“You never know.”
That is the advice Landon Jones would give to aspiring writers. Jones, the winner of the Time Inc. 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award, certainly never imagined he would get to where he is today back when he was a young reporter.
The Princeton resident and Princeton University alumnus began his work with the company as a writer for Time, and over the span of his career was editor of two of their most successful publications, People and Money Magazine.
Jones grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, the eldest of three boys. While in high school in a St. Louis suburb, he worked for the school newspaper.
“I’ve always been an avid reader and writer,” he said.
Jones then came to Princeton for college, but had no idea he would be there for much of his later life.
“I was completely ignorant,” he said. “The first time I saw Princeton was when I arrived here the first day of freshman week.”
He had a tough time transitioning to living in a small New Jersey town so different from his home, but found his solace in writing.
“It felt a little more isolated than I anticipated,” he said. “I played soccer, but then I pretty quickly switched to the Daily Princetonian, and that saved me — so suddenly finding a journalistic calling on the Princetonian. I was never a particularly good reporter, but I like to write, I like to put words together, and I like to read.”
His first job came quickly — one month after graduated in 1966, Jones was recruited by Time to be an in-house writer. Jones enjoyed the excitement of living in New York as a young writer.
“I liked being in New York, living in New York, hanging out with these smart writers, and being in the center of things. The nice thing about journalism is that it does put you in the center of things,” he said.
After leaving his first job, Jones took a job as the editor of Princeton Alumni Weekly for five years. He then returned to Time Inc. as a writer for the newly formed People Magazine.
“Everybody looked down on it at the company. We used to joke that we’d have to ride the freight elevators because people didn’t want to see us in the regular elevator. But People became this colossal success,” he said.
In 1984, the company then appointed him editor of Money Magazine, which then won three National Magazine Awards in three years.
“I knew nothing about money, but I knew people who did,” he said. “And because I knew nothing about money, I tended to expand the franchise of the magazine, I wanted to do new stuff, different stuff, and make it better.”
He became People’s managing editor in 1989, and helped plan and launch three new magazines: Who Weekly for the Australian market, InStyle, and People en Español. After leaving People, he served as Time Inc. vice president for strategic planning until he retired in 2000.
“During the years I served as Time Inc.’s editor in chief, I relied on Lanny’s professionalism and his good judgment,” said Time Inc. Chief Content Officer Norman Pearlstine. “He made every magazine he touched better.”
Jones wrote his first book “Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation” back in 1980 when he was working for Time Inc. After retiring from Time, he focused on writing about Lewis and Clark, publishing “The Essential Lewis and Clark” in 2000 and “William Clark and the Shaping of the West” in 2004.
Since then, he has been enjoying retirement, but can’t stop working.
“I like to write. A writer has got to write,” he said. “Working is always sort of there in the back of my mind. It doesn’t really go away.”
Aside from his books, he’s written about everything from the racial tensions in St. Louis in the 1950s for the New Yorker to features about Rudyard Kipling and F. Scott Fitzgerald for the Montana Historical Society Magazine.
He lives in Princeton with his wife, Sarah, and enjoys frequent visits from his three children and numerous grandchildren. Every year he drives to Montana to relax and enjoy the scenery.
“There’s sort of a romance to the West that appeals to me. I think a lot of kids who grew up when I did were turned on to the West by TV Westerns,” he said. “And also, the nature and the natural environment there is beautiful. And parts of it are quite untouched.”
He is still involved with Princeton University, where he serves on the Graduate Advisory Council in the Department of English. He enjoys auditing classes in his spare time, and he is currently enrolled in Astrophysics 203. He appreciates living in Princeton because of all the events and lectures residents can attend.
“The world comes to Princeton. It’s a little town, but everybody comes here,” Jones said. “It’s intellectually very stimulating and very active. It’s a permanent feast. Hemingway had his book on a moveable feast, and this is a permanent, recurring feast.”