Where We Work

10 Questions With ... Richard Perez-Pena, New York Times Reporter

03/18/2017

Richard Perez-Pena has been a professional journalist for 32 years and a New York Times reporter and Guild member for almost 25 years. On a related note, he’s also a five-time Jeopardy champion.

“I think there are a lot of parallels between ‘Jeopardy!’ and journalism,” Perez-Pena told The Times last year. “The need to recall a wide range of information, to think quickly, to focus and tune out distractions, to perform under time pressure.”

For the last two years, he’s covered breaking news for the National news desk. This follows stints covering higher education, health care, government and political campaigns.

We wanted to know Perez-Pena a bit better, so we asked him 10 questions.

1.     If you weren't working in journalism, what would you be doing?

I'd probably be a high school history teacher. My sister and my cousin became lawyers, and I saw just enough of that to steer me away from it.

2.     Who's your favorite journalist or writer - living or dead?

Whoever wrote the work that most recently knocked my socks off. So at the moment, my favorite is Colson Whitehead, because I just finished "The Underground Railroad." But honestly, that's just my way of avoiding answering a very tough question. There are too many to name.

3.     What could the news business use more of?

Money -- duh.

4.     Less of?

Self-importance.

5.     Name a piece of journalism that moved you most profoundly.

This massive New York Times Magazine project, published last year, on the recent history of the Middle East:

Also, the book "Hillbilly Elegy," J. D. Vance's unsparing memoir (that's journalism, right?) about his family's struggle with what ails the American working class.

6.     What makes you hopeful about the future of journalism?

That in spite of it all, there is still a lot of smart, brave work being done, and there are still a lot of smart, brave people who want to do it.

7.     What worries you?

That far too many people accept lies and propaganda as facts, and far too many people are eager to feed them the lies and propaganda. We can only succeed if consumers can tell the difference.

8.    When you're not reporting, what occupies your time?

My wife and our two sons, playing piano, fixing whatever needs fixing around my house (there's always something), exercise, reading, and way, way, way too much TV.

9.    Why is being in the Guild better than not being in the Guild?

I've worked in non-union shops where the pay was lousy, the benefits were lousy, there was no protection from the whims of bosses, there wasn't much camaraderie among the employees, and people couldn't wait to move on. I know that I and the people around me are better off dealing with management as part of a unified team with rights, rather than as individuals with little power, who can be played off against each other.

10.  If you could give someone starting out in journalism one piece of advice what would it be?

Read, read, read - especially journalism and history. The best preparations for this career are wide-ranging curiosity, a mind packed with information and context, and a deeply ingrained sense of the different ways stories can be told.