Amanda Hess is an internet culture critic, so she most likely conducts ‘research’ just by trolling through the internet, twitter, and other social media platforms. Internet culture is mostly influenced by the interaction of people across platforms and social media, and likewise, research would be incredibly accessible to her.
According to Hess’s bio on The New York Times website, before joining the NYT in 2016, she wrote for Slate, Washington City Paper, ESPN, Elle, and Pacific Standard. Now she’s published in The New York Times and The New York Times Magazine.
Since my writer is a staff writer for The New York Time (meaning she is employed by them), she has to write critiques about internet culture because that’s what she was hired to do. However, since she is also a critic, and therefore publishes her opinion, she most likely has more freedom than most staff writers to write about what she wants rather than have something assigned to her. The ‘people’ or ideas who stand in the way of an idea and publication would be her editors. Once an idea clears them, she probably has little standing in her way as long as the idea/article endures edits.
Likewise, I say that Hess probably has more freedom to publish what she wants because of the breadth of her topic. Internet culture is wide-sweeping and would allow a writer to touch on nearly anything they wanted as long as it existed in the realm of online, which arguably anything does nowadays.
Finally, Hess would get paid by The New York Times either by story or a salary.