Blogging at UNHQ/NY

The NY Times has an article on a colleague (we have not yet had the pleasure of making his acquaintance), who blogs from UNHQ/NY. The Story, As Blogs Proliferate, a Gadfly With Accreditation at the U.N., by Maria Aspan, was published on 30 April, and focuses mainly on issues concerning accreditation [with which we do have more than a passing acquaintance — though not because we have asked for accreditation for our blog, which we are still doing anonymously].

Here is the text in full of the NYTimes story:

“UNITED NATIONS — The daily press briefing was routine. Marie Okabe, a spokeswoman for the secretary general, read a five-minute update on Somalia, Darfur and the Security Council’s actions, and about 30 journalists quietly listened

In the third row, Matthew Lee tapped away at his laptop and scribbled on two notepads with the intensity of a graduate student at thesis time. When Ms. Okabe asked for questions, Mr. Lee, the resident blogger of the United Nations press corps, pounced, asking almost as many questions in 20 minutes as the other correspondents combined.

Mr. Lee, a well-known gadfly who often presses banks to revise their policies on mortgage loans to the poor, is the only blogger at the United Nations with media credentials, entitling him to free office space and access to briefings and press conferences. There had been a second accredited blogger, Pincas Jawetz, a 73-year-old retired energy policy consultant, but he was ejected last month on the grounds that he had distracted too many briefings with off-topic questions.

The United Nations is one of the only institutions of its size and importance that currently allow bloggers not affiliated with larger, more traditional media companies into the permanent press corps.

The Democrats and Republicans allowed bloggers into their 2004 conventions. But the question of whether bloggers should be considered credentialed journalists is a relatively new one at the United Nations, in part, it seems, because the foreign policy debates here are considered mind-numbing to many Americans.

“Bloggers in the U.S. seem mostly concerned about domestic politics,” said Mr. Lee, one of about 200 full-time resident correspondents at the United Nations (another 1,500 have permanent credentials).

The day-to-day work of the United Nations, he said, involves passing “boring resolutions and delivering food. Nobody cares.”

Most of Ms. Okabe’s answers during a daily briefing made it into one of several daily posts on Mr. Lee’s Web site,, which has covered everything from fire drills at the United Nations headquarters building to potential financial abuses at its agencies. He says that this site gets about 90,600 visitors a month. Another site he runs,, which he calls “more openly advocacy,” gets 289,000 monthly visitors.

Mr. Lee is also well known in banking circles. [n.b. – he is apparently also a lawyer…] This month, for instance, he took a break from his foreign affairs duties to attend a Citigroup shareholder meeting.

He established Inner City Press in 1987 as a print newsletter and turned his attention to the United Nations in late 2005. Today, Inner City Press operates as both an online nonprofit organization and as a Web site with the motto “investigative reporting from the inner city to Wall Street to the United Nations.”

Mr. Lee draws a distinction between his investigations at the United Nations and the criticism the institution faces from right-wing bloggers. “I end up getting a lot of dirt, not because I’m a right-winger, just because I write about the agencies,” said Mr. Lee, 41, who says he regularly works 13-hour days and lives on the money from several fellowships he won a few years ago.

Stéphane Dujarric [n.b. see UN-Truth F.A.Q.], who was a chief spokesman for former Secretary General Kofi Annan, is now working for the department that oversees media accreditation at the United Nations. He said that guidelines for bloggers are a work in progress. The goal is to balance concerns about openness, security and professional standards with growing interest from online journalists, he said.

“New media is definitely a challenge to all organizations who accredit journalists, and I think we’re doing well in meeting that challenge,” Mr. Dujarric said. “Our priority is to make sure we provide an environment that is as open to journalists doing their work, as much as possible.”

For people without credentials — journalists or citizens — the United Nations posts transcripts and live Webcasts on its site. “We’re trying to make information about the U.N. as accessible as possible,” Mr. Dujarric said.

The debate over who should gain access to the inner sanctum came to a head last month when Mr. Jawetz, who follows sustainable development for his Web site called, did not have his accreditation renewed. The United Nations department of public information cited his Web site’s lack of “a substantial amount of original news content” as well as complaints from other reporters that Mr. Jawetz’s questions were “more consistent with that of a nongovernmental organization advocate.”
On March 29, his last day at the noon briefing, Mr. Jawetz created a scene by using the question period to read a letter informing him that his renewal request had been declined.

“I’m not covering everything, I’m writing about what is important,” said Mr. Jawetz, who said in an interview that his site published impartial journalism, not advocacy.

Although United Nations reporters and officials refer to Mr. Lee as the only remaining blogger, he is not the only member of the press corps who blogs. Joe Lauria, who covers the United Nations on a freelance basis for The Boston Globe, writes for The Huffington Post, a liberal-leaning blog; on the more conservative side, Claudia Rosett, a contributor to National Review and a former member of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, has a blog at

And in the more distant blogosphere, the United Nations is a favorite punching bag for many political blogs like [The NYTimes apparently does not yet know about]

“Bloggers, serious ones, do contribute to the spread of information,” said Tuyet Nguyen, a correspondent for the German press service DPA and president of the United Nations Correspondents Association. He said of Mr. Lee: “I don’t see any difference in what he’s doing and what we are doing.”

Mr. Lee is a bit like a bull in the carefully diplomatic china shop of the United Nations press corps. He has broken a few stories and irritated more than one senior official. He has printed gossip, rumors and what several officials called lies, and was once called a “jerk” by Mark Malloch Brown, the deputy secretary-general under Kofi Annan.

But he seems to have earned the respect of his colleagues: in December, he was elected to the executive committee of the United Nations Correspondents Association
“I know my place; it’s a supplement, it’s a sidebar on issues that everyone else cares about,” Mr. Lee said. He said that he can devote his time — and Web space — to issues often overlooked by larger media. “It’s not like newsprint costs are going to kill me,” he said.”

3 thoughts on “Blogging at UNHQ/NY”

  1. Those of us who follow the travails of the UN have been following and reading about InnerCity Press for quite a long time and that’s how we have learnt that nepotism and conflict of interest are practiced by the Sr Exec though it is VERBOTEN officially. Daughters, sons and friends of so and so being hired by different agencies and Funds around the world etc 🙂

  2. I was surprised when I read that “He says that this site gets about 90,600 visitors a month. Another site he runs,, which he calls “more openly advocacy,” gets 289,000 monthly visitors” — a lot of the visitors may be UN officials checking to see if they or their interests — or their daughters, sons and friends — are mentioned!

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