Sunday, January 20th | 14 Shevat 5779

December 13, 2016 2:43 pm

The New York Times Recalls Its Jerusalem Bureau Chief After a Record Short Stint

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Peter Baker. Photo: Wikipedia.

The now-former New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Peter Baker. Photo: Wikipedia.

Well, that was quick.

Less than four full months after Peter Baker’s less-than-encouraging debut as the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times, the newspaper has announced that he is returning to Washington, where he will in January begin a new assignment covering President Trump.

The announcement leaves the future leadership of the Jerusalem bureau as a question mark for the second time this year. The job was vacated last January, when the previous bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, left. The Times announced on January 29, 2016 that Mr. Baker would take the job, but he only started writing for the paper from Israel in late August of 2016.

Because there is a learning curve — it takes a while for a foreign correspondent to meet sources, figure out what is going on and gain confidence and knowledge of a place — news organizations generally keep foreign correspondents in place for three to five years at a time, not three to five months.

Mr. Baker’s stint in Israel is, in other words, unusually short.

Previous holders of the Times Jerusalem bureau position include Clyde Haberman, who served for four years in the 1990s; Serge Schmemann, who had the job from July 1995 to September 1998; and Deborah Sontag, who served from August 1998 to August 2001. James Bennet, who is now the Times editorial page editor, had the Jerusalem bureau job from 2001 to 2004, before becoming editor of the Atlantic. Steven Erlanger had the job from 2004 to 2008. Mr. Erlanger was succeeded by Ethan Bronner, who served from 2008 to 2012; Ms. Rudoren served from 2012 to 2015. Thomas Friedman, the author and current New York Times op-ed columnist, had the Times Jerusalem job from June 1984 until February 1988, a period in which he reportedly procured for the New York Times a residence that has subsequently been occupied by many of the correspondents who followed him.

The Times has been suffering from a pronounced decline in advertising revenues, and has been trying to reduce editorial costs by offering buyouts to senior reporters and editors and laying off journalists. Keeping a foreign bureau vacant can be one way to save money. On the other hand, the newspaper has been raising its subscription prices, and it has claimed: “From Election Day through Nov. 26, The Times had a net increase of approximately 132,000 paid subscriptions to its print and digital news products.” With that kind of inflow of cash, you’d think the paper could afford to keep its Jerusalem bureau fully staffed.

For Times readers who care about the Jewish state, a vacant Israel bureau has its pluses and minuses. On the positive side, if the Times doesn’t have a high-powered journalist based in Israel, there’s less chance that Times readers will be subjected to some long and prominently displayed dirge about how Jewish Israeli settlers are the sole cause of any and all the problems that have ever afflicted the Middle East. On the other hand, in the event that some actual news breaks out unexpectedly, the newspaper won’t be particularly well-positioned.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here. 

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