Will The New York Times Fill Its Press Seat at the UN?

Wreath-laying Ceremony marking 10th anniversary of UN Baghdad bombing.
A wreath-laying ceremony, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, center, marking the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad on Aug. 19, 2003, and honoring those killed. EVAN SCHNEIDER/UN PHOTO

Neil MacFarquhar, who has been the United Nations bureau chief of The New York Times since June 2008, has left the post to move to Moscow, where he will continue to report for the paper. MacFarquhar, who covered the UN during the first and current term of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a Korean, reported on a broad range of geopolitical topics, from the annual General Assembly open debate in September and its circuslike atmosphere to the much-heralded but arduous passing of the Arms Trade Treaty this spring.

Rick Gladstone, a reporter and editor on breaking news for the Times’s Web site, will report on the UN in the meantime as a decision is made by the paper as to “how to replace Neil, and with whom,” a Times person wrote to PassBlue. It could happen by the time the General Assembly convenes its annual debate this year, on Sept. 24. Meanwhile, the Times’s office in the UN press corps area, overlooking the East River, sits empty as a long list of other reporters waiting for office space grows.

The Times is one of the last American daily newspapers covering the UN as a full-time beat. The Washington Post keeps a reporter on site at the UN, Colum Lynch, who also writes a blog, Turtle Bay, on the world body for Foreign Policy. (It is part of the FP Group, currently a division of The Washington Post Company, but it will not be part of the paper’s sale to Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief.)

If The Times decides to cover the UN remotely, the focus of the paper’s foreign policy coverage will originate in Washington, without a full UN perspective. Human-rights groups who spend a lot of time at the UN will also lose direct access to a Times reporter on site.

The Associated Press and Reuters wire services keep full-time reporters in the UN press corps, and dozens of non-American news organizations maintain reporters at the UN, including Al Jazeera, which opened a new broadcast channel, based in New York, on Aug. 20.

The United States is the largest contributor in dues to the UN general operating budget, at 22 percent; it is also by far the largest donor to the UN’s peacekeeping department, at 28 percent. Moreover, a new US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, just took up her post on Aug. 5.

MacFarquhar’s presence at UN press briefings stood out for his laconic but incisive questions, as he towered over his colleagues at media stakeouts, which require jockeying and pointed but polite questions to elicit any answers from diplomats or UN officials. Having filled in briefly in Beirut to cover the war in Syria after the death of his colleague there in 2012, Anthony Shadid, MacFarquhar returned to the UN full time until this summer.

He was no stranger to the Middle East. He originally covered the region for The Associated Press for seven years before moving to The Times’s bureau in Cairo, working there from 2001 until 2006. He was also a national correspondent for The Times, based in San Francisco, from 2006 to 2008.

In an interview about being a foreign correspondent, MacFarquhar said, in part, “The best part, though, is that reporting is a form of continuous education and a chance to come face-to-face with the world without any barriers in the way.”

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