In the incestuous world of New Yorkís
business publications, thereís a lot of movement from one to the other. When Larry Ingrassia recently headed uptown to The New York Times
after 25 years at The Wall Street Journal, he recognized a lot of faces of
writers and editors who had made the same migration before him. At the
WSJ, where he was the assistant managing editor in charge of global
coverage of financial markets, Ingrassia guided his team to two
Pulitzer Prizes. Moving to the Times a month ago, he became the daily's
new business editor, succeeding Glenn Kramon, who had been promoted to
associate managing editor. It was a busy time to make the jump. In his
first month, Ingrassia has directed coverage of the Martha Stewart case,
the Comcast-Disney saga, and the whole flap over indecency on
television arising from Janet Jackson's Super Bowl breast-baring.
Ingrassia talks to Media Life about his vision for the Times business
section, the Stewart trial and, of course, Jayson Blair.
1. With increased competition from the
internet, and even your own companyís site, how do you keep people
reading the daily newspaper?
By breaking news you canít get
There are two ways to break news. Thereís the traditional
scoop, an exclusive about a development with a company or in the economy,
and breaking that news before anyone else does.
The second exclusive is called an idea exclusive. Itís
similar but not necessarily whatís considered a traditional scoop.
Itís doing an analytical trend story and spotting it before
anyone else, putting it in context, and explaining the world to our
readers in ways they hadnít thought of before. The internet doesnít do
that, except in very few places, and certainly not consistently.
2. Some newspapers have spun off versions for
young, apparently attention deficit disordered readers. What do you think
of those editions, business-wise, and why or why donít they work? Is it
something the Times would look at?
Clearly newspapers face a challenge
the next decade to make sure that younger people turn to them for things
they need to know. The advantage that the New York Times has, as do other
publications like The Wall Street Journal, is that we are writing for an
audience that is intellectually curious about the world around them, and
that includes the world of business, finance and economics.
So we donít have to be all things to all people.
We have to be enough things to enough people to expand our
audience and ideally expand our influence.
I think other newspapers may face a bigger challenge because
itís much easier for a young person who likes bite-sized tabloid
journalism -- and not to make a judgment about them -- to get their
information from television or the internet.
Itís a lot harder to get the type of information that we
have, whether itís scoops or ideas or analysis, from free papers, from
television, the internet.
3. What have some of the challenges of covering
the Martha Stewart trial been?
Martha Stewart, the indictment
of the CEO of Enron -- the reason that the Times and other publications pay
so much attention to this is that these stories are not just business
stories. These are stories that cut to the heart of corporate ethics and
touch a lot of peopleís lives.
Theyíve lost money because of the breakdown of corporate ethics
during the bubble years, and a lot of jobs have been lost because the
companies were run into the ground.
A lot of executives of companies left with millions of dollars
because of the stock options they exercised, and sold stock before
companies tanked, or from very lucrative severance packages they got even
though the company was in trouble.
So these are not personality stories, though some of the
personalities are larger than life and very interesting to our readers.
These are issue stories, and the biggest issue is how business is done and
how it ought to be done.
Our readers are very interested in that. Some of these
allegations are very difficult to prove. Itís difficult to get a
conviction because itís unclear what happened, in the Tyco trial, in the
Martha Stewart trial, in the trial of the Rigas family members.
4. You obviously had read about the Jayson Blair
scandal before you took the job. What do you see at the Times that is a
reaction to Blair, and how are editors making sure the same thing wonít
Thereís a credibility issue that
the press has to be constantly aware of. Credibility is what we have, and
without that we have nothing.
Everyone here is extremely cognizant of that, and I think
that this is underscored by this incident.
5. What do you predict the big media stories of
2004 will be?
Media consolidation in broadcast
television and cable, in entertainment, and how that plays out. You see it
in the effort by Comcast to acquire Disney.
Thereís consolidation going on. How that proceeds and
the extent to which it affects consumers of entertainment, news and
information is a hugely important story.
Second, and more of a business story, is to what extent will
advertising for newspapers and magazines start coming back.
It started last year, but itís still below 1999 and 2000,
and clearly thatís affected a lot of publications.