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Tom Masland, 55; Foreign Correspondent and Editor

October 28, 2005|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Tom Masland, a veteran foreign correspondent and Newsweek senior editor who reported from some of the world's most dangerous places during the last three decades, died Thursday in New York City, three days after being hit by an SUV. He was 55.

Masland had moved to New York in September from South Africa, where he had worked as Newsweek's South Africa bureau chief since 1999.

His recent assignments had included covering terrorism in the Middle East and the civil war in Liberia in 2003, when he was injured by shrapnel from a rebel's rocket-propelled grenade.

He returned to New York last month to become a contributing senior editor handling international news for Newsweek's website.

"As anyone who has worked with him knows, Tom was a very kind and honorable man in addition to a valued and courageous reporter," Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker said in a statement Thursday.

Masland, who joined Newsweek in 1990, covered Haiti and the political tumult in southern and central Africa in addition to terrorism in the Middle East, including a profile of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist leader linked to Osama bin Laden. In 1994, he shared the Free Press Assn.'s Mencken Award for best feature story for a May 5, 1993, cover report on the persistence of slavery around the world.

His closest brush with death came in 2003 when he was trapped in an alley between rebel and government forces fighting in Monrovia, the Liberian capital. He pulled a hunk of burning shrapnel out of his arm before being rushed to the U.S. Embassy, where Marines treated his wounds. Then he returned to the front lines to continue reporting on the crisis over President Charles Taylor's leadership.

From 1986 to 1990 he was a foreign correspondent based in Africa for the Chicago Tribune, covering such stories as famine in Ethiopia, the 1988 Burundi massacre, AIDS in Africa and the Persian Gulf War.

Before joining the Tribune, he spent 11 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where his assignments included a tour as the paper's Middle East correspondent. He shared in the Inquirer staff's Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979.

An avid saxophonist, Masland had just finished playing at a jazz club and was crossing West 95th Street on Monday night when the SUV hit him. He sustained massive head injuries and died at St. Luke's Hospital. The driver of the SUV has not been charged.

According to Rod Nordland, Newsweek's chief foreign correspondent based in London, who knew Masland for 30 years, Masland had planned to return to Cape Town next week to help his wife and sons move back to New York.

Like many of Masland's friends, Nordland was struck by the irony of Masland dying in a traffic accident after surviving perilous situations abroad.

"Tom always said, 'When we go, it will be from slipping in the bathtub or crossing the street,' " Nordland recalled. "And that's what happened."

In an interview two years ago with the online site Mediabistro.com, Masland discussed the dangers inherent in the foreign correspondent's job, which for him included two bouts of malaria in addition to the shrapnel wounds.

"The most dangerous thing ... is riding around on questionable roads in funky taxis. Getting killed in a car accident is still probably the biggest risk, the same way it is in the United States.... But it's hard to match the job of being a correspondent.... I've been a reporter since 1973 and I've never regretted being a reporter."

Masland, a native of Winston-Salem, N.C., and a graduate of Haverford College in Pennsylvania, is survived by his wife, Gina, three sons, his mother, a brother and two sisters.

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