Susan Elizabeth Tifft was born in Rumford, Maine, and later compared her childhood in St. Louis, Missouri to growing up "in a Currier & Ives Christmas card, more in the 19th century than in the 20th." She graduated from Duke University with a bachelor's degree in English and wrote for the campus newspaper and the student literary magazine. She went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in 1982. She edited a book on campaign finance reform with Joel Fleishman, a Duke professor of law and public policy, and then got political jobs in Washington, D.C., including as assistant press secretary at the Federal Election Commission, press secretary at the 1980 Democratic National Convention, and speechwriter for the Carter-Mondale presidential campaign. She began working at Time magazine in 1982, covering national politics and eventually rose to associate editor. With her husband Alex Jones, whom she met at Harvard, she co-authored The Patriarch: The Rise and Fall of the Bingham Dynasty, a book on the owners of the Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal. In 1999, they followed it with The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times. It was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography. From 1998 to 2009, she was Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. She died at age 59 of metastatic endometrial cancer, after writing a witty blog documenting her disease and its treatment for about three years.