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July 24, 2017 2:04 pm

Second New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief in a Row Leaves Abruptly

avatar by Ira Stoll


The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

For the second time in two years, a New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief is abruptly abandoning the job.

The Times announced on Monday that Ian Fisher, who arrived in Jerusalem in January 2017, “decided he was ready for a change” and was “planning to spend the next year with his family in Italy.”

Fisher’s first Jerusalem dateline for the Times was January 19; he hasn’t had a byline in the paper since a June 5 “Memo from Jerusalem.”

Fisher’s predecessor in the Times Jerusalem job, Peter Baker, started in August 2016 and left in December 2016 to return to Washington for the Times after less than four full months on the job in Israel.

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Fisher told The Algemeiner that the buyouts the Times was offering long-serving employees who agreed to leave the paper were “too tempting” for him to turn down. Such buyouts typically offer a certain number of weeks of pay for every year an employee is at the paper. Fisher had 28 years of seniority. They also typically come with an expiration date, after which employees who don’t accept the offer might be laid off (though that would seem highly unlikely in Fisher’s case) or might not be eligible again for the same terms.

Asked if he had any worries about leaving the job less than a year after Baker did the same thing, he replied, “Yes, I gave a lot of thought to such a short stay, and was conflicted about it, especially after Peter.”

As I wrote when Baker stepped down:

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.

The Times announced that Fisher’s replacement will be David Halbfinger, who had been the paper’s deputy national editor. Halbfinger has belonged to a conservative synagogue in Montclair, N.J., Shomrei Emunah; his 2003 wedding was officiated by Rabbi Hillel Norry.

The Times said “David and his family will be moving in August, and he will begin work after Labor Day.”

Said Fisher, “David is a real pro and will make a great replacement.”

At this point, Times readers who care about the paper’s Israel’s coverage may not even hold “great” out as their standard; they’d settle for someone with the endurance to hang in there for longer than six months. The slot was once considered one of the best jobs in journalism. It comes with a house in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood that, unlike many other fine properties that the Times once maintained for its foreign correspondents, hasn’t yet been sold off to prop up the financially hard-pressed publication.

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


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