| Home | Interview with David Ignatius -- July 2001
September 23, 2014

David Ignatius is the executive editor of the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, a paper owned jointly by the New York Times and Washington Post. He also writes a weekly column for The Washington Post. Before taking the reins of the IHT in Sept. 2000, Ignatius had been an associate editor and assistant managing editor at The Washington Post since 1986, overseeing business and foreign news, and "Outlook," a Sunday commentary section. Before The Post, Ignatius worked for 10 years at The Wall Street Journal covering the steel industry, Justice Department, and CIA. He also worked as the Journal's Middle East Correspondent and chief diplomatic correspondent in Washington. His first job after college was as an editor of The Washington Monthly magazine. He has been published in Talk Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly and the New York Times Magazine, and has written several novels including, 1999's bestseller "The Sun King." He is a 1973 graduate of Harvard University, and also earned a diploma from Kings College, Cambridge, in 1975.

David Ignatius What's been the greatest challenge running the International Herald Tribune?

David Ignatius: Newspapers will survive on two things -- news and personality. I have tried to give the IHT a little more of both, and that is a daily challenge. In a broader sense, it's a challenge trying to edit a paper in a period when the global economy has been in a slowdown. But I'm happy that IHT circulation is continuing to increase. When you accepted the job last summer, you said you would place more emphasis on how the technology explosion in America is being built out into the rest of the world. Is that still your main objective, and have you succeeded? What are your other goals?

David Ignatius: We created three new features to beef up technology coverage -- a daily tech page with a column called "Tech Brief" that summarizes all the basic news affecting the global tech market; a weekly "iTech" section that deals with consumer issues and is anchored by a wonderfully cranky column called "The End User"; and finally, a monthly tech magazine called "BizTech" that focuses on the issues that matter most to business. So far reaction has been great. For the future, I'm planning to add more about global culture and style, to create a new gossip column called "The Global Class" on the back page, and to redesign the paper this fall to make it fresher and more readable. How is it different writing and editing for an international audience? Is your readership more critical or easier to please?

David Ignatius: The challenge is to go beyond our U.S. roots -- symbolized by the great journalism of our owners, the New York Times and the Washington Post -- and be a truly international paper. That means we have to see things in a different framework. Less than half of our readers are Americans, so when we say "we" at the IHT, we're thinking of a global community of people who depend on us for the best and liveliest reporting -- and don't want their news delivered with a pervasive American bias. We need to be global, in other words. Is it harder to cultivate sources being a foreign journalist?

David Ignatius: Not really. I still write a weekly column for the Washington Post and the IHT, and if anything, I find foreign officials more interested in talking to me -- and having their views reflected in what I write -- than are American officials. Go figure. You've been a reporter and editor for more than 20 years, and you've written several best-selling novels. What type of writing do you find most challenging: news stories, fiction or opinion pieces?

David Ignatius: Writing fiction is pure pleasure for me, and I miss it. Most of your books are about espionage. Why did you pick that genre?

David Ignatius: I grew up in Washington, where the CIA really did seem like a permanent government. So writing about spies was a way of making sense of the place where I'd been raised -- which is what most novelists try to do. When I became a journalist, foreign news intrigue interested me, and there was always good material left over after I'd written my newspaper stories. That's how I wrote my first novel, Agents of Innocence -- as "outtakes" from an expose I had published on the front page of the Wall Street Journal about the CIA's relationship with Yasser Arafat's chief of intelligence. Most of my other books began with reporting, as I explain on my website, How do you manage to write books when you have a full-time job as a journalist? Are you planning any new books?

David Ignatius: I'm a workaholic. But even I am not crazy enough to blow off a chance to have fun living here in Paris with my family, so it may be a few years before I do another novel. What's the key to writing an effective op-ed piece? How long does it take you to write a piece?

David Ignatius: It takes several days to sift various ideas and then about 3 or 4 hours to write the piece. The key to a good op-ed piece, obviously, is having something to say -- and by that I don't simply mean having an opinion, but having new information. I try to put something new -- something the reader doesn't know -- in every column. Frankly, I have become bored by opinions -- my own and other people. Surprise me, tease me, give me information! Is there still a lot of spin and opinion that creeps into news stories?

David Ignatius: Inevitably, reporters come to a subject with their own experience and frame of references, and no two reporters would (or should) cover a story in exactly the same way. I always tell young reporters that pure objectivity is impossible -- we're subjective human beings, after all -- but that fairness IS possible, and essential. By fairness, I simply mean giving both sides in a story a chance to express their views. You once wrote there is a tendency to keep score when covering the White House. In other words, journalists are recording on a daily basis whether the president had a good day or a bad day, and consequently ignore what is really important. Is it that practice still prevalent?

David Ignatius: I think there is a bit less of it these days. And with President Bush, it would be hard to keep score even if you wanted to. It's not always clear what game you would be keeping score on. What did you learn from [Washington Monthly publisher] Charlie Peters when you were a co-editor at the Washington Monthly?

David Ignatius: I learned that editing is a contact sport -- and that you have to push yourself and others to get articles that rise above predictability and mediocrity.

Copyright © 2001, Inc. All rights reserved.

Other interviews:
  • David Talbot, founder and editor, -- June 2001
  • Ed Fouhy, former CBS, ABC and NBC news executive -- June 2001
  • Linda Cohn, anchor/reporter, ESPN -- May 2001
  • Sol Levine, former producer, CNN -- April 2001
  • Charlie LeDuff, reporter, New York Times -- March 2001
  • Pierre Thomas, correspondent, ABC News -- March 2001
  • Gene Roberts, former managing editor, New York Times -- February 2001
  • Sydnie Kohara, anchor, -- January 2001
  • Lowell Bergman, former producer, 60 Minutes -- January 2001
  • Joie Chen, anchor, CNN -- December 2000
  • David Plotz, Washington Bureau Chief, -- November 2000
  • Christopher John Farley, senior writer and pop music critic, Time Magazine -- October 2000
  • Bob Edwards, news anchor, National Public Radio -- October 2000
  • Sharon Epperson, CNBC correspondent -- September 2000
  • David Maraniss, reporter, The Washington Post -- April 2000
  • Wolf Blitzer, anchor, CNN -- March 2000