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Rudoren: ‘A Little Naïve About the Beat’

New Jerusalem bureau chief talks to Tablet

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Dylan Byers at Politico has an interview with Jodi Rudoren in which she discloses, among other things, that her tweet @ Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah was intended to be a direct message (just like Anthony Weiner!). I also just got off the phone with her. We began the call by discussing how Sam Sifton was the first New York Times restaurant critic who had pictures of himself online when he took his job, and how that may turn out to be similar to her being the first Jerusalem bureau chief to have an active Twitter presence. What she said further confirmed my belief that she is coming to the subject new (as indeed she is: she has never reported on the Middle East), and that what some has taken for bias is in fact ignorance.

Some of her thoughts, edited and not all in order, follow. Non-italics are what she said.

On what happened in terms of the reaction today.
Combination of not learning Twitter correctly and being a little naive about the beat. I learn quickly. I’m not going to stay naive for long.

On whether she’ll stay on Twitter.
I think it would be really too bad if the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times can’t be on social media, because I’m really going to try to make it work, because I think it’s really a part of our journalism, and just being part of public life and being in the conversation. It’s clear from the reaction today and yesterday and from what just I’ve barely dipped my toes into seeing is that lots and lots of people who are deeply knowledgeable are invested in social media, and I want to be part of that, and I want to report on that and report through that.

The level of sin to the level of reaction is quite striking, and we’ll see how it goes. My main takeaway from today is underlining what an incredible opportunity I’m stepping into. That people are focused on me is really a proxy for being focused on the story.

On why she took this gig.
It was the hardest thing I could think of to do. In addition to that, Jerusalem is a city and the region is a place that has been fascinating to me. I don’t have a huge amount of experience there, but when I was there I was struck by the incredible combination of history and news and the way that they’re layered together, the way what’s going on today is happening on top of—literally—thousands of years of history. Paired with that, the fact that this place is the object of such intense and passionate argument.

On her experience with this subject.
I wrote a ton about Arabs, Muslims. After 9/11, when I moved to Chicago. I’ve written nothing about the Middle East. I’ve written probably the most about Muslims.

On her tweet praising Peter Beinart’s book.
I did write that tweet carefully with my role in mind. I’m trying to read widely right now on this issue. This happens to be the thing I just read. And it’s a really good book! It doesn’t mean I agree with his argument. It’s readable, it’s filled with new reporting, and its provocative. That’s a journalist’s take on another journalist’s book. He’s obviously more of an advocacy journalist than I am. It doesn’t mean I think his argument is correct, it doesn’t mean I think everyone should line up behind him. It’s well-written, it’s filled with interesting reporting and facts. I’ll say it on any medium you want. I expect some of the books I read from the Palestinian perspective and from the Likud perspective will be good books, and I expect some of them to be crappy!

My editorialization: re-reading this, her balancing “Palestinian” and “Likud” strikes me as another rookie mistake. If somebody more well versed in the conflict said it, I would question their balancing of the two. But, honestly, I really think she’s just getting her feet wet. Which is further argument, for me, on why she shouldn’t be tweeting about it yet.

It happens that I went to college with Peter and we are demographically simiilar, but I don’t do what he does. I’m not an activist.

On the wayward Abunimah direct message.
I’m not going to apologize for wanting to talk with Ali Abunimah either. I really am not prepared to tell you who the right counterpart is on the other side, but I want to meet that guy, too, and all the people in between. I’m going to talk to you and Ron Dermer and settlers and Palestinians and Haredim and Arab-Israelis and secular Israelis.

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robertk says:

This is a perfect example of the New York Times assigning neophyte reporters to beats for which they have absolutely no background, no understanding of the history, culture or peoples of the region, do not speak the languages. Dear Jodi has written “a ton a about Arabs, Muslims.” and further “I’ve written nothing about the Middle East. I’ve written probably the most about Muslims.” Is this some kind of a joke?

She sounds like Britney Spears.

For Zlota says:

Is it too cynical to suggest that it’s a marketing strategy? Antisemitism and antizionism do attract a lot of page hits.

Oy…I can’t see this lasting long. The very act of going around giving interviews about how you don’t understand Twitter isn’t a promising start. Hard to imagine Bronner doing something like that, however you feel about his politics.

Also, ‘My main takeaway from today is underlining what an incredible opportunity I’m stepping into. That people are focused on me is really a proxy for being focused on the story.’? No, that is not the proper takeaway. Israel/Palestine obsessives sailed past being ‘interested in the issue’ years ago. The people who care about this reporter’s opinions are very much focused on *her*, not the story. They want to know if she’s batting for their team, or the other side. I have to believe Ms. Rudoren is smart enough to understand that, and is just trying to spin her way free.

Finally, I don’t know what NYT’s style guidelines are for this, but ‘Arab-Israelis’ is going to be seen by most people tuned into the issue as a telling anachronism.

Bill Pearlman says:

She obviously knows Abumineh from Chicago. He is a presence there. And he is also a virulent proponent for the destruction of Israel. On top of being personally an asshole.

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

Maybe MT & Tablet could sponsor a “reader participation” activity whereby readers could put together a suggested reading list for our hopelessly naive & woefully ignorant pending NY Times Jerusalem Bureau chief. The effective “1 URL limit” would have to be lifted (at least temporarily) to make this practical.

Actually it might not be a bad idea to make this into two lists: (a) a center-left, “progressobabbelian” list (which would garner the LL seal of approval, (b) an unashamedly Zionist, un-PC list (maybe Alan Dershowitz would consent to give his hechsher on this list).


J’lem / Efrata

“The level of sin to the level of reaction is quite striking, and we’ll see how it goes.” What does this mean? Either it’s potentially interesting, or it’s a transcription error and should read “The level of reaction…” etc.

I suppose Marc Tracy’s correct; it’s ignorance rather than bias behind her tweets with the Electronic Intifada crew.

It will be interesting to watch the learning curve of this new bureau chief as she continues her dialogues with such luminaries as Ali Abounimah.

Whether bias or ignorance, with this new appointment as Jm. bureau chief, the New York Times has just torn down another section of the curtain that used to separate established journalism from people who blog in their pajamas.

Does anybody still think that Middle East opinion bloggers take their cues from Grey Lady reporters and not the other way around?

Until recently, the byline of ‘New York Times’ imbued a column or article with a certain amount of gravitas.

But ask yourselves, who are your go-to sources for commentary and reporting on the Middle East or anything else? Are they established news sources, or are they bloggers?

I know my answer.

Even without the appointment of Jodi to run the bureau, the imprimatur of “New York Times journalist” (or any established news source) is hemorrhaging prestige.

Hiring someone who tweets with extreme fringe groups about the good things she’s heard about them, and whose excuse is “I didn’t know twitter was public,” really drives home the point that not only are there no real differences in methodology and quality between bloggers and New York Times bureau chiefs, but that the lowly bloggers actually have the sharper minds.

brynababy says:

Her time would be better spent learning about what she’s supposed to be reporting on (she obviously has a LOT to learn), than on learning how to tweet. My God, this is journalism? And of course, this is an example of the high regard the NYT always shows for Israel.


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Rudoren: ‘A Little Naïve About the Beat’

New Jerusalem bureau chief talks to Tablet

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