The thread through a journalist’s coverage of Greece in crisis
In May 2011, while googling around obscure Greek blogs in search of a fresh voice to liven up a story I planned to do on how Greeks were coping with the early days of post-bailout recession, I came across the musings of one Yanis Varoufakis.
I sent him a note:
Dear Professor Varoufakis.
I am a reporter for The New York Times and came across your recent analysis on the Spiegel story on Greece and the eurozone which I found interesting.
Would you like to meet for coffee in Athens?
Of course, came the rapid response. A few days later, there he was in a cafe on Syntagma Square, dressed in leather, motorcycle helmet in hand.
A week later I had my story, lit up with pictures by the great Eirini Vourloumis and a juicy set up quote from you know who.
This form of remedy violates two basic economic principles, according to Yanis Varoufakis, an economics professor and blogger at the University of Athens. “You do not lend money at high interest rates to the insolvent and you do not introduce austerity into a recession,” he said. “It’s pretty simple: The debt is going up and GDP is going down. Have we not learned the lesson of 1929?”
I cannot say if this was the first time Professor Varoufakis appeared in a mainstream foreign newspaper, but I can say this: It was the first and last time that I referred to him as an economics professor and blogger at the University of Athens.
Thus began a five-year saga of reporting on various crises in Greece. If memory does not fail I think it was on this trip that I met Eleni Varvitsiotis, who, for some reason, wanted to interview me on what the foreign press thought was going on at the time.
So for just one story, I got to meet Varoufakis, Vourloumis and Varvitsiotis – not bad, eh?
The three Vs, in various forms and ways, wove a thread through my coverage over the years.
Varoufakis, of course, ascended rapidly from sound bites, to being a source, to being quite famous. Vourloumis had the beautiful art. And Varvitsiotis became a partner in crime, providing story ideas, translation, incredible sourcing, on the ground digging and more.
There were many experiences along the way: I was gassed by Greek riot police, tailed by Greek bankers and learned way more than was necessary, or healthy, about the intricacies of hair-cutting Greek bonds. None of which, though, compared to making three good friends whose name began with the letter V.
Landon Thomas Jr is a financial reporter for the New York Times.