Sun, May 06, 2007 - Page 9 News List

UN's sole blogger pushing media envelope


The daily press briefing was routine. Marie Okabe, a spokeswoman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 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 Okabe asked for questions, Lee, the resident blogger of the UN press corps, pounced, asking almost as many questions in 20 minutes as the other correspondents combined.

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 UN 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 in March on the grounds that he had distracted too many briefings with off-topic questions.

The UN 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 UN -- in part, it seems, because the foreign policy debates here are considered mind-numbing to many US citizens.

"Bloggers in the US seem mostly concerned about domestic politics," said Lee, one of about 200 full-time resident correspondents at the UN.

Another 1,500 correspondents have permanent credentials.

The day-to-day work of the UN, he said, involves passing "boring resolutions and delivering food."

Most of Okabe's answers during a daily briefing made it into one of several daily posts on Lee's Web site,, which has covered everything from fire drills at the UN 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.

Lee is also well-known in banking circles. 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 UN 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."

Lee draws a distinction between his investigations at the UN 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 Lee, 41, who says he regularly works 13-hour days and lives on the money from several fellowships he won a few years ago.

Stephane Dujarric, who was chief spokesman for former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, is now working for the department that oversees media accreditation at the UN. 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.

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