| Home | Interview With ABC News Reporter Pierre Thomas -- March 2001
September 22, 2014

Prior to joining ABC News in November 2000, Thomas, 38, had been CNN's Justice Department correspondent since 1997. He started his career at The Roanoke Times after graduating from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1984. Thomas joined the Washington Post in 1987, covering local Virginia politics as well as the court and police beats in Prince William County and the city of Alexandria. In 1991, he joined the Metro projects staff and was part of a team whose work was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on illegal gun use in the Washington, D.C. area. From there, he moved to the national desk where he covered the justice department beat. You were a hard-core print journalist for many years. What made you decide to go into broadcast journalism?

Pierre Thomas: I was intrigued by the notion of bringing the style of journalism I developed at The Washington Post to television. Did your print journalist friends give you a hard time about going to CNN?

Pierre Thomas: Not really. They had respect for CNN and their tradition. Many of them were fascinated that I would try something new like this. I think a number of people, given my low-key personality, were probably a bit surprised that I had opted to go on camera. What was most challenging about the transition from print to television?

Pierre Thomas: So much of your print training is focused on wordsmith -- writing the story. In television, there's a whole other component of how you look, how you sound, how you track a story, which is equally important in terms of making sure the viewer gets the point that you make. This was very different for me. Psychologically and intellectually, it was learning how to gear up after the writing process is over and focusing on how to vocalize the story and track it with the proper tone that will fit the piece. Did your print reporting experience help you in television?

Pierre Thomas: I think it did because one of the things you learn in print is the art of reporting. You learn how to think about how you're going to write the story even as you're reporting it. Do you miss print reporting and do you think you'll ever go back to it?

Pierre Thomas: There are days when I miss it. But I'm now at ABC and we do a very sophisticated brand of journalism. There are parts of the print aspect that I do miss, but one of the things about television is that there are so many different types of formats. There's the long format, the magazine format. There are ways to do the more in-depth and lengthier types of journalism in the same way you would do long print stories. I more miss my former colleagues at The Washington Post. The comaraderie, the feel of the newsroom. After all, I did essentially grow up at The Washington Post. I was there for 10 years. You cover the justice beat, which requires you to dig for stories. How much do you depend on sources for story ideas?

Pierre Thomas: Greatly. Talking with people you learn about trends, policies or investigations coming up that may be important to your beat. Having multiple layers of sourcing is important in terms of making sure you have the proper context. You don't want to just talk to people in one rung in one department. You want to talk to people at various levels to get the most complete picture of a situation. Justice stories are typically very complex nuance pieces that require a lot of work. You were a Metro writer before you covered the justice beat. How did you go about developing sources at the Justice Department?

Pierre Thomas: I just developed sources in the building. I developed sources in law enforcement, many of which I had developed over time covering the FBI, local police. If people know that you are serious and that you take the time to be knowledgeable in a subject, that always helps. You have to meet people, tell them what you're doing, what your reporting style is. You have to show people over time that you're not only there to play 'gotcha' when there's some problem, but that you're interested in covering all the things that relate to them. Then you have to make your pitch about your journalism values, that you're going to give them a chance to respond to stories, that you're going to do fair balanced reporting. Have you ever had to pass on stories because you couldn't verify it to your satisfaction?

Pierre Thomas: I think most good journalists do that all the time. You're constantly getting tips that you check out and turn out not to be true. Our goal is to display the truth. You've covered a lot of complicated stories from the Osama Bin Laden to Elian Gonzalez to Wen Ho Lee. What story did you find the most challenging?

Pierre Thomas: Each of them was challenging in a different way. The Elian story in part because how long the story dragged on. The Wen Ho Lee story because of the national security implications, trying to decipher what was known and what wasn't known, having to be extra careful in terms of being fair to Mr. Lee. One of the things I have a great appreciation for in doing this job is that each story presents a whole new set of obstacles and benefits. You've worked at three prestigious companies - The Washington Post, CNN and now ABC News. How would you compare the three different working environments?

Pierre Thomas: There's a sense of institution at all three. They are all committed to getting it right. The Washington Post sort of shaped me as a journalist, how I perceive. At CNN, because of the multiple commitments to live coverage, the Internet and radio responsibilities, I learned how to be more judicious with my time, how to write more clearly and crisply, how to get to the point more quickly. ABC is a place where I hope to bring to bear all that I've been learned and continue to enhance my ability to be a very good broadcaster. You left CNN before all the layoffs. What are your thoughts on all the recent changes in programming and management?

Pierre Thomas: My heart goes out to all those who were laid off because you never want that to happen to anyone, particulary those who have families or are on a career path and trying to move forward. In terms of the management changes, I haven't studied them closely enough to offer any criticism or praises just yet. What do you find most satisfying about your time at ABC News?

Pierre Thomas: The people. Smart people. There is an unambiguous commitment to excellence and I really appreciate that. ABC is committed to doing exceptional journalism. Why did you leave CNN for ABC?

Pierre Thomas: Simply, ABC presented a great opportunity, one that I couldn't turn away from. CNN is a great place, a great institution. But ABC presented new challenges and new ways to grow.

Copyright © 2001, Inc. All rights reserved.

Other interviews:

  • 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 and author, The Washington Post -- April 2000
  • Wolf Blitzer, anchor, CNN -- March 2000