Seton Hall Graduate Degree in International Affairs
Seton Hall Graduate Degree in International Affairs

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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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We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Will The New York Times Fill Its Press Seat at the UN?
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Irwin Arieff
Irwin Arieff
9 years ago

How sad if the Times abandons its UN Bureau. Lots of great journalism has come out of that office over the years.

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