Returning to Mexico City

Returning to Mexico City

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I’m in Mexico, visiting the place I began my career 35 years ago.

My first job after college was as a reporter at the Mexico City News, earning in pesos the equivalent of $70 a week and banging out some of my stories on a manual typewriter.

There were three options to getting into the print media in those days: a) journalism school b) a small-town newspaper c) a foreign publication.

Inclined toward the latter, I went to my hometown public library and researched English-language newspapers from the Tehran Times to the Japan Times.

I ended up picking the Mexico City News because a friend, Glenn Whitney, had worked there. In 1989, I bought a one-way ticket to a city still recovering from a devastating earthquake in 1985.

After a brief interview, I was hired by then-editor Roberto Mena. I missed by a couple years working for the legendary Pete Hamill, best known for his days at the New York Post, who edited the paper for a brief stint.

There was only one job open, a post covering business that no one else wanted. The coveted slots were reporting on politics, sports and culture.

We would arrive at the office and be dispatched to cover breakfast and lunch speeches by politicians or business leaders. They fed the reporters to entice them to show up.

Afterward, we would write it up.

It wasn’t hard work, but it wasn’t easy either.

So much of journalism depends on this basic skill of being able to listen to someone give a speech or make a presentation and summarize the key parts.

It’s not the glamorous, Hollywood part of the job, but it’s critical.

The best journalists develop an ability to distill the essence of events as they are happening with a grace and fluidity akin to simultaneous translation.

I watched pros from the Associated Press and United Press International listen to speeches and I could tell they were crafting their stories in their heads even as they jotted down facts and quotes.

It’s a form of active listening which allowed them, once the event ended, to immediately pick up a phone and dictate a story word by word just from looking at notes scribbled on paper.

I lasted ten months at the News. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough.

It happened to be an extraordinary year. The country signed a landmark free trade agreement, renegotiated its debt and privatized scores of state-owned companies.

That trifecta became the playbook for developing countries to transform themselves into “emerging markets” and attract foreign investment.

The experience helped me land my next job summarizing newspaper articles at Bloomberg.

Returning to Mexico this time, I’m struck by the cumulative weight of change.

I can’t help be astounded that a place I associated with manual typewriters and Linotype machines has been replaced with cafes of digital nomads on laptops.

It’s one of the opportunities and pleasures of returning to a place you knew as a much younger person.

You get to see how it’s all different while knowing that underneath there’s a layer that is in many ways the same.

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ADVICE FROM ROCKEFELLER: A gem from my friend Amanda Orson: Action solves everything!

BROOKS BROTHERS: This august looking building once housed Brooks Brothers. Someone has converted the floor room into a cafe. All over New York City there are landmarks like this that have been converted.

THEN AND NOW: I love then-and-now photos. Everyone should do this.

THE DOORKNOB IS MISSING: I’ve biked by this townhouse in Manhattan countless times and been captivated. I was so busy looking, I never noticed the detail that there is no doorknob. There is always a story behind the story.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: The house on the right was designed with fancy copper roofs. When the midday sun struck, it reflected the light and started melting the siding on the house to the left.

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