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Mastering Journalism’s Golden Age

Almar Latour at the Dow Jones office in Manhattan

Almar Latour at the Dow Jones office in Manhattan. Photo: Dow Jones

Onetime Dutch Exchange Student Directs Dow Jones Digital Empire

At the end of his very first day in the U.S., Almar Latour arrived at IUP aboard a school bus. It was 1990, and he was 19.

Earlier that day, during a few hours’ layover at JFK after a flight from the Netherlands, he had paid his first, hurried visit to Manhattan.

“It was as if the movies had come alive,” he said.

Not versed in New York ways, Latour and another student traveler asked a cabbie to meet them in 40 minutes at the Midtown corner where they’d climbed out of the cab. The expected rendezvous of course didn’t materialize, but Latour was not discouraged. “I was enchanted by hearing the language on the street,” he said. “It was exhilarating.”

Later, on the ground in Pittsburgh, Latour and other international students were loaded onto the school bus by IUP faculty member and international advisor Patrick Carone. Within two hours, they alighted at their new home, Elkin Hall.

Except Latour was having none of it.

“I didn’t come to the U.S. to meet international students,” he said.

Classes had yet to start when Latour installed himself in Gordon Hall, a residence full of Americans.

“I assimilated very quickly,” he said. “I wanted to fit in in any way possible.”

He did. Today, Latour’s thick, white business card bears his name, followed by “Publisher, Dow Jones Media Group.”

The title was acquired in January, when Latour left his post as executive editor of the Wall Street Journal to lead the new publishing unit, a portfolio of major U.S. and international titles, including Barron’s magazine, Market Watch, London newspaper Financial News, and numerous media start-ups, all part of the Wall Street Journal Digital Network. Both the Journal and Dow Jones Media are part of Dow Jones, which in turn is part of News Corp, founded and headed by Rupert Murdoch.

Latour now experiences Manhattan daily as he walks to work from his home on the Upper East Side to the News Corp building on Sixth Avenue between 47th and 48th streets.

Latour came to IUP from the Netherlands as part of what today is called the Fulbright Center Campus Scholarship Program. Among participating American colleges, he picked the one least distant from New York City. It was IUP.

“I could take any course I wanted,” he said.

Latour had written a lot in high school, worked in Dutch television as a teenager, and made color corrections in the same Dutch newspaper printing plant where the Wall Street Journal published its European edition. “I was always entrepreneurial,” he said.

One of his first classes at IUP was Basic Journalistic Skills, taught by faculty member David Truby. He remembers Truby’s telling the class you weren’t a professional journalist until you got paid for your writing. That appealed to Latour. He produced a piece about student protests in Harrisburg and sold it to the Tribune-Review.

Almar Latour and from left, retired professors Pat Heilman and Bob Russell and current faculty member David Loomis

After addressing IUP journalism students, Almar Latour spoke with, from left, retired professors Pat Heilman and Bob Russell and current faculty member David Loomis. Photo: Keith Boyer

“Writing in English was a challenge for me,” he said. “My writing was very formal. My favorite book was I, Claudius, by Robert Graves.”

To develop an ear and a voice for journalism, Latour became a regular in the IUP libraries, devouring issues of the Economist and various newspapers published in English. The Christian Science Monitor was a particular favorite.

In fact, during a visit to IUP in April 2016, Latour told journalism students his biggest challenge had been “achieving a professional level in English. It was really hard, but it made other challenges seem smaller.”

After his freshman year, Latour had a decision to make: stay at IUP or return to the Netherlands.

“I thought I had a good thing going,” he said. “I was getting to know America from the inside out. At IUP, there was the Penn, the TV station, and more. The whole world was available. I knew I would come back.”

Eventually, he worked at the Penn as feature editor and created cartoons for the paper. One summer, he was a reporter for a newspaper at New York State’s Chautauqua resort, to which he still returns regularly. “My whole family loves it there,” he said.

Latour also had internships at a Dutch newspaper and, during an MA program at American University, at the Washington Times. “Internships are the key to finding really good jobs,” he told IUP students during his April visit.

Almar Latour and IUP sophomore Nathan Zisk

Shown with IUP sophomore Nathan Zisk, Latour encouraged students to master the new tools of journalism, like Snapchat and Twitter. Photo: Keith Boyer

Latour had grown up in Welten, a Dutch village about 12 miles from Maastricht. The region is very historic. It has Roman ruins and a museum, and Latour’s grandparents lived there under Nazi occupation for four years. His grandfather was captured by the Germans and released.

As a Dutch child during the waning days of the Cold War, Latour said he “grew up with cruise missiles in my backyard.” He was, he said, “fascinated by America and Russia.”

He was also always fascinated by languages, and his Dutch education mandated their acquisition. By the time he arrived at IUP, Latour had already studied German, English, Dutch, and French.

Although he logged four academic years in Indiana, living in Gordon Hall and in various off-campus student rentals, Latour also spent a semester in France as part of an exchange program. His interests settled on political science, journalism, and the international economy.

After IUP, Latour enrolled as a graduate student in American University’s School of International Service. However, an internship at the European Parliament in Brussels dissuaded him from pursuing a diplomatic career. “I found it unattractive,” he said.

Latour switched to American’s School of Communication and secured another European internship—this time at the Wall Street Journal. One of his stories ended up on the front page of the Journal’s European edition.

He had found his career and, as it turned out, his professional home.

After receiving his master’s degree from American, Latour was hired in 1995 as a news assistant in the Journal’s Washington Bureau. A year and a half later, he moved to the Journal’s office in Brussels, where he wrote for the Central European Economic Review. Then, it was on to a post in Stockholm, where he met his wife, Abby, a journalist and Wisconsin native. She and Latour have been married 16 years and have two daughters.

After a stint in London, Latour became part of the Journal’s technology and telecommunications group in New York, eventually becoming its chief. At 36, he was appointed managing editor of WSJ.com and led its expanded coverage of business and finance. He oversaw his first major redesign of the site in September 2008, just as more and more users were turning to it in the face of major economic collapse.

Almar Latour at the IUP Distinguished Alumni Award gala

Latour was working overseas when chosen for the IUP Distinguished Alumni Award in 2010. Now living in New York, he accepted the award at the April 2016 gala. Photo: Keith Boyer

It was at that point—only eight years ago—that as managing editor Latour placed the very first photograph on the Journal’s website.

Latour calls living in new countries “addictive.” His next assignments took him to Asia, where, as editor-in-chief for the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones in Asia, he revamped the Chinese edition of the Journal and inaugurated the Wall Street Journal in Japan. At that point, he said, he was traveling weekly. Today, based in New York, he travels about 10 weeks out of the year.

At the end of 2012, Latour was appointed executive editor of the Journal, Dow Jones, and Market Watch. Three years later, he assumed his current post as leader of the newly formed Dow Jones Media Group.

“My goal as executive editor was to change the Wall Street Journal into a digital powerhouse,” he said. “It’s hard for newspapers to do this.”

In a global reorganization led by Latour, the Journal sharply increased its digital staff. He also oversaw a major redesign of its subscriber website.

“We still respect the old rules of journalism—how to develop sources, check facts, etc.,” Latour said. With electronic media, though, “more people have access to more information than at any other point in time.”

“This is a golden age for journalism,” he said. “Journalists have tools they never had before. When we hire, we now also look for people who have mastery of these new tools, like Snapchat and Twitter.”

Twitter, Latour said, is “incredibly addictive.” It is, he continued, a “phenomenal service.”

Latour and his family still travel widely and go to Europe every summer. “It’s easier to go on vacation,” he said, “than it is to move.”

When he spoke to IUP students in April, Latour advised them to master the new tools of journalism.

He added one thing more, saying, “I challenge all of you to be audacious.”