Paul J. Ingrassia, 54, is president of Dow Jones Newswires, a unit of Dow Jones & Company that he joined in 1995. Previously, he was a reporter and editor for 18 years at the Wall Street Journal. While chief of the Journal's Detroit bureau, Ingrassia and his Journal colleague, Joseph White, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for beat reporting for their coverage of the management turmoil at General Motors Corp. They also received the 1993 Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Financial and Business Journalism. In 1994, the two wrote a book based on their coverage called "Comeback: The Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry." Born in Laurel, Miss., Ingrassia received a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He recently spoke with JournalismJobs.com about his switch to the corporate side and his take on business coverage.
Paul Ingrassia: It was really a couple of things. One, I think Dow Jones has a long tradition in journalists going into management. Not all become managers because that would be inappropriate - you need a certain background and certain skills. But it's important that some of us are willing to do that because I think that helps maintain the journalistic culture and journalistic values at all levels of the company, including in senior management. The second thing is a little more personal. I covered business. Having covered business I got this chance to sort of do it instead of write about it. It's kind of like a sports reporter who covers the Yankees, and then gets a chance to play for the Yankees instead of just cover them.
JournalismJobs.com: Do you miss full-time reporting?
Paul Ingrassia: Yeah, I do. I really like what I'm doing now, but I enjoy being a journalist. And I still am a journalist. I spend about 80 percent of my time on the business side. But I do write an occasional column for Smart Money magazine. That's a lot of fun. It's something I know about.
JournalismJobs.com: Does your weekly column for Smart Money magazine fulfill your journalistic passion?
Paul Ingrassia: I wouldn't say "fulfill." But in addition, I do two or three pieces a year for the Wall Street Journal, usually an op-ed piece or a review.
JournalismJobs.com: Any plans to return to being a reporter?
Paul Ingrassia: Probably not for a while. There's a certain body of knowledge that you build up when you do this. If I ever retire, would I ever want to pursue journalism in some form? I just turned 54. So the idea of thinking about my retirement is not totally far-fetched anymore. After I retire, I wouldn't want to be full-time, obviously. But maybe book writing or teaching or just some part-time freelancing of some sort that could add some value.
JournalismJobs.com: After 18 years at the Wall Street Journal, your first move was to Dow Jones Newswires. Why did you choose a wire service?
Paul Ingrassia: It was the job they offered me. They wanted to have someone from the Journal work to create collaboration between the news wires and Journal. A lot of what we do at the Journal is similar to the news wires … We work hard to coordinate our stories.
JournalismJobs.com: In the increasing demand for real-time news, how do you realistically balance speed and accuracy at a wire service?
Paul Ingrassia: Accuracy comes first. It's very simple. Get it first, but first get it right. We do win on major stories more often than our major competitors -- we've got studies that show that. But accuracy comes first. If we're not sure it's right, we'll wait.
JournalismJobs.com: What's your take on business coverage in this post-corporate scandal world?
Paul Ingrassia: That's a very broad question. Obviously, there some good stories and some bad stories. Some stories are well-written, some stories are naïve, I think. By and large, the people covering business have moved out of backwater - it's very much become a plum assignment. Business news, by and large, is thoroughly covered and very well covered. It's awfully hard for journalists to get out in front of an Enron. Some do that better than others. One of the things journalists don't do as well as they should - which is not only true now, but true forever - is just doing the details. Reading financial statements and the footnotes. Most of these things are routine, but a lot of people don't take the time to do that.
JournalismJobs.com: Does your view of business coverage change from the perspective as a former reporter, as opposed to your current job running a company?
Paul Ingrassia: Maybe a little. I'm a journalist at heart. Some of it is from my career as a journalist. If I'm going to a foreign country, and someone asks for my occupation on my entrance card, I say, "Journalist." … But I also see what goes on behind the scenes, so when I see some stories, I think, "That's pretty naïve." I don't want to give any examples, I don't want to go there. But I've seen some things that have struck me as pretty naïve. Or struck me as too positive or too negative. It doesn't have the whole story. And then I sympathize with them - no one helped them get the whole story.
JournalismJobs.com: What kinds of stories do you characterize as "naïve?"
Paul Ingrassia: Stories that just have a lot of conventional wisdom, as opposed to real original thinking... based on what the numbers are showing.
JournalismJobs.com: Could another Enron slip by?
Paul Ingrassia: Of course, another Enron will happen at some point. Whether it will be that bad, I don't know. Corporate scandals happen. There was the huge economic stock boom in the 1990s, right? There was a lot of greed, or whatever you want to call it. Before that, there was equities funding, United. You probably don't remember those scandals, but they were there. Thirty-some years they were making up insurance scandals. These things happen from time to time. They're part of the system. But we help flush them out. And journalists are not the only ones who play a role in that. You also have the SEC, prosecutors. With business journalists, one thing to remember is that disclosure rules in this country are better than in any other country.
JournalismJobs.com: How can business journalists be better trained to hold corporations accountable?
Paul Ingrassia: Do your homework, look at documents. Be intellectually honest about how you approach a story - that's the most critical thing. Business people, government sources, people who get written about often think journalists approach stories with a preconceived notion. Whenever someone would say that to me, I'd say, "Of course, I have a preconceived notion. But I don't call it that. I call it a hypothesis." So they should form a hypothesis. The real test is whether they change their hypothesis if the facts warrant that. It seems that a lot of journalists don't want to do that. Go in with a set idea, but then you need to want to amend that idea if the facts warrant that. I think that's a critical thing. Also, look at the big picture and connect the dots. If there's A plus B plus C, what does that really mean? Tell us how that relates.
JournalismJobs.com: You've spent most of your career writing about the auto industry. Why are you attracted to covering that industry?
Paul Ingrassia: The first thing is, I was assigned to go to Detroit, that's the job the Journal had open. But it was one of the really great jobs in the Journal organization that I really liked. The last three managing editors came through Detroit, so it was one of those really interesting training-ground bureaus. When I was there, I got captivated by the stories. It's huge, it's global, and any kind of major issue of what to write about in business is reflected in these stories - there's international competition, there's marketing, there's technology, there's product development, there are labor issues. There are emerging market issues. There's safety and environmental issues. You name me any other industry that has the range of business and societal issues that are reflected in the auto industry. I don't know what it is. In addition, there were interesting people - there was Lee Iacocca, there was Bob Lutz - big personalities. A lot of drama. And cars are very emotional to people in way that few other things are. People don't talk about computers with that kind of passion. In one of my latest columns, I was writing about a Pontiac model that was once outdated, the GTO. I called a college friend of mine whom I hadn't talked to in years, who had owned an original GTO about going to test this new GTO. So we got together - it was like a reunion - and test-drove this car and all that. And I got a lot of response to that story. It was a story about two human beings reconnecting, as much as it was about the car. It's that kind of emotion, that personal story and passion that you don't really get with any other industry.
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