But he's hung in there. He's an unlikely success at MSNBC, coming from the relatively small world of left-wing magazines as an editor of The Nation and a socialist newspaper in Chicago before that. He transitioned from print to television thanks, in part, to a shoulder tap by MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow.
He told the Chicago Tribune that his first job on television simply fell into his lap. "One of many, many, many lucky and fortunate breaks to which I've been subject," he said in 2011. But it hasn't all been luck.
Chris Hayes was born in 1979 and raised in the Bronx, New York, by an Italian-American mother and an Irish Catholic father. He comes from a working class background. "My mother was a teacher, my father was a community organizer," he told Politico.
He went to Hunter College High School in Manhattan, one of the best public schools in the United States. It has a competitive entrance exam that Hayes later criticized in his book "The Twilight of the Elites" as a system that favors the privileged.
He caught the bus from Riverdale to 94th Street, back when "96th was considered by many a scared white person to be the dividing line between civilization and chaos," according to Esquire. He's said he and his friends were often mugged.
His dream, when he was 14, was to be a writer and to have a David Levine caricature of him in The New York Review of Books.
At high school, he was friends with composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who he rode the bus with. Miranda said Hayes was the only friend who visited and spoke Spanish to his grandmother. Hayes was also Miranda's first director.
In 1997, Hayes moved to Rhode Island to study the philosophy of mathematics at Brown University, where he also wrote and acted in plays. There, he started dating his now-wife Kate Shaw.
For Hayes, acting in Brown's theater company was one of the most formative experiences of his life.
He had another formative experience in 2000, when he was 21.
In 2001, after finishing university, he moved to Chicago. The plan was to pursue his dream of theater.
Around this time, he began to work as a freelance reporter for the Chicago Reader, an alternative weekly, which is where his "political juices kicked in."
He then worked as a labor reporter for the socialist newspaper In These Times. Along with hard reporting, he began to write essays and opinion pieces.
In 2006, he moved to Washington, DC and started working as a fellow for The Nation. By November 2007, at 28, he had worked his way up to its Washington editor. He wrote on politics, economic policy, foreign policy, and the American right.
The Nation's editor Katrina vanden Heuvel said people thought it was a gamble to put a 28-year-old at the head of the Washington office, but she wasn't worried. She knew he had integrity and independence and that he was committed to journalism.
A publicist at The Nation sent MSNBC a clip of Hayes speaking on C-Span, about an article he'd written about a Texas highway then-Gov. Rick Perry was trying to build. The network liked what they saw and signed him up as a paid part-time contributor.
In 2007, he married Kate Shaw, his long-term girlfriend.
Outside of his family and the news, one of Hayes' great passions is basketball.
In 2010, when MSNBC suspended host Keith Olbermann for donating to Democratic candidates.
In 2011, Hayes began regularly filling in for "The Rachel Maddow Show" and "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell and impressed management. By September, he had his own show called "Up with Chris Hayes."
He says he would never have been a host if it hadn't been for Maddow.
For 18 months, he hosted the show. His first rule was no sound bites or talking points.
He was also grateful for television's "megaphone" capability, especially after watching his father and mother spend their lives working hard with little money or recognition.
Because news is very white, male, and straight, and because Hayes is also all of those things, he felt he had to have a diverse guest list.
In 2012, he trod on more than a few toes when he questioned the meaning of the word "hero."
In 2012, he published his first book "Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy."
In 2013, Hayes took over the 8 p.m. slot for MSNBC, replacing Ed Schultz. At 32, he was the youngest anchor at the channel. His show is called "All in with Chris Hayes."
It wasn't a perfect transition from weekend host to weeknight host.
In 2014, Hayes did some reporting outside of his show for two episodes of a nine-part series about global warming called "Years of Living Dangerously."
In 2015, "All In" was still underperforming, losing to its 8 p.m. competitors CNN, with Anderson Cooper, and Fox News, with Bill O'Reilly.
Rumors of being imminently axed hung over Hayes' show, and it looked particularly likely when hosts Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid had their shows canceled early in 2015.
But, according to CNN, three factors kept him in the game.
And perhaps most importantly, Hayes' show won an Emmy for its coverage of American poverty.
Soon enough, Hayes found his feet.
He continued writing, too. In March 2017, he published his second book "A Colony In A Nation," about the police state and incarceration in America.
In an interview with The Nation about his book, he discussed the silver lining of President Trump.
In 2018, his show won another Emmy for its coverage of violence in Chicago.
In May 2018, he launched his podcast "Why is This Happening?"
In April 2019, Hayes hosted a climate change town hall with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
In October 2019 Hayes' show took a turn.
In October 2019, Hayes made headlines when he called out MSNBC's leadership for how they handled Ronan Farrow's story about Harvey Weinstein.
After a long period of adjustment, Hayes told Variety he's finally gotten his head around the world of cable news.