The first thing Michael Slackman wanted when he took a seat with us, 25 eager journalism students and our professor Carlene, was a coffee. Is this on or off the record? He asked us, before answering the question for himself. I hate when journalists go off record.
Slackman has worked in Cairo as the New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief going on seven years. Here are some interesting snippets from his hour plus chat with the group
You know that annoyingly overused quote about preparation and luck? On August 31, 1997, Slackman, the Albany NY bureau Chief for ?? was in London crashing at a fellow reporters house. Close friends were having a baby and he was in town for the occasion. He wanted sleep but the phone would not stop ringing. When he learned the reason–Princess Diana was tragically dead, he hit the streets in leu of the MIA Herald reporter. His wife, a photographer, was on hand too.
After street reporting he headed to see his friends at the hospital. The same hospital holding Diana’s lifeless body. We pushed our way to the front and they let us in when we said maternity. They must have though my wife was pregnant, he reasoned.
The only reporter inside the hospital, the scenes Slackman wrote earned him front-page coverage and a follow-up trip to London. From there he scored his first international post in Moscow then Egypt and the Middle East.
After about seven years in the Middle East Slackman describes his job as helping Americans understand how Arabs interpret events.
He was in Iraq when Bush announced the invasion and back for the elections.He thinks the Obama administration needs to rethink the word ‘terrorism.” Hezballah and Hamas, labeled as terrorist groups by many in the United States, are political parties here. “It’s really self-defeating not to speak to enemies.”
While his target audience is the United States, that hasn’t kept the Egyptian government from paying him a lot of attention. He said the people who work for him are continually harassed by government security. They won’t touch him directly because he’s American.
Some insider advice he shared after nearly seven years in the area?
Don’t believe people when they give you directions. After being pointed the wrong way many a time, he investigated phenomenon for a story. What did he find? “It’s more of a shame to say I don’t know than to give wrong directions.”