Virginia Heffernan

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Virginia Heffernan
Virginia Heffernan in 2015.
Virginia Heffernan in 2015.
Born Virginia Page Heffernan
(1969-08-08) August 8, 1969 (age 49)
Hanover, New Hampshire, U.S.
Occupation Author, columnist
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Virginia
Harvard University
Genre Internet
Pop culture
Children 2

Virginia Heffernan (born August 8, 1969) is an American journalist and cultural critic. She has worked as 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. Her 2016 book Magic and Loss: The Internet As Art argues that the Internet is a "massive and collective work of art" and a "work in progress",[1] and that the suggested deterioration of attention spans in response to it is a myth. Heffernan 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",[2] and she has been called "one of the mothers of the Internet".[3]

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.



Heffernan began her career as a fact-checker with The New Yorker magazine.[4] She served as a senior editor at Harper's and founding editor of Talk magazines,[5] 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".[6] 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).[7]

In February 2012, she became a national correspondent for Yahoo News,[8] 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.[9]

Heffernan is a regular contributor to The New York Times, as well as The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Mother Jones, Politico, and many other publications.

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]


Heffernan is the co-host of Slate's Trumpcast podcast with Jacob Weisberg and Jamelle Bouie. In it, the hosts evaluate and critique the presidency of Donald Trump, interviewing guests like Yascha Mounk, Fareed Zakaria, David Corn and more.[14]

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.[15]

Magic and Loss[edit]

Heffernan has been online since the age of ten, when she used a Zenith computer terminal and dial-up modem at home to play a MUD at Dartmouth College.[16] Her book about digital culture, Magic and Loss: The Internet As Art (Simon & Schuster) was published in June 2016.[1][17] In this, Heffernan argued that the Internet is "the great masterpiece of civilization, a massive and collective work of art".[18] The book was well-received, earning a starred Kirkus review,[19] and showing up on summer reading lists, including those of Gwyneth Paltrow and Lenny Letter.[20] Paltrow called Heffernan, "One of the writers I most admire",[21] The New York Review of Books called it "an ecstatic narrative of submission",[22] and The Wall Street Journal described it as "An illuminating guide to the internet".[23] Writing in The New Yorker, Louis Menand wrote that "Heffernan is smart, her writing has flair, she can refer intelligently to Barthes, Derrida, and Benjamin—also to Aquinas, Dante, and Proust—and she knows a lot about the Internet and its history. She is good company."[24]


In July 2013, Heffernan published an article entitled "Why I'm a creationist".[25] 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".[25][26] In a subsequent discussion on Twitter with the popular science writer Carl Zimmer, Heffernan clarified her stance — "I'm a creationist on aesthetic grounds".[27]

Heffernan received much criticism for her column.[27][28][29][30][31][32][33] Critics responded to her postmodern stance,[32] several quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts".[27][30] 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.[34]

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".[35]


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. 
  • Heffernan, Virginia (2016). Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art. ISBN 9781439191705.


  1. ^ a b Magic and Loss, Simon and Schuster.
  2. ^ Yagoda, Ben (October 30, 2014). "Wordsmith Bingo". The Chronicle of Higher Education – Lingua Franca - Blogs. Retrieved January 4, 2015. 
  3. ^ Heffner, Alexander, "Introduction of Virginia Heffernan" (in 2nd minute of 28:26), The Open Mind via cunytv75 via YouTube, June 12, 2016. Interview show addressing Magic and Loss with Heffernan.
  4. ^ Skurnick, Lizzie (2003-04-01). "So What Do You Do, Virginia Heffernan?" Media Bistro. Retrieved 2008-04-16.
  5. ^ Heffernan, Virginia. "About Virginia". The Medium. The New York Times. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  6. ^ Cox, Ana Marie (2002-06-01). "Ten Young Editors To Watch". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 2008-04-16.
  7. ^ Heffernan, Virginia (17 October 2007). "So Long, Screens; Long Live The Medium". The Medium. The New York Times. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  8. ^ Byers, Dylan (2 February 2012). "Yahoo Steals NYTimes' Virginia Heffernan". Politico. Retrieved 22 July 2013. 
  9. ^ Heffernan, Virginia (4 June 2013). "Glass Menagerie: Initiation". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  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. ^ Weisberg, Jacob. "Trumpcast". Slate. 
  15. ^ Hooper, Joseph (2000-05-14). "It's Not All Dazzle: MTV Has a Conscience, Too". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-16. 
  16. ^ Heffernan, Virginia (2016-10-05). "Behold the Zenith Z-19". Medium. Retrieved 2017-08-13. 
  17. ^ "Virginia Heffernan - Bio - Speaker Profile". Retrieved January 4, 2015. 
  18. ^ Wired
  19. ^ Kirkus Reviews
  20. ^
  21. ^ The New York Times
  22. ^ The New York Review of Books
  23. ^ VANDERKAM, LAURA. "Through the Looking-Glass". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 3 June 2016. 
  24. ^ Menand, Louis. "The New Yorker". Retrieved 20 June 2016. 
  25. ^ a b Heffernan, Virginia (11 July 2013). "Why I'm a Creationist". Yahoo News. Yahoo. Retrieved 22 July 2013. 
  26. ^ Renton, Jennie. "Yann Martel Interview". Textualities. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  27. ^ a b c Heffernan, Virginia; Zimmer, Carl (July 2013). "Conversation with Heffernan and Zimmer". Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  28. ^ Nolan, Hamilton (12 July 2013). "Yes Virginia, There Is a Darwin". Gawker. Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  29. ^ Helmuth, Laura (15 July 2013). "Virginia Heffernan's Shameful Confession". Slate. Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  30. ^ 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. 
  31. ^ Brown, Andrew (18 July 2013). "Virginia Heffernan's creationism is wrong but makes good sense". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  32. ^ a b Schulson, Michael (19 July 2013). ""I'm a Creationist," Says Former Times Tech Writer, Heffernan". Religion Dispatches. Retrieved 22 August 2013. 
  33. ^ Timmer, John (3 August 2013). "Science education vs. high-profile ignorance". Ars Technica. Retrieved 27 August 2013. 
  34. ^ 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. 
  35. ^ Ghomeshi, Jian (5 September 2013). "The perils of coming out as a creationist". CBC Radio. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 

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