A Challenging Assignment With Perks p. 12

By: Si Liberman Covering the Mideast tinderbox offers prestige, glamour
and some benefits that help offset the disadvantages sp.

ASK ETHAN BRONNER and Susan Sachs, and they'll tell you that covering the Mideast tinderbox is pretty much like any other challenging special assignment beat.
But along with prestige and glamour come some nice financial perks.
Bronner, 38, and Sachs, 41, have had the assignment for two years, often working out of separate fourth-floor offices in Beit Agron, the downtown Israeli government press building in Jerusalem.
Bronner is the Boston Globe's Mid-east bureau chief and one-man, full-time reportorial staff. Sachs is Newsday's Mideast correspondent.
Perks include a company car and liberal expense and housing allowances. And like other Americans who live and work in a foreign country, they enjoy an income tax exclusion on the first $70,000 that they earn each year.
The disadvantage, of course, is being away from family and friends for long periods of time.
"Jerusalem is a tense city," Bronner said. And there's no shortage of stories.
Most weeks, he and his Newsday counterpart dispatch two or three stories to their papers via computer and telephone lines.
So far, censorship has not been a major problem.
"In my two years here," Bronner said, "I've never yet submitted a story to Israeli censors. It's like covering the White House. There's easy access to officials ? a piece of cake."
During a week or more of every month, he's on the road or out of the country, away from his wife and sons, who are 3 and 5 years old.
He recently filed stories from Iraq ("people are hurting and afraid to talk there") and Syria. He also covered early stages of the peace initiative in Madrid.
Only once, Sachs said, has one of her stories drawn the ire of a government official.
"They are much more concerned in this area about CNN coverage than most of the print media," she said. "Their people can watch CNN, you know.
"Egypt's minister of information called me in about my story on the earthquake last year," she noted. "He was mad because I said the government took its time responding to the tragedy and that the fundamentalists acted faster.
"He just yelled at me. That's all."
Sachs maintains a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in Cairo, Egypt, and has a small efficiency apartment in Jerusalem.
"It's better living in an Arab country because it's easier getting to other Arab nations still at war with Israel," she said.
Bronner rents a four-bedroom, 21/2-bathroom house in Tel Aviv, Israel, an hour drive from his Jerusalem office, "because there's a back yard, an American school nearby for the kids and it's quieter."
Amman, Jordan, a four-hour car trip from Tel Aviv, is his usual jumping-off point to chase stories outside Israel.
The Globe covers half of his $2,000-a-month house rent.
Newsday pays $850 of Sachs' $1,300-a-month rent ? "that much because my office is in the Cairo apartment."
Both correspondents have assistants who serve as secretaries. They also use stringers and interpreters when the need arises.
Getting around the Middle East hasn't been difficult.
However, some Mideast correspondents who are Jewish, they said, routinely conceal their religion to avoid roadblocks when entering and working in Arab countries.
Aside from having to wear a coat and scarf in Iran as other women do according to the dictates of Muslim fundamentalists, Sachs said her sex hasn't been a handicap in working in what traditionally has been a man's world.
Both reporters are pretty much on their own, selecting and working on stories of their choice, and they expect to be in the Mideast another three years.
"There's cautious optimism about the Israeli-PLO peace treaty," Bronner said. "But who knows? This is a very tense city."
A few days after Bronner and Sachs were interviewed, Jerusalem Post headlines were calling attention to the shooting and mutilation of two young Israeli hikers near Jericho and the assassination of a third leading PLO supporter of peace.
Bronner, who studied European history and literature and graduated from Wesleyan University in 1976, has a master's degree from Columbia University's School of Journalism and speaks French, Spanish, Hebrew and some Arabic. He joined the Globe eight years ago. His Battle for Justice, a W.W. Norton Co. book analyzing the defeat of Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court, won the Washingtonian magazine's 1989 award for political writing.
Sachs, an Investigative Reporters and Editors award recipient for stories about the impact of the drug-smuggling culture while at the Miami Herald, has turned out reports from every Mideast country except Yemen and Morocco.
She reported at the State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill., and Herald and was a free-lance writer in Paris before joining Newsday four years ago.
?(Susan Sachs) [Photo]
?(Ethan Bronner)[Photo]
?(Liberman, a retired editor of the Asbury Park (N.J.) Sunday Press, visited Israel in October) [Caption ID]


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