Today we welcome Bernard Gwertzman, a retired editor of the New York Times.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
Bermard Gwertzman: I have been a reporter and editor my entire adult life, starting as a sports reporter in my home town of New Rochelle, N.Y. where I covered high school sports for the then daily newspaper, the New Rochelle Standard-Star. In college, at Harvard, I was managing editor of the Harvard Crimson, and then, after graduation and the army, I joined the now defunct, Washington Evening-Star as a reporter. I went back to Harvard to get a graduate degree in Soviet affairs, and later joined The New York Times in 1968 as a reporter. The Times sent me to Moscow as its bureau chief in 1969 and when I returned to Washington in 1971, I became chief diplomatic correspondent.
In 1987, I was appointed deputy foreign editor and in 1989, foreign editor, just as Communism began to collapse in Eastern Europe, and eventually, I was the editor when the Soviet Union ceased to exist on Christmas Day, 1991. In 1995, I suggested moving to the new world of the internet, encouraged by my very techie son, Janes. I became the founding editor of the New York Times on the Web. I retired from the Times in 2002, and joined the Council on Foreign Relations in New York where I did more than 1,000 interviews for its web site. I retired from the Council in 2015 to write my memoirs, which were published late last year.
In my personal life, I have been married since 1969 to Marie-Jeanne Marcouyeux, whom I met at the State Department where she was working as a French interpreter. Her mother was American and her father, French. We have two grown sons, James, who is 44, married with three children, and president of Play Fab a technology company in Seattle. Michael, who is 42, is a disc jockey, working out of New York, with his wife, who Begona, who is also a disc jockey. I am an avid New York Yankees fan.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?
Bernard Gwertzman: The first book I was co-author of was “Fulbright The Dissenter” with the late Haynes Johnson in 1968. Fulbright was of course a leading critic of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war. I had covered Fulbright extensively as a reporter and was able to go through his files for the book, with his permission, of course. I also co-authored two books with the late Michael T. Kaufman, both of which were anthologies of articles published in The Times. Kaufman at the time was my deputy foreign editor. The books were “The Collapse of Communism,” published in 1991, and “The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Empire, “ published in 1992.
My most recent book was “My Memoirs: From Print to the Internet,” which is an accounting of my entire life, including my travels with Henry A, Kissinger when he set out to make some initial agreements between Israel and Egypt, my time as Moscow bureau chief including my run in with the KGB, and my long tenure as senior diplomatic correspondent.
In the book, I also discuss at some length, the birth of the New York Times on the web, how we started from scratch with very few people in 1995=96 versed in the internet and how we originally tried to operate as a separate institution, apart from The New York Times newspaper, in part because the original reaction of the paper to our work was not entirely supportive.
Book ‘Em: Do you have a work in progress?
Bernard Gwertzman: No.
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Bernard Gwertzman: I had trouble writing my memoirs because during my days as a reporter and then editor, I kept no diary, or other notes, and therefore had to rely on the memory of my colleagues and my own, as well as the thousands of articles I had written and could retrieve from the archives.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Bernard Gwertzman: Oddly enough, I always look with fondness at a teacher in the ninth grade at Albert Leonard Junior High School in New Rochelle, named Charles Russell, He was the adviser for the junior high school newspaper and picked me as managing editor and I was in charge of making sure the paper was published on time by a local print shop. The inspired my interest in journalism.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
Bernard Gwertzman: I am a stickler for accuracy and I try to write my non-fiction with the temperament of a reporter.
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
Bernard Gwertzman: I am now 82 and if at 87 I am still writing, it will be about public affairs, I am sureI
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
Be accurate as you can be…