Roger Cohen: My Life In Media
'I figured that if I could get someone to pay me to travel round the world and try to evoke it in words, that would suit me. And so it turned out'
Monday 12 February 2007
Roger Cohen, 51, is the International Herald Tribune's editor-at-large and a contributor to The New York Times. A Londoner, he has spent the past 30 years globetrotting, working for Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times in Rome, Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, the Balkans and New York - where he took charge of the NYT's foreign desk the day the World Trade Centre was attacked in 2001. He has written three books - on Bosnia, the Gulf War commander "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf, and the Second World War - and has twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He is married to the sculptor Frida Baranek and has four children, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?
I always loved writing and was always very curious about the world. I figured that if I could find a way to get someone to pay me to travel around the world and try to evoke it in words, that would suit me. And so it turned out.
When you were 15, what was the family newspaper and did you read it?
The family newspaper was The Daily Telegraph, and having been a Chelsea fan since the age of six, I read the sports pages avidly. We also got The Times, which was of course different in those days. I read some of the political and general-interest sections but I was always more interested in the sports coverage than anything else.
What were your favourite TV and radio shows?
I don't remember watching a lot of TV as a teenager, other than The Forsyte Saga, but I did enjoy listening to sports on the radio and particularly to commentators like John Arlott on cricket for the BBC.
What media do you turn to first thing in the morning?
Living in New York, I listen to NPR - national public radio - which has a very good morning news broadcast. Of course I read my own paper, The New York Times, as well as the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, and I read the BBC news online.
Do you consult any media sources during the working day?
Throughout the day, I tend to go to the news websites of the major news organisations, including nyt.com, iht.com, ft.com, the BBC home page and, from time to time, the Washington Post or Guardian sites.
What is the best thing about your job?
The freedom. The freedom to take on any subject I like for the column, and the latitude to express my feelings and thoughts about an immense range of subjects, from politics to culture and football. I like the interaction with my readers that comes from having a column. The exchanges are often stimulating.
And the worst?
If I had to pick one thing, it's being on the road a lot and away from my family. In many ways, journalism is a young person's game. When the phone goes in the middle of the night and you're 25 and you're asked to go to Beirut, it's the greatest thing. But when that happens at 50, less so. I also like writing longer-form magazine journalism and I get less opportunity to do that than I used to. Doing a column, though, I choose where I want to go. I can't complain about midnight calls from the desk.
What is the proudest achievement in your working life?
Covering the war in Bosnia and the subsequent book I wrote - Hearts Grown Brutal - about the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Living through a war in Europe was a harrowing experience in many ways, but I think that for everyone there of my pampered generation, it was also an education. In war, you see people pushed to their limits. To try to evoke that, to convey those experiences and so to impact government policy when governments are doing their best to ignore terrible things - that can be rewarding in more lasting ways than most journalism.
And your most embarrassing moment?
Arriving in India as the New York Times foreign editor without a visa. I had assumed that I didn't need one. It took our bureau chief there several hours to extricate me from Indian bureaucracy. I felt like an idiot.
At home, what do you tune into?
I watch The Charlie Rose Show on Channel 13 and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. And movies from time to time, but I prefer reading to watching TV.
What is your Sunday paper, and do you have a favourite magazine?
The New York Times, of course and, as a magazine, The New Yorker.
Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire?
A novel. I've started one about familiar themes: terror and love.
If you weren't in media, what would you do?
I'd run a restaurant or an inn in some lovely place, a setting for conversations.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
John Burns, chief Baghdad correspondent for the NYT and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. His courage and lucidity are remarkable.
1977 Leaves Oxford for Paris to teach English and write for Paris Metro magazine
1980 Sent by Reuters to Brussels for a one-year assignment, and never returns to live in London
1983 Joins The Wall Street Journal in Rome to cover the Italian economy, and is promptly sent to Beirut
1990 Recruited to The New York Times in Rio, sent to Paris a year later and then to the Balkans in 1994
2001 Takes on the job of running the NYT foreign desk - on the morning of September 11
2004 Starts writing Globalist, a twice-weekly column for the International Herald Tribune
2005 Publishes third book, Soldiers and Slaves, about the Second World War
2006 Appointed the International Herald Tribune's first editor-at-large
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