I met Liz Alderman a few years ago at a Marais cafe and we then lost touch. I ran into her again a few months ago and we reconnected. Liz is the chief European business correspondent for the Paris-based International New York Times. Enjoy this insightful interview about a prominent journalist.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Fairfax, Va and grew up in Vienna, Va
When and why did you move to Paris?
I moved to Paris in 1999 as a journalist when my then-employer, a financial news agency, asked me to come head the bureau. It was right when the euro was being launched and the European Central Bank was being set up. I had been covering the U.S. Federal Reserve and the American economy for more than 5 years in Washington, so coming to Europe to help oversee reporting on the birth of a new currency was an offer I could not refuse!
Did you go to journalism school and if yes, where did you attend school?
I went to the University of Virginia and majored in Continental literature and language. I jumped into a journalism job right after graduating, following a brief stint interning on Capitol Hill. I started with a Washington newsletter as my very first job, and got the best possible on-the-job training: talking to the chief economists of all the top Wall Street banks daily, plus officials and economists at the Fed and on the Hill. Since I quickly became familiar and conversant with the subject, I decided that was better than returning to pursue j-school.
What was your first writing assignment?
I'll never forget: It was at the Internal Revenue Service, attending a hearing on the tax treatment of stripped bonds. Talk about a head-spinner. Having been immersed in Shakespeare and other towering figures of literature at UVA, I thought: how would the bard write about this? Just try to make it understandable, informative and, if possible, alluring to readers. I don't think I succeeded on that first assignment, but I've sought to do that ever since with my reporting.
How did your job at the Herald Tribune come to you?
I had been working in Paris for a two years at the financial news agency Bridge News, which had previously been Knight Ridder, when the company went bankrupt. I was in Davos, Switzerland, attending the World Economic Forum when the news came. The then-business editor of the International Herald Tribune, Steve Levingston, called me and asked if I was interested in jumping to the Trib. Shortly after, David Ignatius, then the executive editor of the Trib, and for years a top Washington Post columnist, hired me to become the deputy business editor. Several years later, when the New York Times took full ownership of the Trib, they appointed me business editor.
Many people say the European style of news reporting is different than coverage in the U.S. Can you comment?
When I first arrived in Paris, I was struck that Le Monde, Le Figaro and many other Continental newspapers jumped into a story assuming the reader already knew the background. That to me suggests an assumption that your readers are always well-informed and au courant with the news, which I find to be largely true, and refreshing. In most American coverage, at least at the NYT, we tend to try and give more context in stories, which I think is also important and necessary to inform readers who don't regularly follow an issue.
In terms of covering politics or policymakers, anywhere in the world, their impulse is to try to steer the message. I find this to be particularly the case in Brussels, which is much more opaque to the European taxpayers they represent than even Washington. Our job as journalists is to go much further and shine a light on what they are not telling the public, and on what the other, often more real side of the story is, and how policies and decisions made in committees actually impact people's lives.
You covered much of the U.S. financial crisis from 2008 to 2010. Was it a shock to you or did you see it coming?
The Times asked me to go to New York in 2008 as one of the two Wall Street editors in the business section. Just a few months after I arrived, Lehman Bros fell. Prior to that there were signs that things were starting to go somewhat off-course: the debacle at Bear Stearns and effectively three bubbles within a decade: the tech bubble, one in oil prices, and then the housing and financial bubble that popped with the collapse of Lehman. Despite that, with hindsight, the media did not have great visibility of the train wreck coming.
When it did hit it was certainly a shock. I remember after Lehman fell, Henry Paulson, the then-U.S. Treasury secretary, issued a 1 1/2 page statement near midnight effectively declaring the equivalent of putting the government on a financial war footing. Gathered in the newsroom, we wondered whether it was even constitutional--events were moving with lightening speed. Financial markets froze worldwide. A few days later, the newsroom stood glued to the TV as the House of Representatives voted down the hastily-cobbled financial rescue plan known as TARP, causing the Dow to plunge 700 points in five minutes. Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, Bernie Madoff was exposed. And so on. It was a moment that I think was shocking to people around the world, and the terrible economic consequences of it for millions of ordinary folks are still reverberating today.
What is the remotest place and the most dangerous place you have ever gone to cover a story?
With a focus on economic issues, I haven't been assigned to places like Iraq, Afghanistan or war-torn African countries like some of my intrepid colleagues. The roughest place I have been is in parts of Greece, especially where the neo-facist Golden Dawn group, perhaps Europe's most violent rightist organization, had been consolidating power and beaten or killed immigrants who had fled war-torn and economically-ravaged countries for the chance at a better life. Much of my economics coverage focuses on the social impact, and this is one of the more potent ones emerging in Europe right now.
Is there an area of journalism you would like to report on you haven't before?
Because economics plays a large role in shaping society alongside politics and religion, I'd love to delve into the economically-linked social side of the Arab Spring, as well as the big economic and social transition happening in sub-Saharan Africa.
What story has been the most personally gratifying to you?
If I may, there are two, both from Greece. The first was a story about how austerity policies and a grinding economic crisis there has been producing a growing hunger problem among children. As one researcher put it: Greece has now fallen to the level of some African countries. The piece featured families unable to find work for long periods and focused on how even people in the middle class can suddenly find themselves with no food in the house, unable to feed their families but too ashamed to tell anyone. That story generated hundreds of messages from readers worldwide asking how they could help. The second piece was about the plight of cancer patients in Greece, which, because of austerity policies, now does not cover treatments for serious ailments if one has been unemployed for a certain time. The story focused on an underground "Robin Hood" network of doctors who had surreptitiously banded together to provide care for those stricken with cancer. Again the paper was overwhelmed with inquiries from readers asking how to help.
I have covered a lot of themes--from the plight of people in Ireland to the impact of high unemployment on young people across Europe. I've also interviewed and featured many movers and shakers, from prime ministers, presidents and central bankers to business types like Bernard Arnault, the head of the LVMH empire, or Luca de Montezemolo, the energetic head of Ferrari. But the stories I mention above are dearest to me because they drew attention to serious social problems that should simply not be happening.
The Herald Tribune recently changed its name to the International New York Times. What is the significance of the new name and what changes will come from it?
The Herald Tribune is a name dearly beloved to readers around the globe, and especially in Europe. The name has changed many times over the years: from the New York Herald to the New York Herald Tribune, to the International Herald Tribune. Since the New York Times took full ownership a decade ago, much debate took place on whether to change the name. But the future of media is in digital, and consolidating the New York Times name globally is a major step that strengthens the brand. What will not change is the breadth and depth of our European and Asian coverage. We have more correspondents in Europe than any other American newspaper. While some readers have said they worry that the name change will inevitably mean seeing more US or New York copy in the paper and online, the content underneath the banner will remain as intensely focused as it ever was on presenting the top mix of European and global news that our readers need to stay informed of the world's most important developments.
What are some of the good and bad changes you have seen in the city since you moved here?
Some of the good changes are that the city seems to have gotten cleaner from when I arrived 12 years ago. Bike lanes and efforts to be more eco-friendly are welcome. Also the Velib.
Bad changes? Well, the Marais, where I've lived the entire time, has basically turned into a giant outdoor shopping mall dominated by chain clothing stores, as has happened on the Left Bank. Only three original shopkeepers are still around my block, off the rue Vieille du Temple. Young French people speak more English than ever before, which is great for tourists, but once they hear the slightest bit of an American accent, they break into English, which can be amusing/frustrating for those of us who speak fluent French!
What do you prefer about Paris?
Although New York is full of energy, it also takes a lot of energy out of you. Paris, by contrast, feels to me to be more about living and enjoying beauty, culture, gastronomy and just savoring time and existence. I love being able to walk into some of the greatest museums in the world and linger over my favorite paintings. Or, when coming back from a long reporting trip, walking to the Seine and feeling grounded and refreshed by gazing on my very favorite view in the world: the sun setting behind the Concergerie. Although Paris can be slower than New York or London, if you think that we may only have one life to live, Paris is a great place to live it.
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
Tours cost 210 euros for up to 3 people, and 70 euros for each additional person. I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com
Click here to watch a video of our famous Marais tour
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte's professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday,Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 2 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.
I am happy to announce the sale of a new set of prints of my Eye Prefer Paris Photos. I am offering 20 of my most popular and iconic images for sale including my doors, architectural details, statues, and monuments. They will make great gifts for all your Francophile friends, relatives, and colleagues but don't forget to buy some for yourself.
Click here to see photos and for full details including sizes, prices, and shipping. Here is a sample of some of the photos.