Aristides Alafouzos (left) with the legendary editor of the Washington Post, Ben Bradlee, at Kathimerini’s offices in 2004.
Nine years after buying Kathimerini in 1988 and turning the floundering conservative broadsheet into a healthy business and a robust voice for the modernization of Greece’s economy and politics, Aristides Alafouzos was approached by the International Herald Tribune to forge a partnership that would combine the finest global and local journalism. Within a few months, Kathimerini English Edition was born, in March 1998, the product of a joint venture between Kathimerini and the two newspapers that then comprised the IHT: the Washington Post and the New York Times.
What may have seemed like an uneven partnership turned into a long-lasting, productive marriage, thanks to the keen personal interest and commitment that Mr Alafouzos put into the venture. Kathimerini’s English Edition quickly showed that the best of Greek journalism could stand next to the finest international reportage and analysis. This was no fluke. From the days when a small team of experienced, bilingual journalists was preparing dummies of the paper, Mr Alafouzos took a daily interest in the project. He wanted the Greek edition to be the equal of great international newspapers; the English Edition, which launched as a stand-alone eight-page supplement to the IHT in Greece, Cyprus and Albania, was the way to prove this. Mr Alafouzos wanted a newspaper that would cover all the important news in Greece without getting tied up in the customary obsessive political nitpicking and destructive partisanship. An English-language supplement that had to fit comfortably with copy from the New York Times and the Washington Post could not indulge in poor reporting and partisan opinion. Fortunately, Kathimerini under Mr Alafouzos’s ownership was already an excellent newspaper, where news and opinion were separate, where moderation and fairness were the rule. All that was needed was to reflect this, to enrich it, through an English edition that could stand the test of the toughest critics. Thanks to the talent, devotion and industriousness of the journalists working on the English Edition, along with the commitment to the project shown by all of Kathimerini, the project was a success. Our colleagues on the Greek edition quickly saw the benefit of having their work translated into English and they contributed wholeheartedly to this success.
A year after the launch, Mr Alafouzos hosted a reception in the grand Vlachou Hall of Kathimerini’s old building on Sokratous Street. Prime Minister Costas Simitis and members of his cabinet, as well as leading figures of the opposition, attended, celebrating the fact that the joint venture between the IHT and Kathimerini had got off to such a good start – increasing the IHT’s sales and giving a Greek paper an international presence. Addressing the country’s leading politicians and the president of the IHT’s board, Peter Goldmark, Aristides Alafouzos said, “When I bought Kathimerini, I wanted to do something good for Greece.” Simple, clear and, as time has proved, true.
I had the great honor of being involved in Kathimerini’s English Edition from the beginning. I was approached by Alexis Papachelas, who is now executive editor and at the time had just returned from Washington where he was the newspaper’s longtime correspondent. He set up a meeting where we were joined by Themis Alafouzos, Mr Alafouzos’s second son, who was intimately involved in running Kathimerini and turning it into an economic success, and Martha Dertilis, Mr Alafouzos’s close aide and member of Kathimerini’s board responsible for international partnerships. I was also very lucky. As Themis Alafouzos did not want to poach any employees from the Athens News, which was still a daily owned by the Lambrakis Press, I was in the unique position of being available after having resigned from the Associated Press bureau in Athens to venture into writing. Aristides Alafouzos, Themis Alafouzos, Martha Dertilis, Alexis Papachelas and Nikos Naoumis, technical director of Kathimerini’s operations, journalists and members of the technical staff all played a crucial part in the project’s success. We enjoyed the same level of support from the IHT, with publisher Richard McLean, Chief Operating Officer Richard Wooldridge and executives Didier Brun and Alberto Cano providing enthusiastic support for the venture. This continued even as the IHT’s ownership and leadership changed, with the newspaper now called the New York Times International Edition. The annual Athens Democracy Forum is a shining example of how this partnership has developed.
The driving force behind this success was Aristides Alafouzos. He wanted the best and he took care of those who would provide it. He was easy to please – if you met his standards. For example, in 2001, when he named me foreign editor of the Greek edition, he would call me early in the morning and compare our coverage with what he would read in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Financial Times. It was frightening but also heartening, having a publisher who wanted only the best and would support the effort to achieve this. It was also a pleasure working for Aristides Alafouzos because he provided an environment where journalists could be journalists. The paper was beholden to no one. A self-made man, Mr Alafouzos qualified as a civil engineer at the Athens Polytechnic and soon started his own construction company. He moved into shipping in 1964, quickly creating an impressive, modern fleet. When he bought Kathimerini in 1988 he broke the pattern of “tangled interests” that was the norm – when news media were in bed with politicians and business. Aristides Alafouzos, in other words, did not exploit his influence as a publisher to get business in Greece: He simply did not do business in Greece. This allowed Kathimerini to be a steady voice for reform and reason, even as governments changed, as the country’s fortunes waxed and waned, as populists fanned passions. Mr Alafouzos believed that the country needed reforming so that it could be more productive, so it could provide better for its people. He believed that Greece was an integral part of Europe, that it should be a serious member of the international community, that it should meet its commitments, that Greeks should not be afraid to compete with the best.
Aristides Alafouzos was proof that what he demanded could be achieved. He proved this in construction, he proved it in shipping, he proved it in publishing. With Kathimerini’s English Edition, he became a partner of the legendary publishing families of the New York Times and the Washington Post. He hosted members of both newspapers (including Ben Bradlee of the Post) at his home on Santorini, his birthplace and lifelong reference point. (He could recall when the caldera was filled with hundreds of sailing ships.) He was the quintessential Greek – quick-witted, generous, proud of his birthplace and family – with the added gifts of vision and perseverance. He could listen to a long argument and blow it apart with a simple question. He was thoroughly the equal of the Sulzbergers and the Grahams, when he would meet with them in Paris during the IHT’s annual board meetings.
Aristides Alafouzos could stand with the best and he demanded this of the people around him – whether they were officers who ran his fleet or journalists who produced the newspaper that attracted his interest and passion daily for the past 28 years. He encouraged his employees to be the best and he took pride in their achievements. As Greece sank into crisis, he would say that the country had been through so much worse in the past, that it would survive these troubles, too. Kathimerini and the paper’s English Edition reflected the concerns of Greece with the independence, passion and credibility that Aristides Alafouzos bestowed upon them. His legacy is a voice that is calm, steady and determined in the midst of confusion, frivolity and opportunism. It is a legacy that will be preserved and built upon.