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Investigating the disappearance of a female police chief in Mexico City while on assignment for The New York Times, Randy Archibold entered a small town engulfed in flames.
“We pulled up into the town and it was basically on fire like the houses were on fire, there had been some big gang confrontation there,” he said.
In an interview with The Daily Targum, Archibold said being a foreign correspondent was always a dream of his.
Throughout his career, he has reported on crime in Mexico City, John Edwards’ 2004 presidential campaign, the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and now serves as deputy sports editor at the Times.
“It kind of all coalesced into this position. I came here summer of 2015,” he said.
Yet, arguably, one of his biggest breaks was his first story published in a 1983 issue of The Daily Targum that spawned a three-year stint at the school’s paper and furthered a lifelong passion for news.
Archibold’s first story at the Targum covered a Rutgers Community Action meeting. He went onto cover breaking news on campus including efforts to have the University divest its earnings from South Africa at the time, which resulted in major protests on the College Avenue campus and prompted an appearance by Jesse Jackson, he said.
He spent two years at the Targum (1984-86) on the paper’s editorial board moving up its ranks from associate to senior news editor by his junior year. During 1986, he was the editor of The Daily Targum Sun — a short-lived summer edition of the paper.
But, his love for news started even earlier.
“Everyday my dad would bring back copies of The New York Post and The New York Times. He bought The Post for the sports and the Times for the news,” Archibold said.
In one of his earliest jobs as a paperboy, he spent mornings delivering copies of the Asbury Park Press, a paper he would later string for during school vacation periods, as its Rutgers correspondent.
He worked at the Freehold Bureau covering the township committee meetings and board of education meetings, which he said was great practice when combined with high expectations from his editor.
“He did me a favor in that he taught me to be persistent and not be satisfied with just sitting there and taking notes, but to actually go up and ask people questions and continually try and get as much information as possible,” he said.
On 9/11, Archibold reported on the collapse of the World Trade Center from the New York Times' office in midtown Manhattan. The next day he was on the scene reporting on the stories of survivors -- who lived in a nearby apartment building -- and their struggle to get back into their homes. He contributed to the “Portraits of Grief” series, snapshots of post-9/11 life that the Times would later win a Pulitzer Prize for.
“Something like that just stays with you. Those were crazy times in New York, you were really uncertain about the country and the future. We had been attacked and it was like New York was just not the same,” Archibold said.
Back in Mexico City, Archibold learned a different lesson: when to walk away from the story.
After trying to get information from federal police and locals who were still in the town, he said he entered a bodega with a fellow photographer.
“As the day was winding down we went into a bodega to get some chips and soda whatever, and the owner was totally scared, and I think the photographer said ‘do you mind if I take a picture?’ and she’s like ‘no’ and she said ‘in fact, you need to leave, you need to leave this town right now,’” he said.
Through it all, Archibold said his experiences at the Targum taught him how to report for a city and its people through the direct feedback he would receive.
“Our circulation then was about 17,000 and it felt like you were reporting for a city,” he said. “People used to come in the office and complain about how their group was portrayed and general grievances with the story.”
Now, working in his first ranking editing position, he is excited to be working with new tools and technologies not available earlier in career.
“I guess all journalists have a certain level of anxiety about the future because of the issues with revenue and finances and print subscribers and how to address the loss of advertising revenue,” Archibold said. “For the New York Times, we’ve made up a fair amount of that … through subscriptions and so I wouldn’t say our financial future is completely and totally secure, but we’re certainly in a much better place than we were three, four, five years ago.”
News reporting is as strong as ever, he added.
“Just knowing that we have this booming microphone that is really worldwide I think compels us to make it the best that we can possibly be. I think that our job is the strongest I've ever seen it,” he said.