Michael Slackman sums up his tenure in the Middle East as “trying to understand ordinary people and explain their interests, dreams, and desires.”
That view has roots in his time as a Northeastern journalism student in the early 1980s, when, he says, “being a reporter felt like the chance to explore how other people live, how decisions are made, a license to question authority, the duty to bear witness, and the means to carry it out.”
It is a journalistic credo to which Slackman has held fast, starting at the Northeastern News (now the Huntington News), where he showed a talent for digging up tough stories. He still remembers the support he received from Jack Curry, then vice president for student affairs, and, later, Northeastern’s fifth president.
Like so many Northeastern journalism students before and since, Slackman worked as a reporter on co-op at the Boston Globe. “Co-op was phenomenal,” he says. “I got my first real understanding of what it was to be a reporter.”
After graduating, he worked as a police reporter with a local newspaper in Port Chester, N.Y. He moved to Long Island’s Newsday—where he contributed to reporting that won a 1997 Pulitzer Prize, and got his first overseas posting, as Moscow bureau chief—and then became Cairo bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times.
He was named the New York Times’ Cairo bureau chief in 2005, moved to the position of Berlin bureau chief in 2010, and was appointed deputy foreign editor in June 2011, shaping the paper’s Middle East coverage.
Although he is at the pinnacle of American journalism, Slackman says that was never the pole star for his career. It was something more basic, and it comes through in a brief anecdote.
“I gave a talk recently to some U.S. military officers— generals-in-training—and I started the conversation by saying ‘We’re both in the business of defending democracy.’
“It sounds hokey, but I firmly believe that. Fortunately, I landed in a place where they’re still committed to providing as robust and penetrating news reports as possible about everything—and I think that’s pretty cool.”