Inside the New York Times: One Bureau Chief, Five Countries

From a Times Insider column by Terence McGinley headlined “One Bureau Chief, Five Countries”:

In the middle of a nine-day reporting trip in Chile, three days before voters there would reject a proposed new constitution in a national plebiscite, Jack Nicas learned that there had been an assassination attempt on the most prominent politician in Argentina, Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. So he spent a day and a half reporting on the fallout in Argentina from Santiago, the Chilean capital, before returning to the plebiscite in Chile. After voters rejected the new charter on Sept. 4, Mr. Nicas flew to Rio de Janeiro and resumed reporting on next month’s closely watched presidential election in Brazil.

The demanding stretch of events comes with Mr. Nicas’s territory. As the Brazil bureau chief for The New York Times, he is responsible for the news in a lot of territory: Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

After a two-month reporting post in Brazil last year, and four years covering the technology industry from The Times’s San Francisco bureau, Mr. Nicas assumed his role in January. Recently, from Rio de Janeiro, he discussed the challenges of covering a region of diverse people, politics and geography. This interview has been edited.

How do you consider the responsibility of covering this huge geographic area for the International desk?

I did this at one point when I got the job: It’s about 290 million people and nearly five million square miles. It’s an enormous swath of land and humanity, and it’s five completely different places. Brazil on its own is an incredibly diverse country with many different cultures, regions, climates and issues. I’m not an economic reporter. I’m not a political reporter. I cover everything: politics, economics, the environment, culture, natural disasters, crime, government.

So that’s a lot. You have to keep an eye on everything, but at the same time, you also have to be looking for things that no one else is spotting. And I’m not doing it alone. We have a team of freelancers, and we have a researcher on the staff here, Lis Moriconi, who has been with us for a long time.

Five governments, five economies, different peoples — how did you get up to speed when you moved there?

A lot of reading and talking to people. A good thing about being at The New York Times is you have the privilege of a lot of really smart people willing to give you their time. We’re super appreciative of that. I would say predominantly where I’ve learned the majority of my information is in conversations with academics, government officials, other journalists or think tanks, businesspeople and also just ordinary folks.

You were a tech reporter before moving to Brazil. What instincts do you bring from that previous job?

An understanding of technology really matters in any job today. How social media networks and the big tech companies influence public opinion and underpin society — I think that’s critical. Particularly with something like the Brazilian election, that has been very helpful for me in understanding how things are working.

I also think that covering Silicon Valley requires a lot of sourcing because the big tech companies are some of the most secretive institutions in the world. That has been helpful for me, going to Brasília — the Brazilian capital — and trying to sort it out and talk to people and understand what’s going on behind the scenes. Those are skills that, as a reporter, are going to be helpful in a number of beats.

As an international correspondent, do you have an audience in mind as you report?

Well, we’re an English-language publication, though a lot of our stories are translated into Spanish. So what we’re trying to do is thread the needle. You need to explain a story in a way that is approachable, understandable and interesting to someone who doesn’t know anything about the topic. But you also want to tell someone who knows it really well something new.

You want to help people understand the world, and you want to hold power accountable. You also want to, frankly, celebrate some of the beautiful things about the region as well.

 

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