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From AJR,   August/September 2005  issue

All in the Family    

Washington Post reporter John Mintz trades investigative journalism for investigative work with his brotherís firm.

By Katrina Altersitz
Altersitz is a former AJR editorial assistant.     

John Mintz, 53, spent three decades as a journalist at the Trenton Times and the Washington Post, covering everything from lobbying to Lyndon LaRouche and turning after 9/11 to homeland security and terrorism. On July 1, Mintz left the Post after 22 years to take a job as a senior investigator in the Washington office of his little brother's firm, the James Mintz Group.

The investigative services firm uncovers business facts for corporations, law firms and financial institutions. Forbes has featured its expertise in checking the backgrounds of high-level executive job candidates; it also was the chief investigator for the legislative committee considering former Connecticut Governor John Rowland's impeachment.

AJR's Katrina Altersitz talked to Mintz about journalism and his career switch.

Q: What prompted your move from the Post to private investigation?

A: Doing investigative work has always been the part of newspapering that I loved the most. I love digging for obscure facts, getting people to give information that they might not initially want to give, arriving at new insights. I really just flipped when I realized that my brother was really interested in finding, in recruiting an experienced investigative type like me.

Q: How exactly will you put your reporting skills to work for your new company?

A: I'll be working on cases rather than stories, something new for me. The work is going to be amazingly similar. As I understand it, the James Mintz Group, its activities that it's most proud of and that most distinguishes it, are locating and exploiting obscure and sometimes complicated document trails and persuading reluctant people to give information.

Q: Are there any challenges you expect to encounter as you transition from one job to the other?

A: I've never reported to a client before. I have reported only to editors, and editors have certain sets of expectations and standards and requirements that I've come to know very well. I have to learn what's on the mind of clients, of lawyers and business executives I might be reporting to.

Q: As a reporter, what is your assessment of the national media's coverage of terrorism and homeland security?

A: I think it's pretty good, given the very dynamic and ever-changing nature of this beast. Before 9/11, there was no homeland security department; there was not a consciousness of domestic security issues in this country. There was no industry focused on making money in that area. There was little national debate about the great controversies surrounding homeland security. All this is very new, and the journalism cadre is new at covering it. And we're all finding our way and figuring out how to do it.

Q: How did the [homeland] security beat compare to the other beats you've held in your career?

A: The terrorism and homeland security beats are quite grinding and at times grim, and reporters who do it...need to pace themselves to be able to go home and be with [their] family and have fun and get away from it--even more, perhaps, than other kinds of grinding reporting.

Q: What do you think, in all these different beats you've covered, was the most intriguing story you've worked on?

A: The most intriguing story I worked on ran on September 11, 2004. It was a lengthy article about the Muslim brotherhood, a mysterious, secretive worldwide movement with many tentacles that's not well understood. ..I was allowed to spend months digging into the worldwide connections of this organization and was deeply intrigued by this story.

Q: How do you think the field of journalism changed since you entered the industry in the '70s?

A: I think that newspapers are confronting very serious challenges that they will surmount, but they're going to have to be very nimble to do it. Many fewer young people are reading newspapers nowadays, and people of all ages are terribly pressed for time in their lives. They also have so many different ways of getting information or being entertained or getting a good laugh. They can go not only to TV and radio but online and reading headlines off their cell phone. A lot of newspapers are suffering grievous circulation decline. ...This was not happening in the '70s when I got started, but it's certainly happening in the 2000s when I bowed out.

Q: What will it be like to work for your younger brother? How will he stack up to the editors you've had in the past?

A: I think we're going to work really well together. We've always been very close. Strangely enough, it can be said that the people that I worked with at the Washington Post, and most of the people that I reported to at the Post, were a little bit like brothers and sisters. You really get to know these people very well. ..I think that I'll continue that kind of intimate relating and communicating in my new job in the way that I did at the Post for many years.