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Q & A with IHT Executive Editor Michael Oreskes | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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IHT Executive Editor Michael Oreskes

IHT Executive Editor Michael Oreskes

IHT Executive Editor Michael Oreskes

Q) How would you describe today’s typical Herald Tribune reader?

A) I think that the typical reader is very global in perspective. He or she is in a business that is affected by world economics or in a profession such as law, diplomacy or education that is affected by world trends, tends to see the world more broadly than any one country. Two thirds of our readers are not American and probably more than half are expatriates of some sort or another but not necessarily American expatriates. There is certainly still some piece of our readership that is old-fashioned American expatriates, but most of our reasons at this point are people involved in global professions from many countries but what they have in common is a global perspective, and I think that is one of things that draws them to the IHT, which is a newspaper with American roots but a world class news organization with a perspective that’s much broader than any one country.

In addition we’re not literally or intellectually captive of any one country and we’re very happy with our headquarters here in France. We take a worldview and we try to present a news report that’s based on the idea that there are some trends and news in the world that really matters to everybody and they will want to know about it. Whether it’s a businessman in Tokyo or a law professor in Paris or a diplomat in Moscow, they’re all going to want a certain commonality in their report about the world and that’s what we want to give them everyday.

Q) some believe that the IHT depends heavily on the New York Times and that it’s a backbone in the reporting as well as the analyses and the opinion pieces, to what extent do you this is true? Do you think that without the NYT the IHT would be a weaker paper?

A) Certainly, The NYT is an important part of the IHT but the IHT is an independently edited newspaper, when we put the IHT paper together everyday, we are putting together a newspaper for the IHT reader not a NYT reader.

Therefore, we create a newspaper with a global, very sophisticated, very worldly audience in mind and that’s the newspaper we’re creating. Even though you’ll see a lot of NYT material in the IHT and that the IHT depends on the journalistic strength of the NYT to make it as good a newspaper as we can make it, it’s still a different newspaper from the NYT.

I had a very interesting phone call the other day from a very good reporter from the American Journalism Review who wrote an article about the IHT a few months ago. She asked me how much of what is in the IHT is from the NYT. I honestly don’t know, I’ve never actually tried to figure it out because we don’t edit the paper in that way. We think about the news of the day, we think about our audience and what they want and need to read and then we put the paper together. The amount of NYT content, versus the amount of wires service content, versus the amount of IHT original material by our own

reporters is really driven by those kind of things but I’m not sure she really believed me so she went off and read the IHT for a week and she came back and said “I counted… 50% of the IHT is from the NYT”. I thanked her because I had no reason to argue with her as I still don’t even know if that’s correct or not, so I took her word for it that she calculated accurately.

One thing, we may play those stories differently, we may edit them somewhat differently, and sometimes we may run articles that are by NYT staff members but are written specifically for the IHT. Thus, it is a very complicated process. However, having said all of that, without the staff and resources of the NYT the IHT would not be as good a newspaper.

Q) By the way, does that door swing both ways? Does the IHT give stories to the NYT?

A) It does.. We often send stories both ways.

Q) Besides the NYT content, for what other reasons do readers pick the IHT?

A) You get the best of both worlds, hopefully we provide a good summary of the key stories in the NYT, we also give you other articles that are beyond that. We have a number of IHT writers who are big stars; we have Roger Cohen who writes the “Globalist” column. Also, we are appointing a new design until recently and I suspect she will be a big star for the IHT in years to come, she’s going to write about design that is a subject that is influencing every corner of our lives, its affecting business, consumers.

People remember I Pods both for what they do and how they look so we decided that’s a subject that we should have a global writer on that subject.

Q) Coming from the NYT, What did you bring to IHT’s table?

A) I do hope that I’ve brought a level of connection to the NYT so that as this relationship grows and we do go back and forth, we’re able to do it quickly and easily. That kind of relationship is a lot easier when you know the people on the other end of the phone. I hope that I bring a lot of experience in newspapering because at the end of the day we are a news organization, we need to be quick and smart, and those are the things that make you valuable to your audience.

Q) How would you describe the difference between working for an international and local newspaper?

A) That is one of the most challenging, interesting aspects about working for the IHT. I was the “metropolitan” editor of the NYT, and I care and believe very much in local news and of course for the IHT the world is our local news, we don’t have any one home or one place. I think what happens is we look for those things that affect everybody and we look for things that all our readers have in common and one very good example is airplanes.

Everything that happens in aviation, commercial aviation, airplanes and travel has a special residence for our readers because they travel very extensively. For example, there was a story recently about airlines trying to cram more seats into airplanes, we got an amazing reaction, it was a kind of reaction that newspapers get to local stories because in a way that was local news for us that was something that hit everybody at home, not exactly where they live but where they are a lot of the time. We don’t have local news the way that local newspapers have local news. We have to think about what is global, what matters and what is going to affect everybody or at least large parts of our leadership.

Q) You were at the New York Times when the Jason Blair scandal occurred . what was that like?

A) It was not a pleasant time, but I think we came through it as a better newspaper. It made us think very hard about policing our own standards, it reminded us once again that the most important thing you have as a news organization is your credibility and you have to guard that relentlessly and that you have to work all the time to protect your credibility and to make sure that your work is honest, fair and accurate. You have to make sure that everybody in the company understands that the credibility of the news organization is everybody’s business and that everybody is responsible for it. It was not a happy experience, I wish we didn’t have to go through it but I think we’re better for having gone through it and we’ve learnt a lesson.

Q) How did you manage the crisis?

A) I think the reason we got through it was because we really faced up to it. We look at what we did wrong, we acknowledged what we did wrong and we explained it to our readers and I think our readers were understanding about it. Your audience does not expect you to be perfect but they expect you to be honest and they will forgive error whether its an error of fact or an error of judgment and in this case we have both but they will forgive you if you face up to it and say we got this wrong, we’re fixing it.

We’ve tried to fix both the facts we got wrong and we’re trying to correct the things we were doing wrong that caused us to get this wrong and I think because we have a long track record of a great newspaper and because we were determined to continue to keep our high standards, I think our audience forgave us and we’ve moved forward since then. I don’t think it was wrong at all that it was a very big controversy as you said the bigger you are the harder you fall. I don’t think that’s wrong, we were held at a very high standard because we excepted ourselves to perform at a very high standard, we disappointed our audience but you know we disappointed ourselves even more, we let ourselves down, we let our own standards down and we paid a price for that and we went through a painful period as a result but I think we’ve corrected it and I think we should be held to a high standard and that doesn’t apply to the NYT company but to all journals. We need to hold ourselves to a very high standard.

Q) You are known for your enthusiasm towards technology and new media, you were overseeing the Times web and television content and other projects as well. Do you think that you were amongst the first to realize that perhaps the single-platform format for a newspaper would no longer be valid. Is that the case these days?

A) Absolutely, you can no longer depend on one means of distribution. You can no longer be just a printed newspaper or just a website by the way. we have to be all things. We have to reach the audience in the way that they want to be reached. If they want the printed paper we’re still happy to deliver that to them and will be for many years to come but our website is going very fast and we are doing a lot to develop it, to add material to it and to keep it updated even during times of the day when we’re not publishing the printed paper, so I think you have to do all these things and this is becoming increasingly clear. I think your right, when I first started working in these areas, it was a bit of a controversial thought among journalists and I think there were many journalists who wished or hoped or just believed that they could continue to live only in the old-fashioned newspaper world, but I don’t think that is the case anymore, I think most journalists understand now that in fact it would be a big opportunity to reach more and more people all over the world which is exactly what we are doing.

Q) We recently did a story on “plastic paper” and we tried to examine how applicable the idea is in the Arab world. I found out that you provide online content in various formats. What is your strategy or are you just experimenting at the moment, which is the case with many other papers?

A) To some extent, both are true. We clearly have a strategy to expand beyond the printed page on to the internet and on to other means of electronic distribution beyond the internet. I think it is already clear that the web is not the only way in which we will be distributing our content in the future; I would say our mobile phone efforts are already past experiment into the stage of beginning to grow as a serious means of distributing the IHT.

As you said there are other forms of digital readers, which we are beginning to explore and we want to make sure that whatever forms of content reader that the audience wants we are able to give them the material in that form.

The web clearly is something that millions of readers are using; mobile phones are already something that are widely popular across the world. One interesting thing that about being the IHT an international paper is that we get to see the trend right out front, because we are out in the countries that are way ahead of the rest of the world. You go to Scandinavia or Korea and you realize if your not involved with mobile phones your not involved in the future. I think this is also true for some parts of the Arab world where mobile phones have become quite popular not just for calling but for passing on information and text messaging. So, you begin to see these things rolling out. The part that’s an experiment is that we don’t always know which forms of distribution will catch on so we’re trying to learn about various forms and trying to make sure we’re ready for each of these forms.

Q) The NYT company has announced a 4% staff reduction that should have begun last October, this of course included a number of publication but not the IHT, how healthy would you say the IHT is financially and is it in a better situation than other NYT publications?

A) I can’t really give you a comparison to the other publications, I can’t tell you that our strategy in improving the newspaper and building our audience is working. The circulation was up in 2005 in the most recent report, and our advertising is climbing very quickly and our business is improving quite rapidly. We are making staff reductions, may be they weren’t included in that 4% number I’m not sure about that but we are making staff reductions we’re negotiating with unions and workers here in Paris right now on that issue and we hope to have a reduction in staff not because we want to have a reduction but because its necessary for the financial health of the newspaper. The combination of keeping our costs in control and improving our business with more advertising, more circulation and more audience, growing on the web which we think will be an important source of revenue as well as an important way of distributing our journalism, we think that whole combination will make this a very healthy business in the years to come.

Q) How is your Dubai operation going?

A) We are very hopeful that will be actually be able to print the newspaper in Dubai in the near future, we do not have news to announce yet. We think it will be very important, we would like to be printing in the Gulf, we think it’s an important place to for the IHT to be, it’s clearly a crossroads of the world. We do print in Beirut and Cairo but would like to print in the

Gulf and we have been looking for a location in the Emirates so we could distribute throughout the Gulf. We think that’s very important.

Q) Wasn’t this meant to happen last year. Michael Golden, publisher of the IHT, said last year that have there been problems causing delays or are you still strategizing?

A) Negotiating more than strategizing. We are trying to. We’re just trying to work out all the details.

Q) The Middle East has become an essential part for any news organization, its there where they race or compete. How would you rate your coverage of the Middle East? Do you have plans to develop a Middle East expert?

A) I am planning to make a trip to the Middle East at the end of this year or early next year and I would like to talk to people about the Middle East and journalism in the Region. I was in Dubai last year for the conference on Arab journalism. I found that very helpful and fascinating to hear everybody’s perspective. As I said, we were talking about our desire to grow as a business in the Middle East and the Gulf particularly but I also want to get into discussions about the best way to grow as a journalistic organization in the Middle East. We have a partnership with the Daily Star, which has been importance to us in Lebanon and id like to talk to more people about what we need to learn more about in the middle east to strengthen our coverage in that area. We do of course have the NYT correspondents there in the ME and the question is what else should the IHT have beyond that and I’m opening conversations with people in Paris on this issue. I’m eager to talk to people in Paris about this.

Q) The IHT is very active when it comes to sponsorship or even creating and managing events such as plays, films in London or the luxury and fashion events in Istanbul. How involved do you think IHT specialist journalists are in these projects?

A) The fashion conference that you mentioned that was in Dubai last year and will be in Istanbul this year is a way really to present Suzy Menkes who in my mind is the greatest fashion writer on earth. This year Istanbul will also introduce additional luxury business element, we’re going to introduce one of our business journalists as part of the conference this year so we’ll have an exciting additional element journalistically in terms of the business of luxury so we’re going to expand it a little bit in that respect.

It is an important way to build our relationship with our audience and get some additional exposure for some of our biggest marquee stars.