By: Joe Strupp
Just a day after United Press International revealed it would lay off its lone White House correspondent with no plans to replace him, comes word that UPI’s long-running United Nations bureau will close after 62 years of covering the worldwide organization.
In that move, the news organization is losing its most senior reporter, William M. Reilly, who joined UPI in 1961 and covered beats ranging from the Vietnam War to New York City courts before taking the U.N. beat 10 years ago. He said his departure will mark the first time the U.N. has not been covered by UPI since the international organization was founded in 1945.
“I was really gobsmacked when I got the call on Monday. I had been told we were beginning to make money,” Reilly, 66, told E&P. “I was thinking we were doing better, cranking out a lot of copy.”
Reilly is one of 11 UPI staffers who will leave the news organization as of July 31 as part of a reorganization that will focus more of its reporting on defense intelligence, security threats, and energy conflicts, according to Editor-In-Chief Michael Marshall. Among those also laid off is White House correspondent Richard Tomkins, who has covered that beat for seven years.
The change is the latest in a long-running effort to keep the once-leading news source profitable and in business since its 2000 takeover by News World Communications, which is owned by Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church and also operates The Washington Times.
“We are refocusing our principal products that we are putting out,” Marshall, who has been with UPI since 2003, told E&P on Wednesday. He could not be reached for comment Thursday to discuss the U.N. beat.
The new reporting approach will target defense intelligence, energy and resource conflicts, and security techniques and strategy, he has said.
In a release, UPI stated that the change in focus was needed for “increased competitiveness and profitability among consumers of news and analysis in a 21st century media marketplace.” UPI officials said the organization has 229 employees worldwide.
Reilly said he had wanted to cover the U.N. ever since he moved to New York in 1975 after his second stint covering Vietnam, even taking an apartment then near the international organization’s Manhattan headquarters: “I am really happy that I have gotten this assignment.”
He recalled being in the U.N. building for former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s infamous 2003 presentation that wrongly alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the U.S. Invasion. “I couldn’t understand how Bush was calling for an invasion when they were saying here to wait a few more months,” he said.
But Reilly’s assignments also spanned other stories, from the Apollo space program to New York City blackouts of 1977 and 2003. “My mother died the day they landed on the moon,” he said of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission. “I was in Chicago for that and helped out in the office,” he recalled. “I was relaying quotes just to be part of it. I made funeral arrangements for my mother the next day.”
On the federal courts beat, Reilly covered the 1986 Westmoreland vs. CBS News libel trial, along with two stints in Vietnam in the 1960s and mid-1970s. “I would love to stay in New York,” he said.
Reilly said the demise of UPI is not a surprise, even if his departure is. “There have been a lot of problems with UPI over the years,” he said. “A lot of mismanagement. I am not getting the pension I probably should get.”
UPI Chief Operating Officer Nicholas Chiaia has not been reachable for comment.
Reilly said editors offered him a line editing job, working out of his apartment, but he declined. “It would really be claustrophobic,” he said. “And I would be editing other people’s copy.” Still, he said he would like to remain in news, adding “I am too young to retire, I have too much energy.”