Bloomberg News Managing Editor Adriana Arai talks to Bloomberg Reporter Margaret Collins about running coverage of Latin America.
In January 1999, Adriana Arai bought herself a beach chair with a credit card and sat down outside Brazil's finance ministry. The country's currency had been devalued and Brazil was slipping into financial crisis. When someone ran from the building to announce the central bank chief had been fired, Arai, on her first big story, was right there. The young reporter had dropped out of college to take her new job. "I took a lot of risk, but it was worth it,'' she says. "I had to go for it.''
Arai, 36, is now Bloomberg News's managing editor in charge of Latin America, where she oversees 10 bureaus and about 70 reporters and editors. She credits her three languages -- Portuguese, English and Spanish -- with helping her advance in the global news business.
Arai returned to university and finished her economics degree in 2002. She then worked in London for Dow Jones, reporting on hedge funds and foreign exchange. In 2004, she joined Bloomberg in Mexico City, where she was promoted to bureau chief two years later. Since 2008, she's been back in Sao Paulo, where she lives with her husband and two children, ages 3 and 5.
Arai talked with colleague Margaret Collins, a Bloomberg reporter in New York since 2009. Collins covers personal finance, exposing investments with high or complicated fees and government policies that affect savings. She studied English and International Relations at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and has a master's in journalism from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
Collins: How do you handle being in charge of news from one of the fastest growing parts of the world?
Arai: We aim to break market-moving news: That's the number one priority. So, I encourage all the teams to build relationships with their sources -- government officials, investment bankers, company executives and fund managers. We've made a lot of progress on that.
I'm really proud of our coverage of YPF, Argentina's largest energy company in April. That's when Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner seized control of YPF. We were first on the news by almost an hour over most of the competition, including Argentina's press. YPF's stock fell the most in three years in New York, before trading was suspended for almost two days. The country's credit default swaps rose the most in the world.
We were breaking a lot of news, and doing a lot of the "step back" stories, too. From a coverage point of view, it was pretty complete. The whole enchilada.
Collins: How do you balance covering the highest profile countries, such as Brazil, with the other emerging economies in Latin America?
Arai: It's all about prioritizing. I try to visit all of them at least once a year, and I try to train and empower the local bureau chiefs. What I ask them to do is alert me, call me, send me a message the instant there's big breaking news.
I talk to all my direct reports at least once a week for a half an hour to catch up, and we are in touch every day on stories. And I'm in Brazil and it's for a reason -- it's the biggest market.
Collins: How has your job or coverage changed since Dilma Rousseff became president?
Arai: Dilma promoted a lot of women in her cabinet. She also promoted a woman to run Petrobras, the oil company, and we profiled the CEO. The fact that Dilma has been empowering so many women in her cabinet, and also in key positions like Petrobras, has given us a lot of opportunity to write about the topic.
Collins: You said deciding to join Bloomberg in Mexico City was the best decision you've made in your life professionally. Why?
Arai: Because of the kind of journalism we can do here and the resources that we have. The quality of the editors and the people that work for the company are just amazing and Bloomberg is truly global. People from all over the world are getting together in the "TOP" calls and discussing what the top stories are. If there is a connection between what's going on in Greece and Argentina, we're going to make that connection.
Collins: What is one of your biggest challenges right now?
Arai: Building a team that can cover all the breaking news, can get scoops and also do the step-back kind of story. I encourage my managers to take calculated risk and expose them to situations that I face as a managing editor. For example, I frequently have them listen in to the 7:30 a.m. top news call so that if I need them to represent me, they know what's expected. We are short on resources, and sometimes bureau chiefs also have to make decisions on what we need to skip. I often tell them to make a decision themselves because I trust their judgment. If the call was a bad one, I review it with them later. People learn a lot more from their mistakes than from their successes.
Collins: How important is for the bureaus to have journalists from the same country?
Arai: The successful team or bureau is a mix of locals and foreigners, and a mix of very experienced people and new blood. For us, it depends on the country where you are. In Brazil, for instance, it's very heavy on the Brazilian side. In Chile, it's mostly foreigners.
Collins: Since your start in journalism you've sought out global news organizations like Bloomberg and applied for positions in foreign bureaus. Why?
Arai: I wanted to be part of globalization and I wanted to be more international. I felt like I could be doing that, be part of this global market and global economy more effectively if I worked for a global company. And my dream was to live abroad at one point in my life. When I was growing up my parents couldn't afford to pay for me to live overseas as an exchange student.
Collins: What advice would you give to other journalists?
Arai: Learn languages and take risks. It is a pretty big decision to go to a foreign country to cover something that you may not be so familiar with, and it's about being prepared for the opportunity. Moving to another country is a big deal. If the opportunity comes up, there shouldn't be too much hesitation. Jump on it. That's what I did.
Photos by: Lori Hoffman, Bloomberg
Monday, July 16, 2012