. ^ Skurnick, Lizzie (2003-04-01). "So What Do You Do, Virginia Heffernan?" Media Bistro. Retrieved 2008-04-16.
  4. ^ Heffernan, Virginia. "About Virginia". The Medium. The New York Times. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  5. ^ Cox, Ana Marie (2002-06-01). "Ten Young Editors To Watch". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 2008-04-16.
  6. ^ Heffernan, Virginia (17 October 2007). "So Long, Screens; Long Live The Medium". The Medium. The New York Times. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  7. ^ Byers, Dylan (2 February 2012). "Yahoo Steals NYTimes' Virginia Heffernan". Politico. Retrieved 22 July 2013. 
  8. ^ Heffernan, Virginia (4 June 2013). "Glass Menagerie: Initiation". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Lambert, Craig (October 2007). "Savant of Screens". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved 22 July 2013. 
  11. ^ Tebaldi, David (2013). "The Information Sage: An Interview with Virginia Heffernan". The Valley Advocate. Retrieved 22 July 2013. 
  12. ^ Heffernan, Virginia. "Virginia Heffernan, @page88". Twitter. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  13. ^ Heffernan, Virginia. "Page88". Tumblr. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  14. ^ Hooper, Joseph (2000-05-14). "It's Not All Dazzle: MTV Has a Conscience, Too". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-16. 
  15. ^ "Virginia Heffernan - Bio - Speaker Profile at The Lavin Agency". Retrieved January 4, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Magic and Loss - The Pleasures of the Internet". Retrieved January 25, 2015. 
  17. ^ a b Heffernan, Virginia (11 July 2013). "Why I'm a Creationist". Yahoo News. Yahoo. Retrieved 22 July 2013. 
  18. ^ Renton, Jennie. "Yann Martel Interview". Textualities. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  19. ^ a b c Heffernan, Virginia; Zimmer, Carl (July 2013). "Conversation with Heffernan and Zimmer". Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  20. ^ Nolan, Hamilton (12 July 2013). "Yes Virginia, There Is a Darwin". Gawker. Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  21. ^ Helmuth, Laura (15 July 2013). "Virginia Heffernan’s Shameful Confession". Slate. Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  22. ^ a b Chivers, Tom (16 July 2013). "You don't get to choose your own facts: however 'moving' you find the creation story, evolution is still true". The Telegraph. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  23. ^ Brown, Andrew (18 July 2013). "Virginia Heffernan's creationism is wrong but makes good sense". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  24. ^ a b Schulson, Michael (19 July 2013). ""I'm a Creationist," Says Former Times Tech Writer, Heffernan". Religion Dispatches. Retrieved 22 August 2013. 
  25. ^ Timmer, John (3 August 2013). "Science education vs. high-profile ignorance". Ars Technica. Retrieved 27 August 2013. 
  26. ^ Giberson, Karl; Linder, Douglas O.; Wax, Trevin; Gafney, Wil; Al-Marayati, Salam; Tucker, Mary Evelyn; Redlawsk, David P. (15 August 2013). "Should Creationism Be Controversial?". The New York Times. Room for Debate. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  27. ^ Ghomeshi, Jian (5 September 2013). "The perils of coming out as a creationist". CBC Radio. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 

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