Moving News Troops: Reporters Head Off in First Media Wave

There was no honeymoon for Howell Raines, the new executive

editor of The New York Times . Six

days after taking over for Joseph Lelyveld on Sept. 5, Mr. Raines -the paper’s

hard-charging former editorial-page editor and Washington bureau chief-was

tossed into directing The Times ‘

coverage of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and mobilizing

hundreds of reporters around the world.

“It’s such a tragic story

that I’m always reluctant to talk about it in personal terms,” Mr. Raines said.

“I live downtown, and as I left the house, I could see the south tower

burning.”

But, the new Times boss

said, “my own personal feeling was that the 37 years of newspapering that I

have done had prepared me for this challenge, and I’ve tried my best to meet

it.”

And now, as the action moves overseas from Manhattan to faraway

reaches like Islamabad, Kabul and Peshawar, Mr. Raines-like many of his media

colleagues-is aggressively shuffling his staff, rearranging editors and trying

to decide how best to cover the U.S. military response and its fallout.

Already, Pakistan and Afghanistan have become mild media

carnivals, invaded by  TV gangs and a

talented if curious blend of print reporters ranging from hard-boiled war

veterans to pure rookies-reporters who just a month ago were covering beats

like cops and the environment, and now find themselves in a dangerous, faraway

place.

The Times , with its

dominant position in the American media, its still-sizable foreign bureaus and

its ability to spend money, has emerged as an early pace-setter. A few stars

have already emerged from the paper: New Dehli co-bureau chief Barry Bearak,

who was already in Kabul on September 11, covering the trial of foreign aid

workers accused of proselytizing Christianity (he’s since come back to Pakistan

after the Taliban expelled all Western journalists); John F. Burns, the senior

correspondent and two-time Pulitzer winner for his coverage of the Taliban’s

rise to power in Afghanistan in the mid-1990’s as well as the Bosnian War; and

David Rodhe, a Pulitzer winner himself in 1997, for his coverage of the siege

of Srebrenica for The Christian Science

Monitor .

Mr. Rohde’s rise is emblematic of how this growing war has

instantly changed careers and profiles. At The

Times , he has primarily served as a reporter on the Metro staff, though he

did go to Kosovo for the paper to cover the conflict between NATO and

Yugoslavian forces. But as of Oct. 9, Mr. Rohde was the only Times reporter still filing from

under-siege Afghanistan, having crossed into the country on Sept. 25 from

Tajikistan.

“He’s a guy who’ll crawl into any hole other reporters are afraid

to go into,” said one of his colleagues.

The Times also has

Celia Dugger, who is the other New Dehli co-bureau chief and is married to Mr.

Bearak, and Douglas Frantz in Pakistan reporting from Islamabad and Quetta.

Veteran war correspondent John Kifner is expected to begin reporting from

Afghanistan, too.

Another rising wartime star at The Times may prove to be C.J. Chivers, who as of late has been reporting

from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where U.S. forces have been gathering. Until

recently, Mr. Chivers, 36, had been a reporter on the Metro desk, covering the

cop beat and homicides. But now, because of his personal background-a former

Marine captain, Mr. Chivers saw combat in the Persian Gulf War before attending

journalism school at Columbia and doing a stint at the Providence Journal -he’s become a valuable overseas asset, trying to

help The Times ‘ military coverage.

Also overseas is Rick Bragg, the folksy, Pulitzer winner who acts

as a roaming national correspondent for The

Times , and had driven from Chicago on Sept. 11 to cover the aftermath of

the World Trade Center attack. Mr. Bragg put in a special request to Mr. Raines

to go overseas, and it was granted, even though Mr. Bragg was primarily known

as a chronicler of the American South, and for writing lyrical accounts of

domestic sagas like Timothy McVeigh’s execution and the battle over Elian

Gonzalez. On Sept. 29, he filed his first story from abroad, with a Karachi,

Pakistan dateline.

Mr. Raines said there was a conscious effort to give a new group

of reporters combat reporting experience-so that over the long term, The Times has seasoned veterans on

staff.

“I was Washingon editor when the Gulf War broke out, and we

realized at that time that most of our great Vietnam correspondents-Charlie

Moore and Gene Roberts and any number of people I can name-were no longer at a

stage in their career when they were going to be war correspondents again,” Mr.

Raines said. “Part of the logic here is to send people who are either by

experience already qualified for this kind of reporting or by inclination ready

to gain this kind of experience.”

At the same time, Mr. Raines pointed out that Mr. Rohde and Mr.

Bragg both had reported in dangerous environments-Mr. Rohde in the Balkans, Mr.

Bragg in Central America and Haiti. And in the case of Mr. Chivers, Mr. Raines

said that even before The Times hired

him, he had thought that his military experience would likely qualify him as a

war correspondent.

“I was involved in introducing him to the newsroom hiring system

when I was still on the editorial page because I had been a judge in a

competition he won, and I noticed that he was a former Marine captain who had

been in the Marine Corps for eight years,” Mr. Raines said, “and I remember

thinking at the time, this guy would be a valuable person to have on the staff,

in addition to his many talents as a journalist, but I could see him as a

Pentagon correspondent or as a war correspondent.”

Mr. Raines said that he had not spoken to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger about the financial costs of its

coverage

But personnel-wise, there continues to be an immense shake-up at

the paper. Douglas Jehl, who covered the environmental beat from the paper’s

Washington, D.C., bureau, was reassigned to Cairo, where he previously spent

four years. So was Susan Sachs, another Cairo correspondent who has also

covered the immigration beat for the Metro desk. Chris Hedges, who covered

Bosnia and Kosovo but had returned to New York, is off to Spain to cover

diplomatic discussions in Europe. Ian Fisher has left Warsaw for Jerusalem,

where he joins James Bennet, himself a newcomer there. London bureau chief

Warren Hoge is now in Kuwait.

Domestically, there has been significant reshuffling, too, as

reporters who have not been sent overseas find themselves doing investigative

work related to the terrorist attacks and potential future threats. At least 20

reporters, including Ben Weiser and Katherine Finklestein from the Metro desk,

Ray Bonner and Elaine Sciolino from Washington, and David Firestone and Jim

Yardley from the national desk, have been enlisted to work on an investigative

unit headed up by Stephen Engelberg and Washington bureau chief Jill Abramson.

That unit is being coordinated by Michael Oreskes, who was, until recently,

helming The Times ‘ advances into

television programming.

Another huge issue for The

Times in the wake of the attacks has been editorial organization. Old

newsroom divisions-foreign, national, Washington (which is not a formal desk,

but in many ways acts like it is), and Metro-have been blurred, since the story

crosses so many traditional lines. The

Times has compiled much of its post-attack coverage in a separate section

entitled “A Nation Challenged,” the contents of which doesn’t have a formal

editor and is largely shaped by Mr. Raines and other high-level editors.

“This story is bigger and more complex than others we’ve

confronted in recent times,” said Ms. Abramson. “The desks all have to know

what they’re all doing so you don’t overlap, but most of all so that you can

maximize for the stories the collective knowledge at the paper both out in the

country, in Washington and abroad.”

Of course, all of this is occurring right on the heels of Mr.

Raines’ own promotion. Newsroom sources said that since the attacks Mr. Raines

has been regularly involved in the daily details of the paper’s management-an

approach that makes sense for covering a crisis, but one they figure will last

for the foreseeable future.

Mr. Raines called this interpretation “simplification,” but he

did say that he’s been meeting with his masthead colleagues more frequently

since he started as executive editor. This is in addition to the paper’s

twice-daily Page 1 meetings, where section editors pitch stories from their

desks for the front page.

“The first thing that happened to me when I worked on the

editorial board was that I became very comfortable working in a collegial

environment with a lot of joint decision making,” Mr. Raines said. “So, the

first thing I did [as executive editor] was I set up a daily meeting of the

masthead at 10:30.” He added, “It gave the desk heads a chance to get their

lineups in order without anyone looking over their shoulder.”

The view from below was slightly different. Times staffers said that since Sept. 11, Mr. Raines has clearly

been the go-to man in charge.

“The section editors can’t really tell us what’s going on,” said

one Times reporter, who thought the

desk editors had lost some authority. “There was a decentralization under Joe,

and I think under Howell, it’s becoming more centralized.”

But Times sources also said that Andrew Rosenthal has particularly

stood out in the crowded ranks of assistant managing editors. Referring to Mr.

Rosenthal’s close work with Mr. Raines and new managing editor Gerald Boyd, one

source said, “He’s instantly become the No. 3 guy at the paper.”

Not surprisingly, among reporters at The Times , competition for stories is brisk, and Page 1 competition

especially fierce.

Mr. Raines acknowledged that reporters might see the current

story as a career-making opportunity, but said that it didn’t affect his

editing. “My concentration is putting out the best possible paper,” he said.

“The political dynamic may exist in other people’s minds, but it’s not in my

mind.”

But at least among the paper’s editorial managers, office

politics have been few.  “When you’re in

the middle of the thing, because this is the biggest story any of us have

covered, management structure is not foremost in your mind,” said Jonathan

Landman, the Metro editor. “Figuring out what the hell is going on and trying

to get stories in the paper is what’s on your mind.”

Outside of The Times ,

the New York–based media overseas is an odd mixture of far-flung scribes, war

vets, adventurers and fortuitous wanderers. To date, the city’s other two

dailies, the Daily News and the Post , have not sent their own staffers

into the fray, though that may change. Time

and Newsweek have each mobilized

numerous reporters and are signing up local ones close to the action. Vanity Fair is planning to dispatch-look

out, Osama-Christopher Hitchens as well as The

Perfect Storm ‘s Sebastian Junger, an accomplished war correspondent

himself.

Here’s a summary of assignments thus far.

New York Daily News :

Did not have anyone on the ground as of yet in Afghanistan or Pakistan-to date,

the News has relied upon wire service

coverage of events overseas-but a spokesman said the paper is working out the

details of getting a reporter to the area. ( U.S.

News & World Report, which is also owned by News owner Mortimer Zuckerman, has a small team in the region who

may feed reporting to the News ).

The New York Post : Also

has relied on wire reports; the paper’s publisher, Ken Chandler, declined The Observer ‘s request for an interview.

Newsweek : A

spokesperson for the magazine did not want to get into specifics of who and

where these people were. Currently in Pakistan, however, are Josh Hammer, who

since the beginning of this year has been the Jerusalem bureau chief; Chris

Dickey, the Paris bureau chief who also edits coverage of the Middle East who

in the past has covered the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center and the Gulf

War; and Rod Nordland, a correspondent-at-large, who has mostly covered the

conflicts in the Balkans, but who has also traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan

and Iraq in recent years.

Time : Like Newsweek , Time didn’t want to get into specifics. Moscow correspondent Paul

Quinn-Judge traveled to northern Afghanistan to report on the Northern Alliance

forces. Time is also using reporting

from Kamal Hyder, who has been on CNN (which, like Time , is owned by AOL Time Warner) several times before and after

the Sept. 11 attacks. Described as a “Pakistani journalist,” he was on the

phone to CNN during the Oct. 7 military operations. Time is also drawing on the reporting of Rahimullah Yusufazi,

another Pakistani journalist, who interviewed Osama bin Laden in December 1988.

Vanity Fair : The

magazine was looking to get both Mr. Hitchens and Mr. Junger into Afghanistan.

In addition, Janine di Giovanni, who has written two pieces from Kosovo for the

magazine, was headed for Pakistan.

The New Yorker : John

Lee Anderson, who usually lives in southern Spain, was sent to Tajikistan to

try to get into Afghanistan to cover the Northern Alliance. Writers Isabel

Hilton and Joe Klein are trying to figure out where to go next in the area of

Afghanistan. The New Yorker ‘s Jeff

Goldberg also went to Cairo to write about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and

is now in Germany trying to figure out where to go and what to write next.

Talk : A spokeswoman

said that the magazine is not sending any of its staff writers, but is

contracting with journalists who are already in Pakistan to cover the conflict.